Question: "What did Jesus mean when He promised an abundant life?"
Answer: In John 10:10, Jesus said, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” Unlike a thief, the Lord Jesus does not come for selfish reasons. He comes to give, not to get. He comes that people may have life in Him that is meaningful, purposeful, joyful, and eternal. We receive this abundant life the moment we accept Him as our Savior.
This word “abundant” in the Greek is perisson, meaning “exceedingly, very highly, beyond measure, more, superfluous, a quantity so abundant as to be considerably more than what one would expect or anticipate.” In short, Jesus promises us a life far better than we could ever imagine, a concept reminiscent of 1 Corinthians 2:9: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” The apostle Paul tells us that God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, and He does it by His power, a power that is at work within us if we belong to Him (Ephesians 3:20).
Before we begin to have visions of lavish homes, expensive cars, worldwide cruises, and more money than we know what to do with, we need to pause and think about what Jesus teaches regarding this abundant life. The Bible tells us that wealth, prestige, position, and power in this world are not God's priorities for us (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). In terms of economic, academic, and social status, most Christians do not come from the privileged classes. Clearly, then, abundant life does not consist of an abundance of material things. If that were the case, Jesus would have been the wealthiest of men. But just the opposite is true (Matthew 8:20).
Abundant life is eternal life, a life that begins the moment we come to Christ and receive Him as Savior, and goes on throughout all eternity. The biblical definition of life — specifically eternal life — is provided by Jesus Himself: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). This definition makes no mention of length of days, health, prosperity, family, or occupation. As a matter of fact, the only thing it does mention is knowledge of God, which is the key to a truly abundant life.
What is the abundant life? First, abundance is spiritual abundance, not material. In fact, God is not overly concerned with the physical circumstances of our lives. He assures us that we need not worry about what we will eat or wear (Matthew 6:25-32; Philippians 4:19). Physical blessings may or may not be part of a God-centered life; neither our wealth nor our poverty is a sure indication of our standing with God. Solomon had all the material blessings available to a man yet found it all to be meaningless (Ecclesiastes 5:10-15). Paul, on the other hand, was content in whatever physical circumstances he found himself (Philippians 4:11-12).
Second, eternal life, the life a Christian is truly concerned with, is not determined by duration but by a relationship with God. This is why, once we are converted and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are said to have eternal life already (1 John 5:11-13), though not, of course, in its fullness. Length of life on earth is not synonymous with abundant life.
Finally, a Christian's life revolves around “grow[ing] in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). This teaches us that the abundant life is a continual process of learning, practicing, and maturing, as well as failing, recovering, adjusting, enduring, and overcoming, because, in our present state, “we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12). One day we will see God face to face, and we will know Him completely as we will be known completely (1 Corinthians 13:12). We will no longer struggle with sin and doubt. This will be the ultimately fulfilled abundant life.
Although we are naturally desirous of material things, as Christians our perspective on life must be revolutionized (Romans 12:2). Just as we become new creations when we come to Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), so must our understanding of “abundance” be transformed. True abundant life consists of an abundance of love, joy, peace, and the rest of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), not an abundance of “stuff.” It consists of life that is eternal, and, therefore, our interest is in the eternal, not the temporal. Paul admonishes us, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2-3).