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“I am the gate. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:9-10)

Have the life you’ve always wanted!

It sounds like the type of topic which should be found in the self-help section of the local bookstore. It sounds like one of the messages presented by the television evangelists with the pearly white teeth and the  beautiful smile who promise that as long as you give money and believe, God will give you everything you’ve ever wanted. It doesn’t sound like it should be coming from the lips of Jesus half way through the gospel of John. Yet that is exactly where it is found. Jesus is declaring to the world that the reason he came to earth, the reason he took on flesh and chose to submit himself was for the sole purpose of allowing us, (stinky, sweaty, smelly humans) to have life. But not just any type of life: abundant life, real life, everlasting life, a life that truly matters. That’s what the phrase means. Abundant life. It’s the same thought as in John 3:16 (for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.) Abundant life is everlasting life. A life with purpose and design. A life that really matters.

We hear that phrase and we get confused because we think of everlasting life as heaven, and we think of abundant life as some sort of material blessings. We’ve bought into the lies of the world that abundant life must involve more money, greater possessions, exotic vacations, and more honor and prestige. Because of those lies, we feel sorry for those who have less, and jealous of those who have more. But it’s really just our own confusion. We’ve made the mistake of imposing our own thoughts on scripture, instead of reading Jesus for discipleship. Jesus never says, I’ve come so that you’ll have everything. Jesus says, I’ve come so that you’ll have abundant life, and in the next verse he clarifies what abundant life means, and it’s not what we expect.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)

That’s not what we expect. We think the Good Shepherd should get rewarded. The Good Shepherd should get a promotion, and receive a reserved parking spot at the next shepherding convention. But Jesus has other ideas. According to Jesus, the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. If that’s true, than you and I have received abundant life specifically because the Good Shepherd laid down his life for us. The Good Shepherd endured the cross for us, allowing us to receive the abundant life.

Discipleship, however, goes one step further. Remember, Jesus said in each of the synoptic gospels, “anyone who wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow.” If we want the abundant life, we have to follow the Good Shepherd. The word translated good is the Greek word kalos, which carries more of the notion of ideal, or model. Jesus isn’t just the Good Shepherd, Jesus is the Model Shepherd. Which means that if we want abundant life, we act like Jesus. If we want abundant life, we embrace the truth that discipleship is about laying down our lives for others. Jesus says in the synoptic gospels, anyone who wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow. Following Jesus is about death to self for the sake of others.

In practical terms, it changes our perspective. Having an abundant life is not about money, power, or prestige. It’s not rising the corporate ladder or going on exotic vacations. The abundant life is actually the opposite. Abundant life is about care and concern for others. Abundant life is about loving others more than we love ourselves. Abundant life is found in giving ourselves to a cause that has the ability to make life better for everyone else. Not just better for ourselves, but for everyone else. Abundant life is found not in collecting or hording, but in emptying oneself and giving away.

This sort of life leading to abundance doesn’t make sense. It seems contrary to what we’ve learned in the world. Of course, God does have a way of making the word’s wisdom seem foolish, and the foolishness of God lead to the best life imaginable.