Unsuccessful: Why the victorious Christian life isn't what you think
Updated: Oct 19, 2020
No matter what way you slice it, our definition of success is different than God’s definition of success. The problem that we often run into with success, as with many other areas, is that we seem to lay our definitions over God’s Word as a lens to read them through.
As churches, we turn to different gimmicks to get some type of visible results, while the scriptures are clear that God will and is building His church. (Matthew 16:18)
As individuals, we are constantly seeking our way into a so called ‘victorious’ Christian life, and quickly forget how Christ measures success in this life.
CS Lewis emphasized this when he said, “It is not [our] business to succeed.”1
There are those who would proclaim that we can live a “victorious Christian life” over sin and become what is deemed a super-spiritual Christian. While the fact of the matter is that this concept is not only foreign to scripture but has disastrous effects on the lives of believers.
This mindset will inevitably lead to one of two destinations:
Pride: We will lie to ourselves believing that we are better Christians than those around us.
Despair: We will live in despair because we constantly fail and fall day in and day out.
So how are we to view victory or success in our lives?
Ultimately, in weakness. Yes, you read that right. We can measure our success by our weakness.
The scripture is plain when it said that it is in our weakness that God is made strong (2 Corinthians 12:9) because even the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of men. (1 Corinthians 1:25)
Understanding the gospel makes us extrospective, so that we understand any “success” we see in our lives is only because of the work of Christ done on our behalf. When we do this our failures are swallowed up into the victory that He has already won.
So why are we constantly looking for success as a Christian? Michael Horton explains that it because it is, “easy to take our eyes off Jesus Christ in heaven, at the Father’s right and, interceding for us and dispensing his gifts”2 and it is easier to focus on ourselves and what we are doing. We are not satisfied with the intangible working of the Spirit and are bent on accomplishing something to show for.
But this is not the God’s design. Barbara Duguid states this beautiful in her book describing letters written by John Newton. She says, “God could have saved us and made us instantly perfect. Instead, he chose to save us and leave indwelling sin in our hearts and bodies to wage war against the new and blossoming desires to please God that accompany salvation. This is a raging battle that we often lose, and that often leaves us feeling defeated and joyless in our walk with God. Yet Newton also points out that since we know God does all things for his own glory and the good of his people, his decision to leave Christians with many struggles with sin must also somehow serve to glorify him and benefit his people. This is shocking news, isn’t it?”3
What Newton is saying is that God’s design is that we will actually come to know and love him better as a desperate and weak sinner in continual need of grace than you when we are living what we think is a successful Christian life!
She continues this stating that, “This makes sense out of our experience as Christians. Joy blossoms in our hearts not as we try harder and harder to grow, but as we see more clearly the depths of our sin and understand more fully our utter helplessness. Only then will we take our eyes off ourselves and look to Christ for all we need in life and in death. Only then will we truly cherish our Savior and believe that we need him every minute of every day, and that without him we can do nothing”4
This indeed will give us the rest that Jesus promised us! (Matthew 11:28) God's grace to us is seen clearest in our complete dependence on him. So let is have the mind that God has about our success and run our race with joy, because win or lose, you are living a victorious Christian life, because you have already succeeded in Jesus.
1 Lewis, C.S., The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 2 (to Arthur Greeves 12/29/1935)
2 Horton, Michael, Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World (Baker Book House, 2012). 257
3 Duguid, Barbara, Extravagant Grace (Philipsburg: P&R, 2013). 30
4 ibid., p.32.