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Monday, November 28, 2005
Abundant Life (Part 1)
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" John 10:10
Abundant Life: What is It?
Jesus promised that His followers would have abundant life through Him. But is that what many of us are experiencing? What does it mean to have an abundant life?
I know that Jesus has promised life abundant for me, and I want to have it, but I often don't. Yet I know that I have no one but myself to blame if I am not experiencing the abundant life. So I'm writing about this theme today, mostly as an exhortation to myself.
So what is abundant life? For the answer to that question, let us first look at another statement of Jesus:
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. John 7: 37-39
Jesus has ascended to heaven, where He sits at the right hand of the Father. And from the day of Pentecost forward He has poured out His Spirit upon all believers, (Acts 2:33). Each of one us receives the marvelous gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit at the moment we are born into the kingdom of God (John 3: 5-6, 1 Cor 12:13, Gal 4: 6-7, Romans 8:15-17), and yet, there is a fullness of the Spirit that we are all commanded to pursue (Ephesians 15:18).
I believe it is this fullness of the Spirit that Jesus is referring to when he speaks of "the rivers of living water that flow out of the heart of those who "come to me and drink".
In your Christian life, where is the power? Where is the love? Where is the energy? Where is the vision? Where is the passion? Do you feel, as I do, inadequate in yourself the fulfill the high calling of following in the footsteps of Christ? And yet He has called us to, like Him, deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Him (Luke 9:23). How do we get the power and motivation to do this? Certainly not by relying on our own strength, which, as we will see, is tainted by the weakness of the flesh. Yet in the picture of the living waters of the Spirit, that Jesus gives us, we find the idea that there is a power available by the Spirit in us that will overflow from our hearts, making us more than adequate for all we are called to be and do.
Abundant living means a life lived on the spiritual plane, a life lived by supernatural power. If Christianity were only another philosophy, another set of ideals to live by, then it would not matter whether Jesus had ever really lived, died and rose again. One would only need to follow the ideas of Christianity, using their own human strength. In fact, many do live as if that is all that Christianity is. And aren't we all guilty of this at times? But whenever I live as if Christianity is just a beautiful system of ideas, merely an inspiration to try to do my best, I am missing the whole point. Paul taught that "the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power". And Jesus said "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5)
This "abiding" (like a branch connected to a tree) is another picture Jesus gives us to portray what it means to live an abundant life.
We Can't Do it Ourselves
Jesus has told us that we can't do anything apart from Him. But isn't it true that most of us go through a season (sometimes a very long season), where we don't quite believe what He said? And thus, we try to live out the Christian life, as best we can, using our own energy, drumming up our willpower, following after our best intentions. I think Paul writes of a universal human experience when he describes what all this self-effort leads to, "I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7: 22-25)"
What is Paul saying? He is saying that if I am trying to live a Christian life based on my own human strength, I will inevitably, utterly and miserably fail, because there is this thing within me (the Bible calls it the "flesh"), that always opposes my desire to live like Christ. This principle is always there-- it functions like a law-- and it won't be removed until the day that Jesus comes to renew all things and He gives us a new body that will be free of this sin principle. But until then, how do I overcome this negative inward principle? I do so by living according to the Spirit, and by faith setting my mind on the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:5).
This is yet another Scriptural picture of the abundant life: a "walking" by the Spirit through which we "put to death the deeds of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16, Romans 8:4, 13).
I must also look at myself from God's perspective, that I might see myself realistically. Paul faced himself honestly and said, "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out" (Romans 7:18). And Jesus of course had said something similar to His disciples, "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41, Mark 14:38). He also said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit (that is, those who recognize that they are spiritually bankrupt and thus cry out for God) for theirs is the kingdom of heaven", and "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:3,6)."
So we are blessed when we recognize that spiritually we are in need of God's enabling power, to make us what we ought to be.
The Battle Against the World, the Flesh and the Devil
The spiritual life is already a challenge, just because of this flesh that each of us has to contend with. But in addition, you and I wake up every day to a spiritual battle--one in which we are pitted against the world and the devil.
The world with all its distractions-- its beauty, its dazzling delights-- appeals to "the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions"(1 John 2:16), but if the mind is set on the things of the Spirit, we recognize that all of this is "not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2: 17)."
With our spiritual eyes opened by the Word, we also recognize that the enemy of our souls, Satan, together with all the evil spiritual forces under his authority, wages a relentless, non-stop campaign to try to destroy our fruitfulness, trying to stop the "rivers of the living water" from flowing forth out of our hearts. As Jesus said, the devil "comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy (John 10:10)", and deception is his primary tool. So Paul, in his great epistle to the Ephesians, reminds us that "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12)". And his inspired counsel is that we "take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm." Going on, he says:
"Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:13-20)"
There is so much in this passage that provides us with rich possibilities for application. But the basics are these: to be in the Word of God, through which we build up our faith, continually reminding ourselves of the great truths of who we are in Christ-- our righteousness in Him, for example; and to be in constant prayer, not only for ourselves, but also for all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Through the Word we may meditate on the greatness of our God, seeing and savoring all the majesty and beauty of His multi-facetted character, and thus learn to see Him as our provision in all things. We learn what to pray for, and how to pray, as our hearts are weaned away from the petty concerns of the world and increasingly fed by the passions of the Lord. There is a maturing process in all of this, and there are times we stumble and regress. But thankfully our God is faithful to bring to completion, at the day of Jesus Christ, the good work He has begun in us (Phil 1:6). But does that mean that we can just sit back, because no matter what we do, the work to be done in us and through us will be accomplished? No! We are continually admonished in Scripture that we have a responsibility to act on the truth, not taking for granted the grace of God, but rather cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit (Phil 2:12, 3:12-15, Gal 2:20, Heb 2:3, 3: 12-14, 4: 11). If we want to enter into the promised land of abundance, we must take our stand on the promises of God, which means know them, meditate upon them, apply them, and proclaim them!
Paul reminds us that believers "are more than conquerers" (Romans 8:37) in every challenge that life may bring, because Jesus Christ has won the ultimate victory for us, and we belong to Him and He is in us. What an amazing provision has been given to us!
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
1 Cor 3: 21-23
For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.
Abundant Life: Physical as well as Spiritual?
Does the abundant provision of God pertain only to our spiritual nourishment and well-being? In my next post I will examine this question. I believe that God's provision extends beyond the spiritual, to include the whole man, and I want to examine the ramifications of this, as regards the areas of healing and material blessings.
Blessings to you!