Why Don't We See Christians Living an Abundant Life?

(Carson Weitnauer) #1

In a Q&A with Michael Ramsden, a participant in an Open Forum at UCLA asks the following question:

If the power of Jesus Christ is so great and its the only way to live an abundant life and never thirst again, how come we do not see more Christians living this transformed, abundant, Spirit-filled life?

Wow, what a great question!

Before reading any farther, maybe test yourself. Open a blank page and write down how you would answer this question!

Here’s how Michael Ramsden engaged with the questioner:

Some points worth reflecting on:

First, Ramsden identifies himself as part of the problem:

I want to be careful how I phrase this because of I’m part of the church, that’s part of my identity, ever since I myself became a Christian.

Second, Ramsden confesses that:

We’ve excused ourselves from a lot of that [having quoted a challenge from Martin Luther King, Jr.] and we’ve claimed comfort and convenience has been the highest ethic, rather than the principle of laying down your life in service for others. We’re expecting everyone to lay down their lives and service to us and that can’t possibly be right.

In other words, he basically agrees with the questioner that the criticism hits the mark.

Third, Ramsden deepens the critique by acknowledging that the picture of a “totally uncompromised” Christian that often comes to mind is not very attractive:

If you were to close your eyes and imagine a thoroughly uncompromised Christian — someone who was totally uncompromising in their Christian faith —we would immediately think of someone who’s very harsh, very difficult, and very unpleasant to spend time with.

At the same time, the answer is interspersed with examples worthy of imitation: Martin Luther King, Jr., the persecuted church, and the standard given to us in the Scriptures:

And we’re told that the fruit of their life, for everyone who claims to follow Christ, should be love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self control and so on. So let’s be thoroughly uncompromising about that.

What do you think?

  1. Is the moral example of Christians in your community inspiring to people of other worldviews and ways of life? Is your own moral example distinctively patterned after the standard given to us in Scripture?
  2. What role does confession of sin play in our evangelistic dialogue with family and friends?

(Tabitha Gallman) #2

I agree that it’s much about comfort and convenience. I personally don’t live a content lifestyle. In my heart I don’t always display the fruit of the spirit (if I’m honest). I’m always wanting more for myself and for my children. I know for myself I get the whole thing wrong. An abundant life is looked at as being too materialistic from my point of view, and I’m guessing by the houses and cars of my brothers and sisters in Christ that is their abundant life too?

(Jamie Hobbs) #3

There’s nothing abundant about my car, I can assure you. Except maybe the mileage on it. But I digress…

As in everything, this is a heart issue. I believe that “living abundantly” in Scripture has very little to do with your wealth or possessions. It manifests itself in joy, and when you have abundant joy, it spills out on other people. That’s part of letting your walk be your witness. Unfortunately, this day and age (and if you think about it, every age) uses “stuff” as the scorecard of life. He who dies with the most stuff wins. This is, of course, a lie from the enemy. When the Church uses the world’s standard for abundant living, we deceive ourselves.

(Tabitha Gallman) #4

I’m definitely not someone you would call a socialist by any means. Each person in my household has an automobile and not one of us would be willing to give it up without a struggle. (Although at times I’ve been tempted to trade in my smart phone for a flip phone, lol.) And I certainly enjoy my comfortable life. My struggle comes with what you describe as utilizing " “stuff” as the scorecard of life". I can remember as a child not having an indoor bathroom (although we did have running water in the kitchen). So, I am definitely not saying we should give up what God has blessed us with. Our conveniences (or extras) come at a cost to only distract from the things in life that are really important. I think we are on the same page with what the secular world views as an abundant life versus what followers of Christ view as an abundant life. Christ is my joy and only through him will I experience joy…especially when life happens and things start to unravel.

(Brittany Bowman) #5

Thanks for sharing this, Carson. How you broke down his response helps me understand a bit on how to craft an answer. It’s definitely a convicting question, and Ramsden answered with beautiful humility.

On one of the Vital Signs podcasts, Cameron McAlister said we must come to terms with the reality that, although we all have idealistic goals, people are better off now knowing us since all humans are all clothed in a sinful nature. At first I wrestled with that a bit, but as I think of people who have pretty firmly left the faith, I wonder if they really saw the complete picture of Jesus in me. How I wish unbelievers could just see Jesus directly without the risk of them being turned away by my shortcomings! Yet God’s plan is perfect and somehow he uses the fact we see only dimly as in a mirror for his glory. When Ramsdan so openly ties himself into the problem of church hypocrisy, he opens the conversation to explain grace and redemption. How you explained and broke down Ramsdan’s response really brings clarity on how I can better respond in the future.

To add to the conversation of how to live morally, Ravi Zacharias’ most recent string of Let My People Think broadcasts on pleasure have given me discernment on how to live more morally. Shawn Hart also had a really challenging thought in his speech at Refresh. I’m paraphrasing (but it is on the RZIM Facebook page) about how anyone in the world can feed the homeless and care for the widows. However, only Christians can do so while proclaiming Christ! I used to think service had to come first, followed by witnessing. However, as I realize more of who God is, I realize they cannot be separated.

(Natalia Love) #6

So this one sentence was the response I wrote on the blank piece of paper: What is abundant life?

How do we define what “abundant” is? By what standards? The world’s or the Word’s?

To answer the two questions:

  1. I do not think it is so for the majority of Christians (in my community) as there isn’t much of a “moral example,” especially given that many follow the mores of the worldly culture rather than trying to live a life as Jesus did. I can only hope that I live a life full of Jesus’ light but I do have my down days. In so many ways we, Christians have given Christ a bad name.

The thing is I cannot even try to live a moral life just because I have to since I am Christian. I can only live a such a life because I want to and because I find it attractive; why? Because Jesus’ is the best thing that ever happened to me and I adore him. I look up to Him. He’s perfect, I’m not. And so I want to live a transformative life, a life in awe of Jesus and wanting to be more and more like Him. Which leads me to the next question 2) in order for the Holy Spirit to do His work in me, I’ve to confess. I don’t have a few friends and my family that I bring myself accountable to but it has become my thing to come to the Lord every evening and confess my sins of the day. This honesty has broken my heart open and firstly, surrendered me to My friend and savior. Then what I’ve realized it has improved my relationship with friends/family because it has humbled me and also given the opportunity to my loved ones to pray for my specifics troubles. And you know… the Lord has heard those prayers and rewarded them. When we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.

(Anthony Costello ) #7

I struggle with questions like this, because it assumes that the questioner is in a position to accurately judge people, and that they are working with a quantifiable and accurate data set (i.e. that they personally know enough Christians and enough kinds of Christians to make the claim). While I like Michael Ramsden’s response, I wonder sometimes what exactly the questioner wants? I imagine it would also matter if the questioner considers him or herself a Christian, or whether they identify as a non-believer, skeptic, or something other than Christian. Also, what if the questioner just has one, particular Christian in mind? Is that kind of anecdotal evidence enough to extrapolate to a universal judgement?

Also, I wonder if always using Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Theresa as examples is a bit unfair to most of us. Of course, neither was perfect either. King Jr. was an adulterer, and even Mother Theresa struggled mightily with doubt in God’s goodness (although that might be a more subtle failure than adultery). I mean, maybe there is some saint out there, Joe Brown, who is simply unknown, but who lived just as faithful and humble of a life as Mother Theresa. How would we know?

Thus, part of what I don’t like about this question is I think it is grounded in a logical fallacy, namely in a hasty generalization. I have no idea how many Christians have lived abundant, God-honoring and saintly lives, since history simply hasn’t recorded anything about the majority of Christians. It reminds me of the Sarah Smith character in Lewis’ “The Great Divorce.” On earth, hardly anyone knew her, she was not special in any way. But everyone who did come in contact with her felt touched by Christ. In heaven she is a glorious Spirit, on earth she was a nobody.

I think that reflects not only the character of many Christians, but also implies that often we just make judgements about things without really having a data set that is representative of the population in question. In fact, wouldn’t there be a corollary between being an especially humble and meek Christian and a relative lack of popularity or public persona?


(Melvin Greene) #8

I have seen this video clip multiple times, @CarsonWeitnauer. Thanks for posting it and starting this discussion.

This is a very profound question. It’s a question that seems to strike a nerve in Christians; making us defensive and uncomfortable. “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” That seems to be the knee jerk reaction for a lot of us. I’m including myself in this statement, at least in my younger years. I’ve gotten better in answering this question, (I hope!).

There are many legitimate ways to answer this question. Michael Ramsden demonstrated one. I have answered in a similar way on occasion. When I do, I usually end with saying that even though there are many who call themselves Christians who don’t live what they profess, I would urge you to do honest research into Christianity and discover for yourself if it sounds reasonable to you. Don’t judge a belief system solely on the behaviors of it’s followers. As Michael also demonstrated, we have to choose are words very carefully, as well as our delivery. Some answers, though true, can sound like a lame excuse, or a “cop-out”, if we are not careful of our tone of voice.

I do agree in part with @anthony.costello. There are a lot of erroneous beliefs about what the Bible teaches us on how to live in a way that honors God. I remember one conversation I had with a self-proclaimed atheist. He was ranting about how rich people were evil and that most of them became wealthy by taking money away from hard working common people. He knew I was a Christian, so he asked me why are there rich Christians. He thought the Bible said that in order to be a Christian, we had to give everything away to the poor. Many times I have found that what prompts this question is a false belief, or understanding about Christianity. This does not diminish the legitimacy of the question. But, knowing what fuels this question can be a guide in how we answer. Once again, the teachings of RZIM come to mind in answering the questioner, not the question.

It’s funny. Whenever I dwell for any length of time on this question of why Christians don’t live the “abundant life”, another profound question springs to mind. Why does an all powerful, all knowing, eternal, perfect God choose such imperfect, broken, sinful people to represent him on earth? I have never been asked that question. Quite frankly, I’m not sure I would have an answer.

(Anthony Costello ) #9


Michael’s response is so good. I think also a very critical point to keep in mind when answering this question is to speak in the first person (either in the singular or plural). If I can keep the focus on my own failures, or perhaps speak as “we” the church, then I don’t fall into the trap of accusing others, which I think is something Satan would rejoice over. As Chesterton said in response to the newspaper article asking what the problem with the world is, when he said “I am” so too should we be open and genuine about our own moral failings. That way, we become the accused, which I think itself is following Christ’s own example.


(SeanO) #10

@CarsonWeitnauer I was once leaving a Church service at Moody Church in Chicago, when a man I did not know came up to me and asked, “Are you happy?” Honestly, my week had been a bit difficult and I probably did not look very happy. When I did not respond immediately, he said in an assured voice, “See, Christianity can’t make you happy either.” And then he walked away. It was a very startling exchange.

But I think that man made a critical error about the abundant life. The abundant life is not about always being happy, but about living a life of obedience to God and hope that is rooted in the amazing love of Jesus and the promise that one day all will be well in the new creation. The abundant life is rooted in hope and in love.

I agree with @anthony.costello that sometimes this question is asked without any real evidence. There are precious saints who serve God - just like in the days of Elijah when God had kept 7000 for himself even though Elijah thought he was the only one. In terms of answering the question, I wonder, is the typical confession for the hypocrisy of the Church the right route? And after that confession, should we press into the source of the abundant life - the forgiveness and grace of God?

I have often heard speakers move quickly to communal confession on behalf of the Church. Based on @anthony.costello’s remarks and the true source of the abundant life, I do wonder, is that the right route? Is there a stereotype the questioner is propagating without sufficient evidence to back up their claim? Should this confession be nuanced a bit?

Look forward to hearing others’ thoughts. Appreciated the video - the opening joke about paying a visit to all the hypocrites the questioner knew really broke the ice before the answer in a brilliant way.

The Abundant Life is Rooted in Hope

The man who noticed I was not bursting with joy outside of the Church that day, in my opinion, made an error about the abundant life. The Christian always has hope and can rejoice in the Lord, but that does not mean there is never sadness. Even Jesus wept. There is a time for rejoicing and a time for weeping. This life has ups and downs - but the hope we have in Christ never changes.

2 Corinthians 4:7-9, 16-18 - “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Romans 8:22-25 - We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

The Abundant Life is Rooted in Love of God

I agree with Michael Ramsden that obedience to God’s moral commands is one element of the abundant life and that hypocrisy is a sign that the abundant life is not being lived out. However, I do think its important to remember that obedience flows from love when answering this type of question. We see this very clearly in the example of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet in the house of the Pharisee. If we do not first recognize our need for and then experience God’s love, we cannot come to Jesus for the living water from which the abundant life flows.

John 14:21 - Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.

Luke 7:47 - Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.

(Stu) #11

Awesome question

  1. What does the Bible say is a Abundant Life.
    Well with out looking up Scripture the only riches Jesus talks about are heavenly, power of the spirit, love, kindness, grace and truth.
    I remember that Paul talks about paying his own way that way he was storing up his heavenly rewards.
  2. The church is guilty of trying to make a temple and asking us Christians to pay for it. When We are the temple.
    I personally wish the church would go back to its grass roots and be a community no rich no poor we all have what we need and the rest goes to missions, we don’t need beautiful buildings and all that stuff.
    I also think the closer we get to Christ the more abundant we will be.
    Other then that what do you guys think. Am I way off lol just trying to fit in hear lol.

(Les) #12

Very well said, Brittany. I look at my life now and compare it to 27 years ago before I received Jesus as my Savior, and I see abundance. This has nothing to do with material things. Jesus came into my life and began to change me immediately and dramatically. But how many times do I fail to show the love of Jesus in my daily walk? Far too many times, I confess. I have learned that when I immerse myself in the Word, my walk reflects that my spirit has been edified and the fruit of the Spirit can be seen in me. On the flip side, if I’m spending time watching TV or talking about sports, it’s my flesh that has been edified because my focus isn’t on Jesus. When Peter lost his focus on Jesus, he began to sink. Same goes for us; we must keep our eyes on Him and allow Him to work through us. Otherwise we begin to sink and when that occurs, the world is witness to it. I’m thankful that my Savior has a tight grasped of my hand and He won’t let go.