The church in America today appears to misunderstand what it means to have an abundant life.
Many congregations across the U.S. are hearing messages from the pulpit like, “God has a vision for your life… God has something greater for you… You have untapped potential God wants to unleash.” Pastor Dean Inserra has dubbed it the “new prosperity gospel.” Gone are the days when the nation’s favorite preachers wear suit jackets and slacks, promising instant riches and healing of all your ailments if you just sow your seed and give to their ministry. Nowadays, the country’s most popular pastors wear skinny jeans and expensive sneakers and preach that God wants to give you a breakthrough, turn your setback into a comeback, and make all your dreams come true, if only you claim them and declare them to be.
These “new prosperity” churches believe that the abundant life Jesus promised us in John 10:10 includes job promotions, fancy cars, and Instagram-worthy vacations (God only wants the best for us, right?). But this is not what the truly abundant life looks like. We are not called to follow our dreams or fulfill our destiny. We are called to die.
The Call to Die
During His ministry, Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23, ESV) Christians today see crosses so often—on t-shirts and jewelry, on wall art and bumper stickers, on church logos and chapel steeples—that we can forget the significance of “taking up your cross.” This doesn’t mean that you don your gold cross necklace whenever you leave the house. Crosses were instruments of torture, where criminals suffered and bled for hours as they awaited their death. Those who “took up crosses” in the first century A.D. went through unimaginable, excruciating pain as a consequence for how they lived their lives.
When we’re called to “take up our cross,” we’re being told to expect hardship and persecution as a consequence for choosing to follow Jesus. We’re being called to present ourselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). We’re being called to die (Mark 8:35). And what exactly are we called to die to? Our sins and our desires.
Die to Sin
We’re called to die to our sins. Why? Because this was the express purpose of Jesus’s death on the cross. Peter writes in his first epistle, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” (1 Peter 2:24, ESV) When Jesus was crucified, He forgave us of and freed us from our sin. But as we all know, our propensity to sin doesn’t stop when we say the sinner’s prayer. This doesn’t mean that we should become blasé in our spiritual lives and continue sinning. After all, hasn’t Jesus already forgiven us of all our sins? As Paul teaches the Romans, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” (Romans 6:1b-2a, ESV) We are crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), which means we must flee from temptation and kill our sins, before they kill us (Romans 6:11).
Die to Desires
We’re also called to die to our desires. The Apostle Paul writes to church in Galatia, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24, ESV). We’ve established that we need to die to our sinful desires, but what about our good desires? Our desire for a spouse. Our desire for a good job. Our desire for nice things. Are we really supposed to die to these?
We are. Paul once called our desires “deceitful.” (Ephesians 4:22) Jeremiah calls our hearts “desperately sick.” (Jeremiah 17:9) Even if it’s a good, innocent desire, it can quickly become an idol. It can quickly cause us to covet what our neighbors have. And even if our desires don’t cause us to sin, they may not be what God would have for us, and we’re wasting our time pining over things that are not in God’s good and sovereign will. Instead, we must lay down our desires and trust and obey the Lord. Like Dean Inserra writes in his book Getting Over Yourself, “The actual road to the greater things Jesus promised is not paved with our desires but with small steps of obedience and faithfulness as soldiers in His kingdom and mission.”
The Truly Abundant Life
It is only when we obey God’s call to die to our sins and die to our desires that we can experience the truly abundant life Jesus promises us in John 10. Paul declares to the Galatian church, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20, ESV) Christ is risen, and we now live with him (Romans 6:8, 2 Timothy 2:11). Our lives are hidden in Him (Colossians 3:3).
Denying yourself, taking up your cross, and dying to your sins and desires may not sound like that great of a life. But it really is the best life we could ever live. Author Gretchen Saffles writes, “Dying to yourself doesn’t mean missing out on true life; it means embracing life as it was always meant to be—worshiping God, serving others, and living for his glory. Dying to yourself isn’t the loss of who you are as a person; it’s discovering who you were meant to be—a servant, a sacrifice, and a recipient of God’s grace.”
God does have a vision for your life: dying to yourself. Because it is only when you die that you can truly live.