All true believers want to have more victories in their Christian lives. But often they are not sure what form victory should take. Victory in what areas of life? A simple definition might help as we look at this important subject. Victorious Christian Living means that we are learning to become more open to all God has for us, in every area of our lives, as we live for Him. This means more victory in the physical realm including physical healing. It means more victory in the emotional realm, including being more healed of all the damage in our lives from the past. It also means coming to know inner peace. It means more victory in the spiritual realm as we come to have peace with God through forgiveness in Jesus and as we gain more victory over the powers of darkness that have been influencing our lives.
Victory involves an understanding of two major truths. The first is that God loves the people He has made. He wants the best for them. Verses such as John 3:16 remind us of this truth, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. It means that God doesn’t want any of us to miss out on what He has for us in Jesus. But if we reject Him, ignore Him or shut Him out of our lives, we can miss out on all the blessings and healings He wants to bring into our lives. We can even miss out on the salvation He has so freely provided for us in Christ Jesus. This is shown in 2 Pet 3:9, Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. Repentance means recognising our sin and confessing it to Lord and turning to Him to seek His help to live for Him.
The second truth is that God wants us all to respond to His love, willingly and wholeheartedly. It is true that the Great Commandment is a commandment to love God, Mark 12:30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. However it is also an invitation to respond to His love by opening our hearts to love Him in every facet of our lives. When we close our hearts to Him, we close ourselves to His love, to His healing grace and to His power. The more we open our hearts to God, the more open we are to receive what He wants to give us. But how do we become more open to Him? By getting the right focus in life.
A). WE CAN HAVE A WRONG FOCUS ON LIFE
i). We can focus on OURSELVES
Many people are egocentric. They think that the world revolves around them. Especially young people. We saw that in our own family a couple of weeks ago. Our 5 year old grandson Charlie was running in a school cross country race. Well “running” might be too graphic a term to describe what He was doing. “Sauntering” might be a better description. Or “loitering with no intent”. However towards the end of the race he suddenly ran flat out to the finish line. His mother was amazed at the change in his pace and asked him why he had begun to run so fast. His reply showed all the egocentrism of youth. He replied, “Didn’t you hear all the people cheering for me as I ran?” (Well Charlie, sorry to disappoint you but the cheering wasn’t all for you. There were other kids in the race as well. They were being cheered on by their parents and wider family.) But for Charlie all the cheering was for him!
It’s not just children who are egocentric. We all need to be reminded that the world doesn’t revolve around us. Life isn’t just about us. There is no real joy or fulfilment in living only for ourselves and making ourselves the centre of our universe.
ii). We can focus on OTHERS. We can begin to compare or contrast ourselves with other people. But there are two dangers in focussing on other people and comparing ourselves with them.
- We may think we are SUPERIOR. Pride and arrogance can enter in when we compare ourselves favourably with others. That was the point of Jesus’ story in the Parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. You can recall what took place, Luke 18:11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers … .’ He wasn’t praying. He was talking to himself. He was reminding himself how good and dedicated he was to God. But his focus wasn’t on God. His focus came on the tax collector as he remarked, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
By contrast the tax-collector went into the temple to pray to God for God’s mercy on him. Luke 18:13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ What was the reality as Jesus saw it? Jesus applied the parable by saying, Luk 18:14 I tell you, this man (the tax-collector) went down to his house justified, rather than the other. The tax collector had the right focus, on God.
b. We may think we are INFERIOR. That was a temptation that could have come to the apostle Paul. He had established the church in Corinth but later on some false teachers had come in who suggested they were superior to Paul. He called them “Super apostles”. He declared that he was not at all inferior to them, 2 Cor 12:11 … For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. His humble attitude is seen in 1 Cor 15:10, But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Paul wasn’t going to be made to feel inferior. He knew that God’s grace had been given to him to be an apostle and to minister faithfully among them. He had already done so.
Someone might say, But didn’t Paul encourage others to look sideways to him as an example to follow. It is true that he did write to the Corinthians, 1Cor 11:1 Imitate me. (ie, look at me and follow my example.) But he added, “Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ.” He was saying that the only true pattern to follow in Christian living is Christ Himself. If Paul was imitating Christ, then he could be a pattern to follow. But if Paul wasn’t a good pattern, then people should not follow him. The standard to aim at is Perfection.
But how can you seek to live a perfect life? By focussing on Jesus as the Perfect Pattern for living, and striving to live in the same way He did.
B). The RIGHT FOCUS. FOCUSSING ON JESUS. Aiming At God’s Perfection
Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 5:48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Some folk have a difficulty with the word “perfect” and prefer another possible meaning, “mature”. They are much happier with a command to be “mature” than to be “perfect.” However to translate the word as “mature” in this passage leads to a nonsensical statement, You therefore must be (mature), as your heavenly Father is (mature). God is not “mature”. He is “perfect”. Jesus’ command here was certainly to a greater maturity but it was to be based on nothing less than the perfection of GodHimself.
That was the pattern Jesus lived by as a human. He sought at all times to be in perfect communion with His Heavenly Father. He sought to perfectly fulfil His Father’s will for Him. That is to be our aim or goal in life as well. To be as perfect as we can be, by the grace of God. Even though we know we can never reach perfection! The apostle John reminded us of our imperfections in 1Jn 1:8, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Those who think they are perfect are deceived. Everyone needs forgiveness and cleansing. St Paul said of himself, that though he aimed at perfection he knew he wasn’t perfect. Phil 3:12. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. As we saw in 1 Cor 11:1, Paul was seeking to imitate Christ and he encouraged his fellow believers to do the same. Jesus aimed at being perfect, not just more mature. Thus the goal we aim at is perfection, even though we know we will never achieve it.
There have been those who mistakenly thought they were perfect. I read the stories of two individuals who felt they had arrived at sinless perfection. The first was a student at a theological college. He was very sincere and very devout. One day he approached the Principal of the theological college and told him, “Sir, I believe that I have arrived at a state of sinless perfection! The Principal was a very wise man. He simply replied, “That’s wonderful to hear! But I am surprised that none of the staff and none of the other students have noticed it yet!” The student had to reassess his own life.
The second story is told of a minister who used to go around the country preaching. In his presentation he would try to get people to understand that no one is perfect and everyone needs to be forgiven by God. To show this graphically he would say to the congregations, “Stand up if you think you have reached a stage of sinless perfection”. No one had ever stood up as he asked that question in various congregations. But on this occasion a man stood up. There was a stunned silence. The preacher and the congregation stared at him. What sort of person was he to be perfect or think he was perfect? Suddenly his wife began giggling and then burst out laughing. Loudly! Very loudly! Others joined in! He sat down highly embarrassed. He too would have to reassess his life if people did not recognise his perfection (as he saw it).
What does it mean to try to be perfect in every area of life? To be the perfect husband? To be the perfect father? To be the perfect neighbour? To preach the perfect sermon? To be the perfect servant of God? (Remembering that none of us will ever achieve perfection in any area of life.)
- Asking the Lord to help us to be the best that we can be, in every situation. Then we do the very best we can, with His help.
- Thanking Him for the grace He gave us, to do what we did in that situation.
- Asking Him to forgive us for not being more open to receive more of His grace and help.
- Asking Him for His ongoing grace to do better in future situations.
It also means not compromising in any area of life, but giving Him all of what we are and have, to His glory. (That’s what Jesus did for us on the cross! He gave His life so that we might have life!) In the next article we will look at the implications of His perfect death for us. But in the meantime, it’s time to adjust our focus from the horizontal to the vertical; from the imperfect to the Only perfect One, Jesus Himself.
Blog No 149. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Thursday 22nd May 2014