Over the past couple of weeks, I have been ruminating on something that Jesus said. It is John 10:10 and this is my translation of it: “The thief does not come except in order to steal and to kill and to destroy. I came so that they should have life and should have abundance.” Just a bit earlier (in verse 8), Jesus said that “all those who came before me are thieves and plunderers…” And when he says that, he’s referring to the religious leaders who have been putting an extremely difficult burden on the people to carry. And that burden was seen in the rules and regulations they expected the people to follow and live by.
It has been far too common that the gospel that has been preached and proclaimed by the church is one of austerity. What is emphasized (to a great degree, I believe,) is a faith that is characterized by asceticism, harshness, and discipline, and it is in those three things that one truly finds joy in life. And the benefits of the gospel, while believed as being true, in practice are shown as only for a future time in eternity, but not for life today.
Where’s the joy in that?
I have often wondered if that teaching hasn’t been a reaction to those who have preached what is known as a “health and wealth” gospel.
Austerity is the opposite of abundance. When Jesus talks about abundance, he isn’t only meaning provision for needs, though that certainly is included. And I have personally experienced having more than needed for living and, from that, have in turn been able to share that abundance with those around me who were in need.
But there are so many more things included in this abundance. For example, joy, peace, and love.
If the gospel doesn’t bring joy (happiness) in living this life, even in the face of difficult circumstances, what’s the point. People in the world too often live lives with very little joy. Living a life full of joy, even in the midst of difficult circumstances definitely stands out as different.
If the gospel doesn’t bring peace, which I see the opposite as stress, worry, and anxiety, what’s the point? Life in the world is characterized by stress, worry, and anxiety. What’s the point of the gospel if it doesn’t change that? Living a life free of stress, anxiety, and worry, but full of incredible peace even in the midst of situations that would cause stress, anxiety, and worry for others, stands out as different.
If the gospel doesn’t bring an abundance of love, even for those who hate us and curse us and insult us, what’s the point? It’s through the gospel that God pours His inexhaustible love into us. If that doesn’t truly change how we live, what’s the point?
And the list of what’s included in that abundance could go on and on and on.
Do you know what is appropriately characterized by austerity, strictness, harshness, asceticism, and discipline? Religion, that’s what. Take a look at the major religions of the world. They are commonly characterized by these things.
That is not the gospel, and those transform it into something that is characterized by austerity, harshness, asceticism, and discipline, they pollute the gospel.
It is this very reality that has caused individuals responding to being invited to become a Christian to say, “No thank you. I don’t want to be like you.” What are they really saying? If what I see from Christians is what the gospel offers, I’m not interested.
In other words, what’s the point?