Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.”
What did he mean by the words, “I am the life?” And what does that have to do with our own philosophical and practical concerns today?
In this lecture, we shall look the question of “life” from different angles: The origin of life; the way to enjoy physical, mental, and social well-being today; and what Jesus has to do with the greatest threat to life, namely, death itself.
Origin of life
The question of the origin of life haunts many people today. To take just one example: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in America (NASA) has not only put a man on the moon several times, but has sent rockets and satellites millions away from earth into space for many reasons. One of the primary purposes of their many missions, which are very expensive, is to discover life on other planets. These scientists are driven by an obsession with the question of where did life on earth come from. If they can find some components of life on another planet, maybe that will help them solve this mystery. This is not simply a scientific, but also a religious quest. They want to solve a mystery that has perplexed mankind for many centuries.
Evolutionists say that life just came into being spontaneously, perhaps during the “Big Bang,” when certain gases mixed together in some way that would create life. The problem is, of course, that no one was there to see this happen; it can’t be tested in any laboratory; it faces the huge obstacle of statistics, that make the chances of life just happening in that way almost impossible; and it must also assume that it understands what, in fact, “life” really is. This theory must explain how life arose from non-life, something we have never witnessed here on earth.
Various religions have tried to answer this question, mostly with myths about the origin of the world. But none of them can really offer a solution. They all assume that what we see now came from something that also existed, and was perhaps re-fashioned by some superior being or natural causes. They cannot tell us where the first living beings actually came from.
When Jesus declared, “I am the life,” he was drawing upon the Biblical teaching that God is the source of all life. God is a living God, who has all the qualities of life. He moves, knows, acts, relates to others, and never dies. According to the Bible God created plants, animals, and human beings out of nothing. He breathed his own life into Adam and Eve, making them a unique form of animal, one that could think, love, and relate to other people as well as to their Maker.
The Bible says that God made all things by the word of his word. In the Gospel of John, we learn that this Word was with God in the beginning, and that this Word in fact was God. All things were created through him, and in him was life. Later, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. So, Jesus is the life in the sense that all life was in him originally, and all things, including life, were made through him.
Not only material life comes from God, but immaterial life also. That is, there is something that we possess that animals and plants do not. Sometimes the Bible calls this a soul, sometimes a spirit, sometimes a mind. It is that part of us that we can’t see, but which forms an essential part of who we are. Thus, to know God is to have life. As Adam and Eve discovered, to disobey God is to be cut off from spiritual fellowship with him, and thus to enter into spiritual death. When we talk about overcoming death, therefore, we shall have to face the spiritual dimension as well as the physical aspect of death.
For more of us, the question is not where life came from, but how can we live well now? And this question has a number of facets to it.
For most people throughout history, but especially in a time of economic downturn, the challenge facing us is how to keep our bodies alive, and clothed, and well. Material survival and prosperity occupies the thoughts of most people around the world.
We spend most of our hours each day just trying to make money, to care for the household, to get food for ourselves and our families, and to find housing.
Different religions and belief systems look at this daily activity from different perspectives. For the most part Buddhist doctrine teaches that this world is an illusion, and that we shouldn’t try to make our situation better, but popular religion encourages people to take their requests to the temple and pray for a son, or a job, or a wife.
The Confucian tradition encourages hard work, and Chinese are known around the world for their ability to make money and save money. Diligence, thrift, and self-advancement seem to be the secrets to success in this life, as Chinese people have demonstrated in dozens of countries. “Connections” also help, and in some societies are essential for survival.
On a larger scale, capitalism, socialism, and communism have competed for votes and influence. Each of these three systems aims at economic prosperity, but they differ on how much the government should be involved in the day-to-day activities of ordinary people and in the running of large corporations. It is very interesting to me that China has turned more towards the free market in recent decades, while America and Europe have chosen socialism!
In the past one hundred years, however, most people have assumed that government action is a key ingredient for national prosperity. That is why politicians promise us that they are going to give us “the good life” each time an election is held, and why we are usually so disappointed with them!
All these political-economic systems assume that man is just a thinking animal. They do not take into account the spiritual nature of man. As a result, modern people have been treated like machines, and they are often exploited. Loneliness, isolation, confusion, and anger result from such one-sided views of man. Our inner being cannot be satisfied by material things alone.
Even if we do prosper, that will not fill our hearts with happiness, as my own example, which I mentioned in the first lecture, demonstrates. You can have everything that money can buy, and still be sad and frustrated.
Another concern that we have is to stay healthy: the richest man in the world will not enjoy life if his body is tortured by pain and sickness. Many old diseases have been eradicated by modern medicine and public health measures, but urban life, along with the pollution that has accompanied industrialization, have placed new stresses upon us and poured poisons into the soil, the water, and the air, so that cancer and other diseases are almost epidemic.
There are many ways in which we try to be healthy. Millions of Chinese go to the temple to pray for good health. Some people, like me, try to eat only things that are good for you, like whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, and stay away from processed foods, white grains, sugar, and too much meat. When I was ill a few years ago, my doctor told me that I was not getting enough exercise.
Modern society emphasizes the role of medicine, but Western medicine has caused as many illnesses as it has cured. At least in the United States, more people die of the side effects of medicines and from infections gained in hospitals than they do from most diseases! The high cost of medical care keeps millions from being cared for by a trained physician.
Contrary to what some people believe, the Bible is a very practical book, and it has a great deal to say about material well being.
In Genesis, we read that God created that heavens and the earth, and declared afterwards that it was “very good.” Afterwards, when Adam and Eve had disobeyed God, sickness, frustration with work, and death entered the world, but the body is still important to God.
We can find much practical advice for earning a living and succeeding in life in the Scriptures. The worldview of the Bible is balanced: it teaches that this world is good, and that work is worthwhile, and that all good things come to us as gifts from God. But the frustration we meet in our work, and the lack of satisfaction we experience even when our stomachs are full are explained by the Bible as signs that we are also spiritual beings with souls and that we are made for love. We need to love others and love God, and to feel that we are loved, in order to be really happy.
The Bible is balanced in another way: it teaches us to work hard, to be frugal and live simply, but also to be generous and to rely on God. Christians believe we should give a tenth of our income to the work of the Gospel, and that we can pray to our heavenly Father to give us this day our daily bread, because he knows what we need will supply us with all that is necessary for survival. The main thing is for us to be seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness; then everything else will be added to us.
The Bible teaches us a great deal about how to live in a healthy fashion also, as you can see from my book, The Lord’s Healing Words. There are many guidelines for eating in the Old Testament. Although believers in Christ do not have to follow these as commands, recent science has shown us that these rules are also meant for our health. My own health has improved since I followed the food laws of the Old Testament.
In addition to proper nutrition, we also need daily exercise. The former director of the medical center at the University of Virginia wrote the forward to my book on health, but he said he had one criticism of it: I had not stressed the importance of exercise enough! I told him that the Bible doesn’t talk much about exercise, since people then got all the exercise they needed in their work or just walking everywhere they went. But I promised that I would try to find a way to emphasize the importance of exercise for good health, and I have tried to get more exercise myself.
Many studies show that people living in cities do not get enough rest and are almost always tired. The Bible tells us that we should rest one day in seven. That takes faith that God will make up for the time we have “lost” in not working, but it also gives us the needed relief from work that allows us to keep going for a long time without getting burned out. If we trust God, we can stop work early enough to spend time with our families, enjoy Christian fellowship, get enough exercise, and go to bed early enough to get enough sleep.
Although I believe that we should make use of the medical care that is available, we should not forget to pray. God can heal now, as he did in the time of Jesus, who healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, made the lame to walk, and even raised the dead. I have seen miracles of healing in response to prayer, and believe that these are still possible when it is God’s will.
But physical health is not enough. We also desire psychological well being. In fact, modern medicine has shown the close connection between the mind and the body; each one affects the other. If you are not happy, your health will probably suffer as a result. The question is, how to deal with negative experiences and emotions, such as rejection, loneliness, anger and resentment, fear, worry, and anxiety, and grief over loss and traumas? How to have love, joy, peace, even when things around us are not going smoothly, or we are not receiving love and respect from other people?
There are many possible approaches to this question, of course. Some people believe in positive thinking. “Just don’t worry!” they advise us. “Don’t think too much!” Try to focus on what is good and positive. This is all sound advice, and it sometimes works.
Similar to that approach is the self-improvement and self-help method. You can buy hundreds of books that will tell you how to get organized, how to succeed, how to overcome fear and how to deal with annoying people. I have found many of these books helpful myself, at least temporarily.
For millions of people, however, advice is not enough. They have turned to meditation for relief of their inner pain. At least in America, anti-depressant medication is very widely used, and many could not live without it. For others, illegal drugs offer an escape from pain and sorrow. These substances take you into a different world, where you can escape the worries and pressures of daily life.
Entertainment provides a similar relief to huge numbers of people. The media are ever-present, and fill our minds with fantasy, conducting us to a dream world where we can either imagine a happier life or experience the sorrows of others rather than facing our own challenges. Television, movies, computer games, DVDs, music, pornography – all promise a sort of substitute happiness but produce only temporary relief.
The same is true of sex outside of marriage. Has any culture in history been as obsessed with sex as ours is? Ever since the 1960s in America, the idea of “free love” has been promoted in every possible medium, leading people to believe that you can enjoy sex without the responsibilities of a lifelong commitment to one person. Instead, we have a rising divorce rate, sexually-transmitted diseases, violence against lovers who are unfaithful, and widespread depression, especially among young people.
Jesus gives life
Jesus offers another way to inner peace and joy and love. When he said, “I am the life,” he was referring not only to physical health, but to mental and emotional happiness also. In fact, he began his preaching ministry with the so-called Beatitudes, which show how to live a “blessed” or “happy” life.
Know Jesus As our Creator, he knows the real reasons for our unhappiness, and invites us into a way of life that brings lasting satisfaction and contentment. The Bible says that he is not in heaven, where he prays for us; this is a great comfort to believers. If we truly repent of our offenses against God, the Spirit of Christ comes to live in us and gives us a new heart, which changes our motives. One who has been born again by faith in Christ will want to keep God’s commands. Their minds are changed to cherish new values and priorities, such as loving God and loving those around us, rather than seeking to get as much out of this life as we can and using others.
As we pray for strength Jesus as our High Priest enables us to resist evil and do good. When we pray for others and for our situation, he changes God changes people and things. I have found this to be true in my own personal experience, when I have asked God to give me wisdom to know how to love someone who is not lovable, and when I have prayed for family members and friends to change; I can’t change them, but God can.
The more we trust in Jesus as our Savior, the more God’s love fills our hearts. We become assured that our sins have been forgiven. This delivers us from the awful burden of guilt for the things we have done wrong and the things we should have done but did not. As John the Baptist said, Jesus is the “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He died as a ransom for many; by his blood we have redemption, that is, the forgiveness of sins.
Trusting in Jesus also brings us assurance of acceptance by God the Father. Most of us have felt, more or less, that our fathers did not fully accept us. But if we confess our sins to God and trust in the sacrifice of Jesus, we have peace with God. That means that we fear no rejection. If God is for us, who can be against us? With him on our side, we can race the disapproval of other people and even the rejection by family members; this is great freedom.
Since Jesus suffered all that we do, except without sin, he offers us someone who really understands us. That means that we do not fear loneliness. Even if others don’t understand us, Jesus does. Actually, there is no human being who can enter into our minds and hearts and know and feel what we do. Only Christ is able to know us fully and to feel our pain. He is the good shepherd who knows his sheep by name, so we can pour out our hearts to him in the full assurance that he is listening and that he cares.
Faith in Christ also brings comfort for loss. The risen Christ heals our wounds and grief. How does he do this? In a variety of ways. As I said before, he fully understands us, so we can tell him all about our inner pain and know that he comprehends what we are saying. Not only does he understand, but he also is able to feel our anguish. While on earth, he endured a great deal of sorrow, from rejection, the death of Lazarus, misunderstanding on the part of family and friends, and finally the terrible torture of the last day of his life. When communicate our grief to him, therefore, we are talking to the only person who really knows how we feel.
He gives us comfort in other ways, too. Not only does he understand, but he forgives, as we have said. He can guide us when we are perplexed about how to handle our grief. When we have lost a loved one, through separation, or divorce, or death, his love can fill our hearts and provide healing. Most of all, Jesus offers us hope of eternal life, for ourselves and for other believers. Even though not all problems will be fixed in this life, and not all loss will be made up by something better, the resurrection of Jesus guarantees that someday he will wipe away all our tears and swallow up all of our sorrows in his unending joy in a new heaven and new earth.
Jesus produces inner life in a variety of other ways. For those who trust in Christ, there is a kind of “completion of ourselves.” That is, we do not need to “prove” our worth by doing anything. I don’t mean that we lie around the house and do nothing all day! No, the Bible teaches that we are “complete in Him,” meaning that we do not have to show by our performance that we have worth before God. So many people - perhaps all of us – are engaged in an unceasing effort to demonstrate our value by our achievements – good grades in school, a good job, work in society or in church – something that others can see and measure. But for those who trust in Christ, there is “justification” by faith; God accepts us as we are; he loves us; and he declares that we have ultimate value. That sets us free to respond to his love by loving others, rather than trying to earn either his love or the approval of others by doing good works or achieving success.
Every person wants to be loved. Just listen to the songs on the radio; look at the titles of novels and movies; and glance at the popular magazines. There is a huge focus on romantic love in all these media, and for a good reason. We were created to love and be loved. People get married in hopes of finding someone who will love them, and whom they can love. A boyfriend or girlfriend with whom one has a very close relationship is called a “lover”; even in Mainland China, the communists abolished the old terms for husband and wife and substituted the word “lover.”
We do not just seek romantic love, however. On Mother’s Day, we praise the sacrificial love of mothers, as we remember how our mothers stayed up late at night to care for us, and how they worked long hours to make sure that we had enough food and clothing.
A faith for the 21st century must satisfy our longing for love. Otherwise, it will leave us lonely and empty, always hungering for something else.
When Jesus said, “I am the life,” he included love in the meaning of ”life.” The bible says that God is love, and that He loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that all who believe in Him might not perish, but have eternal life. Paul described Christ as the one who loved him and gave himself for him. He also said, In this the love of God for is demonstrated, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He said that “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He gave to us.”
Jesus met a woman in Samaria who had had five husbands. Clearly, she was desperately looking for love. He promised her living waters that would spring up unto eternal life, and we know that He was speaking of His love.
If we believe in Jesus, we shall know the love of God the Father and of God the Son, by the work of the Holy Spirit within us. Even if others, including our parents, our friends, or our spouse, reject us, God will never leave us nor forsake us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.
Jesus’ words, “I am the life” has another meaning also. As I have said, our age is marked by anxiety and depression. True “life” must include joy and gladness, peace and tranquility, even when things are not going well for us. Jesus promised His disciples that He would give them peace, even though in this world they would have troubles of all sorts. He also promised joy to them. Why is this possible?
Christ’s followers have peace for several reasons. First, they know that their sins are forgiven. As a result, they have peace with God. He gives peace because He has overcome the world by rising from the dead, ascending to heaven, giving the Holy Spirit to those who trust in Him, praying for them now, and promising to return to give them eternal life in a new heaven and a new earth. In other words, we don’t have to worry, because our future is safe in God’s hands. Believers in Christ can tell God the Father all that is bothering them, and know that He will take care of them.
Joy comes to believers in Christ also. We can rejoice at all times and at all times, in the Lord. We don’t have to complain, because we know that all things are working together for the good of those who love God. When we experience some pleasure, or see something beautiful, or receive some good gift, we have joy because we know whom to thank – God the Father, the giver of all good gifts. We can give thanks for all things, even hard things, because we know that they are meant by God for our good.
Discontent brings inner death. The more we complain, the worse life seems to be. But followers of Jesus can be contented, even if they don’t have all the things that people in this world spend so much trouble to get, because they have a close relationship with their Maker; they have a Friend who will never leave them; they have family members all over the world; and they are secure in the love of God.
When Jesus said, “I am the life,” he meant also that He brings us into relationships that are characterized by love.
Those who believe in Christ not only receive the love of God. They are also set free to love others. Jesus commanded us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.. We know also that He expects His followers to love Him, for He said, “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me. If you love Me, you will keep my commands.” Paul says that we should walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us. (Ephesians 5:2).
That is to say, if we have known the love of Christ for us, we shall be able to love others. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. A man who has experienced the self-sacrificing love of Jesus will be empowered to show his wife that same sort of affection and care.
Believers in Christ become members of God’s family; they are His beloved children. This group of disciples is called the Church, the bride of Christ. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians are able to forgive each other, as God has forgiven us, and to lay down our lives for each other, as Christ laid down His life for us. God is creating a new family, one which transcends all racial and cultural boundaries, as I have experienced in my visits to Christians all over the world.
All of this means that Jesus will bring love to those who know Him. In this way, He will banish loneliness, which some say is the curse of our time. Jesus truly is the Life!
Not only does Jesus give His people a love for each other, but He also sends them into the world to love other people as well. Just as Jesus healed the sick and taught the ignorant, so have many Christians sacrificed comfort and wealth to bring well-being to their neighbors. You may read the stories of some of these people in the Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity (www.bdcconline.net).
What about war?
You might ask, If Jesus gives the power to love others, then why have Christians been involved in so many wars? That is a very good question!
As I have studied Western history, the answer to this question seems to be that Christians have forgotten the teachings of Jesus, the example of Jesus, and the hope that Jesus brings. They have forgotten His teachings to love our enemies and forgive those who have hurt us. They have forgotten His example of suffering at the hands of evil men, when He could have destroyed those people with a single command to His angels. They have forgotten that Jesus promises that we shall have trouble in this life, but that He will bring us into a life after death on a new earth.
The main reason Christians have fought so many wars is that they have tried to build the kingdom of God on earth; or they have tried to protect their earthly possessions; or they have made an idol of their own nation, equating it with the kingdom of God; or they have thought that they need to fight in order to protect their religion.
All of these are great errors. I hope that Chinese believers will avoid them, and put all their hopes, not in this world, but in the world to come.
That brings us to the final question: How to overcome death?
As Paul said, the last and greatest enemy is death. We all fear death, and with good reason; it is a terrible things. Different religions and belief systems have come up with various solutions to the problem of death.
The nihilist says there is no answer. Life is meaningless. Death comes. We just don’t know why, or what to do about it.
The Daoist says, “Death is natural.” It is like putting off your clothing. Don’t be afraid of death. It’s just a part of life.
The humanist says, “We live on in others’ memory.” Our bodies may die, but our spirit lives as others recall our good deeds and our character.
Traditional Chinese religion says, “Our souls live on after the body dies. That is why we must worship our ancestors and provide for them. We also cherish their memory.”
Many people just try to ignore death. We don’t talk about it. We try to live forever, like the First Emperor, buy eating the right things and getting enough rest and exercise. We pretend that death does not exists. We just live our lives, busy with work and entertainment.
What is the Biblical answer to the question of death?
According to the Bible, death entered into the world because of sin. It is God’s punishment upon us for not worshiping and serving Him. But Christ died to save us from the power of sin, the penalty of sin, and finally even the presence of sin.
Jesus taught that all people will rise again from the dead. At that time, our souls and bodies will be joined together again, and will have an unending existence. Those who have trusted in Him and have followed in His ways will enjoy eternal life in a glorified body on a new earth. Those who have rejected Him and served created things will suffer everlasting torment in a body that cannot die.
As I said before, death also includes soul death, which is separation from God. Jesus gives us new life, a new relationship with God, and this brings abundant life in this world and in the next. When He returns we shall enjoy communion with God, the source of all life.
Sin also brought social death. Relationships between men and women, young and old, rich and poor, East and West – all are broken by the power of pride and selfishness and fear. In Christ, as we have seen, God has created a new society, a new family, composed of believers from all nations. When He returns, He will create a new city, the New Jerusalem, with citizens of all peoples and tongues and races and nations, all joined in loving harmony forever.
Finally, our disobedience has brought death to the world. The ecological crisis gets worse every year, especially in Mainland China. Soon, the earth will not be livable: there won’t be enough water, especially clean water; the soil will be poisoned; the air will be toxic.
But when Jesus returns, He promises, as I have said, to make all things new. He will transform this old and decaying world into a new heaven and a new earth, with clear and living water, pure air, untainted food, and no more decay, destruction, or death of any kind.
Followers of Jesus place all their hope in His return, when He will raise us from the dead; give us glorified bodies that cannot sin, get sick, or die; wipe away all our tears; fulfill all our deepest longings; and take us home to be with the Father and with our eternal family.
Jesus said, “I am the way and the life.”
He teaches us the way to live; shows us by His example how we are to love God and others; and brings us to the Father by His death on our behalf.
Jesus said, “I am the truth.” He teaches us the truth; shows what it is like to live according to the truth; reveals to us how to know God as Father; and proves that God’s promises are truth and reliable by dying and rising for us.
Jesus said, “I am the life.” He gives us physical life by telling us how to live wisely and how to be healthy and sometimes healing us when we pray to Him. He provides us with new life in our souls and fills us with love, and peace, and joy. He overcomes our loneliness by placing us into a new family. He connects us to God, the true source of all life. When He returns, He will overcome all death and usher us into an unending life of love and peace with God and our brothers and sisters.
Jesus will bring us home to God the Father, in whose house we shall have joy forever.
Other religions do offer some guidance on how to live, and contain some truth. But is there anyone else like Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life, who carries us home to our heavenly Father?