I am a Christian because of the promise of abundant life now and eternal life forever. It’s a wonderful life!

February 3-4, 2018
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Why I am a Christian
Part 4: It’s a Wonderful Life!

Introduction

ILL: My senior year in college, my professor in Old Testament Theology, who had converted to Christianity from Buddhism, made the following statement: “If they could find Jesus’ body and prove beyond dispute that it really was the body of Jesus, I would still be a Christian. My faith would be unshaken, because the Christian life is the best way to live.”

Students all around me were nodding their consent. “Yes, the Christian life really is the best way to live.”

I raised my hand, and begged to differ. “If they could find Jesus’ body, I would not be a Christian. If Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, then the Christian message is not true. And regardless of how good it makes me feel, if it’s not true, I wouldn’t believe it.” I referenced Paul’s comments:

1 Corinthians 15:14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

1 Corinthians 15:17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

As far as Paul was concerned, if Jesus wasn’t raised, there is no Christian faith. Paul clearly would never have said, “If they produce Jesus’ body, I’ll still be a Christian, because it’s the best way to live.” That spawned two days of charged debate in our class.

Is the Christian life the best way to live? Yes! I’m going to give you reasons why I believe that is true. My professor and I agreed wholeheartedly on this: The Christian life really is the best way to live!

But why? Because it is true! This is why we started this series with the truth of the Christian message and the evidence for it. And because it is true, because it lines up with reality, because it makes sense and it works, it is the best way to live.

ILL: Anyone ever washed a new item of clothing, and when you pulled it out of the dryer, it looked like this? Then you read the little tag with the manufacturer’s instructions: “Do not put in dryer.”

Have you noticed that things work better when you follow the manufacturer’s instructions? If God is there, it makes sense that life goes better with Him. If the Christian message is true, it makes sense that the Christian life is the best way to live.

In this series, Why I am a Christian, we’ve talked about reasons for faith. I can’t prove the Christian faith is true, but I can offer evidence that makes it reasonable to believe. And the final piece of evidence that I want to offer is the Christian life itself. Jesus said:

John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Jesus didn’t come to make you more religious; He came to make you more alive! Fully alive! Now and forever! It’s a wonderful life!

The Big Idea: I am a Christian because of the promise of abundant life now and eternal life forever. It’s a wonderful life!

There are so many things I love about the Jesus-life, and I’ve picked out four to focus on today, and I want to tell you how each is unique in the Christian life.

  1. It’s a life of purpose.

Henry David Thoreau famously wrote in Walden, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”[1] So many people live without purpose. They get up, go to work, come home, watch tv, and go to bed…why? So they can get up and do it all over again tomorrow. Life is a monotonous treadmill of meaningless activity—quiet desperation.

In contrast, George Bernard Shaw also famously wrote: “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”[2] The joy in life is living for a mighty purpose, something bigger than yourself.

When Jesus calls you to follow, He calls you to a mighty purpose; He calls to live for God and God’s purposes. He calls you to be part of His plan to redeem and change the whole world! Think of the first disciples.

Mark 1:16–17 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”

Jesus gave them a new purpose. Instead of catching fish, they were going to work with Jesus to catch people for God. Jesus was calling them: “Come with me and change the world!”

Jesus does this for each of us when we meet Him—we are given a new purpose—a mighty one!

Before I met Jesus, I was completely self-absorbed. I lived for me, with almost no thought of others, or any larger purpose in life. I was devoted to a single purpose: my own happiness. I used people to make me happy; if you couldn’t make me happy, I had no use for you. I was a “selfish little clod.” All that changed when I met Jesus. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying that I’m never selfish any more. I can still be selfish. In fact, I am still writing JOY: Jesus, Others, You at the top of my to-do list every day to remind me that the joy of life is living for Jesus first, then others before you. It’s my daily reminder to not be selfish. But that makes my point. Before Jesus, I would never have thought of that, of putting someone or something before myself, of trying to live for something bigger than myself. Now I do. Jesus has given me a purpose bigger than me to live for! I am part of His plan to change the world.

ILL: In a famous story, Steve Jobs of Apple and John Sculley, then PepsiCo president, were sitting on a balcony overlooking New York’s Central Park. Jobs had been trying for weeks to recruit Sculley away from Pepsi to Apple, but Sculley wasn’t convinced. Finally, Jobs turned to Sculley and said, “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or come with me and change the world?” Sculley said the question landed like “a punch to the gut.”

Jesus is calling you: do you want to live for yourself, or come with Him and change the world? God has a purpose for you!

Romans 8:28–29 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

God calls you according to His purpose. God has a mighty purpose; God is up to something in the world, and He’s calling you to be part of it! Consider this world-changing prayer that Jesus taught us to pray:

Matthew 6:9-10 “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

This is what we pray for: we pray that God’s kingdom will come, that God’s will be done, right now, right here on earth. And we not only pray for it, but work for it. This is a mighty purpose! Pray this prayer, and then in every situation, start asking yourself, “What does God want here, in this situation, right now?” And do it! Change the world right where you are!

Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (NLT)

God has good things He planned long ago for you to do. He created you with a purpose—you are His masterpiece! He has plans and a purpose for you!

You might be thinking, “Joe, are you saying that you have to be a Christian to have purpose in your life?” No—lots of people who don’t believe in Jesus have purpose. But there’s a difference. If you don’t believe in God, if matter is all there is, then there is no inherent purpose in the universe. You have to make one up for yourself, and you have to live with the truth that it’s just something you made up, and in the end, it really doesn’t matter. You cannot tell yourself that you were created, designed and called for this great purpose. No—you’re just a cosmic accident trying to survive by making up a purpose. There’s a big difference between my made-up Joe-sized purpose and an inherent God-sized purpose. It’s the difference between selling sugar water and changing the world!

Our life of purpose is unique and distinct both in its source—God—and its size: it’s a purpose as big as God Himself! Jesus is calling: “Do you want to come with me and change the world?” It’s a wonderful life—a life of purpose!

  1. It’s a life of joy.

Many of you know that what first attracted me to Jesus was joy. I was invited to a youth rally where the speaker was funny and radiated joy.

Before that, when I thought of church, I did not think of joy or fun. I thought…BORING! I had been to church a few times in grade school. Everyone dressed in dark suits and were very solemn and serious. No one laughed. No one was having a good time. In fact, it seemed like a funeral service—and then I found out that it was a funeral—God had died on a cross! On top of that, one time after a service, I was chasing a friend in the church and was quickly stopped by an angry adult in a dark suit who scolded me for running in the house of God. I didn’t know why God should care—He was dead and we just had his funeral! Boring!

So the first time the speaker at this youth rally cracked a joke, and I laughed out loud, I slapped my hand over my mouth and looked around. Was this ok? Was a man in a dark suit going to haul me out? Was it ok to laugh in church? I discovered it was. We laughed that night—a lot—and I became a Christian. I was, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “surprised by joy!”

I discovered a life of joy in following Jesus. In fact, I discovered that Jesus promised that we would have joy—lots of it!

John 15:11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

Jesus had just finished telling them that He was the vine and we are the branches, and we are to remain in Him. Stay connected to Jesus and you will bear much fruit. Then He said this: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” Stay connected to Jesus and you’ll be full of joy! Jesus must have been a joyful person to say this.

ILL: So much religious art, including movies, portrays Jesus as a very solemn figure, like this famous portrait of Christ by Sallman. Man of sorrows—straight from a hair salon. Several movies about Jesus have portrayed Him without any humor—He’s super spiritual! (Act it out.) Imagine that Jesus saying this! Crazy! No one would want that! When Jesus said this, His disciples wanted what He had. They wanted His joy—a joy that was complete and full.

That’s why when Laina and I got married, we didn’t put Sallman’s Head of Christ in our home; we hung this portrait of Jesus by Richard Hook—smiling Jesus. We still have it! I’d take some joy from that Jesus! Or how about this portrait of Jesus by Willis Wheatly—laughing Jesus! I’d take some joy from that Jesus!

I’m telling you that Jesus was full of joy, and He wants you to be full of joy too! It’s a wonderful life—a life full of joy!

Am I saying that the Christian life is nothing but happiness and bliss? No. We live in a broken world, filled with heartache, trouble and sorrow—and Christians, like everyone else, experience their share of this. We’re not immune to suffering—and yet there is a joy that transcends suffering, a joy that keeps us singing through our pain.

Am I saying that you have to be a Christian to have joy in your life? No—lots of people who don’t believe in Jesus have joy or happiness. But I’m saying there’s a difference. There is something unique about a Christian’s joy.

How many of you are happy? Did you know that our words “happen, happening, happy, happiness” all come from the same root, the Middle English word “hap” which meant “chance, luck, fortune.” Happiness is the good feeling that comes from good fortune, good luck, good happenings. When what is happening around me is good, I’m happy. But what about when it’s not—when it’s bad? Well, I’m not happy.

But Christians have access to a joy that transcends their circumstances, what is happening around them. It is a joy that is found in our relationship with God. It is a joy that comes from being connected to Him. It is joy “in the Lord.”

Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Rejoice in what? In your circumstances? Nothing wrong with that, but that’s not the joy Paul is talking about here. Rejoice in the Lord. When? Always. This is a joy that is always available to us, no matter what is going on around us. This is why James could write:

James 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds

Pure joy in the face of trouble—because Jesus is at work in our lives. This is why Peter could write:

1 Peter 1:6–8 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.

In the midst of suffering and hardship, they could “greatly rejoice.” Why? Because they believed in Jesus and were filled with “an inexpressible and glorious joy.” How many of you want some of that?

This is a different kind of joy, and Jesus offers it to those who follow Him.     I have a reputation in our denomination as the happy pastor. Some of my fellow pastors believe they’ll never be as happy as me. Some of them also may think I’m a little shallow—isn’t that we often think about joyful people? You’re not “serious” and so you shouldn’t be taken seriously. I happen to think that Christians ought to be the most joyful people in the world! And I think that joy and celebration is the serious business of heaven and we ought to get warmed up now!

Our life of joy is unique and distinct both in its source and its duration: it’s joy in the Lord…always! It’s a wonderful life—a life of joy!

  1. It’s a life of love.

One of the first things I noticed when I became a Christian was that I was loved. People who had no other reason took an interest in me, cared about me, helped me, invested time in me. I soon discovered why. They wanted my money! No—I was in the 8th grade and so that wasn’t it. They loved me because that’s who God is and what God does, and that’s what Christians do too. Jesus said,

John 13:34–35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Jesus gave us a new command: love one another. And then He qualifies it: as I have loved you, you must love one another. How did He love us? He gave His life for us.

John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

He gave His life for us. He put us before Himself. He did what was best for us no matter what it cost Him—and it cost Him His life. This is love. Love is doing what is best for another no matter what it costs you.  That is how God loves you—and how we are to love one another. This love is so powerful, so distinctive that Jesus said it is what would mark us as His followers. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” This love is the best apologetic—the best defense of our faith, and the best publicity for Jesus! People are attracted like crazy to this kind of love!

ILL: Friday night, we hosted a Celebrating Diversity Dinner here at Life Center. I teamed up with several pastors of color, and we invited a very diverse group of pastors and Christian leaders to join us for dinner. We asked if they would team up to co-facilitate small groups of diverse pastors and Christian leaders. We want them to hear each other’s stories, become friends and love each other across our racial and ethnic boundaries. Then we want all of them to take that into their churches and ministries. We should be leading the way in bridging the racial divide because this love is the mark of being a Christian!

It’s a wonderful life—it’s a life of love. The apostle Paul wrote:

Ephesians 5:1–2 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Paul echoes Jesus. Jesus said we’re to love each other as He loved us. Paul says we are God’s dearly loved children, and we should love each other just as we’ve been loved. This is where the life of love starts: knowing that you are God’s dearly loved children. You are dearly loved. You are dearly loved. You are dearly loved!

ILL: About 8 months after I became a Christian, I went to my first summer camp—just before my freshman year in high school. It was life-changing. We ended each day around a bonfire singing songs of worship, and hearing a short talk. One night, as everyone else filed out to their cabins, I sat there…weeping. I was overcome by God’s love for me. It’s like God sat down next to me and put His arms around me and said, “You’re mine. I love you so much.” I was overwhelmed by God’s love for me.

You are dearly loved. When you get that, it changes everything. As dearly loved children, you can live a life of love. You can only give away what you have. You can give away lots of love because you’ve been loved a lot! You are dearly loved!

Am I saying that you have to be a Christian to have love in your life? No—lots of people who don’t believe in Jesus have love. But once again, there’s something unique about this love. For most people, love for others is something they feel, and love from others is something they earn.

Because love for others is something you feel, there are lots of people they don’t love. You don’t love your enemy. What do you feel for an enemy? Contempt; hate. But Christians love their enemies because for us, love isn’t something we feel; it’s something we do. We do what is best for another—even an enemy.

Because love from others is something they earn, many people don’t feel very loved. They often feel undeserving and so, unloved—they don’t measure up. But Christians know that we are God’s dearly loved children, that we did nothing to earn this love and can do nothing to lose it.

So on both counts, this is a different kind of love. It’s a wonderful love that we receive and that we turn around and give. It’s a wonderful life—a life of love.

  1. It’s a life of hope.

What do you think of when you hear the word “hope”? We often use the word to refer to something we wish for but aren’t certain it will happen. “I hope this sermon gets over soon…but Pastor Joe just keeps yapping!” Or “I hope the Eagles win the Super Bowl…probably won’t happen, but you can hope.” I call this kind of hope a “wimpy wish.”

In the Bible, the word for hope usually means “a confident expectation.” I expect this to happen so I’m planning and living accordingly. And in the New Testament, our hope is that Jesus will come again, create a new heaven and new earth, and we’ll live eternally with Him! It’s the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3:5–7 God saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

We have the hope of eternal life—the confident expectation that this life is not all there is, and the best is yet to come.

ILL: I was 13 when I first became a Christian, and honestly, this hope was not a big deal to me then. I was young and invincible—I had my whole life in front of me—heaven wasn’t a big deal. But as time went on, and friends or family died, it became a bigger deal.

In 2006, when my 22 year old son, Jeff, died, this hope meant everything to me. Jeff had Aspergers Syndrome, a form of high functioning autism that made social interactions difficult for him. Friendships were hard; life was hard for Jeff. When he died, I wasn’t “hoping” (wimpy wish) that he went to heaven; I was confident. Why? Because Jeff was a Christian—a Jesus follower. Yes, he made some bad choices—so have I. But (refer to verse above), I know he believed in Jesus, and because of that, I know he is in heaven. And I know that he is healed. And I know that he is experiencing life to the full!

And I wondered how people without Jesus, without this hope, cope with this kind of loss. I know I’ll see Jeff again; what would it be like to not have that hope. I know that Jeff is healed, that every wrong was put right; what would it be like to not have that hope, to think that Jeff got dealt a bad hand and it was never put right. Sucks to be you.

So am I saying that you have to be a Christian to have hope in your life? No—lots of people who don’t believe in Jesus have hope. But not this kind. Not the confident expectation of eternal life, that all wrongs will be put right, and that the best is yet to come. It’s a wonderful life—a life of hope.

Conclusion: A final proposal.

I’ve argued the last 4 weeks that the Christian faith is true and there are good reasons to believe. You will make a decision about Jesus one way or the other. You will believe, or not. You will follow Jesus, or not. Have you considered the possible outcomes of each?

Blaise Pascal was a famous 17th Century French mathematician and physicist. Maybe you’ve heard of Pascal’s wager. Pascal said that we’re all forced to wager on whether or not God is there or the gospel is true. Pascal writes, “Let us weigh up the gain and loss involved in calling heads that God exists. If you win, you win everything. If you lose, you lose nothing. Do not hesitate, then: wager that He does exist.”[3]

If you say yes to Jesus and this isn’t true, you lose nothing. You still live a great life. But if Jesus is true and you say no, you lose everything.

It’s a wonderful life, friends. I’m betting it’s true.

[1] Henry David, Thoreau, Walden, chapter 1, p. 8 (1966). Originally published in 1854.

[2] George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950), Q is from Man and Superman, epistle dedicatory (1903), The Bodley Head, Bernard Shaw: Collected Plays with their Prefaces, vol. 2, ed. Dan H.Laurence (1971).

[3]Pascal, Blaise, Pensees, Q. in D’Souza, Dinesh. What’s So Great About Christianity (p. 198). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.