April 4, 2004
By Alan Dowd
The following may come as a shock, but it’s better for you to hear it now than later: Just because you have a pulse doesn’t necessarily mean you’re alive. But don’t take my word for it. As Jesus put it, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”[i]
In other words, without Christ we are not fully alive. And as incredible as it sounds, this abundant life can begin in the here and now. We don’t have to wait until we get to heaven. So what’s the abundant life look like, and how can we live it?
In searching for examples of the abundant life, it’s important remember that looks can be deceiving.
The abundant life is more than knowing the scriptures, more than knowing Jesus, and it’s certainly more than just knowing about Him. Take the Pharisees, for example. They knew about Jesus, yet they rejected Him. The rich young ruler knew the scriptures, obeyed the Ten Commandments and avoided evil. However, when shown his path to the abundant life—which included selling his possessions and giving to the poor—he walked away from Jesus.
When it comes to knowing Jesus personally, no one knew Him better than the twelve apostles. Like a family, they ate and drank together, celebrated and mourned together, worked and worshipped together. Yet they squabbled over who was the greatest. They often (and quite literally) stood in between Jesus and those in need. On the night Jesus was handed over, James and John were maneuvering to get a better place in heaven. Peter was too proud to let Jesus wash his feet. Judas betrayed Jesus for a handful of coins. And the rest abandoned Him. All of this may be understandable, explainable, or relatable to our lives. But none of this is a reflection of the abundant life.
The abundant life is even more than salvation. Peter was arguably the first person to publicly confess Jesus as his savior. It is recorded in Matthew 16:16. Yet Peter continually got ahead of Jesus and walked out of God’s will. In fact, just a few verses down from Peter’s heartfelt confession, Jesus calls him a stumbling block and compares him to Satan. I think it’s safe to say that Peter was living something less than the abundant life, at least at that moment.
Living a Lie or Living a Life?
The abundant life is so complex that it cannot be put into words, yet it’s so simple that even a child can live it. And what makes it so wonderful and amazing is how differently it is expressed in each person, which means we cannot live the abundant life by imitating others. The abundant life is the reflection of an internal transformation, not external imitations or perceptions.
We know God has never cared much about perceptions. As He explained to Samuel when he went searching for the future king of Israel, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”[ii] The Gospels tell us that there was a man who spent every day with Jesus. He collected money to help the poor. He healed the lame and drove out demons. He fed the hungry. He preached the Good News. He literally walked with Jesus. And during one of those walks across Judea and Galilee, he met a woman who never understood or practiced such piety. She didn’t worship the way he did or where he did; she may not have worshipped at all. She was living with a man who wasn’t her husband. She had been divorced five times, and when she met Jesus she was so spiritually dense that she couldn’t figure out who He was on her own. Jesus had to come right out and tell her.
So which one of these people knew Jesus? Which one loved Jesus? Which one lived the abundant life and which one lived something less? Which one do you relate to? You may want to read a bit further before answering.
The man’s name was Judas, and he lived a lie. He did many good things in Jesus’ name. But in Judas’ tragic life, we learn that even apostles can be frauds. The woman’s name remains one of scripture’s mysteries. But we know she lived in the Samaritan town of Sychar. We know she heard the same message Judas must have heard a hundred times. But we know she accepted it.
In the last glimpse John provides us of the woman, we learn that she became an evangelist: “Many Samaritans believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony.”[iii] The last time we see or hear about Judas, he is swinging from a makeshift noose, the victim of a lifeless life.
The point is this: Only you and God know whether you are living the abundant life; only you and God know how it should be expressed in your time here on earth. Think of it this way: All people have hearts, but they don’t all beat the same. Likewise, all Christians are destined to live an abundant life, but it won’t always look the same.
So how can you tell if you’re living an abundant life? By checking your spiritual pulse.
The first step, of course, is salvation. If Jesus is nothing more than a historical figure or abstract concept to you, He wants to begin a relationship with you that will light the way toward an abundant life. Like the Samaritan woman, you can leave your mistakes behind, carry your questions and burdens to Him, and race into a tomorrow of joy and hope. She learned something that believers always seem to remind seekers: There is only one path to the Father, and that is the Son. But her story also reminds us of something that believers often forget: There are many paths to the Son.
If you have spent your life knowing about Jesus but never fully accepting Him, don’t make the mistakes that Judas, the Pharisees, and that rich young man made. Don’t allow religious tradition, pride or some earthly impediment to stand in the way of the abundant life He has waiting for you.
And if you have confessed Christ as your savior but allowed your own desires to take your life in a different direction than what Jesus wants, take heart. Peter walked that same meandering path, and Jesus waited for Him. Once Peter put Jesus ahead of himself, his life truly began. And he changed the world.
Means and Motives
As Peter’s early life with Jesus illustrates, salvation alone doesn’t necessarily translate into an abundant life. It wasn’t until Peter reflected on his failures and repented that he was restored. The same is true today. For Peter and for us, the abundant life is one of reflection, not perfection.
God wants us to reflect on our failures and triumphs, our highs and lows, our action and inaction. In doing so, we discover the real motives behind our decisions. And motives matter to God. As Proverbs 16:2 puts it, “motives are weighed by the Lord.”
When born out of selfish motives, even a good act is cheapened in God’s eyes. When you seek the praise of others, Jesus says you have received your reward in full. When appearances are more important than reality, the Holy Spirit is grieved. But when you do what’s right just because it is right, your motives are pure and heaven applauds. As Jesus explained to His disciples, when you pray or give to the needy, do it in secret. “And your father, who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”[iv]
Finally, an abundant life bears fruit. Internally, it bears the fruit of the spirit. Externally, it bears the fruit of action and kingdom work. As James wrote in his letter, “faith without deeds is dead.”[v] And eternally, it bears the fruit of lives touched and lives changed, as that Samaritan woman showed us when she carried the Good News to her village and changed her world.
Don’t be disappointed if someone notices these outward signs. That doesn’t mean your motives are impure or self-centered. To the contrary, it means you are living the life Jesus came to give you. However, you should be convicted if your goal is for people to notice these changes. There is an important distinction between the two.
Finding a Pulse
As any doctor or nurse will tell you, sometimes you have to feel around before you find a pulse, especially if it is weak. But no matter how weak it is now, the good news is that Jesus can make your heart strong—and your life abundant.
i John 10:10, NAS Bible.
iii I Samuel 16:7
ivJohn 4: 39
iv Matthew 6.
v James 2:26.