THE SUCCESSFUL CHRISTIAN
by Bill Jackson
"Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things
which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip."
A study of the context, together with a basic understanding of
the eternal nature of salvation and the reality of rewards, must bring
us to the conclusion that, while as redeemed people, our position in
Christ cannot be altered, there are goals in the Christian life that
can be forfeited.
If the desire to realize these goals were purely selfish it would
be understandable but unforgivable. Working for Christ for the
satisfaction of the rewards He has promised cannot fit into a
Christian ethic of love. The fact of rewards is plain; the striving
toward them for selfish reasons cannot be condoned.
What is our reward? Basically, we can relate to them in
conjunction with our Lord's statement to the rewarded servant, "Well
done, thou good and faithful servant...Enter into the joy of thy
This should be a prime motivation of our Christian lives. We
have been once and for all delivered from a life where the only moral
restraint was fear. We are now living a morality based on love, and
our love for Him - if it is real - can only cause us to obey and
desire to please Him. Having already responded to the gracious Gospel
invitation, "Come unto Me", and rejoicing in the words of finality,
"It is finished", we now look forward with eager anticipation to those
last glorious words, "Well done."
However, those of us who know the Lord Jesus Christ know He does
not lie. If we have not been good and faithful servants He will not
pretend that we were. He must tell the truth about us (Titus 1:5) and
He wants to make it a pleasant truth. That is why He had so much
written in the Word to chastise, encourage and help us to be what He
wants us to be.
Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed - to what? To
the things which we have heard.
In reference to Paul's letter to the Hebrews, what things had
they heard? It is clear from the context that they were things about
our Blessed Savior. These things were from the lips of those who were
obedient to the Great Commission of our Lord.
The Apostolic message was clothed in power, and was responsive to
all that Jesus had said. We can safely conclude that, included in
"the things we have heard" was not only the Gospel message of
salvation, but the truths about Baptism, discipleship and obeying all
the commands that Jesus Himself had given.
One of the saddest commentaries on teaching ministries today is
that so little time is spent expounding the blessed commands of our
Lord. Ultra-dispensationalists have relegated these commands either
to a past age or a future age, so that many of today's Christians have
no reality of being taught all things He commanded.
Yet, we must ask, who is the prime teacher of Christian truth if
not the Lord Jesus Christ Himself? It is true that some of His
teachings are hard to follow; some are given in parable form and speak
clearly of a future age. But the basic commands are still valid and
must be taught and obeyed. If not, how can we give earnest heed to
the things we should be being taught?
Some assume the epistles somehow supersede the commands of Jesus
as the curriculum of Christians. It is true that as local churches
are being established, concrete rules had to be laid down, rules which
could not have been detailed by Jesus. Also, situations arose that
had to be dealt with at the time, and a salvation now complete could
be presented in a more analytical formula than would have been
possible before the Cross. (Of course, Jesus did make general
references to the scope and plan of this salvation, e.g., Matthew
20:28 and John 3:14, to name two instances.)
Careful study shows us that the truths governing the moral
behavior patterns and ministry thrusts of local churches found in the
epistles are based solidly on the commands of Jesus. How could we
seek a different foundation?
In this brief study I will bring to your attention two of
Christ's commands; the first two that are recorded as being given to
believers. They are "Follow Me" in Matthew 4:19 and "Rejoice" in
Jesus said, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."
When we view present day fundamentalism in relation to this command,
we find three unfortunate groupings into which Christians can be
First, we find those that want to follow Christ, but whose
theology is so hyper-Calvinistic that they cannot bring themselves to
actively fish for men. They don't mind (in fact they are usually
happy) if some fishes get caught, but they are afraid to use any bait
in case the fish, swallowing the bait, should do a work to contribute
to his being caught. If our Lord said He would make us fishers of
men, there must be some fishing techniques that He would teach us. We
really cannot blame the friends who eschew all techniques, as they are
often repulsed by the second group of Christians.
This second group are the expert fishers. They have mastered
techniques. The statistics they give for their catches seem to make
them very successful. Some of the gimmicks they employ leave much to
be desired, but to them the bottom line is all important -- GET
RESULTS. Such are those who want to be fishers of men, but their
motive is not to follow Christ but to go forth with one aim - get
folks to make decisions. Often they have no conscious thought of real
devotion to Christ; indeed, they are often willing to deliberately
keep the message shallow so more will respond. However, we can even
understand this position, as it is often adopted as a natural turning
away from the third group of Christians.
The third group are saved, satisfied and asleep. They can
respond very well to popcorn testimonies and even have some scriptures
stored in their heads to bring forth as a foundation for their claims
of being ready to have a happy eternity. They are regulars Sunday
morning, sparse Sunday evening and missing on Wednesday. They are the
strange type of Christian who never leads a soul to Christ. They
"love Jesus", but often didn't really know that He called His
followers to follow Him. If they are well-to-do, they are generally
fairly generous (but seldom sacrificial) in their missionary giving.
They seem to imagine that if they help a missionary to be a "fisher of
men" nothing else will be required of them. It never occurs to them
that Jesus' commands were directed at them. The cares of this world
and the deceit of riches have indeed choked their Christian influence
and made them unfruitful.
We must hope there is a fourth group -- those that seriously
consider that their Lord was talking to them. We come to His basic
command, "Follow Me." Other men have been inspired by the Spirit to
write commands for consecration. In Romans 12:1, Paul penned the
immortal words, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of
God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice..." In Colossians
3:1 we are admonished to "seek those things which are above." But
none of these commands can approach the simplicity and majesty of the
beautiful words of Jesus, "Follow Me."
In following anyone, going in the right direction is fundamental.
If you are following a friend to his home and he turns right, you turn
right. He may be going slowly, but you do not pass him. You do one
of the simplest acts - you follow him.
You may have had the experience of trying to follow a car that
was going so fast you had to struggle to keep up. You were not always
sure the way he was going to turn, and you tried to glue your
attention upon something distinctive about the rear of his car so that
you could follow. What a hazardous experience this can be, and how
empty you feel when he loses you and you are lost. Or perhaps you
have almost lost the friend you are following and have seen a car that
looks like his - but it is dark so you aren't sure. So you follow,
hoping you are following the right car!
What a blessedness to know the faithfulness of our Lord. When He
says, "Follow Me", He determines to make the path so clear that the
only reason not to follow is because we want to go in a different
direction, or we want to pass Him. He will never lead where we cannot
follow, although He may lead where we do not wish to follow. We must
realize that the success of our Christian lives will be determined not
by how many results we get or how large our Sunday School is or how
many people we preach to. Our success, as He counts success, is
determined by how faithfully we follow Him.
It is always helpful, when following someone, to know the general
direction they will be taking. We will therefore study two passages
of scripture to see the clear direction the Lord is taking so that we
cannot fail to follow if we want to. We will then know the
realization of His second command, "Rejoice". A life of following
Jesus must lead to a place of rejoicing. It will not be experienced
necessarily on every bend of the road, but it is the only divinely
The passages we will look at are Matthew 4:19 to 5:12 and
In the Philippians passage, we have the co-relative of "Follow
Me" in the words of verse 5, "Let this mind be in you which was also
in Christ Jesus." Now we have very clearly spelled out the direction
He is going.
(1) He knew His equality with God.
(2) He made Himself of no reputation. This is a difficult step
to understand, and harder to emulate. He was the world's Creator, Who
fashioned things that are out of that which was not. By any standard
of what is right, His entrance into the world should have been
heralded by Divine proclamation to all His subjects. It is only right
that all should know Who He is, when we really realize Who He is. But
He made Himself of no reputation - unheralded, unsung, unannounced,
unknown - so was His mind.
The admonition is clearly, "Let this mind be in you", and it is
so easy for us to mouth platitudes that indicate we are willing to be
unknown. But it is not quite that simple, for as soon as we go
unrecognized our human nature stands on its hind legs and demands
recognition. It is so contrary to all that we are for us to be of no
reputation that, when we allow this thought to search our hearts we
must conclude that we are scarcely following Him. Yet this is only the
(3) He took upon Him the form of a servant. To put any human
being in the caste of servanthood is to do that which befits our
fallen nature. He is sovereign Majesty, yet He took upon Him the form
of a servant. It would do well to ask ourselves with as much honesty
as our deceitful hearts will allow - do we ever willingly take the
servant's part? Yet this is what He became.
(4) He was made in the likeness of men - a step far down for Him
Who made man in His image and then watched while that man fell to
disgusting depravity. Yet this is the direction He has set His face,
like a flint, on.
(5) He humbled Himself. "Lord", you might cry, "not another step
down. When I said I would follow You I was willing to go as you
directed, but is it not time to take some upward steps? Must I
continue to go down?" The fact is, that if we would follow Him, we
must take the same direction He took - down, down, down - even if
there is no human expectation of ever reversing the downward trend and
being exalted in this life.
(6) Just when we think He must have reached bottom, He goes down
- and the King of Life becomes obedient to death. "Lord, how can this
be? You promised abundant life to those who followed You, and now the
shadow of Calvary darkens my pathway. Certainly You mean us to go to
the foot of the Cross and then to call upon God's legions for instant
deliverance. No, Lord, You can't be nailed there - You can't die - I
don't want to die."
(7) ...even the death of the cross. "Lord, I guess I can put up
with dying, but can't you make it instant and honorable, like a firing
squad? As Kevin Barry said, 'Shoot me like a soldier, don't hang me
like a dog.' A brave soldier goes into the enemy's camp, is captured,
sentenced to death and amid the drum - roll of the military band,
falls before his captor's bullets. That's bad enough, but not the
Cross with all its shame and ignominy. Lord, do you really want me to
be willing for all this?"
That is what He said - FOLLOW ME. Then He showed which direction
He was going.
We see the "Rejoice" part of this passage in verses 9-11. For as
the Head is exalted, the whole Body will rejoice, and this is the end
He has determined for us. Our problem is that we want to get to
"Rejoice" by going up instead of going down, and we will never get to
our destination if we go in the wrong direction. .
(Christ-like) D. .
I want to get from point A to point D. I am given plain
directions. I travel to point B, then on to point C. Then comes the
crucial decision. I must turn right to get to point D, but that is
going down, and I don't want to go down. I want to go up. So I turn
left and go up to point E.
Realizing that I have lost my way, and remembering that point B
was on my route, I travel down to point B. I don't particularly like
this, as it is a downward move, but it is not too bad, and I do feel
good when I tell myself I am going in the right direction. Arriving
at point B, I turn left and proceed to point C. Again I am faced with
a problem. Now, I have just finished taking a long trip down from
point E to point B - certainly I am not required to go any lower. It
is time to start going up. So I turn left and arrive back at point E,
at which time I repent and go back to point B again, etc., etc., etc.
-- I end up going around in circles, which is what most of you are
experiencing in your Christian lives. You never really get where God
wants you to be, because you never seriously follow, and continue to
We have to face the fact that there is a basic problem in
fundamental Christianity. We recognize talent, ability and success.
We often hear, "He is a great evangelist", "He is a great singer", "He
is a great administrator." How seldom we hear of anyone, "He is so
Christ-like." Which attribute would we rather be known for? All of
us, instantly, would say we would rather be Christ-like than to be
talented and famous, but how many of us are willing to take the only
road - the road He took - the road down?
Note carefully the steps we are admonished to take. First, Jesus
knew Who He was. A great deal of emphasis is given today to realizing
your "self-worth." I am glad I can say two things about my self-worth
-- first of all, in myself dwelleth no good thing. There is nothing
in my life that could either commend itself to God or be a blessing to
my fellow man. But, second, I know that all the accumulated wealth of
the world would not be sufficient to pay for the redeemed soul of Bill
Jackson. I have been bought with an infinite price, I have been
redeemed by His precious blood. I have been made a partaker of the
divine nature, and there is not one of you who would have enough money
to pay for me. I am a child of God. I know that, and Jesus knew
exactly Who He was - the lily of the valley, the Bright and Morning
Star, the Fairest among ten thousand.
He made Himself of no reputation. Here I must pause and say that
I am glad I don't have to be a perfect follower before I write these
words. I know that the insidious self that always wants recognition
and that would, if recognition were not given, be proud of its
humility and seek recognition for that. The words, "He made Himself
of no reputation" are words that must remain a challenge to any
sincere follower of Christ who is aware of the reality of his sin
nature and the deceitfulness of his heart.
Reputation is one of the last things to be let go. A man may
lose his wealth, but if he still has "his good name" he is not
considered a pauper. This strikes deep and deadly into the core of
our being, and it might be considered inappropriate for the Lord to
even suggest that this could be our mind, yet we are clearly
instructed to let this mind be in us as it was in Him. We can only
ask God to make us very conscious of the many times when we seek to be
otherwise, and be willing to make ourselves of no reputation.
Can we really continue to allow someone else to get the credit
for that which we did? While others are being acclaimed as being
successful and talented can we be willing to be Christ- like even if
no one recognizes us as such. And even if they did recognize, this is
an attribute that would scarcely get us on the front page of a
fundamentalist magazine. Can we hear of the fame of another without
harboring a jealous spirit and allowing it to consume us so that we
have to resort to some slander of that brother? Are we looking for
the applause of men or are we really content to wait until He says
"Well done"? If in this first step of having the mind of Christ the
fundamentalist world has so dismally failed, can we ever complete the
journey from "Follow Me" to "Rejoice"?
The next step downward that our Lord took was to take upon
Himself the form of a servant. This is another step that is in direct
opposition to all that is human. While it is true that there are
those who are under an obligation to perform as a servant, it is never
a state wherein the human spirit is content. Those in a position of
servitude are always seeking for liberation and, if that is not
possible, for whatever "rights" they can claim for themselves.
The true servant completes his appointed tasks and expects no
compensation, not even any thanks. (See Luke 17:7-10) Are there any
left in the Church of Christ who would do the most menial task
willingly and not be miffed if the pastor failed to give public
recognition? Yet, said Jesus, the greatest among you must be servant
of all. Is this mark of servanthood the general situation in which we
find men of today? I was talking to a member of the church finance
committee recently who remarked how disappointed he was that all the
well - known evangelists that were invited to the church required all
sorts of special treatment, or else they wouldn't come. Perhaps the
reason we find it so hard to take the second step is that so few have
undertaken to take the first step in following Him. It is no wonder
we look for the superficial joys of success in this life, for we will
never get to the true rejoicing that is the end for all who truly
The remainder of our Lord's steps - all down - leave us
speechless and without excuse. He - God Himself - was made in the
likeness of men, humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even
the death of the Cross. How shallow any following we have done
appears when related to the steps He took. This is a following we can
never fully know, so our cry must always be "that I might know Him,
and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His
sufferings, being made conformable to His death." The glorious finale
to that series of journeyings down is the resurrection, just as the
humiliations of Philippians 2 end with God giving unsurpassed glory to
Christ and the command to follow in Matthew 4 is crowned with the
rejoicing of Matthew 5:12. There is always a promised reward, but it
comes at the end of the road.
One problem is that we are impatient for our reward, and
continually try to steal bits of glory. We really do believe in
rewards in Heaven, but we don't act very much like it. The praises of
men might seen like fit rewards for a job well done, but if we strive
for these as our reward, even going out of our way to be sure we get
them, we will have already had the only reward we shall ever get. May
we jealousy guard our hearts from seeking lesser rewards and thereby
canceling out any rewards He wants to give us.
Will we, when looking at the tabulation of Heavenly rewards, see
written boldly across the page, PAID IN FULL? Are we to be counted
among those who love the praise of man more than the praise of God. It
is impossible to seek for both - they are mutually exclusive as goals
of our service. Can we trust Him to keep the books honestly and give
all due rewards in that day?
When we go back to the text in Matthew, we see that His first
command, Follow Me, is succeeded by His next command, Rejoice. In
between is a list generally called the Beatitudes, for they are
proclamations of blessedness. However, when we look at them we
realize that they are all steps down - steps that rely on a just Judge
to render the fruits and compensations from pursuing these qualities
These are the steps that await us if we follow Him; He starts
with being poor in spirit. "Theirs is the kingdom of heaven" is not
the motive - the motive is to follow Him. We can certainly see the
obvious link between this and being of no reputation in Philippians 2.
"Poor in spirit" doesn't sound like a step to success - and it isn't,
if we equate success with that of which we normally think. For
success has one at the top of the ladder; being poor in spirit is the
first step toward the bottom of the totem pole. Yet it is a step of
following, for He went in one direction - down.
Are the other "beatitudes" any more pleasant? Even the most
innocent ones, being merciful and pure in heart, are steps not normal
for we humans. Being merciful entails not requiring that which we
feel we have a right to; others wrong us and we forgive. What thrill
is there in that? Only to know that He did the same, but on a far
grander scale, when we came as poor bankrupt sinners to His bestowal
Being pure in heart sounds good, but it does mean a lot of
willingness to sacrifice, for even our motives must be pure, and we
have a hard time with that. We say we don't seek reward, but lurking
behind every good deed of man is a wish to be commended for it. Such
was not the emptiness of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When we get to the others - mourning, being meek, being
persecuted - how can the sum total ever be REJOICE. Because God does
not measure as we measure. For us, the path to success goes up; for
God, the path goes down.
We do not naturally desire, or attain, any of the attributes
spoken of in Matthew 5. They come as He enables us, by His power, to
truly follow Him.
HELP FOR NEW CHRISTIANS
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