How would you describe the successful Christian life? If you were following as closely to the Lord as possible, what would your life look like? Believe it or not Christians have very different approaches to the Christian life. In the same way that the archer needs to know where the bull’s eye is before he can hit it, we must know the nature of successful Christian living before we can live it.
Before we try to uncover the Bible’s answer to the nature of Christian living, lets sift through some possible solutions. Some of these views use Bible verses to establish themselves, which is good. Unfortunately, it can be wrong to hold a view when it only considers some Bible verses and leaves out others.
1) Lawless Living. Some people, professing to be Christians, think that it really does not matter how they live since Jesus has forgiven them. While it is true that we are justified by faith alone, it is also true that the faith that justifies is never alone.
Ephesians 2:8-9 affirm, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as result of works, that no one should boast.” But Paul’s point does not end here. The next sentence continues, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10).
If you suppose that because you are forgiven, you may live any way that you please, you are wrong. James 2:17 says, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead being by itself.”
Jesus himself says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Certainly the Christian life involves obeying our new Lord, not to earn salvation, but because of salvation.
2) Crisis Experience. Other professing Christians go in search of a big experience, which they hope will catapult them into personal holiness. This view comes in several flavors.
Some are hopeful that a powerful rededication is the answer to their problems. This could include prayer, confession of sin, or having other godly believers praying over them. While these practices are certainly good things to do, the Bible never presents these as one-time end-alls to the Christian life.
Others seek spiritual experiences (often at the front of the auditorium, at the end of rousing church services) they think will propel them to holiness. When the emotions are running high, things seem to have changed, but often people are disappointed in the lack of lasting change.
3) Let Go and Let God. Has anyone ever told you that your problem is that you are trying too hard in the Christian life? They say if you really knew your position in Christ, you could just rest in him, and let him live his life through you. They quote verses like Galatians 2:20, and sound very convincing.
Truly, we must always live in dependence upon the Holy Spirit’s power for spiritual growth. But does this view take into account all of the biblical data? 1 Timothy 4:7 says, “…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” Philippians 2:12 says, “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
The successful Christian life includes action—striving for God, pursuing holiness. The error of the “Let Go and Let God” view is that it over-emphasizes dependence on the Lord, while leaving out or minimizing spiritual discipline.
4) Self-Fulfillment. “Your real problem is that you do not love yourself enough,” according to proponents of this view. To solve their problems with God and others, they give greater attention to themselves.
Some resort to Jesus’ words in Mark 12:31: “…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” They claim Jesus is teaching that one must first love himself before he can love others or even God. Actually, Jesus is presupposing that we love ourselves greatly (most of the time too much). He is calling us to turn our attention off of ourselves onto others (the exact opposite of this modern view).
Paul uses the same logic in Ephesians 5:28-29, where he is calling men to their responsibilities: “So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does for the church.”
5) Spiritual Warfare. There is no doubt that spiritual warfare is going on all around us. Some think, however, that successful Christian living involves casting out specific demons that make individual Christians commit specific sins. As the old T.V. comedian turned theologian, Flip Wilson, said, “The devil made me do it!”
We are called to stand firm against the devil, armed with the truth of the Word of God. We are called to think biblically when we are tempted to sin. On the other hand, the Bible never tells us to command demons (or even talk to them at all), or pray specific warfare prayers to make them stop oppressing us.
From the story of Job (especially chapters 1 and 2), we know that Satan can do nothing to believers that God does not specifically allow for God’s greater purposes. We must redirect our attention away from the devil and onto the Lord and his Word.
6) Dependent Discipline. This is the biblical view of successful Christian living. As Christians our bondage to sin has been broken (Romans 6:4-7), but the presence of sin has not been removed. The Bible calls our remaining sin “the flesh,” and it wars against our spirit constantly (Romans 7:14-25; Galatians 5:17).
While we will make real progress towards Christlikeness, we will never arrive at that goal until we are with the Lord (Philippians 3:12-14). The successful Christian life is striving for that holiness with all of our mights, using the means of grace (Bible reading, prayer, communion, and church involvement).
All the while, the Christian knows in and of himself he can produce no spiritual progress. Therefore, everything must be done in prayerful dependence upon the Lord and his grace to produce godly results. The Christian life is a fight, but it is a fight of faith.
by John Crotts