What is it like to be a Christian? What is it like to submit your life to the Lord? What is it like to live for the glory of an unseen God?
There is a lot bound up in the questions. But an answer comes to mind as I scour the hall of heroes we find in Hebrews 11. To be a Christian is to follow God without knowing exactly where he is leading and to die without having received the reward he has promised. It is, in short, to live by faith.
We know this because of the example of Abraham, Abraham who, by faith, “obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” He followed God’s direction for as long as he lived, then “died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar.”
When we follow the Lord, we commit to a lifetime of living by faith rather than by sight. This contrasts those who set their hearts on the things of this world and who can see and experience their reward moment by moment and day by day.
Those who live for the pleasures money can buy can gaze at their grand homes and fine wardrobes and be as content as their hearts will allow. Those who live for power and fame can mount their accolades on their walls and enjoy all the success they symbolize. Those who live for physical pleasures can boast of their vast and diverse sexual conquests and count it as their full reward. They can sit back and survey it all and say to themselves, “Relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
Yet before long the time will come when God will say, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you” (Luke 12:20). And as they go off to judgment and the endless ages beyond, they will know that “you in your lifetime received your good things” (Luke 16:25). They will have lived in such a way that they have stored up plenty of treasures on earth, but none in heaven. All the pleasures they will ever experience will fall in the brief window between their birth and death. That was their goal. That was their purpose.
But as Christians, we live for a reward we cannot yet have and do not yet hold. We deny ourselves what would seem desirable and pleasurable in this life in favor of promised rewards that are much greater and much better—but that are withheld until the life to come. We set out by faith, not knowing where God will lead us and uncertain of all that he will require of us along the way. And when it comes time for us to die, we die trusting in God’s promises and seeing the promised reward with the eyes of faith. And then, we are certain, we receive from God blessings far greater than any we could know here.
It would be no surprise, then, if we enter heaven with an exclamation of “I knew it!”—with a cry of victory, a shout of triumph, a declaration of vindication. For then we will know that we really denied ourselves no true pleasure but only that which would have harmed us. We will know that we were not held back from any lasting treasure, but only that which would evaporate between heaven and earth. Our knowing will no longer be by faith—faith, that is sometimes prone to doubt and waver and wander. In that day, our knowing will be with eyes that behold, arms that receive, and hearts that rejoice. Having followed without seeing and died without receiving, we will rise gloriously and live eternally knowing that God’s every promise was true.