What Keeps Me From a Full Life (Long Version)

What’s the key to a full life? Jesus says a few chapters earlier that he came so that we might have life and have it to the fullest (John 10:10.) But he doesn’t say much about how we can have that kind of life, until now. This chapter, John 12, is about a massive conflict that keeps us from living the fullest kind of life possible.

There is an enormous conflict that occurs when our self-centeredness meets the way of Jesus. People all over this chapter are dealing with that conflict. It shows up in four major ways here, and it no doubt shows up in these ways in our lives today.

1. Money

John 12:3 says Mary buys a VERY expensive jar of perfume (worth a year’s wages!) and pours it on Jesus’s feet. Although Judas asks why the perfume couldn’t have been sold and the money given to the poor, verse 6 shows us his true motivation. “He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would take what was in it.” Judas wanted the money for himself, and was annoyed that it was “wasted” on Jesus like this.

Like Judas, we often think things like, “I know how I want to spend my money, and I don’t really want anybody else to tell me what I should do with it.”

2. Reputation, Popularity, and Influence

John 12:9-11 says that many of the religious leaders came here to see Jesus and to see Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Verses 10-11 say, “The chief priests decided that they would kill Lazarus too. It was because of Lazarus that many of the Jews had deserted them and come to believe in Jesus.” (Okay, let me pause for a minute. Seriously? Let’s think about how dumb this is for a second. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. The religious leaders get mad and decide they’re going to kill Lazarus. Couldn’t Jesus just raise him from the dead again? Pretty sure they didn’t think this one all the way through.)

The religious leaders are bent out of shape because not as many people are following them any more since Jesus is around. They’re not as popular as they once were, and they’ve lost some of their influence. And they’re willing to kill somebody because of it.

Like the religious leaders, we often think things like, “My reputation is important to me, and I want people to think I’m important. I’ll do whatever it takes to be important to people.”

3. Tradition

John 12:19 says, “Therefore, the Pharisees said to each other, “See! You’ve accomplished nothing! Look! The whole world is following him!” The Pharisees are upset because they had a particular way of relating to God that they wanted everyone else to follow. The problem was, people were choosing to follow Jesus in order to relate to God instead of the Pharisees’ way. They wanted people to follow them, listen to them, and do things their way. Rather than worshiping God, many of them had begun worshiping the way they connected to God. They put more emphasis on the way people connected to God than on the actual connection to God. They focused on the means instead of the end.

Like the Pharisees, we often think things like, “I want people to connect to God, but I want them to do it the way I want, not in a way that’s different from my own way.”

4. Recognition

John 12:42-43 says, “Even so, many leaders believed in him, but they wouldn’t acknowledge their faith because they feared that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. They believed, but they loved human praise more than God’s glory.” Many people believed in Jesus but they didn’t speak up about it because they were afraid of what other people would think. They would rather have had the recognition and praise of the people around them than to speak up about what God was doing in their lives.

Like these people, we often think things like, “Gaining the approval and recognition of those around me is more important than almost anything else.”

In our struggle to be successful, to be significant, to be right, and to be noticed by other people, we grasp at and chase after all the wrong things. Some of us are like Judas, focused on success and money. Some are like the religious leaders, worried about our popularity, reputation, and influence. Some are like the Pharisees, locked in to tradition and the way we’ve “always done things.” And some are like the people who are more worried about getting recognition from other people than allowing God to get any credit for anything going on in our lives. And oddly enough, none of these pursuits lead to a full life. They all come up short. They all ultimately leave us feeling empty.

But at the heart of this chapter, literally at the very center (verse 25 out of 50) Jesus shares the key to living the fullest kind of life. John 12:25 says, “Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever.” According to Jesus, the key to gaining full and abundant life is our willingness to lose our lives, to give them away.

Am I willing to give up my most valuable possessions and lay them at the feet of Jesus?

Am I willing to be less important so that God can be more important?

Am I willing to put aside my own agenda for the sake of other people?

Am I willing to sacrifice my own recognition for God’s glory?

These are questions we must be willing to ask and answer every day of our lives. It’s only in our willingness to get over ourselves and give our lives away that we can fully find them.

God, help me to get over myself. Help me to give my life away so that I might gain the life you’ve designed for me.

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