Many of us have erroneously likened the Christian life to climbing a ladder—one rung at a time. Each step puts us a little bit closer to reaching the high standard for living the abundant Christian life. The driven believer faithfully continues pressing upward in pursuit of the victorious life and is devoted to the “duties” that promise to bring success.
I guess many of us have concluded this is simply normal behavior for a Christian. It’s the way we’re supposed to be living, right? This is what happens too many of us. As hard working Christian’s we seem to be making some progress up the ladder of spiritual success but suddenly, out of nowhere, the unexpected occurs when we yield to a particular sin and seem to abruptly drop several rungs!
We are sometimes taught that the reason success was not obtained is because we failed to diligently follow the prescribed formula and didn’t work hard enough. So with renewed zeal (mixed with some personal guilt) we start the climb all over again. We then experience a limited measure of success that is soon abolished by an unexpected failure. This cycle of victory and defeat is repeated over and over again. Finally, we simply conclude that our life is one sad defeat after another and we spend much of our time wrestling with the knowledge of missing the mark of God’s high calling. To make matters worse, the calloused counsel we often receive from those who think they’ve reached a pinnacle of higher spiritual achievement is: “Get in shape, keep climbing, apply truth, believe God, and try harder.”
During my personal journey of trying to live the Christian life I’ve been exposed to hundreds of sermons and Bible lessons instructing me on how a Christian should be living. Perhaps you have too. Obedience to a select few of these teachings resulted in some spiritual arrogance and a judgmental spirit on my part. But to be completely honest with you, after being loaded down with more things to apply and more things to do, I was overwhelmed. There was simply far too much to apply and too much to do. I settled on success in just one thing but consistent victory was never achieved. And so, for me, the life long cycle of striving to achieve spiritual success began and the genuine joy of simply being a Christian slowly dissipated.
In reality, I strove to please God with certain behavioral choices but failed so frequently. If the truth be known, Jesus Christ was no where to be found in the practical aspects of my daily Christian life. He was seldom the center of my thoughts and daily devotions. I was focused on the method, the formula, and the plan rather than Jesus Himself. I could never measure up to God’s high standard of conduct and as a result I was often discouraged because of displeasing my Heavenly Father. I was plagued with guilt.
Perhaps you diligently try to live the successful Christian life but continue failing. You’re often overwhelmed, frustrated, or defeated, and subsequently you are plagued with guilt. Instead of accepting and standing in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free, you work hard and find yourself entangled in the yoke of legal bondage (Galatians 5:1). You are motivated to please the Father. All you know to do is plan your work, work your plan, keep a positive mental attitude, and keep trying your best. This particular system is not really working but what else is there? (I’ve been there.)
On the other hand, you may be the type person whose commitment and obedience seems to result in more victories than failures. Your effort seems to be working and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. Your steps are ordered and your routine is regimented. All you know to do is continue following the formula which you call truth, maintaining your positive attitude which you call faith, and putting forth your best effort which you call obedience. Although you believe you love the Lord Jesus Christ, love actually has little to do with it. You read your Bible even when you don’t really feel like it. And you pray from duty instead of desire. You have great determination and great discipline—and everyone else knows it. At the end of a good day you proudly “check the boxes” on your spiritual things to do list. You’re pleased with your progress up the ladder of spiritual success. And without knowing it, you cultivate the soil of your soul for a harvest of self-righteousness and pride. You feel good about yourself and wonder why others can’t be just like you are!
Finally, you may be among those who truly understand and are willing to admit their complete inability to live the genuine Christian life. You realize that true victory is not achieved by trying but by trusting. You fully trust and rest in the complete sufficiency of Christ alone. You have come to recognize that Jesus Christ is the only person who can live the genuine Christian life. Christ plans your work and Christ works the plan, your attitude is Christ centered, and Christ gives you both the will and the power to do His good pleasure. You simply follow the Good Shepherd. You love Jesus Christ. He is your life.
You are either attempting to live a fruitful life by trying or by trusting. So let me ask, which of these three lifestyles best describe you? Be honest. Do you strive to achieve the high calling of holiness but continue to fail? Do you strive to live a life of loyal obedience and seem to have some measure of limited success? Or, do you simply love, trust, and follow Christ and then yield the fruit that He produces in your life? I’m praying for the latter.
Often, I think we fail to slow down long enough to truly examine our walk with Christ. I encourage you to reevaluate and rethink your relationship with Jesus and ask if the life you live is Christ or is it self?