John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, makes things simple for us. He writes:
Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
(1 John 5:12)
The logic here is indeed simple. Jesus equals life. No Jesus, no life. While the logic is not hard to follow, the challenging question is this: what is this life John talks about? Jesus himself said he is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). What is this life we have in Jesus? What is this life Jesus embodies? This eternal life, everlasting life, abundant life, resurrection of life, bread of life, Spirit-giving life, light of life, self-giving life, what is it? There are obviously those around us who do not “have the Son,” they do not acknowledge Jesus in any form, and yet they have some form of life. They at least have biological life, intellectual life, a social life, etc. So what is this life Jesus talks about?
I tried to take a stab at understanding this Jesus life in my book on the Apostles’ Creed, as I reflected on the last line of the creed, “I believe….in the life everlasting.” Here is my attempt at making sense of the subject of life:
Although we may lack the ability to clearly define life, we can see it when contrasted to death. We clearly understand the finality and termination of death. Whenever any animated person or thing loses animation, we say it is dead. Death is the end of existence. Batteries die; toys die; dogs die; people die. If death is the end of existence then life is the presence of existence. We can nearly all agree we avoid death because it is bad. Humanity continues searching for an existence free of death, a life everlasting, because death undermines everything we consider important and precious. (Primal Credo, pg. 153)
Life is the “presence of existence,” but it is more than mere existence. We can find some help from the world of Greek philosophy. Aristotle used a word, which for him was the goal of human existence. The word was eudaimonia. It is difficult to translate into English. It used to be translated “happiness,” but a more accurate translation may be “human flourishing,” that is, “reaching your full human potential.” What Aristotle called “human flourishing,” Jesus called “life” and it is only available in Christ. He is the full embodiment of this life, so we can rightly call it the Jesus life. It is the ability to become fully alive and reach one’s full human potential physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually, etc.
The bigger question on most people’s mind may not be “what is life?” but “how do we experience it?” The best way to answer that question may be in the form of a mathematical formula. The Jesus way plus the Jesus truth equals the Jesus life. In other words you have to both confess the truth about Jesus and walk the way of Jesus in order to experience the Jesus life.
The truth about Jesus is that he is God’s son and our Lord. This truth we confess in the Apostles’ Creed. Jesus is God’s Son, God’s only son, eternally begotten of the Father. As the Son of God he is the “spittin’ image of his father.” He is not another god or a created god, but he is fully God. He is God’s son and his is our Lord. We do not make Jesus Lord by any act of prayer or confession on our part. Rather God made Jesus Lord when he raised him from the dead. God made Jesus Lord (which means boss, master, ultimate authority) over the entire planet. When we confess this to be true, we are pledging our allegiance to Jesus.
Some people want the Jesus life by only confessing the Jesus truth. They wrongly assume if they just say a prayer or cry out to Jesus that BOOM they begin to experience the Jesus life all at once. But this is not true. Confessing the Jesus truth is not enough to experience the Jesus life, because the Jesus way plus the Jesus truth equals the Jesus life.
It is easy to accept the Jesus truth. It is hard to walk the Jesus way.
The Jesus way is the trail Jesus blazed for us. It is the new way to live as a human being. The trail head is the two-fold command to love God and love neighbor and the signposts are the beatitudes he proclaimed in Matthew 5. While the Jesus way includes all Jesus taught, you could sum up the Jesus way in looking at Jesus’ most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 5, 6, & 7. In this sermon we could describe the Jesus way like this:
The Jesus way is the way of peace, not anger.
The Jesus way is the way of purity, not lust.
The Jesus way is the way of marriage, not divorce.
The Jesus way is the way of integrity, not begging people to trust you.
The Jesus way is the way of non-violence, not getting back at those who hurt you.
The Jesus way is the way of generosity, not taking advantage of people.
The Jesus way is the way of love, not hate.
The Jesus way is the way of authenticity, not hypocrisy.
The Jesus way is the way of prayer, not empty ritual.
The Jesus way is the way of forgiveness, not bitterness.
The Jesus way is the way of fasting, not pigging out all the time.
The Jesus way is the way of giving, not hoarding.
The Jesus way is the way of trusting, not worrying.
The Jesus way is the way of mercy, not judging others.
The Jesus way is the way of asking God, not living in despair.
The Jesus way is the way of the Golden Rule, not selfish ambition.
The Jesus way is the way of discernment, not ignorance.
The Jesus way is the way of knowing God, not playing religious games.
The Jesus way is the way of building life on the Rock, not building on sinking sand.
This Jesus way sounds difficult. I know. It sounds hard. I know. It sounds like a lot. It is, but this is why the Father pours out the Holy Spirit through the Son upon the Church so we may have a Helper who can empower us and shape us to live the Jesus life. It is a difficult way to navigate, but God gives us the Scriptures to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. It is a difficult way, which is why God has called us to the Church where we can make friends who can encourage us along the Jesus way.
It is a tough, uphill climb, walking this Jesus way, but the summit is the Jesus life.
And the Jesus life is measured in love.
The capacity by which we love is the capacity by which we experience life.
We love because God first loved us. He initiated by sending his Son. We respond by faith and love. We walk the Jesus way by love. If we lose our way along the trail, we return to the trail head of loving God and neighbor. This Jesus life we all so desperately want is measured out in the love we receive and the love we give.
The Jesus way plus the Jesus truth equals the Jesus life.