THE EMPHASIS OF PAUL’S EPISTLES
However, the four Gospels show us that God’s salvation is not like this. Luke and John show us from one side that upon believing in the Lord, we receive forgiveness of sins and the life of God. Matthew and Mark show us from another side that from the day we were saved, we who have been forgiven of our sins and have received the life of God should follow the Lord and take the Lord as our life and our living. We must live by the Lord’s life. For this reason, we have to pay a price, leave everything we have, deny ourselves, and take up the cross to follow the Lord. This is the salvation of God seen in the four Gospels.
In the Epistles we see that the Galatians undoubtedly believed in the Lord. Their sins were forgiven, and they had the life of God, yet they lived by themselves, relying too much on themselves rather than on the life of Christ. The apostle Paul said to them, “My children, with whom I travail again in birth…” (Gal. 4:19). Why did he travail again in birth for them? Was it for them to be saved again? It was not. Was it for them to be forgiven of their sins again? It was not. Was it for them to receive the life of God again? It was not! Then what was it for? It was for Christ to be formed in them. To be saved is one thing, but to have Christ formed in us is another thing.
THE PURPOSE OF GOD’S SALVATION NOT BEING TO SAVE US TO GO TO HEAVEN
The unique purpose of God’s salvation is for God to come into us and mingle Himself with us. God wants to come into us to be our life (Col. 3:4a) and to grow in us (2:19b). Although the goal of our salvation includes the blessing of entering into the kingdom, it is not restricted merely to such a blessing. Rather, the ultimate goal of our salvation is for us, the saved ones, to be mingled with God that Christ may make His home in our hearts through faith (Eph. 3:17) as our life and that we may grow up unto maturity (4:13).
Unfortunately, due to erroneous teachings, there is the mistaken concept in traditional Christianity that a saved one, one who believes in the Lord and whose sins are forgiven, will go to heaven when he dies. According to this concept, if a believer has a heart that fears the Lord, and if in his daily life he reads the Bible, prays to the Lord, attends the meetings, helps others, and pleases the Lord, then the Lord will bestow many blessings on him. As a result, he will be able to glorify the Lord, and he himself will also have peace in his heart. According to the concept in Christianity, this is the greatest honor of being a Christian. This is the traditional religious concept, but it is not the goal of God’s salvation. The goal of God’s salvation is that the believers gradually grow and mature in life until, consummately, they are exactly the same as Christ.
How does God accomplish such a salvation? First, He sent His only begotten Son to die on the cross for our sins. Then in Christ and as the Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45b), He enters into us to live in us as our life. Christ is not only living in us (Gal. 2:20) but also growing in us. He intends to grow, to be formed, and to mature in us (Eph. 4:13). This is God’s saving way. What does it mean to grow unto maturity? To grow unto maturity means that Christ lives in us as our life and that He continually grows in us to the extent that He is formed in us. When Christ is fully formed in us, we will be mature in His life.
If we read through the entire Bible, we are unable to find any statement saying that those who believe in Jesus will go to heaven after they die. Such a concept did not exist in the first two centuries. It was altogether a notion brought in by degraded Catholicism. Instead, the Bible tells us that after a person believes in the Lord, the Lord enters into him to be his life and to grow, be formed, and eventually mature in him. This is the salvation of God revealed in the Scriptures. This is much different from the traditional yet erroneous concept of going to heaven.
(How to Be Useful to the Lord, Chapter 4, by Witness Lee)