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John Piper:

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 were not there?

And the question for Christian leaders is: Do we preach and teach and lead in such a way that people are prepared to hear that question and answer with a resounding No?

J. C. Ryle:

But alas, how little fit for heaven are many who talk of going to heaven, when they die, while they manifestly have no saving faith and no real acquaintance with Christ. You give Christ no honor here. You have no communion with Him. You do not love Him. Alas, what could you do in heaven? It would be no place for you. Its joys would be no joys for you. Its happiness would be a happiness into which you could not enter. Its employments would be a weariness and a burden to your heart. Oh, repent and change before it be too late!

—John Piper, God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself (Wheaton, I: Crossway, 2005), p. 15.

—J. C. Ryle, from his sermon “Christ Is All” (on Col. 3:11), chapter 20 in Holiness: Its Names, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots (1877; reprint, Moscow, ID: Charles Nolan, 2001), p. 384.

Update: I couldn’t help but highlight two comments below:

Ray Ortlund: “The worst this life can shove down our throats, but with the nearness of Jesus, is heaven on earth. The best this life can give, but without Jesus, is a living hell.”

And Mike Francis quotes from Jonathan Edwards’s sermon, “God the Best Portion of the Christian“:

What is it which chiefly makes you desire to go to heaven when you die? Indeed some have no great desire to go to heaven. They do not care to go to hell; but if they could be safe from that, they would not much concern themselves about heaven. If it be not so with you, but you find that you have a desire after heaven, then inquire what it is for. Is the main reason, that you may be with God, have communion with Him, and be conformed to Him? That you may see God and enjoy Him there? Is this the consideration which keeps your hearts, and your desires, and your expectations toward heaven?”

If you might live here in earthly prosperity to all eternity, but destitute of the presence of God and communion with Him—having no spiritual intercourse between him and your souls, God and you being strangers to each other for ever—would you choose this rather than to leave the world, in order to dwell in heaven, as the children of God, there to enjoy the glorious privileges of children, in a holy and perfect love to God, and enjoyment of Him to all eternity?

Could you be content to stand in no child-like relation to God, enjoying no gracious intercourse with Him, having no right to be acknowledged by Him as His children? Or would such a life as this, though in ever so great earthly prosperity, be esteemed by you a miserable life?


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13 thoughts on “The Critical Question for Our Generation”

  1. donsands says:

    Every Christian needs to ask this question don’t we. JC Ryle is amazing. Thanks for the post.
    The best question is “Do I love Jesus with genuine affection?” Peter said in his 1st epistle to the saints:

    “Though you have not seen him [Jesus Christ], you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

    John said: “We love him, because he first loved us.”

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Ray Ortlund says:

    The worst this life can shove down our throats, but with the nearness of Jesus, is heaven on earth. The best this life can give, but without Jesus, is a living hell.

  3. Mike Francis says:

    Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “God the Best Portion of the Christian:

    “What is it which chiefly makes you desire to go to heaven when you die? Indeed some have no great desire to go to heaven. They do not care to go to hell; but if they could be safe from that, they would not much concern themselves about heaven. If it be not so with you, but you find that you have a desire after heaven, then inquire what it is for. Is the main reason, that you may be with God, have communion with Him, and be conformed to Him? That you may see God and enjoy Him there? Is this the consideration which keeps your hearts, and your desires, and your expectations toward heaven?”

    “If you might live here in earthly prosperity to all eternity, but destitute of the presence of God and communion with Him—having no spiritual intercourse between him and your souls, God and you being strangers to each other for ever—would you choose this rather than to leave the world, in order to dwell in heaven, as the children of God, there to enjoy the glorious privileges of children, in a holy and perfect love to God, and enjoyment of Him to all eternity?”

    “Could you be content to stand in no child-like relation to God, enjoying no gracious intercourse with Him, having no right to be acknowledged by Him as His children? Or would such a life as this, though in ever so great earthly prosperity, be esteemed by you a miserable life?”

  4. David Dorr says:

    In a similar way, I remember really being challenged when I read the Great Divorce — reading that heaven is such a “weighty” place that some people will not want to go there; even choosing to get back on the bus when they found out about some people that got in.

  5. Roger C. Limpoco says:

    Critical Question for our Generation of Christians?

    If you hear a dynamic preacher preach and made you laugh, sigh in awe, feel blessed, feel good about yourself, feel complete at least for that moment, feel relieved of all the worries of life, BUT without convicting you by the WORD to reflect on your life and make the necessary adjustments leading to an intentional resolved to change to the likeness of Christ. Well there is a BIG problem!

    The Preacher must be an EXCELLENT SPIRITUAL ENTERTAINER especially if he does this non-stop week after week thereby rubbing the power of the WORD to change lives, THEREBY sending a very strong subliminal resolve to the hearer that sin and holiness are all together acceptable to a HOLY God. Business as usual all the time. “The washing by the Word” is not happening in the pulpit!!!?

    This is the typical characteristic of an “emergent church leaders” seen today targeting mega congregation as its main agenda, using statistical data and proven scientific methodology. Big – yes, BUT spiritually wanting as well. The Bible says it is coming and has now come. This will be more pronounced as we approach the consummation of this age.

    The Prophets for the itching ears will multiply in the last days and deceive many even the elect “if it were possible” Praise be to God the real elect cannot be snatch out.

    An excellent study directly addressing these issues are found in Mat. 7; 1,2,3John and 1,2Peter.

  6. Emily says:

    I’m living life removed from God, as I am an atheist. My conscience has never felt better. I’m not trying to argue, as we are coming from two very different places. I am simply offering my thoughts on how I feel right now having zero relationship with the god in which you believe.

    1. Ray Ortlund says:

      Thanks, Emily, for interacting with this blog.

    2. Justin Taylor says:

      Yes, thank you for stopping by, Emily. I do hope you’ll stick around. You may find your story ending in a joyfully freeing and surprising way!

    3. Elizabeth says:

      I too once held this as true for me and now thank God I am saved by His love and mercy He gives us the right to choose which for now you have but He may not be finished with you I pray you open your heart to hear Him I will pray this happens for you as well:)

  7. David Wayne says:

    OK, if I can play affectionate gadfly for a moment here. Another alternative on this question is that what if I got to heaven and found Jesus there and found there was still sickness, still natural disaster and what not, would Jesus then be found to be a liar, since He promised all of those things.

    Yes, I agree that Jesus is the Christian’s Great Interest and I fondly look forward to seeing Him soon. But must we be given questions that seek to separate the savior from His promises to prove our faith.

    I suppose the way Piper words the question is ok – because he presupposes that some will want paradise without Christ – and such must not expect to get into heaven. He’s not asking us to look for a heaven without Christ and with continued suffering.

    Still, I am not sure these “faith test” questions are helpful, especially considering the faltering faith of the disciples and the fact that a mustard seed of faith is sufficient. To some, and I will admit to being one, the relief from suffering that is to be found in the presence of Jesus is one of the greatest things I am looking for and if I were to be told that I could have Jesus but not His promises, I don’t know what kind of Jesus I would be asked to follow. Why does Piper want us to imagine a Jesus minus His promises and then use that as a test of faith.

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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