If I asked everyone reading this to raise their hand if they’ve ever heard something like the following phrase, I would imagine almost every single one of you would raise your hand. “Are you going to heaven after you die?” It has been the question people ask before altar calls. It’s been asked on door-to-door evangelistic outings. It’s been used as an entry question to a gospel conversation. So much of our experience with heaven, especially in the church, has been tailored this way: it is the place you go to after you die if you’ve been saved by Jesus. While this is not wrong—heaven certainly refers to a place God is preparing for us—if we only think of it in that way, we’re only getting half of the picture. Heaven was never meant to be a place we merely look forward to one day. It’s something we can experience here and now.
Thinking on Both HandsIf you walked up to an ancient Jewish Rabbi and asked him, “Did you choose God or did God choose you?” He would answer, “Yes to both.” In our western mindset, we’re not used to thinking about things that seem opposed to each other both being true at the same time. But the same answer applies to the question of heaven. Early in Jesus’ ministry, He began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Following Jesus’ lead, Paul preached something similar: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). Both of them knew full well that heaven was a place we go to be with the Lord after we die. But both of them also understood that heaven is a kingdom you become a citizen of long before you die, so long as Jesus is your Savior. If you live under the rule of a king or queen, you are called a subject. Being the subject of a kingdom has two aspects associated with it:
- You are an heir to all of the benefits that kingdom has to offer. Just like if you are a citizen of the United States, you are a recipient of every right given to us in the Constitution, a citizen of heaven is given every right God affords them. We have been freed from the debt of sin (Romans 6:6-7). We have been given eternal life (John 5:24). We have been given “every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).
- You have the responsibility of acting like a citizen of that kingdom. Of course, you have the option of going off on your own, of living your own way, of abandoning the Kingdom’s rules—but in doing so, you’ll be missing out on the abundant life promised to you by the King.