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The power for 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: Colossians 1:21-29

A friend recently sent me a Peanuts cartoon, in which Snoopy is typing a letter. It says, “Dear IRS, I am writing to you to cancel my subscription. Please remove my name from your mailing list.” If only it were that easy.

April 15 is not America’s favorite day. We give over $750 billion to the Internal Revenue Service every year. Why do we do it? What are we afraid of? An IRS agent is just a person. He or she cannot really hurt us. But the agency which employs that agent is another matter. It is the power which uses the agent, which works through that person, that we respect. And appropriately so.

Last week we discovered God’s key to true success: we choose the Christ nature in us, as we stay surrendered and close to Jesus. Then Jesus reproduces his life, his purity, his character, his joy in us.

But we need help. If you sought to obey this teaching this week, as I hope you did, you discovered that you cannot do it in your own ability. The good news is, the help we need can be ours this morning. Let’s learn how.

Know the source of your worth (21-22, 27)

My first youth minister gave me the best single piece of advice I’ve ever received: “Know the source of your personal worth.” Know why you matter, why you are valuable, your identity and significance. Here is the source of your personal worth.

Verse 21 describes each of us “B.C.,” before Christ: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” We were completely separated from God, enemies of the Almighty. Our “evil behavior” showed that this was true. We sinned because we were sinners.

“But now”—two glorious words—”he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (v. 22).

We are “reconciled” to God—the word means to be made right and righteous with God. Jesus’ death, his blood shed on the cross, paid the penalty for our sins.

Now he “presents” us before God, as a defense attorney before the Judge. And how does he present us? “Holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” Now we are “holy,” sacred. We are “without blemish,” completely innocent. We are “free from accusation,” completely innocent of all charges, set free.

This is not how the world sees us, or how we see ourselves. But this is true “in his sight.” It is how God sees us.

When we asked Christ to save us, God identified us with Jesus on the cross. He included the person we were before Christ in Jesus’ death. Romans 6:6 teaches, “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.” Paul proclaimed it boldly: “I have been crucified with Christ … Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

Now Jesus lives his life through me. Now I can experience and give to others his love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). Now Paul’s testimony is mine: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

Christ in me is the source of my personal worth, my identity. No other source of worth delivers what it promises. I can testify personally that it’s so. I’ve tried performance, but there’s always more to do so I’m never at peace. I’ve tried perfectionism for much of my life, but I cannot achieve it and so am constantly frustrated. I’ve tried possessions, but there’s always more to own. I’ve tried popularity, but people are fickle and there’s always someone else to impress.

I’ve tried Christian performance and perfectionism, but I fail. Nothing satisfies my soul, for God made me with a Christ-shaped emptiness in my heart. Only Jesus can fill me. His nature alone gives me significance and satisfaction, value and joy.

We must know the source of our personal worth before it can be ours.

Choose the Spirit over the self (23-29)

Then we must choose this worth, this identity. We can have God’s power living through us, but we must choose for it to be so. It is as though there are two switches in our soul, side by side. One is labeled “Spirit,” and the other, “self.” And we alone can decide which power we will use. How do we choose the power of the Spirit?

First, “continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel” (v. 23). We must daily choose to believe that the “old self” has been crucified. We must daily choose to believe that Christ is now living in and through our lives. We must daily refuse to be “moved from the hope” that it is true.

Second, we submit ourselves every day to God’s purpose for our lives.

Submission is not a popular word these days. “Pull your own strings,” “Look out for number one,” the bestsellers advise us. We’re afraid of submitting to God—afraid of what he’ll do with our lives, afraid we’ll have to quit doing what we like and start doing what we don’t.

But Paul’s experience was just the opposite. Even though God’s purpose for his life led him into great suffering, he can say: “I rejoice in what was suffered for you” (v. 24). He found great joy in submission to God’s perfect plan for his life. So will we.

Third, we give our best to this purpose. Oswald Chambers said it well: “My utmost for his highest.”

Paul said it this way: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ” (v. 28). God called him to this work, and he used his every gift and ability to its utmost to fulfill this purpose. But only to fulfill this purpose.

Aristotle defined excellence as “Expressing your highest talent to its fullest measure.” I have this quote in my study where I can see it. This week I added the words, “as God directs.”

God wants us to use our abilities and gifts, but only to fulfill his purpose. This is why prayer must be the air we breathe, not an occasional event in our lives. We must be continually directed by God to the purpose he intends for us each day, or we’ll miss it. He must constantly drive the car or it will run into the ditch. He wants to use the engine and transmission he put in the vehicle, but only to go where he intends us to go.

Here’s the result, the point of today’s message: “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (v. 29).

“To this end I labor”—literally translated, “For this purpose and this purpose alone I give everything, working to exhaustion.”

“Struggling” means tireless exertion, fighting against all manner of setbacks and opposition. The word in secular Greek sometimes meant “to take a beating.” Paul says, “I am willing to pay any price for this purpose.”

But here’s the key: “with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Paul’s Greek says, “with all his energy, which energizes me so dynamically.”

As Paul works, God works. As he gives his best to God’s purpose, God does more with him and through him than he could ever have done for God.

We give our best to God’s highest purpose for our lives, believing by faith that his power will empower us. Believing that he will sustain us, use us, change lives through us. Believing that his power will overcome all obstacles and use us to bring others to Jesus. And when we act in faith, believing that God will empower and use us, he does.

Trust God’s power today

My friends, God’s power still works today. The greatest power in all the universe, the power which created the universe, is living in your life and mine. But we must choose that power, the Spirit over the self. Every day.

Then this power changes us.

R. A. Torrey: “I recall the exact spot where I was kneeling in prayer in my study… It was a very quiet moment, one of the most quiet moments I ever knew…Then God simply said to me, not in any audible voice, but in my heart, ‘It’s yours. Now go and preach.’ … I went and preached, and I have been a new minister from that day to this.”

D. L. Moody: “I was crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit. Well, one day, in the city of New York—oh, what a day!—I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to name… I can only say that God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His saving love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand. I went preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths; and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world—it would be as the small dust of the balance.”

Charles Finney: “The Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me body and soul. No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love.”

Most often this experience of God’s power is not so emotional, but it is just as real. This power sustains us in the hardest of times:

“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10).

If you are crushed, in despair, or feel abandoned or destroyed today, you are working in your own strength rather than God’s. His power will sustain you in the hardest places of life.

This power encourages us daily:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

This power renews us inwardly every day (v. 18). Then our troubles are “light and momentary” investments for “an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Conclusion

Whose power are you depending upon today? Whose should you choose?

It all begins with a complete surrender to the purpose of God. The Lord can only empower those who live in his purpose. In reading Watchman Nee’s book this week, I was struck most by this single line of testimony he quotes: “Lord, I want nothing for myself.” Can you say this today? The price you pay will be repaid and so much more.

Last week we closed with Charles Spurgeon, and preachers who said after hearing him, “What a wonderful Savior is Jesus Christ!”

Here’s more of the story. He first became a pastor at the age of 17. He was called to the prestigious New Park Street Baptist Chapel in London when he was only 19; this later became the Metropolitan Tabernacle. By his death in that pastorate, his ministry had produced 62 volumes of sermons; a membership which grew from a few hundred to 5,328; 127 lay ministers in London; 23 mission stations; 27 Sunday Schools; a monthly news journal; an orphanage; a school; and a total of 66 different organizations which Spurgeon started and managed. During his ministry he preached to at least 20 million people.

What was his secret? His voice, or ability, or gifts? Here is his answer, given at the end of his life: “In 40 years I have not spent 15 waking minutes without thinking about Jesus.”

Will you turn to him right now?