The Missing Link – Lenten Season 2021
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV).
7 Spiritual Laws of Success – The Missing Link
People are already asking me to clarify the title of this series and perhaps here, in the conclusion, is the best place to do it. The question seems to be the difference between calling this series “The 7 Laws of Spiritual Success” (which seems to be the most clear title) or “The 7 Spiritual Laws of Success” (which is the actual title).
My goal was NOT to talk about success as being either “spiritual” or “worldly.” Every thing is spiritual (especially for Christians). So to be a famous actor or a “successful” businessman or woman or to accomplish a life-long dream of traveling the world are common ways to define success.
Success, they say, is very personal.
Meaning in life is doing what YOU think is valuable, so they say.
But that is NOT the way of a disciple, a follower, of Jesus Christ. We do NOT determine what is meaningful to us or what pleases us, or what we think “success” in life is. Christians want to please God. We do not trust our own instincts to determine what has “eternal” value and, in fact, our concern for the “eternal” (and not merely this life) is what marks us as Christians.
Success is God-oriented simply because he loves us so much that he will make sure that his definition of “success” will truly bring us fulfillment, peace and joy in life (in abundance). Success, just like love, is about pleasing God. Anything else is simply not worthy of the name.
As C.S. Lewis put it once, it is like insisting on sitting in a mud-puddle with a grimy fist of dirt in your hands, when you have been promised a day at the beach. God’s vision of success is far more satisfying, far more filled with joy and peace than any contrived definition of success that we can come up with.
So it isn’t about “spiritual” success but about the “spiritual laws” of success (for Christians).
Worldly vs. Spiritual Success – The Missing Link
Yes, there is still a distinction between “worldly” and “spiritual” success in this life (in general). No doubt. There are a lot of interesting mud-puddles to play in and not everybody (even in the church) really believes that a “day at the beach” is even possible. After all, have you ever seen the beach? Does the beach even exist? Why take the chance of spending all of your effort, time and money on such an impossibility, a pipe-dream, a fantasy island that may only exist in your imagination.
Yes, well, that’s what makes us Christians, doesn’t it. We define “success” relationally, in terms of pleasing God. Our view of the world, and success, is different than most others. But don’t forget that even the world believes that “love” and relationships are also the epitome of success and on our death beds we finally realize the futility (the Bible calls it “vanity”) of a life without love, without family, without God. We are new creatures in Christ and this is a key place where that “newness” is found – how we define “success.”
The Three “Onlys” – The Missing Link
Many Christians would agree, of course, at least in theory. The problem is putting it into practice. And that’s where the “missing link” comes in. I call it the “3 onlys…”
The ONLY way to please God is to strive to become like Christ.
The ONLY way to become like Christ is to lead a life of effective ministry.
The ONLY way to lead a life of effective ministry is to embrace and develop your uniqueness in the service of the Kingdom of God.
Talking about the “unique” YOU has become quite popular in the last few years. Your “uniqueness” in the world of online marketing, instagram influencers and ecommerce business men and women is the key to financial success. Your “uniqueness” is what makes your creativity shine, your efforts in the marketplace or at your job, valuable. “Being you” is the key to happiness and to all kinds of successful and interesting projects. And they are right.
The thing to remember for Christians is that “YOU” are a new creation in Christ. Being a Christian is not an “add-on” to an otherwise normal life but rather a radically different person that the Bible describes as being “born again.” Yes, your creational abilities and gifts are still there. They were your original birthday presents from your heavenly Father who created you. But those creational gifts and abilities and interests will be enhanced and focused by your spiritual gifts and “new life” in Christ. Your focus is no longer on pleasing yourself but on pleasing God. A key element in doing that is certainly “being you.” No doubt.
Being the “new” you in Christ
But to clarify the idea, we need to add something more. It is not merely “being you” that matters, but “being the new you in Christ.” We have been bought with a price and now we belong, body and soul, to our Saviour Jesus Christ, which is our only comfort in life and in death (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day No. 1).
This whole concept is related to the “glory of God” which is being revealed in us. The glory of God is His character – a self-sacrificing love that fulfills his perfect justice – which is revealed most fully in Christ and his death on the cross for our sins. That glory is revealed in us to the degree that we become like Christ which is God’s purpose and goal for us.
When we embrace that goal and purpose and strive for it and make every effort to accomplish it, that is what pleases God. And pleasing God is our heart’s desire in increasing measure as we learn to love and trust Him with our whole heart.
Created for His Pleasure
The joy of the Lord is my strength.
Getting rid of all my small ambitions
to make this one thing the hallmark of my life.
To please God.
Whether I get what I pray for or not,
whether my circumstances change or not,
whether I am healed or not.
To consider every sacrifice a small price to pay
to obtain the pearl of great price.
So far so good. Many would agree. But on a practical level it really doesn’t happen very often or very much. The church is NOT known in the world as a true or genuine reflection of “the glory of God in Christ.” The Leadership has been largely politicized, the people have largely bought into their surrounding culture rather than being a voice for change and there is very little difference between a moral, upright, middleclass family inside or outside the church. This situation has deeply affected our witness to the “new life” in Christ mostly because the “new” part is not very well defined. That is where the missing link can be found.
It’s one thing to say that the only way to please God is to become like Christ. That is rather self-evident.
It’s also fairly obvious to say that we need to embrace our uniqueness and accept our creational abilities and spiritual gifts as given to us by God.
Something Missing in the Middle
But there is something missing in the middle. And this is where I may get some push-back from people in the church.
I am claiming that the ONLY way to become like Christ is to live a life of effective ministry (like Christ did). It is not enough to become like Christ in his morality or in his relationship to God, in his piety, or even in the way that he relates to others. That’s all fine-and-dandy but the Bible is clear that we need to become like Christ in his purpose, in his mission, in his “glory” revealing efforts. Paul tells us that we need to become like him in his sufferings so that we might become like him (or share) in his glory (Romans 8:17b). To the degree that we suffer for the gospel, suffer to bring the gospel to others, suffer to introduce others to God through Christ, to that degree we are also partaking in the glory of God in Christ.
And that is ministry.
That is effective ministry when there is real fruit (stewardship) and real ministry (leadership) in the context of real battle for the hearts and souls of people who need to hear the gospel (discipleship). Effective ministry is a lifestyle. It is YOUR unique life ministry. Whether you are a Pastor or a Missionary or a Biologist or a Truck Driver, your life of effective ministry, however that looks, is what will create the character (glory) of Christ is you.
Did you know that what you choose to do for a living will shape and mold you into a certain kind of person? And not just what you do but how you do it and what you think about what you do. It is all one thing. A policeman can become arrogant and “justice” oriented or he/she can become kind and gentle even after seeing the evil side of everyday life. A nurse can live a life of continual pressure and demands and become a demanding person, always expecting people to pay the personal price she/he is willing to pay for his/her career. Or they can become beacons of hope and self-service towards others.
Identity (including morality and personality) is shaped by purpose and given power through significant ministry/work. It is true in the world and even more true in terms of the work of God in our lives to become like Christ.
The only way to become like Christ is to lead a life of effective ministry. That is the missing link. It’s not just about virtue but virtue in service to others. It’s not just about spiritual/creational gifts but gifts used in ministry. It’s not just about morality but rather morality as an expression of our relationships with others. It is not inward focused but outward. It isn’t just about who we become but how we become who we were meant to be…..the best version of ourselves which is only possible “in Christ.” And the only way to do that and to be “in Christ” fully is through a life of effective ministry (just like him).
And effective ministry is about producing the fruit of changed lives through the preaching of the gospel.
How you do that will depend on the gifts, abilities and interests that your Father in Heaven has given to you and that you have a responsibility to develop and implement. And that’s great news because your “effective life ministry” is something that will bring joy and peace to you in an overflowing, abundant and anointed life of sacrifice and suffering for the gospel in a world at war with God. Strange words indeed.
Without getting the missing link in place, we will end up with the prosperity gospel on the one hand or the sleeping giant of evangelicalism on the other. These are the 7 spiritual laws of true success.
The Desert Warrior
Lord, I want to please you. I am excited about the life ministry that you have for me because it means that I can do what I love to do in the service of the Kingdom. Thank you for a life of significant ministry. I know that my efforts are essential to your work and urgently needed. I will make every effort to write, and preach and spread the gospel with all of my creational and spiritual gifts. Thank you. In your name I pray. Amen.