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From the Summer 2017 issue of Knowing & Doing:

Augustine on Heaven and Rewards

by Kevin Offner
Senior Campus Staff Member for Intervarsity Collegiate Ministries, Mid-Atlantic Area Graduate and Faculty Ministries

 

 
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 To those who had gone through an extensive catechesis process, sometimes lasting over a year, and who were soon to be baptized, Augustine said, “It is to this salvation that you are hastening, all of you that have given in your names for baptism; a salvation, a welfare, not for a short time but for eternity … What we are doing in this life: we are now hoping for what we are to receive afterward.”2
 Salvation, Augustine says, is a process, a journey, a pilgrimage. Each Christian is traveling to a final destination, the heavenly Jerusalem. The journey begins at baptism, but it is not finalized until one reaches heaven, at death.

From here each of us has the end of going home. We end in the place we are going to. So now then, here we all are, engaged in life’s pilgrimage, and we have an end we are moving toward. So where are we moving to? To our home country. What is our home county? Jerusalem, mother of the faithful, mother of the living.3

 The Christian’s discipleship is to focus on the future: Think not “about how much ground you have covered but about how much you still have left until you finish the journey and can enjoy yourself in your home country.”4 One is always to hold in mind one’s final destination.  Our future hope is central to Augustine’s understanding of salvation: “Anyone who doesn’t think about the age to come, and is not a Christian precisely in order to receive what God promises at the end, is not yet a Christian.”5 And again, “Everything we think about, we should be thinking about in relation to the future life.6  What, for Augustine, is the role Jesus Christ plays in our salvation? He discusses Christ’s role in redemption in some of his sermons. But when encouraging his congregants to have faith in Christ, Augustine emphasizes clinging to Christ in the present as the “Way” to move forward on one’s journey and awaiting one’s full communion with Him in the future arrival in heaven, forever united to Him. Christ’s past work on the cross for us is less of the focus for Augustine than is Christ’s present and future presence in our lives.
 In fact, a primary motivating factor for Christians is continual reflection on future communion with Christ in heaven. Our various loves here on earth are but precursors to our love of, and future full union with, Christ.

He is keeping himself for those who love him. He wants to show his face to those who have purified, not their eyes of flesh but the eyes of their hearts (Matt. 5:8). Love in order to see … You will see him who made whatever else you love … Love him absent, to enjoy him present. Long to hold him, to embrace him. First cling to him by faith, then afterward you will cling to him by sight. Now, as a traveler, you are walking by faith and by hope. When you arrive, you will enjoy him whom you have loved as you traveled on your journey.7

 

 

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