Sometimes you’ll hear a preacher say, “Even if there is no heaven, the benefits you receive in this life make it worth it to follow Jesus.” I remember saying this myself a time or two in my younger days as a preacher. The fact is, though, the apostle Paul would strongly disagree with the statement.
In 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, Paul offers a hypothetical description of what life would be like if Christ’s resurrection hadn’t really happened, if the whole story was a lie, a sham, a hoax. Here’s the list of how that description reads:
- All preaching about Jesus would be empty (v.14).
- All faith in Jesus would be empty and futile (v.14, 17).
- Paul and the other apostles would be false witnesses proclaiming an untruthful message (v.15).
- Christians who think they have been forgiven of their sins would still be in their sins (v.17).
- Dead Christians would have perished rather than going to heaven (v.18).
After listing all these things, Paul then ends his hypothetical description by making the summary assessment:
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. (1 Corinthians 15:19, N.K.J.V.)
Why would Christians be the most pitiable of all people? It’s because we Christians are known to actually make sacrifices for the Savior we serve. We sacrifice our time by spending it in prayer, Bible study, and church attendance. We sacrifice our money by putting some of it in church. We sacrifice our privilege of “getting even” by turning the other cheek. We sacrifice our right to hold a grudge by forgiving our enemies and praying for them. We sacrifice the pleasure of participating in worldly, fleshly activities by foregoing them in favor of living a holy life. We sacrifice our opportunity to make an easy dollar by not cheating on our income taxes. We sacrifice our chance to bend or break the rules to gain a competitive edge by always playing by the rules.
Even worse than all these things, if Jesus is a fraud who didn’t truly show His divinity by resurrecting from the dead, we might as well be serving Santa Claus. If you think the idea of Santa Claus is silly, try building an entire religion around the foundational concept that believing in Santa Claus is the only way to get into heaven. Try getting up every Sunday and telling a crowd of people that Santa Claus is the answer to all of life’s problems. Try writing books that proclaim the greatness of Santa Claus. Try buying t.v and radio time to tell the world about Santa Claus. Try devoting entire websites to Santa Claus. If someone did that, wouldn’t you classify that person as worthy of pity?
Therefore, let’s put a permanent ban on the statement, “Even if there is no heaven, the benefits you receive in this life make it worth it to follow Jesus.” No, they don’t. If this life is all there is, and if we Christians are getting up every day and living for, sacrificing for, and trying to get other people to believe in a Savior who is no better than a fairy tale, that doesn’t make our lives better. Much to the contrary, it wastes them and turns us into fools.