"Oh the gain of godliness, the profit of piety! Surely the price of this pearl is scarce known in the world!"
We're living in days that have more counterfeit currency circulating as true Christianity than ever before. And typically it is only this counterfeit form that the world ever sees. Thus they conclude, and we can hardly blame them, that all Christianity is a fraud. Maybe that is what you have concluded too. You watch the way "so called" Christians live and you hardly notice a difference between them and those who claim no such spiritual investments.
We are often told in Christian circles that there are really only 2 types of people in the world: the saved and the unsaved. In a sense, that is very true. But in another sense it misses the mark, and fails appreciate another way of looking at things. This other approach matches more closely with what the Word of God says in its warning about false piety and counterfeit Christianity.
I prefer to say there are 3 types of people in the world. There are (1) the double-losers, the (2) half losers and (3) the double winners.
The Double Losers
False Christians, who are merely professors of religion, but who have no real heart for Christ, are double losers. They lose this life by failing to take advantage of its (albeit temporary) joys and pleasures, and they lose the next life because they never were truly born again. They denied themselves here - but to no avail. What did all their church-going and do-gooding profit them in the end? They are self-deceived and the most to be pitied. They have lost it all. They have thrown away the only chance at pleasure they will ever have and gained eternal unhappiness as well. If ever there were souls to be sorry for, it is them.
The Half Losers
Unbelievers, atheists, agnostics are half losers. By "half" we don't mean that strictly speaking of course. A few short years compared to eternity is hardly half. But when considered in terms of our only two possible lives, this one and the next, they have lost half. They have operated on the assumption that this life is all there is, and have therefore sought to maximize their own happiness here. There are various ways this is done. Some do so by living lives they consider virtuous, and other by living lives most regard as vile. But in both cases they have sought their own happiness and have done their best to achieve it. They will, of course, sadly inherit eternal misery, just as the first group. But they will have had their pleasure here.
The Double Winners
And this brings me to the topic of George Swinnock (1627-1673) treatise entitled "Heaven and Hell Epitomized." It is from Volume 3 of his published works. His text is Paul's words "for me to live is Christ and die is gain." The great theme is to point out that the Christian man or woman has the best of both worlds. He argues extensively and conclusively that Christians are winners in life and winners in death.
What I found particularly refreshing were his words in chapter 19 which begins "motives to encourage thee to a laborious endeavoring after it [i.e. the 'spiritual' or 'holy' life]." He reminds Christians of their present advantages which exceed the advantages even of those who are living only for pleasure. He shows by logical argument that the Christian life is the most honorable, most comfortable and ultimately the most profitable life.
We're prone to forget this. It is easy to see the difficulties and miss the delights. We focus on the pain, and we forget the promises. He quotes Luther who said "If I had my wish I would choose the homely work of a rustical Christian before all the victories of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar."
I confess I often don't live this way. Too often my focus is merely upon the gains to come, and upon the sacrifices presently endured. I've missed the "to live is Christ" and only considered the "to die is gain."
"To live is Christ" does not mean the Christian becomes a stoic, immune to and ignorant of the true sorrows and pains of this life. It does mean that he or she sees them differently. Yes, he suffers. Yes, she suffers. But they suffer as sons or daughters of the King. They suffer not upon the shifting sands of fate or luck, but upon the solid promises of Jesus Christ. To live is truly Christ.
That's how I want to live. God grant the grace to see our lives this way.
And for those who have drawn their conclusions about Christianity only from its imposters, I commend you to look to God's Word for yourself. You wouldn't want to be judged based upon the behavior of someone else who happened to share your name. Don't judge the truthfulness of Christianity merely on the basis of its professors. Read the Bible. See what it says. Then determine for yourself if what it says is true, that "godliness...is gain."