God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-6)
St. Paul was able to write these words because he had experienced them firsthand. After his encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus, he could look back on his old life and realize that he had been “dead” in his transgressions. Now he was a new man who had been “raised up” with Christ (Ephesians 2:5, 6). Through the power of the Holy Spirit, he was beginning to live the heavenly life that Jesus had died to give him.
Though we will probably never experience an encounter with Jesus as the one Paul had, we, too, have died to our old lives and been raised with Christ. So Jesus also dwells in us through the power of his Holy Spirit. What does this mean? That even now, we, too, are living the life of heaven!
How is this possible? It happened at our Baptism. To “baptize” means to “plunge” or “immerse.” Our plunging into the water symbolized our burial into Christ’s death. Then in Christ, we rose with him and, filled with the Spirit, became a new creation in him (2 Corinthians 5:17). Even if we weren’t aware of it at the time, at our Baptism we truly died and rose with Christ. And now, we are living the resurrected life in Jesus Christ.
This has far-reaching implications, because it means that what has happened to our Lord has happened to us! Jesus died on a cross, . . . and we were crucified with him (Galatians 2:20). Jesus was buried in a tomb, . . . and “we were indeed buried with him through baptism” (Romans 6:4). Jesus was raised from the dead, . . . and we were raised up with him. Jesus ascended to the throne of God and sits at the right hand of the Father, . . . and we are seated with him in the heavens. So if our Lord is now with his Father in the heavens, then in a certain sense—in a very real sense—we, too, participate in the resurrection and are now part of the heavenly realm.
Crucified with Christ. This is more than an abstract theological concept. It has actually happened in the lives of all of us who are baptized. But in order to better understand it, let’s first explore what it means that we have died with Christ. What was Paul’s point when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:19)?
After Paul’s conversion, he was a profoundly different man than the one who had been driven by hatred toward those following Jesus’ Way. He was a different man than the one who had studied the Hebrew Scriptures attentively but was unable to see how Jesus perfectly fulfilled them. The “old” Paul was a driven, arrogant man who took great pride in his Jewish identity and his ability to follow the Law of Moses so rigorously. “Circumcised on the eighth day, of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrew parentage, in observance of the law a Pharisee, in zeal I persecuted the church, in righteousness based on the law I was blameless” (Philippians 3:5-6).
But after his conversion, all of that changed. Now he knew that it was only through Christ that he could ever hope to be blameless before God. There was now no longer room for pride or arrogance in his own standing as a faithful, well-educated Jewish scholar: “Whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:7-8). His heart, his values, his mission, his relationships—nothing was the same because he had been raised up with Christ Jesus.
Raised Up with Christ. Paul was a new man, a new creation, and this is true for us as well. But is this simply a lofty thought, an ethereal dream? Or did something of heaven already happen in our lives? Did God truly raise us up with Christ?
Yes, he did! But the not yet is true as well. Sin persists, and we do things that we know aren’t pleasing to the Lord. Our struggle with sin is real, even for us who have been made new creations in Christ. In his letter to the Romans, Paul asked, “How can we who died to sin yet live in it?” (6:2). This is the same question that Christians have asked from the earliest days.
The reality that we still fall into sin, however, doesn’t negate the fact that in Baptism, we have died and now we live. Because we are united with the risen Christ, we already partake of this heavenly life. And by the grace of God, we experience it through faith.
- By faith we know that the Lord is with us always and will never abandon us, even in our darkest hour (Matthew 28:20).
- By faith we believe that the Holy Spirit can speak to our hearts as we read the Scriptures (Hebrews 4:12).
- By faith we pray to our Lord, knowing that he is always making intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25).
- By faith we believe we are no longer slaves to sin and so can fight sin and temptation through the power of the cross (Romans 6:6-11).
- By faith we trust in God’s mercy, knowing that he will forgive us whenever we come to him in repentance (Ephesians 1:7).
- By faith we see Jesus himself, our Lord and Master, in the Eucharist as we approach the altar and receive him into our hearts (John 6:51).
- By faith we no longer fear death because we eagerly look forward to a glorious future in heaven (1 Corinthians 15:55).
Seated in Heaven with Christ. Of course, this heavenly life that we experience now is only the beginning. We have been given so much already, and yet one day Jesus will “show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). Even so, our hope for the future does not nullify the reality that we have been raised with Christ already, and this changes how we live in the here and now.
For example, because we have been raised with Christ, everything we do—whether it’s caring for our aging parents, struggling to raise our children, or serving the needs of the Church—has eternal significance. Every act of love and mercy will last forever. Knowing those truths helps us to reorder our lives so that living for Christ becomes our highest priority.
The more we see ourselves already participating in the heavenly realm, the more we long to please the Lord in all that we do here on earth. Our one desire is to advance God’s kingdom by reflecting the love of Christ to all we encounter. And because we know that the things that this world values are only temporary—whether that be riches, honor, power, or pleasure—they become less important to us. Instead, we try to “store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).
The Glories of Heaven—Even Now. These changes don’t happen overnight. All of us need ongoing conversion; all of us need to grow each day to become more like our Lord. We have already been raised with Christ, but we have not yet put to death all the remnants of our old life. As the apostle John put it, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2). This is a mystery that we may not understand fully until we one day see our Lord face-to-face. And yet we can rejoice that with Jesus, we have been found worthy to be raised with him and enjoy the glories of heaven—even now!
“Thank you, Lord Jesus, for inviting me into this incredible life of heaven. Thank you, Lord, for joining me to yourself, not only to your death, but also to your risen life, which has defeated sin and death. Thank you for the honor of allowing me to ascend with you to your Father. Lord, you’ve given the risen life to me already. Every day I can experience it more and more. Yet how wondrous will it be when one day I experience the fulfillment of that life in heaven with you!”