What is a Successful Christian?

In recent days, I have had several encounters that caused me to think about success. Some people are recognized as being successful during their lifetimes. Others may be recognized as a success only after they have passed on. Still others may be regarded by the world as failures. Our goal should be to be a success as a man/woman as opposed to being a successful man/woman. There is a difference.

A high school classmate of mine recently passed on. He was well-liked, successful in his chosen field of education. He had a successful marriage of 52 years. I cannot remember ever hearing anyone saying anything negative about him. Charlie Teague was loved by all and was a friend to all. I am pleased to say he was a devoted Christian and it showed in his life. 

I think of another classmate, this one from college. Jim Dyer has become a success as a man. He has a variety of interests. He served in the military, he has been a chaplain, he is on the town council in his place of residence. But Jim is known for something else. Jim is Santa Claus. He has been inducted into the Santa Claus Hall of Fame. Yet Jim is also a devoted Christian, using his Santa Claus platform to proclaim the real meaning of Christmas.

I recently attended a museum exhibit “Van Gogh Alive,” an immersive experience into the life and works of Vincent Van Gogh. He died young, it is unclear if he committed suicide or if he was murdered. Van Gogh was an obsessive artist. He wanted his paintings to touch people deep within themselves.  He is quoted as saying “I want to touch people with my art. I want them to say ‘he feels deeply, he feels tenderly.’” Over his short lifetime, he produced over 2,000 paintings. Yet only sold one or two. Several paintings were exchanged for necessities such as food. When he died, few would have considered his life a success. People may have called him “Weird Vincent.” But today, the view is different. He is a renowned artist and his paintings sell for hundreds of millions of dollars. His “Starry Night” painting is one of the most recognized paintings in the world. By all accounts, Van Gogh was a devoted Christian.

These individuals were successful in their own ways. All were Christian. I could cite many other “successful” individuals who were not followers of Christ. But it got me to thinking “What is success for a Christian?” The dictionary defines success as “a favorable or desired outcome or the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence.” While there is nothing wrong with this measure of success, the Christian will look at success in a different way. We can’t be successful by comparing ourselves to others. That gets us back into the Old Testament mindset of legalism. Our success as a Christian is based on our relationship to God. 

Someone has said that when they think of Christian success they try to keep one thing in mind “There is nothing I can do—no way I can perform—that will make God love me any more or less than He does right now at this very moment. I cannot contribute to my salvation since it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with Christ.” With this mindset, we should ask ourselves some questions.

  1. Am I growing in my understanding of Christ and what He did for me? 
  2. Does my life and character align with God’s plan for my life?
  3. Do I follow what Jesus said in Matther 25:35? ”For I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you took me in, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

In Proverbs 16:3 we read “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” Psalm 37-4-5 is a particularly meaningful passage to me. Before we were even married Gloria proposed that we adopt those verses as our life mission. “Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.” These passages give us the keys to living a successful Christian life.

If we pursue success in the world we may or may not achieve it. This success may or may not come at all or even in our lifetime. We may leave a path of casualties of our pursuit of success. Christian success, though, can come now and we need to know what it looks like. I think that Christian success is a by-product of our commitment to God. If the goal we select takes our eyes off of Christ, the danger is that we will focus on the world’s recognition and depart from being a servant of God. Whatever the goal, it needs to allow us to keep our focus on Christ.

Choose wisely how you will achieve your success. The old admonition applies here “Be careful what you wish for, you may get it.”

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