Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
September 9, 2001
Like all pastors, I can easily lament that other people are not as committed to serving the Lord as I would like them to be. It always seems that there are the few that carry out most of the church work while the vast majority do little more than come to the Sunday morning services – as long as it is convenient. Conventional church wisdom says that 5 – 10% of the people do 90% of the work. In our own church, my rough estimate is that of the 81 adults that come enough to be listed in our directory, there are about 27 adults (33%) doing about 80% of the work and the other 20% is picked up by another 15-20 people. In short, I find that about 60% of the people in our congregation are involved in active ministry of some sort. Health considerations keep a few people from active involvement, but I know some of those are diligent in praying. Those figures keep me from lamenting too much about the commitment level here at Grace Bible Church. When I considered that my own commitment level increased over time as I became more and more involved in various ministries, I am encouraged by the growth and potential growth of our church.
However, those figures still leave about 40% of our congregation uninvolved or involved at only a minimal level. I have to add to this that just because someone is serving in a ministry of the church, that doesn’t mean they are doing it in the right way with the right heart. Church membership, ministry commitments and even rising to a church leadership position does not mean the person is successfully living the Christian life.
At times, I struggle myself with keeping things in proper order and doing things for the right reason. It is easy to be influenced by the world and forget the goals I once had or to just get tired and frustrated and want to give up. I have no doubt that these maladies strike you at times too.
Like most pastors, I am grieved when I see people continue to struggle along in life because they don’t keep God’s priorities. They pay a heavy price because of their ignorance of what God has said. I am grieved even more when I see people who had been doing pretty well get sucked back into the world’s system and then begin to decline spiritually. It is heart rending to deal with people who finally come to understand life from God’s perspective, but they had made so many sinful choices earlier in their lives that it will take them years to get things straightened out enough to be able to serve God as they now desire. That includes those who have placed such financial obligations on themselves that they cannot take advantage of opportunities God places before them to serve Him. Then there are those so oblivious to the things of God that they don’t even realize that their lives are a mess. They think it is normal to live the way they do and there is no hope for anything better.
For the next ten weeks or so we are going to be examining the topic of Successful Christian Living. In John 10:10 Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and might have [it] abundantly.” I want us to look at God’s word so that we understand what this abundant life is, what hindrances there are to living it, and what provisions and instructions God has given us so that we can live it. This morning I want to answer the question, “What is successful Christian Living?” If you do not know how to define it, how will you ever know if you are living it?
WHAT IS SUCCESSFUL CHRISTIAN LIVING?
Purpose of Your Creation
The starting place in understanding the answer to this question is to go back to the beginning and understand the purpose for which God created the world and you. Revelation 4:11 declares, “Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created.” God brought forth all of creation for the purpose of His glory. That includes man.
God is the creator of all things and the sovereign ruler over it all (Psalm 29:10; 103:19; 145:13; Zechariah 14:9, etc.). But God’s plan for man was that he was to be a mediator of God’s rule upon the earth. This was to be the way in which man would bring glory to God. In Genesis 1:26,27 God states, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 2:15f adds that Adam was specifically given the assignment of cultivating the Garden of Eden and keeping it, with the first task being to name all the animals.
Genesis 3 introduces the problem that all mankind has faced ever since. Sin. God gave one prohibition. He was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve was deceived by the serpent and ate. She gave to Adam and he, with full knowledge that he was disobeying God, ate. Man’s fall into sin resulted not only in a curse being placed upon the earth, women and men, but also put him into the bondage of sin (Romans 6:16f), under Satan’s rule (Eph. 2:1-3; 2 Cor. 4:4) as subjects in his kingdom of darkness (Col. 1:13). Man’s sin had usurped his position.
Adam’s children also proved to be failures in being the mediators of God’s kingdom. Each continued in sin until the sin was so bad “that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). The individual conscience is not enough to direct a man to obey God. God destroyed the world that had existed then with a flood and saved only eight people and representative pairs of animals on the ark.
After the flood, God established various human governments to be mediators of His kingdom, but they too only continued in sin. The result was the Tower of Babel built in direct disobedience of God’s command to multiply and fill the earth (Gen. 9:7 cf 11:4).
God then choose for Himself one man, Abram, who would become one people, the nation of Israel, that were to be God’s mediators of His kingdom. Though it became very clear early in their history that they could not keep the Law God had given to them nor would they humble themselves to be God’s mediators to the world, yet God was gracious to them. Through Israel, God provided a redeemer for man’s sin, the Lord Jesus Christ, but tragically, Israel rejected the Messiah resulting in a postponement of the promised kingdom. God then brought about the birth of a new entity, the church, which would be God’s mediators of His kingdom in a spiritual manner until the Messiah returns to set up His physical kingdom and all the remaining promises and prophecies will be fulfilled.
The reason I bring all this up is that each of you has a purpose for which God created you. Contrary to popular belief, and regardless of whether your parents called you “prince” or “princess” or you consider yourself to be the “king” or “queen” of your home, the universe does not center on you. It was not created for you. You are a small being who has rebelled against your creator. You deserve nothing but condemnation and you have no rights. Yet, your creator still wants to use you in a positive way for His glory.
He created you to have a relationship with Himself and be the channel of His blessings upon this earth. The sin you inherited from Adam and the sin which you yourself have committed have blocked this purpose from being fulfilled. You are instead under God’s just condemnation of judgement and are a curse upon the earth. God will still gain glory for Himself through sinners by demonstrating His righteousness and justice when His wrath is poured out upon them. The only means for that to change is to have your sin atoned for by Jesus Christ so that you can have a relationship with God and be used by Him to be a blessing in this world.
In brief, the purpose of your creation is not about you. It is about God and His glory. You will either be used for His glory in a positive way in demonstration of His love, mercy, and grace on those who have faith in Jesus Christ, in which case you will be a blessing to this world. Or, He will gain glory through you in demonstration of His holy wrath upon those who have disobeyed Him and brought a curse upon this world.
This then is the purpose of your creation – to bring God glory. That is ultimately also the purpose of salvation even has Ephesians 1:11 states that we “should be to the praise of His glory,” but what are the specific means by which our salvation is to glorify God?
Purpose of Your Salvation
There are quite a few scriptures that speak to the issue of the reasons that God saves a person. We are not going to cover them all, but we will cover enough of them so you will understand why God saves a person from sin. How will God be glorified by saving you?
First and foremost salvation brings us back into a state of righteousness so that we can have a relationship with God and be used by Him as a blessing to the world. Many verses speak of being saved from sin and God’s wrath unto righteousness. Here are a few of them.
The angel of the Lord told Joseph concerning Mary in Matt 1:21 “And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.” Jesus’ own statement of purpose in Luke 19:10 is “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Paul states in Romans 5:9 “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath [of God] through Him.” Salvation is from sin and God’s wrath upon it. But salvation is not just from something, it also to something. Romans 6:18,22 tells us that we had been enslaved to sin, but salvation frees us from sin’s slavery and enslaves us to God and righteousness. God is our new master.
This new relationship allows us to fulfill the second purpose of our salvation as expressed in Rom. 8:29 – “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined [to become] conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren.” We are saved from sin so that we can become like Jesus. This process will not be completed in our life on this earth, but the Christian should be changing over time so that his character is more and more like that of Christ. People should be able to see Christ living through you. Paul expressed it this way in Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the [life] which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.” The old Paul died and now it was Christ living through Him. The old Scott Harris died, and now it is to be Christ living through me. The old you died and now it is to be Jesus Christ living in you. His great promise us that one day we will be like Him. 1 John 3:2 states, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.”
Salvation brings us into a new relationship with God the Father. Galatians 4:4,5 states, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” Salvation from sin brings us into the family of God. The apostle John marveled at this truth saying in 1 John 3:1, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and [such] we are.” John had stated how this new relationship came about in John 1:12,13 – “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, [even] to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Our salvation does not come from anything that we have done or from anything in us that makes us worthy. We were dead in our trespasses and sin . . . but God makes us alive in Christ Jesus. . . We are saved by God’s grace through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast (Eph. 2:1,5,8,9). It is by God’s doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Some might think the idea of being adopted into God’s family or being conformed into the image of Christ is a bit abstract. They really are not, but the Bible is also more concrete about the purposes of salvation.
If we are to be conformed to the image of Jesus, then we must become like Him in character. Ephesians 1:4 states this in very concrete terms – “Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly [places] in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” You are saved so that you will become holy and blameless before God. Again, this is the process of sanctification. There will always be room for improvement in this life, but over time the Christian is to become less sinful and more separated unto God, which is the meaning of holiness. The things of the world become less enticing, and like Moses of old, we would rather endure persecution for our holy living than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.
Salvation is also for the purpose of serving God. That is what Jesus did. Hebrews 9:14 states, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? The sacrifice of Jesus cleanses us from sin for the purpose of serving the living God.
Ephesians 2:10 states this same truth in this way, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Notice that these good works that God wants us to walk in where prepared by Him for us even before we were saved. He has a plan for you by which you can fulfill His purposes in creating and saving you.
Titus 2:14 adds that is was our “great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” “who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” It is not just that God wants us to do these good deeds, but that we would also be zealous for them as a result of being a people for His own possession. In other words, because we belong to God we are excited about serving Him.
1 Peter 2:9 also speaks of belonging to God but with one of these good deeds specifically described. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
We have come full circle. Salvation brings us into a personal relationship with the living God who created us as His own chosen people who are to proclaim His glory. It is salvation from sin that allows you to fulfill the purpose for which God had originally created man. The saved man is God’s mediator, His representative on earth, who is to proclaim God’s nature, character, and will to the rest of creation in both word and deed.
What then is the definition of a successful Christian? It does not fit the world’s definitions in any sense. It is not about reaching a certain level of financial achievement. It is not about reaching a certain level of control of other people whether that is in your career, social organizations or governmental positions. It is not about how many people know you. It is not about how comfortable and enjoyable your life is. It is not really even about you. Being a successful Christian is not about money, power, fame, pleasure or self.
Definition of Success
A successful Christian is a person who has been saved from their sins by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and as an adopted child of God is bringing glory to His name by being conformed into the image of Jesus by submitting themselves to the will of God in faithfully pursuing holiness and blamelessness along with serving the Lord in doing the good works He has prepared before hand.
Perhaps there are other elements that could be added to this definition, but it covers the specific purposes stated for your salvation in the verses we looked at earlier. But notice that all the elements in the definition are dynamic except one. You must be saved, and either you are or you are not. Every other element in the definition needs to be present, but it will vary in its level. It is bringing, submitting, pursuing, serving. The Christian life is a dynamic one. In each of these areas you should continue to grow throughout your life, but the success is in the growing.
We commonly define success as reaching a certain level of achievement, and until we reach that level, we are not successful. God defines success as simply being faithful to Him (1 Cor. 4:2). We are stewards of all that He has entrusted to us including our lives and how we use them. As the steward shows faithfulness in one area, he is given greater responsibilities as a result (Luke 19:17,18). He does not become successful because he reached a greater level of responsibility, he was given greater responsibility because he was already successful. That may not seem like much of a difference, but it is an important distinction.
When it comes to successfully living the Christian life, it is a matter of persistent faithfulness. As our knowledge and trust of God increases so should our faithfulness to Him. As that increases, He entrusts to us greater aspects of His riches. My concern as a pastor is not that you have attained any particular level of ministry. My concern is the direction of your life. Are you progressing in becoming more like Jesus. Is your life marked by an increasing submission to the will of God. Is the sinfulness that once characterized your life being replaced by holiness and blamelessness. Are good works done for the glory of God replacing the activities of selfish desire?
Admittedly, sometimes it seems like three steps forward and two steps back, but the net progress continues forward. Over the next couple of months I want to address what God has provided for us so that we are successful in the Christian life and can overcome the hindrances to it.
HINDRANCES TO SUCCESS
There are quite a few hindrances. Here are a few of them and what we will be studying to overcome them.
Ignorance of God is the first and the primary hindrance. We overcome it through gaining knowledge of His revelation of Himself, the Bible, and through prayer. We will be examining how to know the Bible next week and prayer a few weeks later.
Preference for man’s wisdom instead of God’s wisdom is another hindrance. It is based in man’s pride. This problem will be addressed as we look at the Bible next week and then at also at worship.
Laziness is the desire for instant success instead of laboring to achieve it. This is a great hindrance both to the Christian life and to life in general. One of the messages coming up will be on self-discipline.
Self-Centeredness is probably second only to ignorance of God in being a hindrance to successful Christian living. Many of the other things that block our pursuit of godliness originate in our own selfishness. Several messages will address this issue including the ones on Self-Discipline and Sacrifice, Stewardship, Evangelism, Worship and Serving. All of these things require that we step away from our selfishness to consider others.
The Pressure of the World, Satan’s Attacks, and the Lust of flesh, eyes and pride are all areas of temptation. The world seeks to conform us into its mold, Satan seeks to deceive us and our own fleshly desires and pride work against godliness. Several of the coming messages will speak to these issues, but the message on Temptation will address them directly.
My desire is that each of us be successful in living the Christian life. As 2 Peter 1:3 states, God has, by His divine power, already given us everything pertaining to life and godliness. We need to apply to our lives what He has given to us.
One final thought. I realize that in doing this series I will be going against the conventional wisdom of our society. I am going to be calling for you to be making commitments. I am going to be calling on you to make sacrifices and be different from the rest of society. I freely warn you now that to live for Christ in holiness will result in the ungodly persecuting you (2 Tim. 3:12).
I know that in the process of this that some of you will find that you do not want to live as successful Christians and we will probably lose you. Many have done that in the past. That will be tragic, but this church does not exist to make religious people feel good. If you are such a religious person, I warn you now that there are many churches in our community that can probably make you happy, but you will also suffer the consequence of either having Jesus call you a worthless servant and judge you accordingly, or even of telling you to depart from Him because He does not know you. I don’t mean to be harsh, but the consequences are serious. There is nothing more miserable than Christian who is not living for Christ, and there is nothing more tragic than someone who claims to be a Christian finding out that their profession is false when they stand for judgement before Jesus.
This church exists to glorify God by making disciples of Jesus Christ. We want to help people live in such a way that they will hear our Lord say to them at the end of their life, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” I believe that most of you truly want to pursue that goal and you are willing to make whatever commitments and sacrifices are necessary as long as someone will point out the direction to go and encourage you along the way. That is what we will be striving to do, for that is the God given purpose of this church.
Are you successfully living the Christian life? Are you fulfilling the purposes for which you were created and saved from sin? I pray that you are and that each of us will continue to increase in that success – Remember that He who started a good work in you, is able to complete it – Phil. 1:6.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) How many times is the word “saved” or “salvation” is mentioned? 2) Talk with your parents about God’s purpose in saving people from their sins. What do you think is the purpose of your life?
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What is your own commitment level to the Lord? Where would you place yourself as a servant in the church – one of the very committed 10%, the committed 15%, the involved 15%, the marginal 20% or the uninvolved 40% – why is that your level of service? Would you consider your life successful? Why or why not? How would you define success? How would God define it? Why did God create you? Are you fulfilling the purpose of your creation? Why or why not? What hinders you from fulfilling that purpose? What needs to change? What is the general reason God saves people from their sins? How does God save a person from their sins? How far have you progressed in being conformed into the image of Jesus? In what ways do you serve God? Are there other ways in which you would like to serve Him? What prevents you from doing so? What are some of the “good works” God wants us to do? What are the purposes for those good works? Why is holiness so important to the Christian life? What does it mean to be holy? How are you progressing in this in your own life? In your own words, define a successful Christian. What are some of the hindrances to being a successful Christian? Which of these hinders you the most? In what ways can you overcome those hindrances?
WHAT IS SUCCESSFUL CHRISTIAN LIVING?
Purpose of Your Creation
The Nation of Israel
The purpose of your creation is to ______________________________________________________
Purpose of Your Salvation
The overall purpose of your salvation is to ______________________________________________________
Specific purpose for your salvation include:
Rom. 8:29 to be ______________ to the image of His Son.
Ephesians 1:4 God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be _____________________ before Him.
Hebrews 9:14 The sacrifice of Jesus cleanses us from sin for the purpose of ______________ the living God.
Definition of Success
A successful Christian is a person who has been saved from their sins by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and, as an adopted child of God, is bringing glory to His name by being conformed into the image of Jesus by submitting themselves to the will of God in faithfully pursuing holiness and blamelessness along with serving the Lord in doing the good works He has prepared before hand.
HINDRANCES TO SUCCESS
Ignorance of God. Preference for man’s wisdom instead of God’s wisdom.. Laziness – Desire for instant success instead of laboring to achieve it. Self-Centeredness. Pressure of the World. Satan’s Attacks. The Lust of flesh, eyes and pride
For comments, please e-mail Church office