The Gospel’s End: Knowing Christ, The End of All Things
I’ve pursued my fair share of gospel outreach, and during my time in evangelicalism’s corner I’ve listened to faith-inspired conversations many times over. But perhaps my greatest concern for evangelicalism is the narrow focus on which some—not all, but some—of these conversations rest, namely, telling others how to avoid hell.
The substance of salvation itself—eternal life—stands as more than just the avoidance of hell and a future-oriented posturing in a place of pain-free perfection with cherubim and seraphim effortlessly hovering, like Amazon delivery drones, above gold-laden streets.
Knowing God Personally
If we keep gospel witnessing to a mere “Claim your get-out-of-eternal-hell pass” (or, or to put it positively, your “get-into-heaven card”), then, as evangelistically potent the message may seem at first glance, we have missed the end of the Good News’s main locus. The substance of salvation itself—eternal life—stands as more than just the avoidance of hell and a future-oriented posturing in a place of pain-free perfection with cherubim and seraphim effortlessly hovering, like Amazon delivery drones, above gold-laden streets. Jesus defines eternal life in this way: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3, ESV). Eternal life serves not merely as a side-step from destruction that leads, post mortem, to a prance into a giant box of Little Debbie Pecan Spinwheels. To possess eternal life is to know personally the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, the Triune God . . . now and forever.
Ultimately, the end of all evangelistic encounters (and the end for which God created us all, actually) is to be in loving covenant with the God of all reality. There is nothing higher than to draw near to the cosmos-creating Christ. This knowing should propel us to serve compassionately the world at large. Furthermore, this knowledge is not a mere intellectual assent of God’s existence and power but rather an intimate, relational knowing that evidences itself in a changed life for the good of humanity and for the glory of God. (I am sinful, so I don’t always evidence this changed life. Thankfully, God is gracious, so I still strive.)
Christ is magnified when we choose to see him as more praiseworthy than anything (including that delectable McDonald’s, hot-fudge sundae at the end of a 20-week sugar fast), and then show him off as such. When Christ is viewed by us as the most precious all-in-all, then it signifies that we have eternal life now and forever. Eternal life is for today and forever. When we accepted the gospel of God, we gained eternal life—we gained God—and that makes all the difference.
In Relationship with Christ
My Lenten challenge, therefore, is this: When underlining the goodness of the Good News, let us put the focus on relationship with Christ. Let us define eternal life as Christ does, that is, as an all-fulfilling union of love with the Trinitarian God. When we see eternal life as merely crossing over hell, like getting a “GO” pass plus $200 in a game of Monopoly, instead of having true intimacy with a real person—the infinite and everlasting God, Christ—we make the Columbus-like error of mistaking the Caribbean for India itself. Nonetheless, God is in the business of changing our course so that we see him as ultimate as we go about our research, writing, test-taking, and ministerial tasks for his glory in the globe.
During this Easter season, my prayer is to keep John 17:3 as the definition of eternal life and as the impetus for my great-news sharing of Christ. The subjects of heaven and hell are only penultimate parts of the evangelistic conversation/equation. But the gospel’s ultimate end is for us to know Christ, the true end of all things, and this knowing shows Christ to be glorious. I pray that compelling others to know Christ will be the driving force of our gospel articulations for the worldwide fame of the Triune God.
Brandon Shaw is pursuing his Th.M. degree at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and plans to enroll in a Ph.D. program after graduation.