"I have come," says Jesus, "that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10). Another way of saying "life to the full" is "abundant life." Jesus' vision for our lives is that we will find what it is to really live. We're called not to just a little taste of life but to an abundance of life. Jesus came to give us life that is worth living.
A Comparison What does life to the full look like? Do you think a life to the full, a life as Jesus wants it to be for us, can best be described by words like regret, shame, grief, loneliness, disappointment, and monotony? Or is a life to the full better described as a life of joy, contentment, satisfaction, meaning, overflowing with love and kindness, selflessness, and stability? Compare:
Is life to the full best described as . . . a life of regret and shame over poor choices? a life of grief for the harm you cause to others? a life of loneliness because you feel like no one cares about you? a life of disappointment because what you have is never enough? a life of dullness and monotony because you can't find meaning for your life? a life of indifference because you have given up hope and trust in God? a life of self-indulgence because you don't care what God or others think?
Or is life to the full best described as . . . a life of joy and contentment about what God brings your way, because you are secure in your relationship with God (Phil. 4:4-13)? a life of satisfaction with what God’s grace has accomplished in your life and what God will continue to do in you (Eph. 2:8-9)? a life filled with meaning because you now can live life how it was meant to be lived (Eph. 2:10)? a life overflowing with love and kindness to others (Eph. 4:32)? a life of selfless giving and service toward those around you out of gratitude for what Jesus’ selflessly did for you (Phil. 2:1-11)? a life of stability even when things are not going well for you because you are secure in the hands of God (Rom. 8:35-39; Hab. 3:18-19)?
I believe this second list aligns better with what Jesus means when he says he came to give us "life to the full."
Formulas for Success But, you may think, I only experience things like joy, contentment, stability, and meaning occasionally. I'm trying to live for God, but my life can better be described as full of grief, loneliness, disappointment, monotony, and regret rather than joy, contentment, stability, and meaning. What am I doing wrong?
Great question. Unfortunately, I think we all fit in the first list much more often than we should. I think we don't fit in the second list as often as we should. We, as followers of Christ, often don't experience life to the full. The abundant life that the Bible describes seems out of reach. What are we doing wrong?
I don't believe a formula or a set of rules will get us back on the right track. "Do this, this, and this, and you'll have an abundant life" – that approach won't fix things. That is like trying to set and keep a huge list of New Year's resolutions. How many of us really keep all the resolutions we've made each year? Jesus challenged the religious leaders of his day, who tried very much to follow strict rules to achieve a status before God, with these words: "But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matthew 9:13; Jesus quoted from Hosea 6:6). Following a set of rules just for the sake of following them, and then feeling miserable when we can't reach our own standard, is not what God wants for us. But setting our standard really low and then being happy that we can easily keep that standard is not what God wants either (that would be like having your big New Year's resolution be "I'm resolving to eat some food, get some sleep, and be awake sometimes" when that is what you do anyway).
But I think that is the direction we often take, trying to follow a set of rules or match our lives to some formula for success. So we end up not experiencing an abundant life because we go about living the wrong way. We try to squeak by on making the minimal amount of effort – go to church on Sunday, read the Bible occasionally, smile nicely at someone at least once a week – while living self-centered lives the rest of the time. Or we try to make ourselves look good by saying the right things, going to the right places, and doing the right things, even while inside we wither away to nothing. Or we try to live on our own strength, thinking we're fully sufficient in ourselves to make the good life happen, to avoid sin, and to bring honor to God.
Don't misunderstand me. I think many of those things are good things to be doing (going to church, smiling, reading the Bible, avoiding sin, honoring God). But the problem comes when we do these things for the wrong reasons or with improper motives. We don't experience the abundant life that Jesus designed for us when we are motivated by self-sufficiency, external appearances (looking "good" to people around us), or trying to live God's way on our own strength.