What Was Paul’s Goal?
Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.
John 17:11 (NLT)
“I am coming to you.”
The Lord Jesus was returning to the Father in order to prepare a place in the Father for the saints. It is important to recognize that the Lord stressed that He was returning to the Father, not to Heaven as to a place.
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, not to Heaven but to the Father, except through Him.
We know from other passages of the Scripture that the Lord Jesus indeed ascended to Heaven and is waiting there at the Father’s right hand until His enemies become His footstool. However, in the passage under discussion He is emphasizing going to the Father rather than going to Heaven.
If one of our friends stated he was going to England we would wish him well. He could be going for any number of reasons—business, pleasure, to visit relatives, to buy a special product, or for some other purpose.
But if he said he was going to take a trip to see the Queen, that he came originally from England, from the royal family, and the Queen was his mother, then this is a different matter.
The saints look forward with joy to being released from the physical body and entering the spirit Paradise. Such joy is understandable when we compare the pain, dread, and unrest of the world with the peace and beauty of the spirit realm.
But the more Christ grows in us the more we become aware that our Christian discipleship is not leading us primarily toward Heaven; rather, our goal is rest in the Father through Christ. There is a practical difference between viewing Heaven as our goal and the Father as our goal.
Christ kept speaking of going to the Father, not of going to Heaven.
What is the goal of the Christian life?
What was Paul’s goal?
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. (II Corinthians 5:8)
“To be present with the Lord.”
The Apostles of the Lamb had little to say about going to Heaven as to a place. In fact, our Lord didn’t either, according to the Gospel accounts. This is true also of the Old Testament writings. In them, Heaven never is presented as the goal of redemption.
The emphasis of the Old Testament is on life on the earth and the coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth. The emphasis of the New Testament is on the coming of the Lord and the redemption that is to take place at that time.
Throughout the Scriptures the stress is on the coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth and our relationship to the Lord as a Person, not to Heaven as a place.
The New Testament writings emphasize Christ dwelling in us and we in Him, and our being changed into the image of Christ—particularly in our behavior.
Since the above is true it is obvious that our entire Christian viewpoint concerning the purpose and nature of salvation is in need of modification.
At the beginning of John, Chapter 14 we find one of the best-known passages of all Scripture, a passage that has comforted multitudes of saints:
In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:2,3)
The question we are raising has to do with the expression, “In my Father’s house.”
What is the Father’s house?
If the Father’s house is Heaven, and the “many mansions” are beautifully constructed houses, then Christ is pointing us toward eternal residence in Heaven and the traditional understanding of the Christian churches is correct.
But if the Father’s house is not Heaven, and the many mansions are not beautifully constructed houses, then Christ is not emphasizing our residing eternally in Heaven and the traditional understanding of the churches is incorrect.
What is the house of God?
If Heaven is the house of God, then verses six through twenty-three of Chapter 14, the context of John 14:2, are not referring to John 14:2 for they are speaking of the Father abiding in Christ and the Father and Christ abiding in us, not of mansions or residence in Paradise.
If John 14:2 is speaking of houses in Heaven it is unrelated to what follows in context.
We submit that the subject of John 14:2-23 is the spiritual fulfillment of the Old Testament feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:34), that is, the adding of the believer to the Body of Christ so the Father may find rest in him or her.
Notice the following:
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (John 14:23)
The Greek word translated abode, in John 14:23, is translated mansions, in John 14:2.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. (John 15:4)
The verb translated abide, in John 15:4, is of the same root as the noun translated mansions, in John 14:2.
I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. (John 17:21)
If we explain John 14:2 in the context of the four passages quoted above we can see that Christ is not leaving the earth in order to prepare a place for us in Heaven. He is leaving to prepare a place for us in Himself for He, and He alone, is the Father’s House.
There is a difference between the goal of going to Heaven to live in a mansion, and working with the Holy Spirit as He prepares a place in Jesus for us, and a place in us for Jesus and the Father. Which of the two goals we choose may affect our growth to spiritual maturity.
The traditional understanding of salvation is that we are trying to live in such a manner we will be eligible to go to Heaven when we die, and that if we profess faith in Christ we will be admitted to Heaven. The hope of Heaven has blessed the believers throughout the centuries of the Christian era.
Is there a Paradise in the spirit realm to which the righteous goes when they die?
Yes there is, according to our understanding. What it will be like to live in the spirit Paradise we do not know, for the Scriptures do not have much to say about this phase of our life. The Scriptures stress the return of the Lord and the resurrection from the dead. Nevertheless, we are persuaded with Paul that to depart and be with the Lord is better than life on earth.
We are not seeking to remove the hope of rest and peace for the saint after he leaves this valley of pain and dread. Yet, because the coming of the Lord is so near, it is of practical importance that the believers understand we are to be pressing toward Christ Himself, not merely toward a world without pain.
There are two fundamental misconceptions in the traditional Christian understanding of salvation:
- The goal of redemption is eternal residence in Heaven, in the spirit Paradise; and
- Salvation is a “ticket” to Paradise rather than what it is in actuality—the wisdom and power to become free from the way of sin and death and to enter the way of eternal life, the way of the Spirit of God.
We could prove our point from any of the New Testament books, including the four Gospel accounts. Some passages are especially helpful. For example:
And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said:
“I will live in them
and walk among them.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
Therefore, come out from among unbelievers,
and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord.
Don’t touch their filthy things,
and I will welcome you.
2 Corinthians 6:16-17 (NLT)
Can you see that the goal expressed here is not eternal residence in Heaven but our becoming the house of God?
Can you see also that the way to becoming the house of God is not merely a profession of belief but withdrawal from the sin and uncleanness of the world?
The goal of the New Testament saint is union with the Father through Christ. The way of the New Testament saint is that of a disciplined walk in the Spirit of God:
- Denying one’s self,
- Taking up one’s cross, and
- Following Christ each day.
The wrong goal and wrong way will cause practical mistakes in the Christian life. A multitude of believers are holding their “ticket to Heaven” while they continue to live in the flesh instead of pressing forward each day to union with the Father through Christ, which is eternal life (John 17:3). They are missing the plan of redemption while they are waiting to go to Paradise.
That Heaven is the eternal home of the saint, and that the way to get there consists primarily of a mental and verbal assent to the fact of the atonement, are well-intentioned, traditional misconceptions preached in many Christian assemblies. Believers are added to the churches, souls are saved and blessed, sick bodies are healed, and other blessings follow. But the believers remain babies (if they are not aborted altogether) because they are pursuing an unscriptural goal in an unscriptural manner.
How much more would be accomplished in the Kingdom of God if we would follow the Scriptures instead of our traditions!
Let us return to our original thought. Jesus was leaving the earth to go to His Father. Christ was returning to the fullness of the Presence of God in Heaven, there to wait until His enemies have been made His footstool.
Our goal as victorious saints is to enter that rest in God through Christ whether we are on the earth or in Heaven. We too are waiting until Christ’s enemies have become His footstool. When He returns to earth to receive His inheritance we shall return with Him. We shall be revealed in glory together with Him.
Our goal is the fullness of the Presence of God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Directing our efforts toward the correct goal will change our daily behavior.
The doctrine of “making Heaven our home” may result in some changes in our moral behavior (although the current overemphasis on “grace” may prevent even this modest transformation from taking place). The doctrine of going to the Father, of living in the Presence of the Father, creates total change in all we are and do.
We cannot come into union with God in our old nature, our old ways. Neither can we enter the New Jerusalem in our old nature. Since going to Heaven is far off in the future (we trust), and since the relationship of our present personality to the personality we will have in Heaven is not clear, we may delay making a determined effort to walk in the Spirit in the hope we will enter the new Jerusalem anyway through “grace.”
What if it is true that going to Heaven does not change our personality?
What if we go to the part of Heaven (or Hell) occupied by people who behave as we do and we are not allowed to go anywhere else?
Will you be satisfied if such is the case?
Does it state in the Scriptures that going to Heaven will change our personality?
Is it only our tradition that states we shall be changed in personality when we go to Heaven?
We must keep in mind that the New Testament never once promises us that if we accept Christ we will go to Heaven (or be delivered from Hell for that matter). Receiving Christ “saves” us (if we continue in Him). Being “saved,” however, is not speaking of going to Heaven or being delivered from Hell but of preservation in the Day of the Lord.
The New Testament deals with the issue of preservation in the Day of Christ and with eternal life—never with “going to Heaven.” So if we are a Bible-believing person we must adjust our hope in terms of what the Scriptures teach, not what our traditions teach.
There is some evidence from those who have had visions of Heaven that we pass into the spirit realm in much the same spiritual condition that we leave the material realm.
We cannot be sure, from the Scriptures, what difference believing in Jesus has on where we go when we die?
We do know that if we wash our robes in the blood of the Lamb, if we cleanse our personality by means of the authority and power of the blood, we will pass into the Presence of God when we die.
But an abstract assent to theological facts concerning the Lord Jesus apart from a radical change in our behavior brings nothing of benefit in the spirit realm. Today people “accept Christ” but do not repent. Therefore they receive neither eternal life nor a guarantee of where they will go when they die.
Multitudes of people “make a decision for Christ.” But many of these do not make a decision for Christ concerning each problem of each day. They point back to the time when they “made a decision for Christ.” But from that time forward (sometimes for thirty years) they have decided for Christ in few situations and circumstances. They make their daily decisions according to their worldly ways, their fleshly appetites, and their desire to bring glory to themselves, not according to the will of Christ.
Such never have truly “received” Christ nor do they put their trust in Him each day.
We must at some point in our life make a decision to receive Christ. We must continue to make that same decision every day of our life on earth or we may be cut out of the Vine.
The Book of Hebrews is an exhortation to experienced Jewish saints to press toward the rest of God. These Jews had been persecuted for the Gospel but had accepted the suffering joyfully. Now they were neglecting their salvation. They were not assembling as frequently as before and were being chastened by the Lord that they might be partakers of His holiness.
The writer of the Book of Hebrews warns them again and again of the perils of neglecting to press forward each day.
The author of Hebrews uses the journey of Israel from Egypt to Canaan to illustrate his warning. The idea is (and its application to Christians is confirmed by Jude) that the Israelites, having been saved out of Egypt, died in the wilderness because of unbelief and disobedience.
Because the New Testament on different occasions informs us that the history of Israel is an example of the Christian salvation, we must adjust the definition of what it means to be “saved.”
Are we “saved” when we come out of Egypt (the world)?
Are we “saved” when we are murmuring and growing bitter because of the pain we are experiencing while journeying through the wilderness (life in the world)?
According to the Scriptures, to be “saved” is to journey in faith and confidence throughout our lifetime, obeying God each day.
What does it mean to be “saved”?
It means to continue in confidence in Christ each day of our discipleship. We are not “saved” in the scriptural sense until we arrive at the rest of God. “Rest,” as used in the fourth chapter of Hebrews, means rest from our enemies. Through Christ we have overcome every enemy of our soul and have gained the moral Character of the Lord and are resting in the Father’s perfect will. This “rest” is our Canaan, our land of promise.
We do not partake of Christ, and consequently do not find rest in the Person of the Father, unless we steadfastly continue in belief and obedience to the end of our life on earth.
Does the New Testament actually teach this?
For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ.
Hebrews 3:14 (NLT)
We are made a part of Christ only if we keep moving forward each day in belief and obedience. This is the message of the Book of Hebrews.
We have no firm basis in the Scriptures to hope we will go anywhere when we die except to the area where people behave as we do. We will be “gathered to our people.”
It is in the present life that we demonstrate our faith by repenting and truly serving the Lord Jesus. If we do this we will be saved.
To be “saved” is to be preserved from destruction during the Day of the Lord and to enter the new world of the Kingdom of God.
Coming into union with Christ (the marriage of the Lamb) must take place now—each day of our Christian discipleship. An immediate, practical effort must be made to seek the Lord’s will in every aspect of our life.
Can you see the important difference between these two understandings of salvation?
If Heaven is our goal, our principal task is to wait patiently until we go there. If union with the Father through Christ is our goal, our principal task is to devote every day of our discipleship to the attaining of this union. We must begin the process of transformation now.
We must become a new creation if we are to come into eternal fellowship with the Divine Fire of Israel.
The sinners in Jerusalem shake with fear.
Terror seizes the godless.
“Who can live with this devouring fire?” they cry.
“Who can survive this all-consuming fire?”
Isaiah 33:14 (NLT)
It is not possible to have fellowship with God, with the “devouring fire,” solely on our profession of faith in Christ. Fellowships with God are possible only as we walk righteously and speak uprightly (I John 1:6). The righteous always has walked by faith in God. This was and is true under all covenants. Living by faith means that God rather than sin and self is the center of our personality, our motives, and our actions.
God never intended doctrinal belief in the Lord Jesus Christ to be a substitute for, an alternative to, true scriptural faith, and the faith by which the righteous of all ages have lived. The eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, drawing on the lives of the patriarchs, gives us some examples of what it means to live righteously by faith.
Righteousness always is imputed (ascribed) to those who think, speak, act, hear, and see by faith in God. The saints of the Old Testament and the saints of the New Testament are the same in this respect. The difference between the two covenants is that today we have more Divine grace by which we can live and move and have our being in the Presence of God.
It is God’s intention that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ be the source of all forgiveness, wisdom, and power so that the saint learns to think, speak, act, hear, and see in righteousness in the same manner in which God thinks, speaks, acts, hears, and sees.
One reason our goal must become union with Christ rather than eternal residence in Heaven is that the true goal immediately makes clear to us that godly behavior is a necessary part of the Kingdom of God.
Godly behavior is of first importance in the Kingdom of God (the Kingdom is first, righteousness—Romans 14:17). Righteousness is the only pathway to eternal fellowship with the Father through Christ.
Apart from righteousness and holiness no person ever will see the Lord. It is the pure in heart that see God.
The purpose of the grace of God in Christ is to convert sinners from lawlessness to godly behavior.
The Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit wherever we are, not evacuation to the spirit realm.
The effort, the goal of the Kingdom of God is not to get people into Heaven, it is to get the life and ways of Heaven into people.
Back to John 14:2.
The critical question here is, what is God’s house?
If God’s house is Heaven, Jesus has gone to prepare houses for us in Heaven and we are in error in what we are teaching in this blog post.
We understand that we do have “a house which is from heaven,” a spiritual body with which we shall be clothed (II Corinthians 5:1,2). Also, we have no doubt that when we die we will go to a fine dwelling place in the spirit realm—perhaps to God’s own palace. We find pleasure and hope in this thought.
Our point is, however, that houses constructed from cedar, mahogany, and marble are not under discussion in the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John.
What is God’s House?
‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?’
asks the Lord.
‘Could you build me such a resting place?
Acts 7:49 (NLT)
What is Heaven?
Heaven is the Throne of God.
What is earth?
Earth is the footstool of God.
In the Lord Jesus Christ the footstool is connected to the throne.
Well then, what is the house of God?
Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.
Ephesians 2:22 (NLT)
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.
Revelation 21:3 (NLT)
Christ Himself is the House, the eternal Temple of the Father. You and I are rooms in the eternal House of God, which is Christ—Head and Body.
We are not aware that there is one verse in the entire New Testament (or Old Testament) that refers to Heaven as the house of God. But there are several verses that state plainly that Christ and His saints are the dwelling places of God. We must abide by the written Word.
What did the Lord mean by saying, “I go to prepare a place for you”?
Jesus meant He was going to Gethsemane, the judgment hall, and the cross; and from the cross down into Hell itself. Finally Christ ascended into Heaven and sprinkled His blood before the Mercy Seat in Heaven.
But Christ must also prepare us to be a room in God’s eternal temple.
God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.
2 Corinthians 5:5 (NLT)
Christ poured the Holy Spirit upon us, giving gifts of ministry to men. Christ is making intercession for us before the Throne of God, and is working with the believers confirming with miraculous signs their preaching of God’s Word.
Jesus Christ has prepared a place for us in Himself. He is the Father’s House. Each member of His Bride is selected by the Father and given to the Son. Since the selected person is a unique individual who is to be joined in personality to the Lord forever, there must be a process of accommodation that takes place in the Lord Himself, and also in them, concerning the addition to His Personality.
Jesus struggles with God in intercession for the new member of His Body. The Father works through the Holy Spirit to perfect the personality of the member, refining each element. The Holy Spirit is charged with presenting to the Son a Bride without blemish of any kind.
Grace is given to the member as he interacts with the Personality of the Lord. Each believer must pass through the Valley of Achor, so to speak, the place of judgment, until rebellion is gone from his personality; lawlessness is gone; independence is gone.
It is a romance, a dance. We wish to lead but it is Jesus who is to lead for eternity.
It is the story of Adam and Eve. Eve is being created from Adam, and yet must choose of herself to yield her independence of thought and action.
As a result of our marriage to the Lamb, the Lamb loses His individuality while preserving His identity. Each member loses his individuality while preserving his identity. It is an entering into oneness with Jesus as He is One with the Father.
The struggle, the process of union brought about through intense interaction, takes place in the Lord Jesus and in the member of His Body. The Lord prays to the Father. The disciple copes with difficulties of many kinds, particularly with the denial of his desires. There can be prolonged periods during which problems remain unresolved and there is little knowledge of what is taking place.
The deferral of desires, the bearing of the weight of problems, the period of time during which the mind seeks understanding of what is taking place, result in the development of perfect dependence and trust. The Bride must be righteous, holy, sternly obedient to God, and must rest in the Lord in dependence and trust.
This is the marriage of the Lamb and it takes place each day of the true disciple’s life.
This is how the new creation, the Kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem, is brought into being.
Christ is preparing a place for each believer in the House of God, which is the Body of Christ. We are being brought into eternal union with the Father through Christ. Union with God through Christ is our supreme goal. All the ministries of the Body of Christ are working with the end in view of perfecting the House of God, Christ—Head and Body (Ephesians 4:8-16).
To Be Continued…