THE SUCCESSFUL CHRISTIAN
By Bill Jackson
Several years ago, at a preachers' breakfast, the visiting
speaker (whose name I forgot but to whom I am indebted) gave a very
simple outline for having victory and success in the Christian life.
His three points were: total surrender, unconditional obedience and
In thinking about these qualities against the backdrop of
following Jesus, I realized that they are very basic to this concept.
Even in the natural, when you are following someone, you must
surrender your will to him. You do not tell him that you will gladly
follow him half of the time; even if you were to follow 90% of the
time, you wouldn't get to the destination. Neither do you attach
conditions -- I'll turn right if you are leading me down a pleasant,
shady street. You unconditionally follow him; and it is utmost folly
to follow a person who either does not know the way or a person whom
you suspect might not know the way.
I remember once when I was staying at a home after the Sunday
evening service, the young son volunteered to ride with me and show me
the way. At night every street looked the same to him, and we drove
around in circles for some time before we found home. You always
follow a person who knows how to get there, and you follow him
unconditionally and completely.
"All to Jesus I surrender" - how many times have you sung it, and
how often you have meant it when you were in the glow of Christian
fellowship. But how real is your surrender when it comes down to the
practical? Can you say you have laid down all rights to yourself, to
your aims and ambitions, to your tastes and desires, to your pleasures
and cares? Should not we, as Christians, begin to realize that the
word "all" is much bigger than the three letters that comprise it? It
truly is one of the biggest words in our vocabulary.
When you are asked by another Christian, "What are you doing
these days?", is your first response to list the areas in which you
have been successful, or is the primary joy of your life that you are
Have you surrendered your rights? When our rights are
surrendered, do we have any? Do we really yearn after and prize our
recognition by man, and feel deprived when he does not recognize us?
If your pastor were to list all the Christian workers or prayer
warriors in your church and leave you out, would you be stung by the
oversight? Can you stand to have others congratulated and yourself
spurned? If He should lead others into bright avenues of public
acclaim and lead you down a dark alley of loneliness, do you follow?
Are you really surrendered to Him?
Because we all have an old nature that is constantly trying to
resurrect itself, we will always have temptations to react in the
wrong way to others' success and our seeming failure. It is not sin
to be tempted, but it is a denial of our surrender to bathe in self-
pity and seek for acclaim. Real surrender will be tested, and by His
Grace and Power we can prove the reality of our surrender.
If others are promoted and you are not even mentioned, what is
If your advice is not followed, what is your reaction?
If the good things you did are not noted, and the bad things you
did are broadcast to all, what is your reaction?
If you are severely wronged and God seems not to notice, what is
We might sum up these questions and others by asking -- ARE YOU
TOTALLY SURRENDERED? While others are "Superman" and "Captain
Marvel", are you willing to appear like "Ziggy" or "Charlie Brown"?
Will you be anything - if that is what He wants you to be?
Total surrender can likewise be measured by unconditional
obedience. There may be many who would gladly follow as long as the
road is going up to higher, more exciting ground, and that is their
only condition. "Lord, I will gladly preach the Gospel, if you will
make me a great preacher." "Lord, I will be a fisher of men, if you
will give me a lot of souls." "Lord, I will do anything, just so long
as I'm a success."
Probably the best Biblical example of conditional, rather than
unconditional, obedience is found in Genesis 28:20-22. There Jacob
prefaces his faithfulness to God by four conditions, and displays his
incomplete consecration that God refined during the very difficult
process that finally ended when Jacob became Israel, a prince with
Unconditional surrender is a very rare commodity these days, and
perhaps the primary reason is that much of the public ministry on the
subject calls for what is called "unconditional surrender" by
promising some prize that this will merit. But the fact that our
obedience is based on the hopes of a prize keeps it from being
It has been said, "You don't catch fish with a frying pan", which
means that you don't show the fish the end of their being caught - you
rather use alluring bait to catch them, and then you put them in the
frying pan. The usual way to try to get men to be truly committed
Christians is to lure them with the bait of reward, and then try to
get them to conform themselves to the "frying pan" of true
discipleship. Yet this is the exact opposite of Jesus' methods - He
does catch fish with a frying pan!
He said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself,
take up his cross and follow me." You might say, "Lord that is not a
very good way to fish for men-they will never come under those
conditions." He does tell us that the glorious promise is that where
He is, there His servant will be - but we must be willing to follow
Him, and the direction He is taking is not that wonderful to our human
Our expectation is that we should work for God, really sacrifice
(once in a while) and be ready for the pat on the back which we
expect. He says that after we have done all these things, we should
still say, "We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was
our duty to do." (Luke 17:10.) The truth is that if we have been this
kind of servant, He Himself will come and serve us, but as soon as
that marvelous reward becomes our motive for doing anything for Him,
we have lost out on the privilege of unconditional obedience.
Unconditional obedience is not a fruit of the flesh, or of the
old nature. So often we come to the Word of God, see what He wants us
to do, then read the promise and say that on the condition that He
will give us the promise, we will do His Will. We should do His will
even if what we will receive falls short of what we expect.
We might bear the burden and heat of the day in sacrificial
service to Him. Then, on pay day, we will grumble if we are not
rewarded more than those who, we feel, have not merited nearly as much
reward as we (Matthew 20:1-16) However, most of us who read that
parable think those earlier laborers were justified in their
complaint. They had worked harder. They had done more than the
others. It seems so unfair - yet unfair is not a word that can be
used when there is unconditional obedience.
Unconditional - what a hard word! Certainly having done certain
things I now have certain rights, but that is denying the obedience
being unconditional. If I obey Him, am I not entitled to the
headlines, the praise, the glory? Am I not entitled to see some
success? Many of us are hard workers as long as success is on the
horizon, but we faint in the way when we cannot see any reward for our
sacrificial labor. It has been said that sacrifice for someone else
is relatively easy when there is reciprocated love and gratitude, but
God wants us to be willing to sacrifice for Him and others when there
is no promise of immediate payment. We do what we are bidden to do.
If he blesses and rewards, so be it. But if He does not bless, it is
still our duty to unconditionally obey. All that is within us as
human beings rebels against this; that is why a true disciple must die
to himself to follow Christ.
Implicit faith is not natural to our fallen nature, but it is an
absolute requisite for following Him. How can we pretend to follow if
we do not completely trust the One we are following? Implicit faith
has two antagonists: (1) our desire to see where we are going and (2)
our desire to have other options available just in case He fails.
It is relatively easy to follow Him when the way is through well
- lighted and pleasant scenes, when the wild beasts that would assail
us are obviously chained, and when we have sufficient resources to
feel we can make the goal. It is just human nature to feel better
about a trip if the roads are well - marked and well - lighted, if the
rocks have all been cleared off the road and if we have a spare tire
and sufficient money to pay for gas enroute. It is a tragedy that we
so often transfer these normal and justified human feelings to a walk
that is now supposed to be on entirely different premises. We would
not think of driving our car blindfolded, yet we often try to walk by
faith with our eyes wide opened. As long as we can see the goal, we
will follow - IF that goal is consistent with what others are doing.
There are circumstances in which we would not find it hard to have
faith and follow Him.
We must learn to say, with the hymn-writer:
"No matter if the way be sometimes dark
No matter though the cost be ofttimes great
He knoweth best how I shall reach the mark."
It is a fact of life that the extent of our arrival at the goal
will equal the extent of our following, and if we do not implicitly
trust Him Whom we are following, how can we ever hope to arrive at the
"We walk by faith, not by sight", and while this should not
entice us to embark upon mad schemes that we could not possibly expect
to complete, or do foolish things and excuse them by saying we are
walking by faith. Trusting Him should have more scriptural
foundations, and if we learn to truly trust Him in these, He will
guide us in any leading that is unusual.
The problem is that we often do not trust Him in areas in which
He has clearly spoken, and in some of the affairs of life we have
provided secondary means of achieving our goals just in case He should
He plainly said, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth"
and yet it is normal for a Christian to have a savings account,
sometimes quite large, that he can call upon should his normal income
fail. We do not "Consider the lilies of the field" and we often
succumb to the brains of business men and have our churches so solvent
that we are ridiculous even to think we are doing His work by faith.
On the other hand, we often hear of needs, imagined or real,
accrued by those "in the Lord's service" and since, we are told, these
folks/projects are being carried on "by faith", we should respond to
the stated need. One reads with wonder and nostalgia at the practices
of those who were first used by God to found faith missions. One of
their primary stands as faith missions was to tell their needs only to
God and expect an answer from God. Now we tell our needs to our
prayer partners and expect an answer from them. Christians (prayer
partners) have told me they like to have it so, because they can then
evaluate the needs that they can be used to meet. Therefore the
missionaries who refuse to walk by faith not only disobey the Lord,
they rob other Christians of the joy of being led by the Spirit in
their giving and make them lazy Christians. The Christian giver
should learn to walk by faith in his giving, even as the "givee"
should learn to trust the Lord in his asking.
I just received a very attractive "prayer folder" from a couple
going overseas with a reputable mission. On the first page it said
this mission is a faith mission, and on page 9 the needs were listed
so that this couple's missionary project would be possible. Without
reference to monthly support, the needs totaled over $7,000. Can you
imagine the Apostle Paul, responding to the man of Macedonia and
telling him that he will be in Macedonia as soon as the churches in
Asia Minor provided him with a means of transportation, rent for a
meeting room, audio-visual equipment, 15,000 tracts and pledges for
his monthly support? What is the difference?
Modern missionaries are following a prescribed plan (which has
ALWAYS worked???) of how to be a missionary and what one needs to be a
missionary. ("I couldn't possibly be a missionary without a car,
Lord.") Then they are trained to solicit funds for these things from
Christians who are too lazy to pray for how their money should be
used, too stingy to really sacrifice, and too business - like to
invest "their money" in anything that does not guarantee results.
We have sadly inherited a hundred years of degenerating
missionaries thinking and have produced a brand of missions that
neither exalts or follows Christ, and we have resigned to oblivion or
nostalgia that missionary that has a heart for faith missions that
once fired men of God of the past to venture forth on God alone.
Hudson Taylor insisted on a pure "faith missions" concept for all
in the old C.I.M. When speaking at a church, he would often refuse
gifts lest they had been given purely out of an emotional feeling. He
would instruct the giver to go home and pray and then send the money
if the Lord told him to. (Was he crazy? How would he ever hope to get
to the field like that?) In areas where Taylor had every right to
remind folks of financial obligations, he chose rather to let the Lord
remind them and receive from His hand.
C.T. Studd gave many thousands of pounds away (a tremendous
fortune in those days) so that he would be able to live by faith - and
he endured "as seeing Him who is invisible" (Hebrews 11:27). Rees
Howells, called by God to go overseas but without the train fare to
get to his port of embarkation, so implicitly trusted God that he
stood in line at the ticket window in the railway station because that
is where he would have stood if he had the money, and he might as well
have had it in his hand, for God had promised to send him overseas.
And God did provide.
Such wonderful, exciting stories are these. How we read them and
ooze with a warmth that tells us God did such great exploits through
these men. How we admire their faith! Then we are somehow content to
slip back into the old paths of our present - day, highly mechanized,
faithless "exploits" for God, trusting everything but the raw Hand of
God to meet our need.
There is nothing wrong with a missionary honestly answering
questions directed to him about his financial needs. We don't want to
produce a super - spiritual cult that has its head so in the clouds
that our humanity is forfeited. But we certainly want to come apart
from the face of modern faith missions and learn to trust Him. We
also have to be careful that the needs we mention are not desires, but
needs. Do we need a car to be a missionary, or do we desire a car.
Paul minded to go afoot from Troas to Assos, but it would be too much
to ask me to cover all those miles without a car. Maybe covering all
those miles is not God's will - you might be in the center of His Will
if you were to walk a mile rather than drive one hundred.
This comes close to home, too. If a present - day pastor came
out of his home in the morning to find his car destroyed, would he
spend the day in prayer, study and witnessing to his neighbors; or
would he frantically run around trying to compensate for his loss of
wheels and imagine that he must keep to his busy schedule to be in the
perfect Will of God?
But can we heap blame on missionaries who are only doing what
they have been told is the norm for missions? The lack of trusting
God is not only present in full - time workers; it is in almost every
believer and church.
Today is a great day to have insurance of every kind. One could
not fault the concept of life insurance, for that is a provision for
dependents left behind, who would have otherwise been supported by our
labor. It is not selfishly motivated, it is not the result of being
unable to trust God to meet our needs, nor does it profit the owner of
the insurance policy. One could as well speak against having a job to
make an honest living.
But what of other types of insurance? Can we scripturally
justify these? Can we make a decision between health insurance and
trusting God? Must we put ourselves in the position that whatever
happens to ourselves or our property, we are covered? Does not this
rob God of His position as being the One who safeguards His people and
rob us of learning to trust Him? Is our life on this earth geared
around the protection of the few paltry possessions we have
accumulated, or is our life taken up with knowing, trusting and
following Him? Is "a piece of the rock" better able to take care of
me than the "Rock of Ages"? Do we maintain, for our cars, the minimum
insurance required by law, or do we make sure that if our car is
destroyed, stolen or wrecked we have an insurance company into whose
good hands we place ourselves - and thereby never knowing the security
of the Everlasting Arms? What of our old age? We may never have an
old age and if we do, I trust by then we will have learned the lessons
of faith that will keep us constantly in His care.
As we apply these practical truths to every day living, should
not this concept of total surrender, unconditional obedience and
implicit faith govern all we do? How about the speed limit? "Well,
Lord, I know the law says 55 and I know I should obey the law, but I
have a lot I want to do for you today, so I will just go 60 - or 65 -
or 70; anyway, I'll just keep up with the stream of traffic."
Are we not thus saying, "I know I should obey, because obeying
the law is obeying Jesus, but I probably won't get caught (Romans
13:5) and my time is so important." Is my time as important as I
think? Is not obeying Him more important?
Suppose some Bible characters had walked so little by faith?
Paul, with the viper on his hand, would summon the doctor with whom he
had insurance rather than shake the viper into the fire to demonstrate
God's Power. Epaphroditus would be thankful for his hospitalization
policy rather than God's mercy. Believers would take the spoiling of
their goods joyfully because they had a good insurance policy. Yet we
claim to be New Testament Christians! What frauds we are.
When the Christian who was later martyred in Ecuador by the
savage Auca Indians said, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep
to gain what he cannot lose" he captured much of the genius of true
Many Christian homes have this motto displayed prominently, but
in how many of us does our lifestyle just as plainly say, "I don't
believe it." You do not become a spiritual follower of Christ by
displaying Jim Elliott's motto, or even by agreeing with it. You can
only be a true follower by following Him, and living out that fact by
proving by your actions and motives that things which are eternal are
more important than anything temporal. This includes your
possessions, your popularity, your family, your very life - and it is
only when we get all these in heavenly perspective that we can really
begin to understand what He meant when He said, "Follow Me." He then
pointed the way we are to follow, which is down instead of up, and
gave us His Word that, in His good time, the result would be glorious.
"Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in
God does give earthly blessings, but these are never the goal of
the truly spiritual person.
God gives us things to enjoy, but the loss of these things which
could not last anyway should not cause us any undue grief. I have a
car that the Lord gave me, and which I appreciate. One day that car
(if the Lord tarries) will end up in the junk yard and become scrap
metal to make new cars. When that happens, if I need a car, it will
be God's responsibility to provide. If it happens prematurely and I
come out one day to find my car destroyed by fire or stolen - and I am
convinced that it is absolutely essential for me to be 500 miles away
that night, it is God's responsibility to work out some way for me to
get there. He got Philip from the Ethiopian desert to Azotus without
an automobile. So many times we have alternate schemes ready in case
something terrible should happen, because we feel "successful" people
are never the victim of circumstances, but always figure out some way
to rise above circumstances. Such a thought indicates a "going up"
syndrome and not being willing to follow Jesus because that doesn't
It is nice to be popular, but how many of us preachers would be
quite willing to preach the message He gives us, leave the results
entirely with Him, and then have to face a hundred glum faces as the
folks who objected to our sermon left the church without even a
handshake. We don't preach to be popular, but it sure helps
sometimes. And it should - human encouragement is often used by God
for our benefit. But we still must not feel defeated if only One
Person in the Universe approves of our message.
Even our families, as essential as it is for us to have them on a
high scale of priority, must never stand between us and our walk with
God. Gianovello, the great Waldensian leader, when faced with the
venomous wrath of the Duke of Savoy, once faced a difficult decision.
The Duke had captured his wife and children and threatened to burn
them alive unless Gianovello capitulated. His reply was that, while
he dearly loved his family, he must commit them to the Lord. If the
Duke caused them to go through the fire, it would but destroy their
bodies, and their souls would be safe with God. His faith was
rewarded, and they were released - but if not, said noble Shadrach,
Meshach and Abednego, be it known to you we will not surrender our
faith to you.
They loved not their lives. Because of the God - given inbuilt
instinct of self-preservation, this is the ultimate. We all look
forward to Heaven, but no one wants to go today. It is extraordinary
faith that captures the reality of being with Christ as far better.
We should desire to live as long as He gives us breath, but we must
not be so in love with our life on earth that we go to any extreme to
safeguard it and leave little energy for the work of the Kingdom.
However, we must be willing to use whatever safeguards to our
lives that God provides and not go to silly extremes like some
cultists that refuse some valid medical means of healing that was
provided by God.
What do we read as the bottom line? We are human, human, HUMAN.
Such living is beyond my scope as a person, and the very walk of faith
is impossible. My flesh will always seek to impose conditions on Him,
and total surrender is so final. As frail people (and He knoweth our
frame) we always fall short. Yet that persistent but still Voice of
our Beloved continually comes to our hearts. "Follow Me."
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