Mark 8:17 “How is it you do not yet understand? Is your heart still hardened?”
WallBuilders President David Barton explains the purpose of Thanksgiving, America’s oldest holiday, as a time to focus on God’s goodness toward our country: “The Pilgrims set sail for America on September 6, 1620. Upon disembarking at Plymouth Rock, they held a prayer service and began building shelters. That summer, the Pilgrims, still persevering in prayer and assisted by helpful Indians, reaped a bountiful harvest. As Pilgrim Edward Winslow (later to become the Governor) affirmed, ‘God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn’; by the goodness of God, we are…far from want.’ The grateful Pilgrims therefore declared a three-day feast in December 1621 to thank God and to celebrate with their Indian friends – America’s first Thanksgiving Festival. This celebration and its accompanying activities were the origin of the holiday that Americans now celebrate each November.” God continues to be very good to this country.”
But is that God’s purpose for America – to give us a nation where we “far from want”? In this first of four articles on being thankful, we look at God’s ultimate purpose for each one of us, through my own personal journey. God has a greater purpose for each of us that is the true reason to thank Him this holiday season.
My wife and I had been married less than a year when a man visited us from the small country church we had visited that past Sunday. We talked for a while, him answering questions we had about the church. Then our lives changed forever, simply because he asked us two questions that no one had ever asked us before. The first question startled me: “Are you certain you would go to heaven if you died?” After going to church for years, no one had ever asked me that question. Life moves so fast. I never considered what happens when life ends. So I told him I had no idea if I would be in heaven if I died.
He told me the Bible teaches that you can know: “These things have I written unto you, who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1John 5:13). I never heard that either. How could it be that I had grown up in a culture with a church on almost every corner, and I didn’t know the Bible says eternal life is something you can know you have? I made him show me that verse.
Then he hit me with the second question, one I also never thought about: “One day you will stand before God when you die, and He will ask you ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’ What are you going to say?” Great – so I learned I can know I’m going to heaven, but I had no clue how I’d answer God about why He should let me in. So again, I told him I had no idea what I’d say that would convince God to let me in.
He told me the Bible also gives us the answer to this question: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” He told me that God’s purpose for creating every person was to spend eternity with Him in heaven. He asked me if I wanted to know more about the Bible’s message on who God is and eternal life. Being an engineer and statistician by trade, I look at things analytically. I wanted to analyze more on the Bible’s message.
He said the Bible explains God’s purpose for everyone to spend eternity with Him in heaven is in 3 ways. First, eternal life is a free gift from God – we don’t try and earn it (Romans 6:23 says “The gift of God is eternal life”). That made no sense to me. I spend most of my life working hard to earn what I have, whether it was a spot on a sports team, or grades in school, or a paycheck at my job. My entire life centers on performance. Now I’m being told eternal life has no performance test to pass? What kind of God is this?
The second way he explained God’s purpose was that I didn’t have to wait until I die to have eternal life. God has always meant for me to live life today with the joy of knowing I’m going to heaven. He shared John 10:10, where Jesus told the people around Him that “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” Jesus was talking about having eternal life right now, while I’m still alive.
Then he shared the third way God’s purpose is revealed in the Bible – that one day we can spend eternity with Jesus Christ in heaven. And again, it’s Jesus Himself who tells us: “I go and prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:2-3). The evidence in the Bible was overwhelming. God’s purpose is I have eternal life, now, while I am alive, without having to earn it. This was radical. How did I miss this?
Eternal life is a free gift from God, because of His love for people and His desire to be with every one of us. Next week, in Part 2, we examine why most of us are like I was – we can’t answer those two questions.