God Can’t Wait for You to Get to Heaven: A Reflection on Ephesians 2:7
In a sermon late in life Jonathan Edwards preached:
The creation of the world seems to have been especially for this end, that the eternal Son of God might obtain a spouse, towards whom he might fully exercise the infinite benevolence of his nature, and to whom he might, as it were, open and pour forth all that immense fountain of condescension, love, and grace that was in his heart, and that in this way God might be glorified.
Remarkable: God made the world, according to Jonathan Edwards, so that his Son’s heart had an outlet. We don’t use a word like “benevolence” much today; it means a disposition to be kind and good, a crouched coil of compassion ready to spring. Picture a dammed-up river, pent up, gorged, ready to burst forth—that is the kindness in the heart of Christ. He is infinitely benevolent, and human history is his opportunity to “open and pour forth all that immense fountain of condescension, love, and grace.” The creation of the world, and the ruinous fall into sin that called for a re-creative work, un-dammed the heart of Christ. And Christ’s heart-flood is how God’s glory surges forth further and brighter than it ever could otherwise.
The creation of the world was to give vent to the gracious heart of Christ. And the joy of heaven is that we will enjoy that unfettered and undiluted heart forevermore.
But is this biblical? Unmistakably so, according to Ephesians 2. After describing our hopeless condition and God’s rich mercy to rescue us, we are told the ultimate purpose of our deliverance:
“so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7).
What does a breathtaking text like that mean for our real-time lives, as we sin and suffer our way through this barren world, panting for heaven?
It means that one day God is going to walk us through the wardrobe into Narnia, and we will stand there, paralyzed with joy, wonder, astonishment, relief.
It means that as we stand there, we will never be scolded for the sins of this life. Never looked askance at. Never told: enjoy this, but remember you don’t deserve this. The very point of heaven and eternity is to enjoy his “grace in kindness.” And if the point of heaven is to show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness, then we are safe, because the one thing we fear will keep us out—our sin—can only heighten the spectacle of God’s grace and kindness.
It means that our fallenness now is not an obstacle to enjoying heaven. It is the key ingredient to enjoying heaven. Whatever mess we have made of our life—that’s part of our final glory and calm and radiance. That thing we’ve done that sent our life into meltdown—that is where God in Christ becomes more real than ever, in this life, and more wonderful to us, in the next. (And those of us who have been pretty squeaky clean, will get there one day, and realize more than ever how deeply sin and self-righteousness and pride and all kinds of willful subconscious rebellions were way down deep inside us, and that all that sends God’s grace in kindness soaring, and we too will stand, astonished, at how great his heart is for us.)
If his grace in kindness is “immeasurable,” then our failures can never outstrip his grace. Our moments of feeling utterly overwhelmed by life is where God’s heart lives. Our most haunted pockets of failure and regret are where his heart is drawn most unswervingly.
If his grace in kindness is “immeasurable riches”—as opposed to measurable, middle-class grace—then our sins can never exhaust his heart. On the contrary, the more weakness and failure, the more his heart goes out to his own.
The text doesn’t just say the “immeasurable riches of his grace” but “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness.” On “kindness” in Ephesians 2:7, Thomas Goodwin remarks, “The word here implies all sweetness, and all candidness, and all friendliness, and all heartiness, and all goodness, and with his whole heart.”
His grace in kindness is “toward us.” You could translate this “to us” or even “over us” or “on us.” This is personal. Not abstract. His heart, his thoughts, now and on into eternity, are toward us. His grace is not a blob out there that we have to figure out how to get into. He sends his grace to us, personally, individually, eternally. Indeed, he sends himself—there’s no such “thing” as grace (remembering that this is Roman Catholic teaching). He sends not grace in the abstract, but Christ himself. That’s why Paul immediately adds “in Christ Jesus.”
Speaking of “in Christ Jesus,” do you realize what is true of you if you are in Christ? Those in union with him are promised that all the haunted brokenness that infects everything—every relationship, every conversation, every family, every email, every wakening to consciousness in the morning, every job, every vacation, everything—will one day be rewound and reversed. The more darkness and pain we experience in this life, the more resplendence and relief in the next. As a character says in C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, reflecting biblical teaching: “‘That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.” If you are in Christ, you have been eternally invincibilized. This passage speaks of God making alive dead people, not assisting injured people. And how does he make us alive? “He loves life into us,” Owen wrote. His resurrection power that flows into corpses is love itself.
Ephesians 2:7 is telling you that your death is not an end but a beginning. Not a wall, but a door. Not an exit, but an entrance.
The point of all human history and eternity itself is to show what cannot be fully shown. To demonstrate what cannot be adequately demonstrated. In the coming age we will descend ever deeper into God’s grace in kindness, into his very heart, and the more we understand of it, the more we will see it to be beyond understanding. It is immeasurable.
For those not in Christ, this life is the best it will ever get. For those in Christ, this life is the worst it will ever get.
* * * * *
Editor’s note: Adapted from Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinner and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund, © 2020. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.