rebelling against low expectations

If Christ Was Not There…


The title of this post is taken from one by über-blogger Tim Challies about two weeks ago. Mr. Challies was at the time reading a book that I was also reading, God Is the Gospel by John Piper. Both of us were struck by the following passage:

The critical question for our generation–and for every generation–is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?

I’m ashamed to admit that far too often I find myself at a place where I feel that I could be completely satisfied with a beautiful, bountiful, sinless, sorrowless, and Christless heaven — a heaven that, as Mr. Challies writes, “[does] not include the one who purchased my redemption so that I could be there in the first place.”

As Piper says, “The best and final gift of the gospel is that we gain Christ!” And yet “in place of this, we have turned the love of God and the gospel of Christ into a divine endorsement of our delights in many lesser things.”

To quote Mr. Challies again:

And so we return to the question: If I could have a heaven that was built around all I wanted and all I loved and all I desired at my weaker moments, would this satisfy me? I know in my heart of hearts that it would not, for I know that it would not be heaven if Christ were not present. But in my day-to-day life, I know that I often consider heaven as being a place where what is most important to me is what is most important to me here on earth. This would be true, if only Christ were always foremost in my thoughts here and now.

Do I wish to be a man of character and competence? Do I long to be ready and able to accomplish all that God has called me to do? Then let me treasure Christ above all else.

As Piper writes, “Nothing fits a person to be more useful on earth than to be more ready for heaven. This is true because readiness for heaven means taking pleasure in beholding the Lord Jesus, and beholding the glory of the Lord means being changed into His likeness.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • I think it is too easy to view Heaven as a place of pleasure and peace without focusing as much as we should on the perfect fellowship that we will have with Christ. Great post!

  • I attended Vision Forum’s Father/Daughter Retreat (I highly recommend it!!) this past weekend and upon returning home, I found myself pondering similar, yet different thoughts. To desire femininity and the qualities of faithful daughterhood/womanhood is admirable, but to pursue them strickly for their own sake would be iniquity. It must flow from a heart truly surrended and in love with my Lord. To do it any other way would make my conservative convictons useless idols unto them selves.

    Thanks for standing for hard truth in this upcoming generation. May we get back to the absolute authority of God’s word….

  • What an interesting topic for discussion!

    My spiritual director has taught me that even higher than the happiness of heaven, is to be completely absorbed in the service of our Lord, whether here on earth, in heaven or in hell. That is where real joy is to be found, because it is entirely selfless, whereas the desire for heaven can be tinged with selfishness. When we give up even our desire for heaven, to please our Lord, He reciprocates in a more intimate way.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking topic and for your whole inspiring web-site.

  • That’s really a challenge. I especially liked that last quote. There’s no conflict between holiness, or readiness for heaven, and usefulness on earth. I’m sure the enemy would love to have us believe that there is a conflict, but it’s so important to internalize the truth that holiness, more than anything else, prepares us for practical service to God.

  • Thanks for the reminder Alex. Too often do I forget to put Christ as the focus of my eye. Too often do I zoom into the background and focus my attention there. Without Christ there would be no perfect place.

    It almost reminds me of Christmas. We tend to pay more attention to the present we have recieved on Christmas morning. Yet do we give the proper thanks to the giver? Just a thought…
    In Christ,

  • I just stumbled upon your site. I think this is awesome what you guys are doing here. My twin brother and I also have a blog which we post articles daily addressing some of the issues and concerns. We just posted an article on seeking pleasure:

    It’s great to see teenagers like you guys who are not falling for all of these whistles and bells. I will definately be checking your site regularly.Also please check out


  • Excellent post, Alex. Everything in creation and in our lives (the “roadsigns” if you will) point to One above all else – Jesus Christ. How foolish we are to think that these other things can somehow make us fulfilled – what a lie the Devil would have us believe…I know I fall into this trap too many times myself. May God help us to learn that He alone should be what our heart beats for!!

  • Wow. I realize that many of us think of heaven as a place where we can just enjoy ourselves every day.. That really is something to think about..

  • It’s a great post! It reminded me of a sermon that our pastor had few weeks ago. Most of the Christians today focus more on the Kingdom rather than the King Himself. May we inspect our daily lives carefully. Are we busy for the Kingdom or for the King?

  • I just wanted to respond to Caridwen’s comment. I understand where you’re coming from, Caridwen, but I think that what you are saying is significantly different than what John Piper is talking about in his book, “God is the Gospel”. First of all, we cannot serve the Lord in hell, and while God will be glorified when He pours out His just wrath on sinners, the damned will not be comforted by the fact that they are fulfilling some high calling or purpose.
    But more importantly, I think there is a danger in making a bright line between serving God, and our happiness. The point of “God is the Gospel”, is that the highest joy of heaven, indeed the basis for all our happiness in heaven, will be beholding the glory of Christ. I agree with you that true joy is found in forgetting all about self, as we come face to face with astounding glory. But it is right to desire heaven, at the risk of seeming “selfish”. The apostle Paul was not shy about telling us about heaven, nor was Jesus hesitant to offer promises of eternal reward. I don’t think it ultimately serves us to try and be more “spiritual” than Jesus or the apostle Paul, by saying we don’t care about rewards or even heaven itself, but we just want to selflessly serve God. The musician Keith Green put it like this, “When I’m doing well help me to never seek a crown, for my reward is bringing glory to you.” It is a noble idea, but why is it necessary to deny the words of Christ, who told us to “rejoice and leap for joy, for your reward is great in heaven”? If we receive a crown, then we can lay it at His feet. And of course our goal and desire is to bring glory to our Lord, but the greatest reward we will receive in eternity is more of Him, so what is wrong about seeking reward?
    To sum up � no, our perspective of heaven should not be selfish, in the sense that we only look forward to good food, friends, family, peace, comfort, beauty… apart from God. But it should be a passionate longing (Romans 8:18-25 calls it groaning) for a world where we can glorify God perfectly without sin, and see Him face to face and commune with Him… and that will be the most happy and joyful experience in all the world… so desire it earnestly, and do whatever you have to get there!!! (In the words of Paul, “that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Phil. 3:11)
    If we give up our desire for heaven, then we give up our desire to be with God, for heaven is where God and man will dwell together, and we will be His people, and He will be our God. (Ezekiel 37:27) The apostle Paul wrote, “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” 1 Cor 15:19
    Spend yourself in this life doing hard things for the cause of Christ, and let the world pity you for all that you are ‘missing out on’, and let them wonder at your ‘alien’, ‘pilgrim’ lifestyle � and hope with joyful longing, for the resurrection, which was guaranteed fo

  • Thank you for your comments and considerations, Joel.

    You ask “what is wrong about seeking reward?” Well, it’s wanting something in return for what we have done, or given. I don’t find that very inspiring, as a basis for our relationship with God.

    I’m a very humble aspirant on the path of love of God, so I do tend to look for reward, even here on earth; but I don’t consider it my goal. I hope that ultimately, by His grace, I can come to desire only His pleasure, without the thought in the back of my mind, that this will lead me to the delight of heaven. Such pure love of God, without any selfish desire, would be reward in itself.

    I don’t agree that to give up our desire for heaven is to give up our desire to be with God. Surely God is with us always when we are constantly absorbed in Him and trying to please Him. He reveals Himself to us then. We don’t have to be in heaven to be with God.

    Anyhow, I think many of us have confused ideas of what heaven is, as some comments here have shown. It’s not a place for our own personal enjoyment, but for the glorification and the pleasure of God, eternally. The point is that when we give up all idea of personal enjoyment in service to Him, we will find that to be a higher happiness than anything else we could have conceived of for ourselves.

    Sorry if you don’t like my perspective, but it’s the only one I can go with!

  • Caridwen,
    Just wondering, have you ever read any of John Piper�s books? You should know that your opinions do not line up with his book (or the twins intent in their post). I would encourage you to read one of his books so that you could better understand where we are coming from. But I am very curious for the Biblical basis you have for your opinion. It doesn’t matter if we “like” your opinion or not. What matters is that it actually is based on the Bible. I am sure that you also feel this is the most important standard to adhere to. So I bring the following to your attention, not to be argumentative, but to hopefully be able to bring to the table some truths I believe are strongly rooted in the Bible. I did notice that Joel was using the perspective of Christ and the apostles to support his opinion, but that you didn�t include any references in your comment. I would definitely be interested in knowing what Scripture you found to come to your conclusions. I don�t want to argue about your opinions, but I want to know what the Bible truly says. The following are some questions and thoughts for you to consider. Thanks!
    You might not find it very “inspiring” that Christ promised us rewards to look forward to (obviously the biggest “reward” was being with Him) and told us that we should be seeking treasure that does not perish instead of treasure that would rust (Luke 12:33), but where do you get your inspiration from? I am struggling to find Biblical support for your ideas.
    Christ, in whose steps we are to follow, endured the cross for the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). Why shouldn’t we do the same?
    (continued in next comment)

  • (continued from above) But even you, in the end, say that when we give up seeking “personal” enjoyment we end up with the greatest happiness. So you too are trying to walk the path that in the end gives you the most personal enjoyment (i.e. happiness), right? If you were really giving up all ideas of “personal enjoyment” it would seem contradictory to say that you believe your path of giving up of any “personal enjoyment” leads to the greatest happiness. Hmmmm, perhaps you didn’t fully explain what you meant. But I think that the biggest opinion difference here is that we think God IS glorified in us when we are joyful, happy, satisfied in Him and gratefully accept and look forward to the promises He purposely gives us in the Bible. You think that God is glorified by not caring whether we find joy in serving God but seeking to do His will anyway (which you also happen to think will bring the most happiness in the end). Is this not the difference? Please clarify if I have misunderstood you.
    As John Piper says, God is most glorified in us, when we are the most satisfied in Him. So yes, I believe we are to enjoy serving God, enjoy His promises of an eternal life with no pain and no tears, enjoy knowing He has saved us from Hell, enjoy knowing about the crown and house He is preparing for us, and most of all enjoy God in all His richness. I don’t feel that He will be pleased or glorified through me if I scoff at taking enjoyment in His promises and stoically plan on going to heaven to serve His pleasure without finding joy it in myself. The point of this post and John Piper’s book was not to say that we shouldn’t find pleasure in heaven or His gifts but that we should find our highest pleasure in Him, not simply His gifts. He is not saying it is wrong to enjoy what He gave us to enjoy, or that it is wrong to enjoy Him (in fact, I think, as well as John Piper, that it is wrong NOT to enjoy God). But He is not glorified when we love and desire His gifts above Him. In the end, when I am seeking God above all else, I am seeking the most valuable, pleasurable thing in the entire universe, and does that make me happy and satisfied? Yes! When I give all glory to God and every action of mine is worthy of the gospel and glorifying to God, I am doing the most worthwhile, joyful thing because it is what God created me for. He created me to be satisfied and joyful and happy (happy in the truest sense) in Him because that gives glory and pleasure to Him. And I am looking forward to Heaven, as selfish as that might sound, I can�t wait! God is good and I will be so happy glorifying Him there and enjoying Him forever.

  • What ho, Kim!

    I seem not to have explained myself very well! I’m not advocating any kind of stoicism or grim gritting of the teeth and renouncing of joy – not at all! I’m saying that the greatest joy is to be found in the actual service of God, and that when we reach the stage where we are addicted to glorifying Him without any concern for self, just because we are wildly in love with Him – then that is a greater thing than serving God because we want to go to heaven. And if God chose that we didn’t go to heaven because He wanted us to go somewhere else in His service, we would happily do that too, because the joy is in His pleasure. We would be more joyful glorifying Him in hell, than someone would be who went to heaven for their own enjoyment.

    I’m not saying that God would send us to hell, but am just indicating an attitude of heart.

    I don’t think that we disagree fundamentally on the point of heaven. I haven’t read Piper’s book, but what I picked up from the blog entry was the idea that some of us look on heaven as a sort of glorified Disneyland where we will be free from suffering and can enjoy ourselves eternally. This was my own vision of heaven when I first took to Christianity, and I see it refllected in some comments here, too.

    No, I haven’t read Piper’s book, but I liked the point that he was making that we should love the idea of heaven because that’s where Christ is. However Christ is also wherever we are serving Him and glorifying Him joyfully and wholeheartedy.

  • I just read this on a Discussion board and thought I’d paste it here. This is what one Christian thinks of heaven!

    “And it is because you are one of my favourite posters that I would like to think that I could look forward to meeting you in eternity. It will be great! Just think we could have a cup of tea together or a glass of wine and watch a game of cricket! I ceratinly hope there will be cricket in heaven! or to my mind anyway, it will not be heaven.”

  • Caridwen,
    Thanks for the reply! : ) I think that we are so close to agreeing, but yet so far. LOL If you liked this post and you have the time, I would definitely recommend reading the actual book. My husband is reading it right now, and I am reading another one of his book, don’t waste your life, which is also excellent. The book would much much better explain what I am so poorly trying to convey.
    Here is my difference of opinion.
    1- I don’t think that we need to separate bringing glory to God and having concern for self. The reason being is because when we pursue glorifying God that gives us the greatest joy. Right? Like you have stated already. So seeking the greatest personal joy and glorifying God are united instead of in opposition. This is only a slight difference in wording from what you have been saying, but it is an important difference in my mind.
    2-Once again, a small difference in wording or opinion, but in my mind important. We should view God as the most valuable precious, joy-giving thing. Heaven would not be Heaven if He were not there. But it is not necessary to say that we do not look forward to Heaven and His other gifts to us there. Yes, they will bring us joy and personal satisfaction. But it is not a sin to have a healthy appreciation for them. In fact, I do think that it is unbiblical to not enjoy the thought of these gifts since Christ Himself, told us about it so that we could look forward to it and the apostles talk about looking forward to heaven, being with God, having every tear wiped away etc. Of course, like you said, none of us should have the focus of enjoying heaven, like a glorified Disneyland (I love the way you put that), but we don’t want to fall into the ditch on the other side of the road and not look forward to and enjoy the gifts of Heaven (God being the greatest gift, but not the only promised one).
    3-It is not necessary to say that we will be happy wherever God called us even if it were not Heaven because Heaven is where we are called. We do not need to decide whether we will be happy called elsewhere because God has not called us to hell, or anywhere else. I believe that Heaven is written on our hearts, God created us to long for it. To have to decide whether we would be happy anywhere else is deciding whether we will happy in a place that God has not created us for.
    4- We do have God’s Holy Spirit here on earth and He is with us. But that will not be same as seeing Him face to face in Heaven, so yes, we will be happier in Heaven because we see God in ways we can never see here on earth. So I think that we can whole-heartedly join Paul when he says, “to die is gain”.
    Once again, this is a very poor overview of some important doctrines. I hope this is actually helpful, and not more confusing! : )

  • It’s so true. It’s when we think that life is great without God, though, when God chastises us and gives us a wake-up call so that we may wholeheartedly return to him, in humble, child-like trust.
    I’m so very glad that the real treasure is Jesus, and not material goods. 🙂

  • Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father epxcet through me. John 14:6For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve you. Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. 2 Corinthians 13:4-6Feeling discouraged?

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →