Chris Roberts

The Glorious Equalities & Inequalities of Heaven – Part 1

All of us will experience fullness of joy, and pleasures forever more (Psalm 16:11), these pleasures are not going to be absolutely identical for all. There is an equality under grace (we are all sinners justified and saved by grace and nothing we receive will be because anyone can boast in themselves), but that equality does not mean uniformity. 

Earlier this year, we spent some time as a church thinking about what happens to us when we die. We thought about the final hope of Jesus’ resurrected, glorified people in the new heaven and earth. Theologians call this the ‘eternal state’.
But is this eternal state identical for every individual or is their variation in the degrees of glory and happiness we will each know? I think it’s a bit of both.
What we all receive
Generally speaking, all believers will receive the joy of seeing God face to face, of being with Jesus, and being like him (1 John 3). There will be fullness of joy for all of God’s people. James speaks of a crown that believers receive, as the reward of eternal life (James 1:12). This is the inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you… i.e. all believers (1 Peter 1:4). Not one single person in heaven will have any flicker of unhappiness, in God’s presence.
This equality of joy fits in with the doctrines we know and love well: of justification and blessing from God on the basis of faith alone, in the work of Christ alone, by grace alone. This is the reward we have by faith in the work of Christ, earned by him. Paul teaches us that any gifts we receive from God can never be earned: ‘By works of the Law, no human being is justified in his sight’ (Romans 3:20). So, receiving these things in heaven, being in God’s presence isn’t grounded on our obedience. Believers will stand in heaven and be in the new creation, accepted, loved, forgiven, justified on the basis of Christ’s work. Romans 5:19 says, ‘by the one man’s obedience the many will be counted righteous.’ Jesus will say to all of his people “come and enter into the joy of your master” (Matt 25:23).
We love the equality of grace, that we all receive these things… by faith.
What we receive in different degrees
The danger though, is that we overextend the doctrines of faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone…
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The Brand New is the New Old

Deprivation of material things is real for a lot people we know, though the preacher of Ecclesiastes shows us deprivation of another kind that is rife around us. Some people are so poor that all they have in this life is many things. We ought not to be fooled. The brand new is the new old, and true enjoyment of things requires power from God who gives life to all. We can only truly enjoy having things, when they don’t have us. 

Black Friday is coming up at the end of this month. It’s become the time of year when retailers do all they can to convince us to part with our cash for something new. It’s all very tempting because ordinary life can often feel like it needs freshening up. We crave an interruption to the same-old. So if you can afford it, unboxing a brand new TV or toaster or whatever, is up there with the greatest experiences the world celebrates. The problem though is that the idea of finding the new in the brand new is itself getting old.
I came across a video online recently which cleverly edits all of the keynote speeches the Apple Corporation have delivered at the launch of their latest iPhones over the last 10 years or so. At each presentation they claim the same things: that what they are selling is totally unlike anything ever seen before. If you watch it until the end, you begin to get the sense that the regular release of a new iPhone is becoming just as repetitive as the lives they’re designed to invigorate. I’m not having a dig at mobile phones – it could be any product by any company – although, if I had £1 for every time Apple said that they were making a really new product, I might even be able to afford one. So the newness of things is inherently out-dated and fleeting.
Honestly though, I love nice and new things and I don’t think they’re wrong. The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes shows that enjoying material things is not sinful in itself. This is something that some Christians might assume is the case. But possessions and the enjoyment of them is a gift from God:
‘Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil – this is the gift of God’ (Ecclesiastes 5:19)
We are allowed to have things, and are even encouraged to enjoy them. Proper enjoyment however requires God’s help. The preacher tells us that we also need God to give us power to enjoy things. That sounds odd, doesn’t it? If you cook me steak and chips or give me a brand new iPhone or a load of cash, I don’t instinctively think of praying, “Oh Lord please give me the power I need to enjoy these things”. Some things just feel naturally enjoyable. But this verse comes in the context of the whole book of Ecclesiastes, which presents us with the reality that enjoying things in this life is often fraught with difficulty and disappointment. True enjoyment of things is not as simple as we think it is.
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