Revive editors Del Fehsenfeld and Dan Jarvis discuss the abundant life that results when people say yes to God.
The day I said yes to God, my whole life and future changed. It was when, as a preteen, I asked Jesus to lead me. (Prior to that, I knew a lot about the Bible but wasn’t seriously living it.) In that moment, the faith of my parents became my own faith, and my first yes to God began a chain reaction that I suppose involves this conversation, here in Revive, 29 years later.
My first yes came after many years of saying no! My father died my freshman year of college, and I got swept away by unbelief at university. But when my fiancé insisted we go to church somewhere, I reluctantly agreed. After several months of listening to a series on stories of people in the Bible who met Jesus, I woke up to the fact that He really is who He claims to be—the Lord of life. It was such a dramatic moment for me that saying yes seemed like the only option. Of course, that big yes meant lots of no’s to most of what I was prioritizing, so it was definitely a learning process. Still is, come to think of it.
It’s interesting that you bring up the concept of “no’s” that resulted from your “yes.” I think that’s really the key to stepping into abundant life; it’s offering an enthusiastic yes to the things that are joyful, eternal, pure, and true. And that yes also empowers our no to all that is dark and dismal.
Our ability to say no to things like addiction or pornography or anger or anything else is found in the bigger, stronger, more amazing yes to what God has in store. It’s no to sin, yes to abundant life. Jesus died to make that option available to us, and God gives us His grace to overcome evil any moment we call out for it—and probably even when we don’t.
That’s why I’m always surprised when people talk about sin in terms of how much of it is okay or how much they can get away with and still go to heaven. It seems like a dramatic exercise in missing the whole point. Why would someone want to live a less-than-whole life? Why would they say yes to Jesus for eternity but no to Him for the next few moments of life on earth? Why not jump in with both feet to the kind of abundant life Jesus died to provide?
You’re onto something here, Dan. The Christian life is so much more than simply believing right things so that you can go to heaven when you die. And it’s more than trying not to do too many bad things. If Jesus is powerful enough to save us, then He certainly is smart enough to know the best way to live. And that’s actually what He said, that He came to show us the way to the best kind of life (John 10:10). In other words, Jesus knows how life works, and He wants to infuse every moment with the opportunity to live life with God.
There is no greater vision, nothing bigger to say yes to than an interactive life with God that begins now and lasts forever. As Jesus said, “This is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3 NIV). And the cool thing is that as we move increasingly with Jesus in this direction day by day, we find ourselves moving away from everything that is evil and destructive. The best way to overcome sin is to focus on where Jesus is taking us moment by moment.
So let’s break that down a little and talk about the how of a yes life. How does a person who is used to saying yes to their own flesh and to the peer pressure of the world start to say yes to Jesus instead? How do they, as you said, “move increasingly with Jesus”? Or, to use a specific biblical term, how do they repent?
As an aside, both John the Baptist and Jesus began their ministries with a call to repentance (Mark 1:4-5, 14-15). Kind of like, “The time for personal and systemic change has come, everyone! A new kingdom and a new King are here!”
Well, repentance has to do with the direction we take. It means changing our direction to go in God’s direction. There’s truth in the old proverb that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. For the Christian, each step is to be taken with awareness of and dependence on the Holy Spirit.
Scripture tells us to “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16), or literally, “keep in step with the Spirit” (v. 25). So when we focus on who we are doing life with (God Himself) as much as what we are supposed to be doing, it changes how we do it. And when we pay attention to God’s indwelling Spirit, the Scripture I just quoted continues with the promise of God’s accompanying power in our lives: “You will not gratify [or carry out] the desires of the flesh.”
Keeping in step with the Spirit is not complicated, but it does require responsiveness. We have to say yes moment by moment to the thoughts, attitudes, and actions of God. Every time we say yes, more opportunities and possibilities follow. It’s sort of like improv theater—as soon as a participant says no to the next moment, the scene is over. Yes to God keeps us in the flow with God. Yes to God, deciding to go His way over and over, is the life of repentance.
I love the idea of responsiveness being our path forward. I have to repent from being the guy with all my own answers, with all my own designs. I have to yield to a different Lord, which is what the yes message of Life Action is really all about. It’s like when Jesus asked rhetorically, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). Saying yes at the next “T-stop,” and then the next after that, will navigate us all the way to maturity and fruitfulness. And maybe that’s the whole point—there isn’t a formula or a secret spiritual system to any of this. It’s just, “Yes, Lord.”
So, Del, one field of study you’ve spent a lot of time in is behavioral change; in addition to your pastoral work, you’ve also served as a Christian therapist, and you’ve spent endless hours coaching people who wish they could change but who aren’t sure they really can. So I’ll ask you what I’m pretty sure everyone is wondering: Why is offering God a yes so difficult? If that life really is abundant, happy, endless, exciting, and righteous, why isn’t everyone already in on it?
The apostle Paul asked himself the same question, exclaiming, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate” (Romans 7:15 NLT). Even when we know that saying yes to God is the best option, our no’s seem to come much more naturally.
The reason for this disconnect is the way we allow our brains and bodies to become wired. Over time, our thoughts lead to choices, that lead to habits, that lead to character. In other words, most of our responses to life have become automatic because they have been reinforced so many times—for good or for bad. So forming a new lifestyle of saying yes to God has to reverse the process! Current habits have to be interrupted so new ones can be cultivated.
This means we have to do more than wait until the moment of temptation and then try really hard not to do what we have become accustomed to doing. Instead, we have to train ourselves to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7). Training is a good metaphor for transformation into a yes-to-God lifestyle because it assumes that before you can run a marathon, you have to break the big goal down into smaller parts, and through daily practice build competencies that enable you to become the kind of person that can do the big goal. In the same way, we are transformed into Christlikeness incrementally and through thousands of smaller yes-to-God moments that lead to the life Jesus has made possible for us.
When I was a younger pastor, I would spend hours in a local juvenile detention center, trying to share the gospel with tough-minded (but remarkably open-hearted) teens. One consistent conversation I recall was trying to tell them how I really loved my life, even though booze, drugs, and premarital sex weren’t a part of it at all. They had a hard time believing me, I think. Any sense of fun, joy, fullness, or abundance they had was totally distorted by the false premises and false promises of the world.
Maybe those teens were willing to say out loud what a lot of people think in their hearts, that somehow they’ll miss out on something by following Jesus. Maybe so many people straddle the fence because they think they can get the benefits of Jesus and still maintain a hold on the world. But I want to flip that over and say this: The love, adventure, and purpose of abundant life with Jesus is SO much better than any cheap substitute the world has to offer. And the only way you’ll ever know is to go 100% in—to say yes and not look back.
You can begin living abundant life right here, right now. It starts with faith—decide to trust in Jesus instead of trusting in yourself. Then, it just becomes a daily exercise of that faith, trusting Jesus’ will, His Word, His way of life. At the next T-stop, you could say, “Yes, Lord.” You could discover for yourself what millions of Christ-followers throughout history know to be true.