Have you ever had someone come up to you with a pamphlet in hand and say “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!” Or maybe you’ve heard TV preachers telling you that you can have “Your Best Life Now!” if you just believe and have enough faith in God and in yourself. These messages appear shallow at best and even offensive at worst when it seems in your life like nothing is going right. Maybe there doesn’t seem to be enough money to pay the bills – is it just because I don’t have enough faith? Maybe you can’t seem to keep a job. Maybe you are battling with depression and you feel guilty because you’ve been told people who love God are not supposed get depressed. So, you ask, "where’s my best life now?" Maybe you just can’t seem to get your grades up no matter how hard you try. Or how about when we’re hit with serious health issues? It’s hard to see how anyone could promise us a great life here and now when we’re just struggling to make it through the day without pain. Some of you perhaps just don’t feel at home where you are – people don’t seem to accept you for who you are. Shouldn’t the good life include friends? In difficult times such empty statements just don’t seem to be in touch with reality. Especially when we shine the light of the message of the Bible on such statements. When we read about the historical events in the life of Jesus like his cruel crucifixion and miraculous resurrection as recorded in the Bible these pithy slogans may even seem offensive to our ears. They would have been extremely offensive to Jesus who suffered greatly in his life on earth to secure our salvation and to a man like Jesus’ apostle, Paul, who suffered greatly for the sake of the spread of the gospel.
Please do not confuse the message of many popular TV preachers (and they are legion!) promising “your best life now,” with the Good News of the Kingdom that Jesus preached. Jesus preached things like "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near!" (Matt 4:7). The popular messages do not call for the repentance of sins - that's too much like negative thinking. Jesus preached,
"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? " (Matthew 16:24-26)
The popular prosperity gospel preaches the opposite: "You can have the whole world now and profit from it without losing your life."
The message that you can have "Your Best Life Now" is not the gospel that Paul preached either. The gospel Paul preached was "Your best life is yet to come." Paul preached that true children of the King, when they believe in the true good news of Jesus will have lives now that will be accompanied by suffering, but that suffering is worth it because of the heavenly blessings and "abundant life" that will be ours when we go to be with Jesus or when Jesus comes back, whichever comes first. Paul wrote in Romans:
"The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs- heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." (Romans 8:16-18)
But the popular message says just the opposite. It says that if you are a child of the King then you should live like a prince in this life with all the wealth and prosperity and positive thinking that comes with the life of royalty.
But Jesus does say he will "give us life and life abundantly." So, what kind of abundant life does Jesus give us? The life Jesus gives us is eternal life not a temporal life of ease here on earth. It is an abundance that has nothing to do with the wealth and prosperity of this world and everything to do with the glory of the next world (and that means our truly abundant "eternal life" begins even now in our hearts). Paul wrote:
"More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5:3-5)
The abundance we do have now is God’s Love, Joy, Peace, Hope, Faith, and Grace all by the indwelling Holy Spirit in the midst of suffering. This is what the true good news teaches and Paul was willing to get very verbally violent in his dealings with people who preached false gospels like the popular TV prosperity preachers. This happened in the Galatian church. False teachers were teaching a gospel that was different than Jesus' gospel and Paul wrote to them:
"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:6-9)
So, what is "picking up our own crosses" really? Paul put it well in Philippians 3:8, 10-11
"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ ...10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."
Our Lord Jesus was mocked, falsely accused, his flesh ripped to shreds, and nailed to a wooden cross all for our sakes - so that our sins would be forgiven and so we would treasure God himself above all else - not so we could titillate our lust for the idols of this world, live in mansions, own private jets, and hob knob with the rich and famous. Our best life starts now in the Spirit but it is fully yet to come.