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The key to true success

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topic Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5.16-21

We’re talking about true success today. In financial terms, Bill Gates comes to mind first. His personal net worth soared above $100 billion before last year’s economic downturn, when it dropped to a mere $55 billion. He could buy every single major league team in football, baseball, basketball and hockey for only 35% of his net worth—but he still couldn’t buy the Rangers any pitching. Is such wealth the key to true success?

Bill Gross is the highest-paid money manager in the world. But he tells Fortune magazine, “climbing to the top means very little. Getting there doesn’t matter. The ultimate victory is staying there.” Later in the article he says, “My desire isn’t to make money. I have more money than I know what to do with. My desire is to win—and win forever.” Is such business victory the key to true success?

What is success? To some it’s financial, to others vocational. Still others measure success by popularity, or family happiness, or health.

How does God measure success? We need to know, for his is the only judgment which is eternal. And the One who created us knows what kind of success will most fulfill our lives and his purpose for us.

What is his key to our true success? The answer may surprise you.

Know your identity in Christ

To give you God’s answer, I need to unfold some truths this morning, layer upon layer. I’ll need you to work with me. No wandering thoughts. A Sunday school teacher asked her class of children why we are quiet in church; one little girl said, “Because people are sleeping.” Don’t do that. Think with me for a few minutes.

The first step to true success with God is to know our identity in Christ. Paul states this identity clearly: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (v. 17).

How is this possible? We still look the same, and unfortunately many of us still act in the same ways. How can trusting in Christ make us a “new creation”?

Here’s how.

At the Passover in Egypt, the people put the lamb’s blood at the top and on the sides of their doorposts. Then God’s angel “passed over” them, because of the blood.

On the Day of Atonement, the high priest brought the blood of sacrifice into the Holy of Holies to present before God. Then God passed over the sins of the people because of the blood.

Now Hebrews 9:12 says that when Jesus died “he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption” for us. His blood paid for our sins and purchased our salvation.

And so Jesus’ shed blood on the cross enables God to “pass over” our sins, to forgive them, to accept us as his holy children. But how does this forgiveness make us a “new creation”? What of our sin nature? We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. This is our very nature. What can change our sin nature into God’s new creation?

Here’s the mystery, the fact most Christians never discover. One of the most important verses in all God’s word is Romans 6:6: “our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”

If you have asked Jesus Christ to be your Savior and Lord, in that decision God identified you with his Son. He put the person you were before Christ on the cross with him. If I put a piece of paper in my Bible, it is included with it. It goes wherever my Bible goes. When I typed my sermon into my laptop computer, it became part of the laptop. It goes with the laptop.

When you asked Christ into your life, Christ actually brought you into his life. He made you part of himself. The person you were before that decision “died,” and you were “born again” as one with him.

This is why Paul testifies, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

In God’s eyes, you and I do not exist. Our sins have been forgiven because Jesus’ blood covered them. Our sin nature has been replaced with his divine nature. And so we are “a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” We are God’s children, with his genetics, his character, his nature as ours.

This is our identity in Christ. The first step to true success with God is understanding it.

Choose the life of Christ

But we still sin, don’t we? Lies white and black, failures small and large, sins private and public. Why? Because we don’t choose the Christ life. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago my Jeep needed some work done, but the mechanic couldn’t fix it until I gave him the keys. So long as I tried to solve the problem myself, he couldn’t. Last week my laptop needed some work, but our church technician couldn’t fix it until I gave it to him. My efforts weren’t solving the problem, and they were only hindering his.

So long as we try to please God in our own ability, to resist sin in our own strength, to grow in faith and serve God in ministry with our own gifts and hard work, we actually prevent his doing his work in and through us.

Instead, we choose the Christ life. Listen to two crucial sentences: “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires” (Romans 6:11-12).

“Count yourselves” means “to reckon, to choose to believe” that it is true. Choose to believe that you are dead to sin, that your sin nature died on the cross with Jesus. Choose to believe that his Spirit now lives in you, his character, his purity, his power. And by faith it will be so.

The Bible says that faith brings into experience what we hope for and makes certain what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). My Bible is black, whether I can see it or not. My sight makes the color real for me; it does not create the color itself. With faith I simply choose to make real in my life what was already real before I believed it.

So choose to believe that your sin nature died on the cross, and it will be true for you. When you do this, you can fulfill the second sentence: “do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” When you choose the Christ life, Christ defeats sin for you.

You’re not trying harder to be pure—you have his purity. You’re not working harder to be godly—you have his godliness. You’re not striving to control your mind—you have his mind. You’re not struggling to speak holy words—you have his words.

If you are a believer, you have within you all you need to live victoriously and abundantly, to defeat sin, to fulfill God’s purpose, to find true satisfaction and significance. Because you have the Christ life in you.

William Randolph Hearst, the famous newspaper owner and tycoon, once saw a print of a famous painting and decided he had to own the original. He hired a detective to find it. After several months of investigation and several thousand dollars spent in the search, the detective finally succeeded. He found the painting in one of Mr. Hearst’s own warehouses. The tycoon spent thousands looking for something he already had.

Don’t make the same mistake.

Live in the power of Christ

Know that you are God’s new creation, with the Christ nature living in you. Choose that nature when you are tempted by sin and self-sufficiency. But what does this choice mean practically? How does this work in our lives daily?

To experience the life of Christ, we need the power of Christ. Here’s how we live in that power every day.

First, stay surrendered to Jesus. Romans 12:1 commands that we “present our bodies as a living sacrifice” to God. Our Lord will only give us his power to fulfill his purpose. I won’t let my son drive the car where I know he’ll be hurt. Every day, surrender that day to Jesus. Your ambitions, desires, decisions, problems. Ephesians 5:18 instructs that we be yielded to the Spirit daily. Do this first thing every morning.

And second, stay close to Jesus. Stay connected to him, as a plug to its socket. He taught us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The character of the branch is determined by the vine. The vine produces the fruit through the branch. So the branch must stay close to the vine.

Meet him in his word and your personal worship every morning. Consult him in prayer all through the day. And you’ll live in the power he can only give when you are close to him.

This is the price we must pay to live the Christ life in the Spirit’s power. But the rewards far outweigh their cost: living above the sin nature, experiencing the purpose and power of the Lord of the universe. We give up nothing of value, to gain everything that matters.

Conclusion

Imagine Christ living his life through you. Imagine the “fruit” or results of his Spirit at work in you: Jesus’ love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22). Ask God to forgive your sins because of Jesus’ blood shed to pay for them. Then believe that you are a new creation, with Christ’s nature as yours. Decide right now to surrender your life to his will, and to stay close to him all day. And you will discover Christ at work, alive and powerful, through you.

This is God’s key to true success. And it works in every heart which will try it.

Watchman Nee, the famous Chinese Christian preacher and theologian, called this experience “the normal Christian life.” In his classic book by the same title he says,

“A day must come in our lives, as definite as the day of our conversion, when we give up all right to ourselves and submit to the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ…there must be a day when, without reservation, we surrender everything to Him—ourselves, our families, our possessions, our business and our time. All we are and have becomes His, to be held henceforth entirely at His disposal.

“From that day we are no longer our own masters, but only stewards. Not until the Lordship of Jesus Christ is a settled thing in our hearts can the Holy Spirit really operate effectively in us. He cannot direct our lives effectively until all control of them is committed to Him. If we do not give Him absolute authority in our lives, He can be present, but He cannot be powerful. The power of the Spirit is stayed.

“Are you living for the Lord or for yourself? Perhaps that is too general a question, so let me be more specific. Is there anything God is asking of you that you are withholding from Him? Is there any point of contention between you and Him? Not till every controversy is settled and the Holy Spirit is given full sway can He reproduce the life of Christ in the heart of any believer” (134-5).

I want this “normal Christian life” for myself, and for each of you. Do you want it for yourself? I want to live so fully in Christ that you see him in me each week as I preach to you, and each day as we serve him together.

I want people who hear me preach to say what they said of Charles Spurgeon. Here’s what I mean. A group of American ministers visited England to hear some of her famous preachers. On a Sunday morning they attended the City Temple where Dr. Joseph Parker was pastor. Some 2,000 people filled the building, and Parker’s forceful personality dominated the service. His voice was powerful, his message biblical, and the Americans left saying, “What a wonderful preacher is Joseph Parker!”

That night they heard Charles Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. The building was much larger than the City Temple, and the congregation more than twice the size. Spurgeon’s voice and oratory were the finest they had ever heard. But the Americans soon forgot all about the building, the congregation, and the voice. They even overlooked their intention to compare the two preachers. When the service was over they found themselves saying only, “What a wonderful Savior is Jesus Christ!”

When we live the normal Christian life, that’s what people will say when they meet us. That’s true success. Do you want it?