Things you can’t do in heaven
As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ we look forward to heaven. In Second Corinthians 5:2 the Apostle Paul expressed his longing for heaven by comparing the transitory body of this present life to a “tent,” in contrast to the permanent, future resurrection body which he compared to a “heavenly dwelling”: “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling…” (ESV). Later on in that passage he writes: “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (v. 8, ESV) Note what the Apostle teaches here: To be absent from the body (i.e., to die) is to be present (“at home”) with the Lord. (By “Lord” he is probably referring specifically to the Lord Jesus Christ.)
Every true believer longs to be “at home” with the Savior, and we look forward to the glories of heaven. And the glory of heaven will be truly more glorious than we can even begin to imagine. As we read in First John 3:2: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (ESV) As we read in First Corinthians 2:9: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (ESV).
But while heaven will be more glorious than we can even begin to imagine, and while we believers in Christ will finally be “at home” and at rest in the Savior’s presence when we enter into the glories of heaven; yet there are some things that we will not be able to do in heaven. There are some activities that can only be accomplished in this present life. Such things include the following:
(1) In heaven we will not be able to confess Christ to others.
One of our duties as professed followers of Jesus Christ is to confess Christ before others, including others who are unbelievers (see Matthew 10:32-33). This does not mean we have to be pushy salesmen for Jesus, or to shove the gospel down the throats of everyone who crosses our path. But it does mean that our loyalty to Jesus implies that we will not be secretive about our allegiance to Him. The Christian Faith is a public faith, a faith that is to be openly confessed and lived out before the world. And, corporately-speaking, the church of Jesus Christ confesses Him through evangelism and missions.
In heaven there will be no evangelism, no missions, and no confessing of Christ before unbelievers, because there will be no unbelievers in heaven. There will be no mission field in glory, no opportunities to proclaim the gospel to the lost, no occasions to take a stand for Jesus in the face of hostility, for in heaven we will have been permanently removed from this fallen world in which we live. This present life represents our only opportunity in all eternity to confess Christ before others, and to support (by our praying, giving and going) the evangelistic and missionary labors of the church.
(2) In heaven we will not be able to walk by faith.
God’s Word indicates that in this present life we believers walk by faith (trust), and not by sight. But in heaven faith will give way to sight, for we will see the Lord Jesus in heavenly glory. In this present life, where we live in an earthly realm where we don’t have immediate, direct access to the heavenly glory of God, we are confronted with the challenge of living by faith, trusting in what God has revealed to us in Holy Scripture, even though we can’t see or perceive the spiritual realities of Divine revelation with our physical senses. In this present life we experience God in a “mediated” way, through the God-appointed channels of the means of grace (Word and sacraments), as the Holy Spirit blesses those means and as we receive them in faith and with prayer. But in heaven such faith in Divine revelation will not be necessary, for in heaven we will exist in a higher realm where these spiritual and heavenly realities will be more directly perceived, “by sight.” Therefore, this present life represents the only time in all eternity where we will have both the privilege and the challenge of walking by faith, not by sight.
(3) In heaven we will have no opportunity to love our enemies.
The Lord Jesus says: “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28, ESV) By loving our enemies we have the opportunity and privilege of overcoming evil with good (see Romans 12:18-21). The gospel message declares that God loved us in Christ even while we were still His enemies by sending His Son to die for our sins and thus accomplishing our reconciliation (Romans 5:6-10). As those redeemed by the blood of Christ we who once were God’s enemies are called to the high privilege of imitating our Savior’s love by loving our enemies. In doing so we demonstrate the love of Christ to the unlovely. But in heaven we will have no such opportunities, for in heaven we will have no enemies. When we depart from this present life we will leave all our enemies behind, and thus we will leave behind all opportunities to love our enemies. This present life is the only time in all eternity that we will have this high privilege.
(4) In heaven we will have no opportunity to suffer for the sake of righteousness.
Again, the Lord Jesus teaches: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12, ESV) Scripture does not counsel us to seek out suffering, nor does it teach that suffering is a good thing in and of itself. At the same time, God’s Word does recognize that “…all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (Second Timothy 3:12, ESV), and that persecution for righteousness’ sake is ultimately a blessing and privilege. “Then they (i.e., the apostles – GLW) left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name (i.e., the Name of Jesus Christ – GLW).” (Acts 5:41, ESV) In heaven we will have no opportunity to suffer for righteousness’ sake, for there will be no suffering or persecution in heavenly glory. This present life is the only opportunity we will ever have in all eternity to show our loyalty to Christ by being willing to suffer for His Name’s sake.
(5) In heaven we will have no opportunity to fight the good fight of faith.
The Apostle Paul exhorted Timothy: “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (Second Timothy 2:3, ESV) Paul was particularly exhorting Timothy to be faithful in his pastoral duties as a minister of the gospel, but notice that this verse implies that we face a spiritual battle in this present life. In this present life we do battle against the world (i.e., the unbelieving world system), the “flesh” (i.e., our sin nature) and the devil. In this present age the church is rightly described as “the church militant.” Therefore all of us believers in Christ are engaged in this present life in a spiritual war, one that requires us to fight the good fight of faith. But once we die and go home to be with the Lord in heaven, we will no longer be in the ranks of the church militant. We will graduate from the church militant to the church triumphant! Thus this present life represents the only opportunity we will ever have in all of eternity to fight the good fight of faith and to prove ourselves to be faithful soldiers of Jesus Christ.
(6) In heaven we will not have the opportunity to be a positive influence for Christ and for good in this present evil age.
Jesus calls us as His church to be “salt” and “light” in this decaying, sin-darkened world (see Matthew 5:13-16). As we strive, through the grace of God, to live holy lives and to abound in love and good works toward our neighbor, we make a positive impact for good and for the glory of God in this world which is so saturated with evil. But once we die and go to heaven, we have no more opportunity to make a personal impact for God and for good in this present evil age, other than through our memory to those whom we leave behind and any ongoing benefits of the good works we performed while here. Therefore, let us heed the words of our Lord Jesus Christ to “…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16, ESV)
As believers we look forward to going home to be with Jesus in heaven. But let us remember that our Lord has left us here on earth for a reason, and that there are many things we will not be able to do once we pass into glory. While here on earth, let us strive to live faithful and godly lives, lives that can be used of God to make an impact for the kingdom of heaven.