So Heavenly Minded that You’re No Earthly Good

Johnny Cash sang it in the song, “No Earthly Good”:

“You’re shinin’ your light, and shine it you should, / But you’re so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good.”

He wasn’t the first one, of course. This has long been a criticism of Christians, one you’ve probably heard before. It’s a criticism about impact; it’s about relevance. It’s also about being present, and exercising compassion.

And it’s also incredibly ironic.

It’s ironic because of the hundreds of verses in Scripture that direct Christians to be all about earthly good. To care for the widow. To protect the orphan. To leave room for the foreigner. To care for the sick and the one in prison. These are the practical implications of believing the gospel, of being a Christian. And thus the reason why the criticism is ironic.

But just because it’s ironic doesn’t mean it’s not true. There have surely always been Christians who have practiced an easy kind of discipleship, believing that the gospel is exclusively about their eternal destination with no implications for their present situation. And if that’s what you believe, then there really is no reason for you to be of any earthly good.

But if you understand the gospel to not only change where you’re going but who you’re becoming, and if you understand that the finished work of Jesus compels us to continual work among the people of the world, then being heavenly minded ought to have the opposite effect. That is to say, those who are the most heavenly-minded are the most earthly good.

Why might that be? Here are a few reasons to consider:

1. Being heavenly-minded helps you embrace your calling.

Jesus was pretty clear in this regard:

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:13-16).

In this context, what do salt and light have in common? It’s that they are both meant to be used. For flavor. For sight. For enhancements. For making things more clear. When we believe the gospel, we are meant to serve this same role.

2. Being heavenly-minded helps you see the need.

Before we believed the gospel, we were blind to the desperate nature of our condition:

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4).

Apart from God’s intervention, we would never have known how empty, lost, and dead we were in sin. But now our eyes have been opened. And now we can not only see the goodness of Jesus; looking back, we can see the truly desperate need. We are compelled, then, to be of earthly good in light of that need.

3. Being heavenly-minded helps you turn loose.

When we are heavenly-minded, we are fee to store up treasures in heaven. Conversely, we are also free to turn loose of all the earthly things we might hold onto. And when our hands are open, it means we can be more generous with those resources. We are no longer trusting in our money, our resources, our earthly goods for our security; we have something better. And now those things can be put to work for the sake of the kingdom.

No earthly good? Not the Christian who is truly heavenly-minded. That Christian embraces their calling, sees the true need, and then is turned loose.

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