At some point, you've probably heard the gospel presented like this:
2. The wages of sin is death (death is "code" for hell)
3. But (good news!) the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (eternal life is "code" for heaven).
-- SO --
4. By God's grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone you can go to heaven instead of hell when you die.
That is most certainly great news. That is most certainly true. But, it's also most certainly only part of the story.
I don't mean to nitpick, but "death" isn't just code for hell; "eternal life" isn't just code for heaven. The bible says that, as long as we are apart from Christ and still in our sin, we are "dead" right now (Eph. 2:1-2; Col. 2:13, for example). The bible also says that, by grace through faith in Christ, we are "alive" right now (Eph. 2:5; Col. 2:13, for example). Death and life are as much metaphysical as they are physical. Everyone who's ever lived knows there's a difference between physically being alive and really living. What the gospel offers is abundant life now and perfect life in eternity. The good news of the gospel is that you don't have to wait until heaven to start really living.
When we make Christianity about heaven and hell, just heaven and hell, Christianity becomes somewhat irrelevant to the here and now. If Christianity is about going to heaven, and I'm going to heaven no matter what I do once I'm saved, then why go to church? Why read the bible? Why even try to do the things Jesus commanded in the sermon on the mount? It's hard, it's no fun, and it certainly isn't living. Maybe I'll smile more, dress nicer, and do enough religious stuff to keep God happy -- I owe him one -- but beyond that, what's the point? For now, I just... wait.
If you have faith in Jesus Christ, then by God's grace you are going to heaven, no matter what you do (it is, after all, by grace). Praise God for that. But, if Christianity isn't just about going to heaven, if it's about living abundantly, if it's the key to living abundantly, then all of the sudden Christianity couldn't be more relevant to the here and now.
John 10:10 is one of my favorite passages because I think it sums up God's project: Jesus came to give us back abundant life (great deal, considering we don't deserve it). In the beginning, God gave us life. As a result of sin, we've lost life. And now, by his grace, God is offering life back to us again. So, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, you and I and everyone else can start to really live.
If you look at Jesus' commands in the sermon on the mount (5:13-7:27) as a list of imperatives you have to try hard to do now that you're a Christian, you're probably going to get frustrated and give up. If you look at the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) as a list of Christian personality traits you have to try hard to develop (or... fake) now that you're a Christian, you're probably going to get frustrated (or really good at faking). Apart from God's grace, you can't do the things Jesus commanded in the sermon on the mount; apart from God's grace, you're extremely limited in your abiblity to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. If you're like me, you're more naturally selfish, cranky, tempermental, selfish, selfish, and selfish. And a cranky, selfish person trying really hard to be a joyful, peacful person is not living abundantly. They're frustrated (or faking).
The grace of the gospel is just as much about empowering you to live abundantly now as it is about getting you into heaven. The same gospel grace by which you were saved also serves as the power that transforms you to live abundantly. When you daily rely on the grace of God and the power of his Spirit, you'll find you're naturally more loving, peaceful, and kind. That's his power (grace), not yours. That's living abundantly. When you put yourself down and draw close to God on a daily basis, you'll find that you can't help but start loving your enemies. That's God's grace at work transforming you. That's living abundantly. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you shouldn't try to do what Jesus commanded in the sermon on the mount. You should. But if you try by your power, you're doomed to failure and frustration (or faking). But if you try by the power of God's grace, you'll find yourself living more and more abundantly.
The gospel of abundant life is this:
1. You're a sinner (so am I and so is everyone else)
2. The wages of sin is death (you're dead now and will be in eternity)
3. But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (and that eternal life starts right now!)
-- So --
4. By God's grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone you can live abundantly now and in glory for eternity.
Stay tuned for much more on abundant life in the weeks to come.
Grace be with you