There is a church by my house, actually a number of churches, but one stood out to me this week. Like most churches, this church has a sign sitting out front as its welcome mat for passersby. The church sign is the first point of contact with those who don’t know anything about a particular church, other than that it’s a church.
Church signs are used to communicate all kinds of information; meeting times, greetings, event schedules and the like. The worst kind of communication is the pithy little sayings that get posted on the signs trying to grab someone’s attention with humor, irony or self reflected profundity.
Church signs are useful when used correctly, to convey information.
Church signs are dangerous when they distract. A church I was an intern at once put up a new sign that would electronically scroll the time, temperature and other church information. Unfortunately, the sign stood about 100 feet in front of a signal light. Fender benders and rear end accidents increased once the sign went up because people were watching the sign and not the traffic stopped ahead of them.
Church signs can also be confusing because of poor theology. I once worked at a church where the well seasoned old sign servant put up a catchy ditty thinking it was clever and culturally engaging. The sign read, “For all you do, his blood’s for you.” This might sound familiar because it is a rip off of the Budweiser slogan, “For all you do, this Bud’s for you!” A modified beer slogan on a Baptist church sign! Oh, the irony laced within! But, even more troubling was the works righteousness that the slogan advocated. “Because of all your hard work, study and devotion to God, the blood of Jesus is for you.” What crap!
The church sign that caught my eye this week read:
“Heaven is for real. And God wants you there.”
Now, if you are familiar with the current trends in Christian publishing you will recognize the title of a popular book, speaking tour and current movie about a little boy’s trip to heaven and back called, “Heaven is for Real.” (Nice cultural engagement!)
But, like most church signs that try to be witty, what is gained in humor and cleverness is usually lost in theology. Don’t get me wrong, theology can be clever, funny and enjoyable. I just don’t think a church sign with its limited capacity (much less than Twitter) is the place to experiment with cramming humor, truth and winsome thought together.
Here is the problem with this above sighted sign, its not accurate! As I read this sign I started to think about the purpose of salvation that God freely offers to all in Jesus. Was the plan of God, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the indwelling of the Spirit of God all for the purpose of filling heaven with souls? Was God lonely and in need company? Was he afraid he would not play to a sold out crowd, so he set up a fill-a-seat initiative to pack the house? Is God’s only concern that people get to a safe and secure resting place, away from the ravages of sin and depravity?
No. No. No. And NO!
For far too long people, both participants of the faith and observers of the faith, have thought the purpose of salvation (getting saved), of Jesus’ death, of the forgiveness of sin, of the work of God, Scripture or Christian faith was to keep people out of Hell and get them into Heaven. We used to jokingly call this kind of thinking “fire insurance.” But this misses the point of Jesus all together. Getting into Heaven or staying out of Hell is short sighted, eternally good, but short sighted nonetheless.
The purpose of God’s efforts is not to getting people into Heaven or keeping them out of Hell. The desire of God is not to amass a collective of servants, disciples or worshippers. The point of salvation is not even the forgiveness of sin. Notice these thoughts are all about humanity and not God himself.
The purpose of salvation is to glorify God. To glorify God is the chief end of all humanity. I would go so far as to say the point of everything (salvation, life/death, sunsets, fireflies and apple pie ala mode) is to bring God glory! Everything is meant to acknowledge the greatness, sovereignty and love of the Trinity! Everything!
If we start with the truth that everything is intended to bring God glory, then we can reverse engineer the residual outcomes of glorying God and see where forgiveness, worship and Heaven fit into God’s intent.
If glorification of God is the point, then we see his work of salvation in Jesus as bringing him glory in revealing his love, grace and sacrifice. If glorification of God is the point then we see our joy and gratitude at being forgiven our sin and rescued from Hell glorifying God in worship and devotion. If glorification of God is the point, then we see Heaven as the ultimate place of our relationship with him, glorify him for all eternity (and conversely Hell might be the ultimate place that lacks this relationship, but this is another post).
God does not just want us in Heaven. Heaven is secondary and auxiliary. God wants the glory he is do because he is God. The Almighty. The Creator. He wants honest worship and faithfulness. He wants our love and affection, not just our presence. Our presence in Heaven brings God glory. This is the truth we need to communicated.