Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 20, 2014
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
— John 10:10, ESV
We all want more.
We find ways to get it, too. If we want more money, or the stuff money can buy, we get better jobs or bigger credit cards. If we want more sex than holy matrimony provides, there is no end to the illicit means by which we can find it. If we want more time on earth, we can take better care of ourselves and, when the crisis comes, we can opt for that operation. And, if we want more of God, who offers an infinite supply of grace, mercy, and peace, then opportunities to attend corporate and personal worship and Bible study are always available.
More is out there. There is always a way to find more of what we want. Because, what we really want is more.
The cautionary tale is that the devil wants us to have more, too. He has found many ways to give it to us. Not all of them look so bad, either. There seems to be a broad road of people who have lined up to accept his offer. What they may not know, however, is that often times a small bite of an apple can lead to a deadly addiction to apple pie.
The good news that I preach to you today, however, is that the Lord promises more, and He has the way and means to fulfill that promise. Yet the road is narrow and the line is short for the more the Lord has to offer. I think it is because it seems like less at the time, until we take the time to learn what more really means.
In this familiar tenth verse from the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, our Lord Jesus Christ speaks succinctly about alternatives and access to more. He first warns of a thief, and identifying this thief is not as obvious as it appears. Then He offers life, true life found in the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. With the Lord’s last word, there is His absolute promise of more.
The Thief: Addiction
The thief is not expressly identified in this text. In the larger context, thief is one of four words used nine times to identify a particular person, place, or thing. Other terms include: robber, stranger, and hired hand.
Most people interpret the thief to be the devil. I think the devil is a thief, but he is not the one mentioned here. Read further and you will find a wolf in the story. The devil is the wolf, but it is the thief or robber or stranger or hired hand that allows the devil to trap victims and take them down with him.
Perhaps the thief is a false prophet, a purveyor of false religion or no religion, and that certainly could fit. Maybe there is a thief in each one of us, or at least those of us who take our God-given time, talents, and treasure and steal them way in some enterprise other than the glory of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the advancement of the kingdom of God. That could fit, too. But I think the thief is something more subtle, murkier, which lurks in the heart of every human being, hiding behind every solicitation for something more.
The thief is a cancerous and fast-spreading thing we call addiction. It is the wanting of more, where more takes you outside the parameters of the will of God, beyond compassionate consideration of other people, and past the point of well-being to your own physical, mental, or spiritual health. You can imagine how otherwise good things can become bad addictions, such as food, sex, money, sport, and even religion. When more becomes an addictive thief, it steals like a robber, is a stranger to the person who has it, and like a hired hand it is a cheap substitute for real blessedness, joy, and peace.
We tend to think of addicts as being the few, not the many. They are the small percentage of people who have sunken eyes and rotten teeth from succumbing to the temptation of drugs. They are the sick souls whose pornographic minds have motivated them to molest women or children. They are the small percentage of the one-percenters who have cheated the government or bilked their clients or starved their workers to squeeze out one more house or one more car or one more dollar for themselves. These people have addictions, but not me; or, so we like to think.
Actually, a deadly addiction is anything in your life that you want more than a right relationship with God. It can be drugs, sex, or money, but it does not have to be. It is often something more general and encompassing like success, or happiness, or the wrong kind of love. In this world most people are addicted to something, something they want more than God in their lives. Please know it is dangerous. Please know the wolf is at the door. Please know it is the thief [that] comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
Being primarily committed to anyone or anything else in life other than the Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself is the life, is a deadly addiction. It will steal what little time you have here on earth. It will kill your body and soul in the end. And the destruction it leaves in its wake endures for eternity. But, there is a better way to get more, more of what really matters most.
Jesus Christ: Abundance
In juxtaposition to the thief, Jesus presents Himself. While the addictions of sin and self-interest lead to destruction, Jesus said, I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. Abundantly is an adjective God’s word uses to describe the life that Jesus offers, and it literally means more. Addiction, a vain attempt for more, leads to death. Jesus offers life, and more of it.
To receive the life offered by Jesus, you simply but profoundly have to give your life to Him. This requires much more than walking an aisle, praying a prayer, joining a church, or attending an Easter service. It requires serious thought, concerning the gospel message of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It requires honest confession, identifying your own sinfulness and culpability in the death of Christ. It requires ongoing faith, one that not only professes to be a Christian but also practices the disciplines of Christianity. It is a life, quite frankly, where you will have less time for yourself yet somehow receive more of life from God.
Sugar-coaters in pulpits and charlatans on television have mischaracterized the abundant Christian life offered by Jesus Christ, so let me take a few minutes to set the record straight.
The abundant life is not a promise of health and wealth. You can be a fully devoted follower of Jesus and die young from disease or disaster. You can commit to all the disciplines of a true believer, including giving tithes and offerings, and still have trouble paying the bills at the end of the month and even lose your job. This is not the more we follow Jesus for.
The abundant life is not a promise of happiness and excitement. Some of the most unhappy times in your life as a Christian are when the principles you stand on cause you to lose a relationship with someone you love, or be attacked by someone you trusted, or in catastrophic cases being killed by the very people you were trying to help. Even every day Christianity, with its steadfast commitment to Sundays, sacraments, sermons, and singing can seem anything but exciting. Being a faithful husband to an aging wife is not as exciting as running of with some sexy secretary. No, being a believer just might make you, in opposition to the man in the Dos Equis commercial, the most boring man on earth.
The abundant life is not a promise of sinless perfection, as is falsely offered by some defective streams of theology. Christians sin in obvious and ugly ways just like all humans. Christians can even become addicted to certain selfish behavior for a season. The only difference between Christians and non-Christians is that Christians cannot continue long-term in habitual sin. They will eventually overcome a sinful habit by faith, or our faithful God will call them home early. See John’s little letter we call 1 John for a further discussion on this matter.
So if the abundant life is not a promise of constant stuff and surprises and sinlessness, then what does the abundant life promise? It simply promises abundance, and abundance simply means, more.
When a lost person’s life is over, there is no more. There is no more food, drugs, sex, or money. There is no more family, friends, or fun. There is no more opportunity to attend a church, hear the gospel, or give your life to Christ. I do not pretend to have any dogmatic determination of where Hell is or what Hell is like. I only know it is a place where there is no more.
But for those who follow Jesus Christ, when life on earth is over, there is more — much, much more. Frankly, it think it will be fun and exciting. I know the health and wealth benefits will be off the charts. The food will be exquisite, the feeling will be better than sex, and in the family there will be no dysfunction, no separation, and no one to break your heart. And honestly, I cannot say what Heaven will be like any more than I could tell you about Hell. Except, in Heaven, there will always be more.
Permit me to close this message with a fairly casual, cultural illustration. Jesus comes to your today preached, and in the preaching of this particular text he is dressed like Clint Eastwood in one of the closing scenes of The Outlaw Josey Wales. Bear with me, for you are the great Indian chief, Ten Bears. Josey Wales brings to Ten Bears an offer, a simple offer of life. He cloaks it in a covenant covered with blood. There are no bells, no whistles; only life, and more of it.
Jesus came to earth, endured death on a cross, rose again the third day, to bring you this offer of life. It is a life of forgiveness, meaning, joy, and peace. And it is a true life, where there truly will always be, more.