My walk with Christ is centered on two seemingly opposing statements.
The American church gives a lot of time and attention to that first truth. We love the idea of a full and abundant life. Yes, it is a truth that should be lifted up, but I wonder if we emphasize it to the exclusion of the rest of Scripture.
God wants us to have rich and full lives, but what exactly does that mean? With our prosperous American way of life, it is easy to equate a comfortable American lifestyle with abundant living. The abundant life should be evident to others, right?
I am serving a church in east Nashville as their interim pastor. Every Sunday my wife and I make a 45-minute drive to church, and along the way we pass church after church after church. Some of the churches are small … or empty … or show signs of neglect. Yet other churches are bright, clean, and have lots of curb appeal. It’s clear by their appearance which churches God is blessing and which ones are not serving Him like perhaps they once did.
That’s a highly erroneous assumption, but admit it: you’ve had similar thoughts as you drive by churches. I have. But that idea comes from the same mindset that equates the abundant life with outward blessing.
The other side of the Christian experience needs to be addressed as well. It gives meaning and perspective to the abundant life in Christ. We are to die to self.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it well. “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” A great statement, and it’s worth reading in is full context.
The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time—death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call. (The Cost of Discipleship, 99)
Bonhoeffer knew that dying to self was more than just a spiritual exercise. He had to let go of every comfort he knew to live out his convictions. And even today, countless Christians all across the globe face severe persecution and the threat of death. On a far deeper level than I know in my comfortable middle-class lifestyle, they know what it means to take up their cross and die.
Yet they also know the rich, abundant life in Christ. In fact, they may know the richness and abundance of a walk with Christ on a far deeper level than I do.
The abundance comes not from any things Christ may do for us; the abundant life comes from Christ Himself. The powerful, sovereign Lord of the universe is all we need. Living in the gracious, forgiving, holy, and righteous presence of Christ Himself is the abundant life.
When my eyes are off myself and I am focused on Christ and Christ alone, I experience a richness and joy I can’t compare to anything else.
Consider Queen Esther. Lifted from relative obscurity in a country not her own, Esther now had it all. She was the queen of the empire. By the world’s definition, she knew abundance like no one else.
Yet she surrendered all her prestige and comfort to do what was right. Yes, it all worked out just fine, and she walked away the victor, but she didn’t know that when, in Esther 4, she surrendered herself and said, “If I perish, I perish.”
I am convinced that surrendering to God—dying to self and proclaiming “If I perish, I persist”—leads to greater things. But let’s be careful how to define those “greater things.” Whether physical, financial, or relational blessings come out of that surrender is immaterial to me. The ultimate “greater thing” for me is a deeper walk with Christ.
And that’s all the abundance I truly need.
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This post supports the study “Stand Down” in Bible Studies for Life.