6.03.2014

On the Gospel of Abundant Life

At some point, you've probably heard the gospel presented like this:

1. You're a sinner (so am I and so is everyone else)
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

3 comments:

  1. Awesome ideas about living a fulfilling Christian life, except for concept #4, "faith alone". John ch.2 v.24 clearly says that a person is justified (forgiven) by works, andNOT soley by faith, but by both. Meaning that as a christian, you actually have to DO things to be "saved", not just accept Jesus, have faith the rest of your life, and call it a day with little or no regard to your future actions. Faith without works = death.

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    1. James... pshhh... my bad... ;) God bless!

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    2. Thanks for your thoughts, apologies101. I do agree that James' argument is strongly against the sort of Christian faith that simply accepts Jesus and calls it a day with little or no regard to your future actions, as you said. I think that sort of faith is almost precisely the sort of faith that James was writing against.

      That being said, I have to disagree with your understanding of James 2:24. We have to let James define his own terms (as opposed to assuming that James always uses words the same way that Paul does, for example). And, as basic hermeneutics dictates, we do that in large part by reading in context. The words "faith" and "belief" are a bit sloppy. They can mean quite a lot of things. When James says, "a person is justified by works and not by faith alone," (2:24, ESV) I think what he is getting at is that we are not justified on the basis of mere belief in the truth of propositions (i.e. intellectual assent); that sort of faith is dead. Consider the rest of this section of the letter. In v.19, for example, James says, "You believe God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe -- and shudder!" (ESV). The point is, even the demons believe the truth of orthodox propositions; they believe that God is one, that Jesus is God, etc. But, that mere belief is not the sort of saving faith to which Christians are called. In v. 18 James says, "someone will say, 'you have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works," (ESV). The point here is that genuine/saving faith is the sort of faith that works. Even more specifically, perhaps, James is saying that works are the product or evidence of a certain type of faith. The point is especially strong and clear when you read vv. 18-19 together, or, better yet, the whole section of vv.18-26 together. In that light, James 2:24 is a sort of summary statement, the parts of which get their meaning and force from this section. Bottom line, I think James would agree with Paul 100% that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works (Eph. 2:8-9); there is no contradiction between their theologies. But, what James helps clarify is how we should understand what faith is. Genuine saving faith is the sort of faith that works, not just the sort of belief that even demons have in the truth of orthodox propositions. We are saved by faith, not by mere intellectual belief, and not by works. But the sort of faith that saves us is the sort of faith that works.

      I find this analogy helpful. There's a big difference between believing that a bungee cord can catch me when I jump from a bridge and having enough faith in the bungee cord to actually jump. The latter is the sort of faith that works. That's the sort of faith through which we are justified.

      One last note. As I said in the post, I hate to nitpick; perhaps this was just a type-o on your part. But, to my knowledge, nowhere in the bible does it say, "faith without works = death". I don't have a problem with the "=" and I know that's not a direct quotation. That's not what I'm nitpicking. I get what you mean. The important distinction, though, is that James says, "faith apart from works is DEAD" (2:26, ESV) not "faith apart from works is DEATH". What I think you may have been implying is that faith without works is death, or leads to dead people, in a spiritual sense (i.e. "death" as the status of sinners apart from Christ both in this life and as an eternal destiny). But James doesn't say that. James uses the adjective, "dead" as a description of the sort of faith that does not work, not the noun, "death" as a description of the status or fate of those who have faith and do not do works. The "equation" is faith - works = dead faith NOT faith - works = dead people. An important distinction, I think.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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