Sunday, March 8, 2009

Does Jesus Promise Abundant Life or Abundant Living?

John 5:24-26 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (25) Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. (26) For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.

False preachers abound in this day; they delude many with “plausible arguments” (Col. 2:4). My point has always been that the wolf’s sheepskin vestment can ripped away if we pursue the course of the noble Berean. Scripture, taken in full scope, will reveal the lies of the false preachers to the true believer every time.

One untruth often taught is that, despite the obvious fact that the old man of sin still dwells within, God desires nothing for us but popcorn pleasantries. The God who hated our sin so much He sent His beloved to be sin for us has no ill emotion towards the depravities that still dwell within our soul- or so they would say. But like the young rich ruler, one mark of the true believer is his cognition of a “lack” (Matt. 19:20). Even the most zealous & mature of Christians will testify of this “lack” if they are true, as Paul does in Phil. 3:12.

So the question for today is “What is the nature of this ‘life’ that Christ so often promises to us?”

John 10:1-10 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. (2) But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. (3) To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. (4) When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. (5) A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." (6) This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. (7) So Jesus again said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. (8) All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. (9) I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. (10) The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

A prevalent teaching amongst spiritual thieves & robbers is that the “life” of John 10:10 refers to an “abundance” of health & wealth in the walk of every believer. Any believer found lacking prosperity, as defined by the world, is said to be lacking in his faith. They load upon the backs of believers the heavy burden of having it all in this life, else it dare be said that that they are not even in Christ. These “podium pundits” proclaim prosperity as the mark of believers, & falsely lead many towards trying to bear unbearable burdens.

Christ instead promises that our burden will be light. The life He promises is not the weighty one wasted trying to battle Satan in a vain attempt to force him to “give us back our stuff”, but a life dedicated to follow in the steps of Christ Himself. The “pulpit preacher” declares the life of Christ on earth to be our pattern for living on this earth as well.

Charles Spurgeon preached from a pulpit. The word speaks to a place where a hard, but needed message is spoken from. Even in the secular, the term infers a place where a difficult, hard to swallow truth is spoken- hence the President's "bully pulpit".

Sometimes the most insidious message is the not the one explicitly teaching falsehoods, but the one with a misplaced focus on minor issues, therein overshadowing the major issues. We don’t see anything clearly contrary to God’s Word taught, so we relax & take in what is taught as good & right. But before we get comfortable we should step back & judge what seems to be the aim of the ministry- maybe empowering “your best life now”- & then we should see the incongruity of this ministry with Jesus’ ministry. Oftentimes, even as the Savior met peoples’ most obvious, apparent, & present needs, He would overshadow these needs by majoring on their deepest need- for a Savior to rescue them from judgment for their sin. Clearly, Jesus saw the paralytic’s faith in Christ, but did not regard his infirmity as his fundamental lack, as the first thing He said to him was “Man, your sins are forgiven you" (Luke 5:20). Christ has not only saves us from Hell, but He promises us- through His righteousness- a position in Heaven. This is primarily the “life” that Christ promises.Thus, the danger of the subtle lie. The Gospel should not be reduced to one line at the end of a message on abundantly prosperous life. The Gospel should be the message, for our life is found only in Christ.

For us, the liars say, no discipline, no pain, no suffering are ever in the heart of God As they would tell it, Christ not only served us by suffering the indignities & anguish of the cross 2000 years ago, but He lives to serve our every whim today.

They have no awareness of the measure of abundance found in the joyful prescience of a person looking forward to the promise of an eternity with Christ.

Colossians 3:1-4 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (2) Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (3) For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (4) When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Matthew 18:7-9 "Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! (8) And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. (9) And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire."

Crippled, lame, & half-blind doesn’t line up very well with the false preacher’s portrait of “abundant” life. Then again, they are rarely dissuaded by such barriers as countermanding Christ’s call to desire the eternal richness of the Holy Spirit. Christ instructs His disciples to be poor in their own spirit- like the tax collector of Luke 18:13- so as to instead “enter life” & receive the riches of God’s Spirit. Light & darkness do not co-exist; rather, the Light that is Jesus Christ illuminates the otherwise dank darkness of man’s heart.

2 Corinthians 4:8-11 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; (9) persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; (10) always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (11) For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

Clearly, the life promised here is not a life of pure peaches & cream, but one expressly of afflictions, perplexities, & persecutions. The “abundant life” is in the not being crushed, disparaged, or destroyed despite the aforementioned strife, not the simple doing away with such troubles.

When Paul said “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21), he was fixing his eyes upon the prescient hope of dwelling with Jesus for eternity; this speaks to the Biblical truth of the truly blessed life being the one to come in heavenly places. False preachers love to quote John 10:10, but the far more common descriptor of the kind of life Jesus promises is “eternal life”. 43 times in the NT (ESV) the Spirit describes the life given to believers in this way. Indeed, if the false preacher dared read on in John 10, they would see Jesus clarifying the manner of “life” that He guarantees us:

John 10:28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

Our fundamental promise is not founded upon the witness of bountiful blessings in this life, but a joyful, confident expectation of the life to come in Heaven. We should not judge the measure of God’s love for us by the measure of either health or wealth we seem to possess here; instead we should look to the cross to rightly judge the true measure of God’s love for His beloved:

1 John 4:9-10 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. (10) In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Anyone really desiring the truth on this need not even go outside the Gospels to find further evidence that sometimes God does indeed give us a cross of suffering for us to carry in this life:

Mark 8:34-36 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (35) For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. (36) For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

But we do not even need to go that far from John 10:10 to see the “life” Christ promises is not one centered on the pleasantries of this life. Indeed, those “podium pundits” could flip back the page to John 9 to see that God does not always have a life of pure pleasure in store for His people. The blind man suffered blindness his whole life to that point in time so “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Or, they could flip ahead to John 11:

John 11:1-6 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (2) It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. (3) So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." (4) But when Jesus heard it he said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." (5) Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. (6) So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Given that He suffered for us, sometimes He allows suffering to enter our life in this world too. This is where the “perplexities” Paul mentions above sometimes come into play. Although the Spirit gives us understanding in the examples of John 9 & 11, we don’t always know why we suffer; but our faith in the sovereign authority & utter goodness of God places trust that He has our back in the end.

Furthermore, what we need to fix our hope upon in this life is the revelation that this “life” is with us here as well. Scripture that Christ is with us here too, & He substantially is this “life”.

1 John 5:20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 17:1-3 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, (2) since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. (3) And this is eternal life- that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.


Ilze Henderson said...

So true, thank you! I think the 'prosperity gospel' being preached has burdened so many of our Christian friends and made them feel inadequate if things are not going so well and make them lose their faith. I think life in abundance is the joy in our heart and the peace given by Jesus Himself to be able to live for His glory.

Zoarean said...

Thanks! I dunno, maybe I've got an inordinate amount of contempt for prosperity preachers, but they had me going down the "wide" road to destruction for many years & I hear similar stories from others. My heart goes out to all those caught up in their lies.