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Taking Jesus at His Word

Max Wilkins reminds us of the life Jesus came to give

I was saddened, if not surprised, by a conversation at a recent dinner engagement with some longtime friends. Lamenting the challenge he was having in keeping his 30-something daughter engaged in church, the father said, “You know how it is these days. She recently came home from church quite upset about the pastor’s message. She said, ‘I don’t like to be challenged or made to feel guilty about my life choices in church! I want to leave feeling good, blessed, and happy about my life. Isn’t that what church is supposed to do for me?’”

In recent times, the Christian faith in North America is seemingly being morphed into something unrecognizable from the kingdom-minded, life-giving journey to which Jesus called His followers. And while this new, feel-good, require-nothing religion fits in nicely with our consumption-oriented, self-centered Western culture, it is producing blasé, unengaged devotees who are increasingly asking, “Is this all there is?”

It is impossible to reconcile this pabulum with the wonders of authentically following Jesus.

Understanding life
When I first trusted Jesus, I quickly became enamored with the promise of John 10:10. It became my life verse. In it Jesus describes how a thief comes to steal, and kill, and destroy. But, He says, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (NKJV).

To get the full intent of this powerful promise of abundant life, it is necessary to consider how Jesus uses the word life. There are several words in Greek that can be correctly translated as life in English. The common word bios, from which we get biology, refers to the opposite of death. It means the breathing in and out of our physical existence. Interestingly, Jesus uses bios in Luke 8:14, in the parable of the soils, when He says, “As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who, when they have heard, go on their way and are choked with worries, riches, and pleasures of life [bios], and produce no mature fruit.”

In John 10:10, however, Jesus speaks of zoe, often described as an appetite for life, a zest for living, even as “aliveness.” More than mere existence, zoe is about becoming fully alive. And furthering the point, the word Jesus uses to speak of abundance in this same verse is a qualitative, not a quantitative, word. Thus, despite the empty promises of our materialistic, consumer-driven society, the abundant life Jesus promises those who would follow Him is not one of abundance of riches and possessions, but one of aliveness and rich quality.

Understanding promises
Of course, this life to which Jesus is calling His followers was never promised as a life of constant comfort and ease. He clearly instructed those who would be His disciples to “count the cost.” He openly affirmed that there would be trials, challenges, and tribulations. He never suggested that people could follow Him without ever having their life choices challenged. Indeed, in order to “follow” Him, disciples would be required to allow Jesus to set the course and direction of their lives. He even went as far as saying that only those who would lose their lives for His sake would find the abundant life He was promising.

There is a famous scene in the 1991 motion picture Terminator II where, in the midst of crisis and challenge, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character extends his hand toward the hero of the story and says, “Come with me if you want to live!” It is a moment of decision, of trust, of willingness to step into an unknown adventure and a new life. And while everything about what lay ahead was uncertain, one thing was sure: It would not be an ordinary, dull, meaningless existence.

The real offer
I remember thinking the first time I saw that scene: They stole our story! To answer the call to discipleship—the call to join Jesus in His mission—is to hear Jesus say, “Come with me if you want to live” and to make the choice to take Him up on His offer, regardless of where that pathway may take you. I am convinced it is the only way to know and experience the abundant life Jesus promised.

In this issue of Unfinished you can read about “Moral Therapeutic Deism,” a caricature of authentic Christianity that is taking root in our culture. You will also read the stories of several TMS Global cross-cultural workers who have made the choice to give their lives to Jesus in following Him in His mission, and who are experiencing adventure, meaning, and the abundant life Jesus promised as a result. I hope you know this life is available to each of us as well. According to Jesus, this is what He came for.

Max Wilkins is president and CEO of TMS Global.