Whether it is in our work, our home life, or our Christian walk, it's easy to become overly interested in goals. We can become caught up in measuring success by cultural standards. We turn to gimmicks and fads to get “results” when living the Christian life seems difficult or when the gospel seems to fail us in the here and now. We easily forget how Christ measures success in this life.
C. S. Lewis reminded his friend Arthur Greeves, “It is not your business to succeed (no one can be sure of that), but to do right. When you have done so, the rest lies with God.” This is something we must constantly remind ourselves of, but there is more God’s Word tells us. It speaks of the real victory we can possess even now but it often doesn't look like what we'd expect.
Victory in Weakness
The new life we have by the blood of Christ is ultimately how we must measure victory in this age. True success, as God measures things, is the only path to true joy, even if it leads to our death (Ps. 28:7). Our joy, our victory, and our success are not measured by the things that seem powerful or potent according to our culture's standards. They are measured by the cross.
When speaking of the saints who died for their faith, the Book of Revelation makes this dramatic statement:
And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. (Rev. 12:11)
Victory, conquering this evil age, is seen in the death of the saints. Why is that? God’s grace seems like weakness and foolishness in this world, but in reality, the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of men (1 Cor. 1:25). Any success we have is only because of the work of Christ done on our behalf. The cross and resurrection of Jesus radically redefine power and victory for us. Joy in Christ by the power of his Spirit is the measure of success in this life.
Power in Jesus
Jesus did not defeat death by getting even. The God of the universe responded to our sin and death by humbling himself and coming in the likeness of a servant to serve mankind, offering his life as a sacrifice of obedience, atoning for our sins.
The Son of God removed his glorious crown and descended to undo death by his loving self-sacrifice (Phil. 2:5–11). His death opens the door to new beginnings, to forgiveness, and to freedom from our past actions and shame. Karma is broken. Grace is now the way of the universe. Weakness is resurrection-power. Satan’s power over us and in us is torn to pieces by this willing sacrifice of Christ. The sacrificial love of Jesus empowers us by becoming our wisdom, strength, and righteousness before God.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you particiapte in Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:12-13).
Because we have Christ's Spirit, we participate in that same love which undoes death. Christ has purified us by his blood, giving us the Spirit. Our suffering and pain in this life are not according to karma or because of God’s displeasure. Suffering no longer means we are losers. Rather, our suffering is our glory (Eph. 3:7–13). The Christian life's power and wisdom are found in something radically different.
The real power and wisdom are not found in principles for our victorious living but in the announcement of God’s victory in Christ. In fact, Christ does not just show us wisdom, he “has become our wisdom, righteousness, holiness and redemption” (v. 30). This is exactly the same situation in which we find ourselves to which God measures us. God’s law says, ‘Be perfect.’ God’s gospel says, ‘Believe in Christ and you will be reckoned perfect before God.’ The law tells us what must be done if we are to be saved; the gospel tells us what God has done to save us (Michael Horton, The Gospel-Driven Life).
As we are united to Christ by faith, as displayed in our baptism, our suffering is a participation in Christ's victory who has defeated death and fear in our lives. We are freed to undo the effects of shame and sin by his power and glory now at work in us.
Living by Grace
Our lives are fueled by grace and lived in grace and humility which can now give grace to others. Our words have power when they are full of love and grace (Eph. 4:29). Our actions can redeem the time even though the days are evil (Eph. 5:16). Our lives speak of eternity when we bear our cross. The manifold wisdom of God is seen in our weakness as Jesus shines through us (Eph. 3:7–13). God's grace is seen in our complete dependence on him.
The heavenly gifts flow from Jesus to us, bringing us from one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor. 5:1–10). Christ has ascended on high and has been given the name above every name. He gives us all the good things that we need for life and godliness. His glory and our good are now the same (Col. 2:6–15; Phil. 2:5–11). Nothing can ever separate us from his love or his glorious plan for the universe. That is why we can have joy in the midst of suffering. We are more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37).
Living in complete dependence on Jesus even when it leads to our deaths — this is how we conquer this present evil age by the blood of the Lamb. We need not fear men who can destroy the body (Matt. 10:28). We can learn to be content with whatever condition God gives to us. We can, thus, pray:
“Lord, I am willing
To receive what You give.
To lack what You withhold.
To relinquish what You take,
To suffer what You inflict,
To be what you require.”
― Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace
Christ's victory is seen in us as we are conformed to the image of Christ, even when it leads to our suffering (Rom. 8:29). This “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5). Our future victory is secure. Our success is a present reality awaiting us in the heavens (1 Peter 1:4).
Let us have this mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, so we might run this race with joy. This is the victorious Christian life. You have already succeeded in Jesus. We are freed for the first time, then, to do what is right regardless of the consequences or circumstances.