[by Timmy Brister]
Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people. Because heaven is a prepared place, our Christian lives should be characterized by rejoicing and anticipating being with the Lord. Because heaven is for a prepared people our Christian lives should be characterized by repentance and turning away from ourselves. Therefore, the Christian life is both one of rejoicing and repentance, at the same time. In fact, it could be said that, though we mourn over and hate our sin, our repentance should be joyful knowing that God has promised bring to fulfillment that which he began in us, namely the glorification of His Son in us. There is no genuine joy without thorough repentance, and genuine repentance ought to bring about increasing joy as sin is displaced and we draw nearer to Jesus.
We often call Christians “believers”. “We are a gathering of believers . . .” but Christians are also “repenters,” so why don’t refer to a gathering of repenters? Our response to the gospel at conversion is both – a repenting faith or believing repentance, and our response to the gospel from that moment on is the same. The more we behold Jesus by faith as seen in the gospel, the more we are transformed into His image from one degree of glory to another. If there are no degrees of glory being experienced on earth, then what, pray tell, would such a professing Christian claim to experience in heaven? The very degrees of glory we experience in the daily transformation of our lives through repentance and faith are meant to be a foretaste of the fullness of glory to be seen when we are “taken up into glory.” To miss it here is to forfeit it there.
J.C. Ryle, in his book Old Paths, explains it this way:
“Our hearts must be in tune for the employments of heaven, or else heaven itself would be a miserable abode. Our minds must be in harmony with those of the inhabitants of heaven, or else the society of heaven would soon be intolerable to us. . . . I would never have you ignorant that if you went there with an impenitent heart, heaven would be no heaven for your soul. What could you possibly do in heaven, if you got there with a heart loving sin? To which of all the saints would you speak? By whose side would you sit down? Surely the angels of God would make no sweet music to the heart of him who cannot bear saints upon earth, and never praised the Lamb for redeeming love! Surely the company of patriarchs, and apostles, and prophets, would be no joy to that man who will not read his Bible now, and does not care to know what apostles and prophets wrote. Oh no! no! there can be no happiness in heaven, if we get there with an impenitent heart.”
In heaven, whom we have treasured by faith will become sight. But if we fail to look upon Jesus by faith, turning from ourselves and our idols, then we have no reason to expect our eyes to behold the one whom our hearts failed to treasure. No, heaven is for a prepared people whose hearts have become fertile soil for the gospel where idols and rivals to Jesus have been crushed by repentance and the reign of Jesus established by faith in all that Jesus is for us in his life, death, and resurrection. For when we are raised with him in glory to be united forever, we will recognize a people who have become like the one whom they have beheld as gospel-inducing repentance has, step by step, degree by degree, taken us homeward on the journey to glory.