This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

The gospel of life

Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). This is the heart of the gospel, and it’s the theme of John’s Gospel, repeated again and again. John 1:4, “What has come into being in him was life.” 5:26, “Just as the Father has life in himself, so also the Son has life in himself.” 6:35, “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life.’ ” 11:25, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ ” 14:6, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’ ” 14:9, “ . . . because I live, you also will live.”

Life. Life. Life. Life. Jesus offers us an invitation to life, to live in God’s life. That’s what his life and death and resurrection were all about. To show us life. To show us how to live.

And not just show us, but empower us. To infuse us with life, that we become permeated with God’s life. To draw us into the life of Jesus, which is God’s life, which is eternal life, salvation — as we are being saved from all the stuff in this world that disfigures life, that corrupts life, that hurts our lives and the lives of our neighbors.

Resurrection is the culmination of Jesus’ message of life. Resurrection is God’s affirmation of life — a declaration, for all to see, that God is for life, that God is on the side of life, not death. That’s how the Peruvian preacher and theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez, talks about the God of the Bible, the God of our faith.

“Christianity is a message of life,” he writes, “a message based on the gratuitous love of [God] for us. . . . Christian existence is a style of life” (Gutierrez, We Drink from Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People).

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). If you want a good way to summarize our faith, that’s the verse. We worship a God of life. And not just worship, but we find ourselves held in God’s life, brought within God, at home with God, as we find our life in the life of Jesus. Jesus is the style of our lives, as Gutierrez would put it, our style of being human, which is why we are nonviolent, why we refuse to kill, because we have become part of the life of Jesus. There are others, Jesus says in our passage, who “steal, kill, and destroy” (v. 10). But they aren’t with God; because, with Jesus, there’s nothing but life. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” he says.

The book of Acts opens up a window for us to see how the first Christians lived in this abundant life of Jesus. We see how they styled their lives as they were caught in the movement of God’s salvation. They met together, we read in Acts 2, for teaching and fellowship, as they broke bread and prayed for one another. Here we have the beginnings of our model for worship, for church: gathering for biblical reflection, prayer, communion and fellowship.

But there’s more. “All the believers were together,” it says, “and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as she or he had need” (Acts 2:44-45). To be people of God meant that they shared their lives, generously. They lived by grace — the grace of sharing what they had, what they earned, what they worked for.

This style of life captured the imagination of the early Anabaptists, our ancestors of the faith: “Omnia sunt communia,” was their rallying cry, “All things in common,” taken straight from Acts 2:44. They shared their wealth — and their poverty. They developed systems of mutual aid, where food and clothes and money were redistributed in their communities. All of this had to do with the abundant life of Jesus, with living in the gospel, with living in the movement of God’s salvation — with making life possible in a world where kings and princes, bishops and banks, were suffocating them with debt, with indentured servitude, with forced labor. In a world of economic coercion, of financial violence, the Anabaptists found ways to live in God’s free grace, God’s benevolence and generosity. When they couldn’t change the world, the Anabaptists created change in their own communities, as they lived into God’s abundant life, God’s salvation and liberation — they became communities of nonviolence, of noncoercion, of peace, even as they lived in a world of suffocating debt and violent greed. They became a people who lived the gospel of life, the gospel where, as it says, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as she or he had need” (see James Stayer, The German Peasants War and Anabaptist Community of Goods, especially chapter 5).

Menno Simons, in the 16th century, put it this way: “with all our hearts [we] share our possessions, gold, and all that we have, however little it may be; [we] sweat and labor to meet the need of the poor, as the Spirit [of God], the Word of the Lord, and true love teach and imply” (see Peter James Klassen, The Economics of Anabaptism 1525-1560).

What the church of Acts experienced was the “joy of the gospel,” to borrow a phrase from Pope Francis. Life in the gospel is joyful because it’s a shared life. It’s joyful because, like the church in Acts, we are filled with the Spirit of God. It’s joyful because, like in Acts, we extend God’s grace to one another — the grace of common life, of experiencing life together, in common, sharing meals and resources, extending God’s care to one another, becoming part of God’s life, the God who shares life with us, who breathes life into our bodies, saving us, redeeming us, transforming us into the body of Christ, into the life of Jesus.

Isaac S. Villegas is the pastor of Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Fellowship.

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