The Elusive Victorious Life?
A youth leader in a megachurch once shared with me that the thing she reflects upon the most was how to bridge the gap between hearing the great things about the Christian faith and leading that heavily talked about but elusive “victorious” life. When observing some of the regulars in church, at times she would wonder how some who get excited in worship and proclaim God’s favor over themselves can lead such… lackluster lives. They hear amazing verses like God “having a plan to give them a hope and a future”, and God providing “for all their needs”, and yet led some very uninspiring lives. Some are overweight. Some spent inordinate amounts of time fixed on guilty pleasures. Some do nothing but work, then live to eat good food and then watch Netflix at night. They are content to stay in their small well and do not have the tenacity to learn to do bigger projects. They don’t seem to have an larger passion except for marrying a person people might envy, being happy, and being comfortable. They don’t seem to be enlarging their world. They are far from being a “mover and shaker” in the world, instead, they are the ones shaken by others instead.
When I was a sick high school teacher, I was checked some of those boxes. My life only revolved around school, and I just watched a lot of TV after, I went to church sometimes on weekends. I was a good example for my kids. I understood more Bible over time, but each week that passed seemed to be more of the same. Of course the eczema was a big reason why I stayed stuck in 2nd gear. But regardless, my life wasn’t getting bigger.
What does a victorious life look like? As I matured in Christ and allowed Grace to work in me, everything got bigger, outward-looking and the opposite of comfort. As I learned more about Christ, I went from a sick and salaried teacher to an eventual senior business analyst. I even put myself through Seminary while I transitioned to the Financial markets. I would dare to learn new and challenging things like Quantitative Finance just because God put it in my heart while I was struggling at my work and health at the same time. The gap between a physics teacher and quantitative finance is huge and intimidating. Quant finance requires lots of high-level technical skill like programming, second-order calculus and statistical models. Even if you got past that, the financial markets themselves are huge and mysterious. Many professionals with much more formal training have flamed out. What chance does a sick physics high school teacher have?
The attitude of the victorious is like this: So what? God is huge and mysterious and if He allowed me to figure out Him and see His heart, I can figure out this. If He gave me Jesus, what else won’t He give me? (Romans 8:32). If a boy with a sling can beat the giant champion with armor to save his people, if a desert wanderer can beat Pharoah and lead his brothers out of Egypt, then I can do this. Just like them, if my project works well and I make money, I am going to actively ask God where to put the money to advance His kingdom. While pursuing this arduous task, we should continue learning more about God, rest on Jesus’ finished works on the cross and that He will supply you resources to get us where we need to go. There you have it: Supply. Purpose. Service.
After 6 months of hard work that seemed to lead nowhere, on the last day of the 6th month, a renowned financial intelligence service provider in the US wanted to license my work. Months later, I used a portion of those proceeds to help pay a brother-in-Christ’s debt who shared his struggle in a divine appointment. We had not been in contact for a decade but got reconnected due to my recent wedding.
The tandem was one of my major lessons in victorious living.
The Correct Theology leads to a Victorious Life.
Pastor Adam of Red Door church, when preaching on Luke 6 in a sermon I heard yesterday, said that:
Truth + Obedience = Firm Foundation.
I argue that if we have the right TRUTH, even greater Obedience will eventually flow as a result. (1 Cor 15:10) due to an overflow of supply that humbles us to the heart of God.
Based on my observation and experience with real disaster and real purpose-driven restoration (see Footnote 1), the gap between hearing about Christ and the victorious life is usually attributed to a few things. Two of the bigger ones are: 1) People are not being pointed to the real heart of God expressed through the finished works of Christ. They aren’t hearing the right things about Christ and are not allowing God to “serve” them. I used the word “serve” with great respect (TRUTH). 2) And they are not allowing themselves to get out of the realm of comfort and into the realm of purpose and legacy… to ambitiously get over a difficult hurdle in career, relationships or life; to give or share the Gospel intentionally and with wisdom (OBEDIENCE). But I learned that one will not want to even attempt things out of our comfort zone or imagine it’s possible to overcome a historically impossible hurdle unless we hear the right Truths about God.
Christianity is based on a simple truth, that Jesus was the perfect sacrifice that atoned for our sins by dying on the cross on our behalf. Because of this, God sees us as innocent and we are free to have a close relationship with Him.
However, living out the Christian life and the key to a victorious, abundant life in this world is more of a system. This system is ultimately based on the finished works of Christ on the cross but we have to give weight and apply the correct priority the parts of the system or else our journeys might be hampered by frustration, resentment, tiredness or worse. Being saddled with an incurable debilitation for years revealed the effects of wrong theology very quickly and clearly for me. The wrong theology led either to tiredness, hopelessness in this world or even indifference.
The way that God created us is such that our personal purpose in terms of our personhood is that we are to grow into our biblically defined destiny as a “King” and “Priest” (Rev 1:6). This is the biblical defined purpose for personal transformation for his children in this church age. A king has responsibility and influence in the world around him, and a priest reconciles men to God. The complete Christian life is one that must include a visible impact in the world itself, and the end goal is to draw people to God. In order to do this, it’s obvious that our interactions with God through the Gospel of Christ produces or leads to 3 main things. Supply, Purchase and Service. All must work in harmony but they must be placed in their proper importance or there may be unhealthy consequences in the church or in us:
- Supply: God must supply us all we need for every good work. Because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, Grace is available for us and God is holy to bless us and provide for us. The fullness of supply will be in heaven, or at the end of the age; but God gives supernatural supply to us on earth as a shadow, a hint of what lies in heaven, so we can have an idea of what to look forward to.”For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” 2 Cor 8:9.“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” 2 Cor 9:8 (ESV). What does Grace do? In this world, its a force that ensures you have everything you need, so you can overflow into good works! The world is fallen, if you try to serve the world in your own strength, you are destined for burnout. The world doesn’t have the same spirit as Christ. When you give to the world, you might not get anything back. Even worse, you might even be repaid evil for good. Without supernatural supply, you can’t be purposefully altruistic to other people for long. In Grace, our altruism is based on an overflow and also based on a purpose, that’s why our tanks don’t get dry and why the giving has extra meaning. Giving for the sake of giving that doesn’t let the other party get a little closer to God is actually meaningless. Consider that if God didn’t exist, if we give, we are simply a bag of random molecules doing something to let the other bag of molecules vibrate in another way. In the end, both bags of molecules are forgotten.Jesus washed His disciples’ feet first before instructing them they can now do the same for each other. He did so to show my earthly example a heavenly principle, that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve …” (Matt 20:28). How Jesus concluded the episode of washing His disciples’ feet is poignant and instructive, He said “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17).
In order words, you are blessed to serve others only if you know that Jesus did not just come to die for our sins (2) but also that He came to serve. This is the revelations that the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law did not have… and coincidentally, they were the group that saw the least miracles and were least favored by Jesus. Before we can love unconditionally, give unconditionally, forgive unconditionally, feed the poor and needy, we need Him to supply us those same things and more. When Jesus empowers His children, there is always more than enough (Matt 14:20), there is always an overflow. If you know the value of Jesus, you will know that He is God’s overpayment for our sins (2), allowing us to be “more than conquerors” (Rom 8:31), having “all things work out for our good” (Rom 8:28), being able to do “all things through Christ that strengthens” us (Phil 4:13) and that is why we can have “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Phil 4:7). Note the extravagant nature of God’s promises.
He can multiply the results of our human efforts, and this makes us grateful and gracious. (See a personal example in Footnote 3)
But if a church talks only about service and purpose but without supply, it is just a matter of time before we get tired and resentful. Think Martyr (Mary’s sister) and the prodigal son’s elder brother (who didn’t realize the supply he had, and didn’t know his father’s purposes for him as well).
- Purpose: Our deepest personal purpose is to know God’s heart. God’s heart is most revealed in the finished works of Jesus Christ. To explore the mysteries of this finished works is to seek after God’s heart the most. We are also to be part of God’s purpose for the history of the world as well. To be obedient to God’s leanings, to be directed to engage people to complete that person’s journey to Christ. BUT, If a church emphasizes supply and service without the purpose, it makes all that we do satisfactory to a superficial level because the riches and the reason why we serve will ultimately be about ourselves. We miss out the greatest blessing, which is being transformed in wonder as we get a closer peek into God’s heart (2 Cor 3:17-18). For example, being rich is actually quite empty, but when God brings you from rags to riches you get a glimpse of His heart, and a foreshadow of what heaven could be like. Supply and service without purpose lead to King Solomon when he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. By this time, although he was powerful and rich and was still king, he lost sight of God’s heart and purposes and did everything to ultimately indulge himself.
- Service: We don’t serve others to earn blessings from God or to avoid divine punishment. We don’t serve to earn political points in church. We do it as a response to God’s goodness, and also to be part of God’s kingdom purpose for the other individual. You might be prodded in your heart to spend time or give to some person, and God’s timing is such that you might have done or said something he needs to hear to give him a breakthrough in his search for God. True service usually characterized by specific actions to specific people, an ear to hear from God, and is not self-aggrandizing. Also important is that true service is a result of the overflow of God’s purpose and supply to you. Although a person can fake this empowering grace and serve out of his own flesh, seeing NO service is a guarantee that God’s grace is not moving in that person’s life. Paul said that grace made him work harder than the rest: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not in vain. No, I worked harder than all of them— yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” — 1 Cor 15:10
The same Paul that talked about how the Grace of God works in us, causing supernatural peace, supernatural provision, causing all things to work for our God, gives us free access to God’s divine wisdom said that all of those things made him work harder than the rest.
BUT if the church only talks about purpose and supply and not service, we run the risk of being self-indulgent and self-absorbed. We miss out the joys of responsibility that is necessary to form kingly character. Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist, and thinker observed from a worldly perspective that “Life has meaning with responsibility. The more responsibility you take on, the more meaning your life has. The higher the degree of responsibility that you agree voluntarily to try to bear, the richer your life will be”
How much more if your responsibility is what God wants to do in this world?
If we are exercising the correct theology, we should be able to observe all three in our lives. Supernatural supply. A deeper understanding of God’s purpose for you and the world. Service to others.
HOWEVER, these three parts are not equal. And in order to advance in our Christian journey is a maximal manner, we have to place the right amount of emphasis on the right part.
When we face God, have a posture to sit and receive. Service to others comes later.
In God’s way of doing things in the New Covenant, Supply comes first, and God uses this to teach us Purpose (this comes as repentance occurs) and finally, Service comes as a result. This is the opposite of the Old Covenant, where we have to do works (service) first in order to be blessed (supply). This is the reason why King David, where the Bible describes as “man after God’s own heart”, looked into the future and envied those who would be in the New Covenant (Psalm 32:2, Romans 4:8).
The New Covenant says that the Gospel allowed us access to the blessings of Abraham.
So we partake in Abraham’s blessing and are now a participant in God’s new economy of grace. In this economy, we are blessed to be a blessing (God’s purpose to you regarding the world) and also to be the person we were meant to be.
“I will bless you,” God says to Abraham, “and you will be a blessing. . . . and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3).
But lost in this is that God’s blessings helped to make Abraham the man he was to be (God’s purpose for you regarding your personal destiny)
The point is that under grace, God supplies and blesses first to fuel your personal journey as well as to make you a blessing to the world. Receiving from God is paramount, and service is just the end of the process that comes from receiving.
Observe the account of Mary and Martha, when Jesus tells you that only ONE thing is needed, we should pay attention.
Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with [a]all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
– Luke 10:38-42
When Jesus says Mary has “chosen the good part”, it implies that there are more than one part, but the rest is subordinate. The part that is superior is to sit at his feet and have an attitude of receiving, and not trying to win points by works by your own effort and not according to the heart of God.
Mary recognized Jesus’ heart to give and respected that by sitting at His feet. She gave space to receive all that Jesus wanted to give … His word, His teaching, His blessings … anything that Jesus wanted to give. She wanted to know the heart of God, and Jesus was the best expression of God’s heart. Martha was more interested in making sure she served Jesus the food in the appropriate manner (but never asked if it were important to Jesus) and got angry Mary wasn’t doing it. You show disrespect when you think you know more of what a person wants than the person himself? In other words, Martha that took pride in her own work got angry with the other that was sitting at Jesus’ feet. She didn’t know the heart of Jesus. Jesus came because He wanted to speak God’s word and to impart wisdom or blessings.
I say this respectfully.
just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
— Mark 10:45
When you are face to face with Him, let Him serve you. have a posture of receiving.
When its time to face the world, have a posture of service because “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40, 45, NIV)
In order words, when we face God (which is our primary focus) we should sit at His feet and have a spirit of receiving, for this posture respects God heart the most. It’s an acknowledgment that you know God has a loving heart that wants the best for you and wants to give you Words that will increase your life. But when it’s time to face the world, we have a posture of serving, but out of the overflow of grace and always being mindful of God’s purposes for you and the people around you.
In the New Covenant today, if we think that our hearts will genuinely change if you force yourself to do good works due to a guilt trip as opposed to an overflow of supply, and response after knowing God’s heart, that is folly. The entire Old Testament after the Law was given to Moses is there to show us that the Law simply cannot change the hearts of men. Even with the extreme promise of rewards for obeying, and the threat of punishment for disobeying, the nation always eventually fell to their sins.
If we prioritize our good works more than receiving from God, we are placing the cart before the horse, and we stymie our advance in our spiritual journey. It’s like trying to push on a string to move it. It takes more effort and never gets the string where you want it to go. When we focus on God’s heart of provision, our purpose gets actualized and we serve as a result. That’s like pulling on a string instead which moves the string more efficiently.
Remember Paul’s warning to the Romans? It is not the threat of punishment that leads us to be transformed, but it is the goodness of God that changes our minds.
Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
– Rom 2:4
- Repentance doesn’t mean to do good acts instead of bad acts. That is behavior modification. The Greek word “Repentance” is μετάνοια (metanoia) and it literally means to “change your mind”. It is to change your mind to who you thought God is and what He has done for you, and your life will change in accordance to your new revelation of the grace of God. That God is a good God, and we are hopelessly sinful and that we cannot live a victorious life without Him.
From my experience, when the system of Christian Theology is centered on the revelation of the finished works of Jesus Christ and is understood appropriately, it leads to Supply, Purpose and Service. With Supply as a bigger measure than Service.
It was only when my thoughts about God and Jesus changed (repentance: metanoia) to reflect this that EVERTHING started to change, and new life was being born even when I was forgotten in the Abyss period I was in. Though I could not see it then, God had already planned the purpose, the reasons, and mapped out the solutions that would come to fruition years later. My immune system started a new multi-year journey of slowly getting better. My direction started to change, but it would take years to see the fullness of the results due to the strong downward momentum in my life.
As an endnote, as we are developing in figuring out our Christian Theology, remember that whatever that is truly the most liberating, and leads to Shalom, is the right system of thought.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart; and you will find rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
— Phil 4:6-7
If a theological system leads you to feel tired, burdened, fearful, anxious, boring or even condemned, it’s definitely the wrong system.
If it leads you to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit, you are on the right track.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
— Gal 5:22-23
I have found that those fruits grow best in the presence of supernatural supply, a deep understanding of God’s purpose for you and the world, and exercising the type of service that show the quality of the empowering grace in your life.
BUT, you might object. If a person is struggling or is not receiving, should he not serve at all? What of people who are diseased, handicapped or dying? I would love to talk about that at a later date. But, I will say briefly that even if you have 1 year to live, or are handicapped, God can still empower you to do something very meaningful that even healthy individuals cannot do. It’s not the length of years you live that’s important, but the quality and depth of meaning. I speak from experience.
Keep pressing on,
(1) In their journey in the Christian faith and based on what sort of church teaching they are exposed to, most people move in the generally right direction but many times something is lacking. Naming and claiming seems to be lacking. Believing that God’s gospel doesn’t carry physical blessings seems to be lacking. The subliminal pressure to be great examples of humankind to “make God look good” is lacking as well. Those who have immediate comforts can ignore this lack, they come to church for social reasons but are unexcited as they fall asleep on the pew. Those who are struggling with big problems have no patience for this “lack” and need to find the cutting edge truth. Truth that can make a radical change, and not an exercise in intellectual masturbation. I was that person. I had that life-changing disease, severe eczema doctors admit was one of the worst they have ever seen. I saw one of the best specialists in Singapore for so long that he retired while I was still his patient. On his retirement, his health report about me stated how 70% of my body was still regularly covered with sores and I was on the maximum amount of this immuno-suppressant at the same time. You can imagine me desperately clawing for the truth as nothing seemed to stymie my journey into irrelevance eventually losing my career, health and love life… everything. This the reason during my brief stint in Seminary to find the truth, people called me “the Modern Day Job of the Bible”. It was not in comfort where I wrestled with the challenge of the Bible of what it said of me and the world. I started my theological journey in a very affluent and comfortable Methodist church, but I learnt the most when confronting the darkness, sick and alone. The Bible wasn’t just intellectual or social fodder for me, it had to be Life, or else it was a waste of my time. It is in the regime between increasing hopelessness and death and seeking Truth that my theology was shaped through my journey of serving in different denominations at church and my eventual time in the Seminary.
If you know my story, years of darkness starting from the age of 22 slowly morphed into a restoration almost 2 decades later at age 40 that even I can’t believe it at times. I couldn’t believe God would be so “evil” to allow me to lose everything over a span of a decade when I wanted to much just to be His servant and son. I also couldn’t believe how fast and powerful restoration can be when God reverses your headwinds to make them tailwinds instead. I was incredulous on both sides of the mountain, you can say. The doctors couldn’t change my direction for over 20 years, and then God worked his powerful grace while I was in the forgotten trenches. My health supernaturally improved without any significant change in what the doctors were doing. People that wrote me off in my career (I was out of the job market for more than 5 years due to overwhelming sores, and my last job was a physics teacher) were amazed that I ended up a financial analyst and got eventually hired directly from Singapore to be a senior business analyst. At the late age of 44, I married a girl of my dreams.
Jesus’ sacrifice was also an overpayment because His blood is of far more value to God than the blood of bulls and goats used in the past to atone for the sins of the Israelites. His blood is the blood of God Himself, not of animals. Because His blood is eternal, His blood cleanses us forever, so we have eternal forgiveness!
My friend, the next time you are mindful of a bad deed, remember that Jesus, your sacrifice for sins, not only paid 100 per cent for your sin, but His sacrifice was also an overpayment. You can therefore truly and completely rest in the presence of God, knowing that He is fully satisfied and completely at rest concerning you. He is not going to find some sin you had committed that Jesus blood failed to cover.
Beloved, God can righteously give you His blessings and you can expect to receive them because Jesus overpaid your debt!
(3) This is why we dedicate our works unto Jesus, and we do things “in Him.” Because God can multiply in terms of magnitude and purpose the ordinary results that come from our earthly work. When I dedicated doing research in quantitative finance I worked with tenacity. I had to learn to programme, I had to struggle to understand too many things which were foreign and difficult. I had to force myself to keep going to conventions and talks to help formulate ideas. This is the human effort. However, along the journey when I was stuck, God let me bump into two strangers who helped me on my journey. There was no way I should have met them on my own, and there was no reason why they were so gracious to spend much time helping me. Then, just from regular conversations with people, bits of conversations that was not even connected to my project gave me an insight that led to my result. With my human hands, God added resources (the right people who were willing) and wisdom (hearing “random” factoids that seem useless by themselves, but when put together made me realize how a market might behave).