“Never be ashamed of letting men see you want to go to heaven,” J.C. Ryle once said to those tempted to creep from bush to bush along the narrow path. He did not address those who were facing persecution — whose slight showing of the uniform would get them and their loved ones shot at. He addressed young men who were tempted to sneak quietly from this world into heaven for fear of the scorn shouted from those on the broad path. He addressed the Nicodemuses among us, and in us, who would seek to visit the Lord under cover of night.
This tiptoe Christianity does all to not disturb a sleeping world. It may appear valorous at times, but only on topics that it is fashionable to be valorous about. With causes out of cultural fashion, it dresses in civilian clothes. Very different from our forefathers who “turned the world upside down,” these tiptoe Christians do not desire to make it clear that they are seeking a homeland — no need to cause a fuss. The modern words employed are “tolerant” and “inclusive.” The old word was cowardice. We have need for Ryle’s admonition.
Joy Set Before Him?
While we are all tempted to hide our true aim in life, at different times and in different ways, we now are tempted to hide our desire to go to heaven by denying we even consider heaven at all. We seek to be servants of men without any regard to heavenly compensation, and call it virtue. We read texts like Matthew 6:1 with a dyslexic trouble with the sequence of words, “Practice your righteousness before men, and expect no heavenly rewards from your Father.” Trailing in the wake of Immanuel Kant, we try to make self-denial, stripped of self-interest, an end in itself. Heaven, the supreme place self ought to be interested in, is rarely glanced at.
“Tiptoe Christianity does all to not disturb a sleeping world.”
So, some venture on as ships sailing to nowhere, soldiers fighting for nothing, runners pursuing no trophy, farmers plowing but expecting no crop. The old self-denial of lesser pleasures for supreme ones has been replaced with just the denial of pleasure for its own sake. The sweat, blood, and toil is its own reward. We think ourselves the more virtuous for enduring the company of so-and-so with a smile, without ever considering how “love . . . for all the saints” could be “because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Colossians 1:4–5).
A film I saw some years ago serves as a good illustration. The premise showed a man who spent the entire story in search of seven people he could drastically help by donating body parts to them — when he eventually committed suicide on their behalf. The heart went to one. The liver to another. The lungs and bone marrow to still others, and so on. Perhaps partially motivated by guilt from a car crash, one motivation remained clear: self-sacrifice for the good of others without reference to self. He entered death for them — without any joy set before him to defile the benevolence. This man, unlike our Savior who had two eyes beyond the cross to the reward (Hebrews 12:2), serves as a modern ideal.
Far Too Easily Pleased
In his paramount sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis addressed the same ideology in his day:
The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.
The righteous seek heaven unashamedly. They do so before their religious neighbors who might consider the idea mercenary. And the holy man seeks eternal life with a passion not to be derailed by cheap thrills of his unreligious neighbor. He does not have the half-hearted, whimsical pursuit of happiness that contents itself with appeasing appetites no higher than a gerbil’s. He is a man, not a pet. He will not be distracted from heaven by the mere scratch of his lust’s belly. His desires have broad shoulders. And his master offers to place a weight of glory upon them — “Well done, good and faithful servant” — and he is fueled by Christ’s promises.
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
“It is the great error of mankind to pretend to be more holy than God.”
What has a child of God to fool around with drink? “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Psalm 4:7). Why ambitiously build mud pies in Babel’s image when we have this promise: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21)? Why be detoured by Delilah’s wiles when the New Jerusalem awaits?
He Offers Us Heaven
Jesus does not give as the world does. To incentivize our fealty, he does not merely offer greater earthly joy; he offers us his own joy. We do not just need an alien righteousness; we were made for alien joy — a joy that when received will make our joy full (John 15:11). The righteous will not deny their conscious belief in God’s unblushing rewards, nor can they:
Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
Like Daniel, Christians conduct their pursuit of heaven with the curtains drawn, accepting the king’s wrath, because we know that a lion’s den is “not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). We will endure the cost of suffering because we are “sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39). Our Lord finds our desires for happiness not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with a passing world, when heaven is offered to us.
Not Ashamed to Seek Him
It is the great error of mankind to pretend to be more holy than God. Living life from sheer duty, gritting one’s teeth on the way to glory, is not Christian. We lose our lives, not as martyrs for the mere benefit of others. We lose our lives to gain them.
We can lambaste “the prosperity gospel” so much that we forget that our gospel very much has to do with prosperity. God’s Book woos us with talk of fullness of joy, eternal life, crowns, thrones, crystal rivers, unfading inheritance, white robes, laughter, mountains, songs, angels, feasting, fellowship, eternal light, the undoing of all wrong, the ensuring of all right, and, of course, of God himself resplendent in all his glory. We do not close our eyes to this in the name of duty. Rather, we listen to the music playing through the cracked door, and take hold of it with holy aggression, letting all know that we wish — more than anything — to be with our King forever.
Credit: Greg Morse