We have been going through 1 Corinthians, chapters 12 through 14, and we have been studying the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts. We saw the preeminence of love and how it should take priority in everything we do and say. Without love, spiritual gifts are worse than worthless; they are dangerous. It's important that we understand, embrace, and appreciate the reality of love in the life of the body of Christ.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
There are more misconceptions among Christians about heaven than perhaps any other topic in Scripture. My earthly father passed away when I was thirty-two years old. He was much too young, and so was I. He entered into heaven upon his death. We call this the intermediate state. It is called the intermediate state because it is a transitional period between life now in this world and life in the age to come, when we will be resurrected and glorified. My dad is in an immaterial state. He is a spirit, conscious and alive in the presence of Christ, as are all believers who have died in faith in the Lord Jesus.
We oftentimes refer to that as heaven. Unfortunately, many Christians think that is what heaven will be like forever—that we will live in an immaterial, spirit-like condition. That is not true. We read in the Book of Revelation that heaven and earth will merge when Christ returns. There will be a new heavens and a new earth. All creation will be redeemed, eradicated of all sin and corruption. We will spend eternity on the new earth, in our physically glorified, resurrected bodies. So when I talk about heaven, I'm talking about that final, eternal state when we will live with Christ and all of his people on the redeemed and glorified earth, in redeemed and glorified bodies. That's what heaven ultimately and truly is. That's what Paul has in mind when he says that the perfect will come (13:10). We need to understand this before we dive into this text.
1 Corinthians 13 tells us a lot about heaven. It says heaven is going to be dominated by love. That is Paul's point in verse 9 when he says, "Love never ends." Love is preeminent and it dominates this life and the next through all eternity. Spiritual gifts will cease when Christ returns and establishes the new heavens and the new earth.
This passage also tells us that in heaven we will experience unending, unmediated intimacy with God. That is what Paul implies in verse 12 when he says that we will see God face to face. "Face to face" is typical biblical language for unprecedented apprehension and intimacy with God. Theologians have called this the beatific vision. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 5:8: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." That's what John was talking about in Revelation 22, describing life on the new earth, when he said we will see God's face.
Finally, 1 Corinthians 13 also tells us heaven will be an experience of ever increasing knowledge about God. That is what Paul meant when he said, "Now [in this life] I know in part, then [when the perfect comes] I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known" (13:12).
Heaven changes how we live on earth.
So today we are going to look at these three statements—talking about the concept of the perfect coming—to explore the eternal inheritance that God has given us. We're going to talk about heaven on earth, life in the eternal state in glorified bodies. Some people believe that those who are heavenly minded are of no earthly good. But that's not a biblical perspective. The Bible tells us the only way we will ever be of any earthly good is if we are heavenly minded. We are to contemplate and to meditate on the beauty and glory of the age to come so that we will be fit to live life now as Christ would have us.
So what is heaven? What is Paul trying to tell us when he says that love never ends, we will know as we are fully known, and we will see God face to face? The essence of heaven is beholding God, the eternal expansion of our knowledge about God, and the ever increasing love, joy, and delight that we will experience in God and in one another.
Scripture tells us that focusing on the beauty of heaven frees us from excessive dependence on earthly comforts. If God has guaranteed by the blood of his Son that you will inherit, for all eternity, consummate joy and every blessing you could possibly imagine, why would we pursue earthly comforts? Thinking about heaven releases you from enslavement to material things. Paul tells us in Philippians 3:20, "Our citizenship is in heaven." And he says we will be enabled to escape the grip of earthly things. Paul doesn't want us to ignore the fact that we are citizens of an earthly country. We need to realize that our ultimate citizenship—where our hearts are registered—is in heaven.
First Peter 1 tells us that the ultimate reason why we are born again is so we might embrace this heavenly inheritance. Furthermore, he says our inheritance is "imperishable, undefiled, and unfading" (1 Pet. 1:4). It is touched by sin and corruption. It will never lose its capacity to enthrall us. Later on, Peter says, "Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 1:14). Hebrews 11 tells us about the practical effects of thinking about heaven: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rachel, and other Old Testament saints were able to endure and persevere on this earth because they were looking for a heavenly country, one made without hands (Heb. 11:16). Their anticipation for the life to come energized them in the present. As pleasant as life may be now, it is only an ephemeral shadow of the things to come. Indeed, we experience God here and now, but it is a fragmented, partial experience. Thinking about the joys of heaven will help you persevere in the midst of the injustices of life. One day we will see righteousness and truth vindicated. Evil will be judged.
The strength to endure present suffering is the fruit of meditating on future satisfaction. That's what Paul meant when he said, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom. 8:18). Paul didn't deny the reality of pain and suffering in this life. He simply meant that the reality of the pain and suffering now does not compare to the glory that awaits us. Paul said a similar thing in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. He tells us to fix our eyes on the eternal glory, the things we can't see with the physical eyes. When we do that, we are transformed. We are renewed. In spite of the outward decay of the body, he said our inner man is being transformed by looking to things unseen. There is great, practical benefit in meditating on the glory and the reality of heaven.
Heaven involves ever increasing joy in God's infinite grace.
So what is heaven? The word increase helps us understand the nature of heaven—increase in our knowledge of God, increase in our joy in God, increase in our love for God, and increase in our love for others. Heaven is not just about knowing God; it's about ever expanding increase in our knowledge of him. Heaven's not just about joy; it's about the progressive, incremental, incessantly enlargement of joy. Heaven will not be static.
I often ask people to tell me what they think heaven will be like. Many of them describe it like a perfect vacation—sitting by a tranquil river lake in Colorado, and so forth. But it will be like the surging waters of a flood. There will be a never ending downpour of the revelation of who God is. The waters of joy, delight, and knowledge will increase, and we're going to be inundated evermore with each passing moment.
While watching the news after floods hit San Antonio in 2002, I heard a reporter say two things: the flood waters had finally receded, and the river has crested. I thought, That's good news for people who lost their homes, but you'll never heard that kind of language in heaven. The river of God's delight never crests. The waters of knowledge, joy, excitement, and fascination never recede.
In Ephesians 2, Paul said God made us alive together in Christ, and he raised us up so that "he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:7). Do you know what God will be doing for eternity? He brought you to faith in Christ and raised you up with him so that "in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." It is as if Paul said, "I want you to envision one endless age after another of God reveling the magnitude of his grace and kindness to you and me in Jesus."
There will not be a one-time, momentary display of God's goodness. Instead, every moment in the eternal state on the new earth will be marked by the unveiling of God's grace and kindness. In heaven, we will not experience one grand momentary flash of excitement followed by an eternity of boredom. Do you read God's Word? There will be a new episode of divine grace very moment—new, fresh, and stunning explanations of God's grace to us in Jesus.
Furthermore, we will experience the "immeasurable riches of his grace." God is infinite, and so are all of his attributes. You will never fully understand his grace, not even after ten quintillion years of new discoveries. The grace of God in Christ will never cease to fascinate us. It is endlessly complex, fresh, and profound. We will constantly be growing in our knowledge and love of God.
As our knowledge of God increases and intensifies, so will our joy in God for what he has done in Christ. And with ever-increasing joy, there is ever-increasing love for God and others. Our experience of God in the eternal state never reaches its consummation. We will never reach a peak. A handful of people have climbed Mount Everest. They get to the top. Once they have reached the peak of that mountain, the highest point on earth, there is no higher place to which they can ascend. But that never happens in our relationship with God. There is no pinnacle. There will never be climax to our knowledge and experience of God. Our joy in him and our love for him will swell and expand, accumulate and accelerate for all eternity. You will never be able to say, "I'm glad that's over. Now what can we do?"
Angels are perfect, sinless beings who live in the presence of God, and yet their knowledge and joy grows. The Bible says that every time they see a sinner repent, they rejoice. If their knowledge and joy increases, so will ours. There will never come a time when we will know everything that can be known. Can a finite creature, even in heaven, attain exhaustive knowledge of an infinite Creator? No. There will always be something new. The moment you suggest that you will have nothing new to learn about God, you will be in hell, because the god you think is God is an idol. You have limited the infinite God.
So heaven is not a static, unchanging experience. Most of us have probably thought that when we get our new bodies and enter the presence of Jesus, God will suddenly download into our minds everything that can possibly be received. But that's not what the Bible teaches.
In heaven, we will be able to connect the dots of situations here on earth. We will understand how certain circumstances relate. We will understand how God was at work in history. Just when you think your mind will explode from learning, God will expand your mind and renew all of your faculties so that you can continue to grow. You will have emotions you never had before. You'll have intellectual capacities that you never dreamed were possible. Everything will be enlarged and transformed.
Somebody once said to me, "It sounds like you're saying there will be incessant, unending change in heaven." I responded, "Yes, exactly." Then the person said, "That does not sound good. I want everything to always be the same." We need to realize this change will be from one stage of glory to another. It will be always change for the better. It will be a change from partial knowledge to greater knowledge and from great joy to more intense delight. God is the only being who never changes. All finite creatures by definition will change. But in heaven it won't be regression; it will be progression. It will always be change for the better.
Heaven abolishes sin and releases love.
We also need to understand that what happens in this life counts forever. Your life now—your obedience to his Word, your growth and knowledge, the intensity of your affection for Jesus—is not going to be discarded when you enter into the eternal state. God will not erase your earthly life and give you a completely new start. Numerous texts in the Bible command us to obey and sacrifice in order to gain a reward in the age to come. Jesus said,
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matt. 6:19-20).
To be sure, people respond to this command in different ways. When you enter into the eternal state, you're going to enter in accordance with the level of maturity, knowledge, holiness, and love that you experience now. How you live your life now becomes the foundation on which you build for the age to come. Some people will be more in love with God in the eternal state than you will be. Some will be given greater authority. There will be degrees of holiness and conformity to the image of Christ. The fact that we will be free of sin and corruption doesn't imply we will all enter into the eternal state the same. But don't let that bother you. You will grow and experience increase for all eternity.
In response to this, some people think we will be frustrated and annoyed, because we will not reach a certain level of achievement. But in heaven, whatever you long for, you get. No passion, no longing, no desire of the human heart will be unmet. Every time you see somebody who seems to know more about God than you, it will create a longing in your heart to know the same thing, and God will give it to you. And that will create a deep satisfaction that will awaken you to even greater truths about God. Our experiences in the eternal state will be like a spiral: our longings and desires will be fulfilled, yet the fulfillment of those desires will awaken even greater desires to discover new vistas, new horizons of God's character.
We cannot let the limitations of this life influence our imagination of what heaven will be like. We will see new colors. We will hear new sounds. We will have new intellectual capacities. In worship, we will experience new melodies, new rhythms, and new instrument that will far exceed our imaginations. God is limitless, and our experience of him and his new creation will be limitless.
Revelation 21 says there will be no tears of grief, no death, no sorrow, and no pain. Revelation 21:8 says, "The cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death." Further along, verse 27 says, "Nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life." The only reason unclean people like you and me are admitted into heaven is because Jesus has made us clean by his shed blood.
There will be nothing abrasive, irritating, agitating, or hurtful in heaven. There will be no weakness, sickness, brokenness, or foolishness. Nothing will be deformed, degenerate, depraved, or disgusting. We won't see any of these things. We won't know them. Everything will be glorious and beautiful, pure and perfect, sweetness and satisfying. We will only see and experience what is gracious, good, happy, holy, healthy, and lovely. Why? We will be looking at God. We will see Jesus Christ. We will see his face to face.
What will we do there? We won't sin anymore. We will praise God. In heaven, when the perfect comes, you will take great joy in seeing the joy of other believers. You will take joy in seeing others with greater joy than you. I know that sounds odd, and it may seem out of sync with what we experience now. But we will take joy in seeing others with great rewards. We won't be jealous. We will be glad for them. There will be no competitive pride, no drivenness to outdo others. You will only delight in delighting in the delight of others. Envy comes from lack, but there is no lack in heaven. There will be perfect humility and harmony in heaven. People who are more holy won't strut their holiness. They will be humble, because holiness and humility both reflect the character of God.
Some people in heaven will be happier than others, but that does not mean there will be sadness. You will be happy to see other people happier than you. Love dominates in heaven. Love rejoices in the happiness, welfare, and joy of others. To love someone is to desire their greatest welfare and benefit. As their joy increases, so will yours. Love dominates heaven, and love never ends.
It is difficult to be happy at times in this life. We experience physical pains and depravation. But in heaven, we will have new, glorified bodies. Never again will we experience fatigue, pain, discomfort, and disease. There will only be pure physical pleasure. No bodily obstacles will diminish our capacity to see, feel, hear, and understand all that is true of God. Here and now, spiritual pleasures oftentimes compete with physical pleasures. But that won't happen in heaven. Spiritual and physical pleasures will be perfectly unified. There will be no bodily lust to pull you down, or physical fatigue to cloud your mind. You will be free from wicked impulses. Your heart will no longer be dull. There will be no weakness of will, no lack of energy, no lethargy of soul, and no absence of passion to pursue what is holy. Our bodies will be glorified, delivered of weakness, frailty, and obscurity. All of our senses will be heightened and intensified to drink in the ever-increasing, unending flow of God's revelation. Your heart will be struck with never-ending fascination, affection, joy, and delight. And you will never live in fear that those good things will die away.
In this life, happiness can be quickly pulled out from underneath us. It can dissolve and disintegrate in a matter seconds. But that won't happen in heaven. When the perfect comes—where love never ends, where we see God face to face, and we know even as we are fully known—our happiness will only increase. It will never deteriorate. It will never die. And all of this is given to hell-deserving sinners like you and me.
Sam Storms Senior Pastor of Bridgeway Church Oklahoma City, OK and the founder of Enjoying God Ministries.