The Simple Formula for Christian Success

2 Corinthians 5:15 provides us with the simple formula for success: “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” The formula resides in the phrase, “but for Him.” This verse does not merely call us to do what Christ wants us to do but to live for Him personally. Success does not result from what we do but who we do it for. If I consistently live for Christ, I will succeed not only in the Christian life but in all of life.

A significant distinction exists between living for Christ and doing what is right or even biblical. Living for Christ is personal and relational whereas practicing good behaviors is not. Giving to a cause because I conclude that it is the right or biblical thing to do differs from giving because I believe Christ wants to give through me. In John 15:5 Jesus teaches, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus is describing an ongoing relationship with Him that serves as the wellspring of our actions. Of course, this relationship drives us to Scripture to determine what Christ wants us to do, but our relationship with Christ serves as the driving force in scriptural living.

This is not meant to be critical but only to underscore the distinction. Asking, “What would Jesus do?” though a great question, lacks the personal dimension. A better question, though harder to fit on a wristband, is “Jesus, what do you want me to do?” The first question takes us to the Bible, which is good. The second question takes us to Jesus first, who then directs us to the Bible.

Imagine that someone wrote a book entitled, Behaviors of a Perfect Spouse. Wanting to be one of those, you memorize the book and do everything it says. That would be good as far as it goes, but how much better first to seek to please your spouse and then perhaps consult the book for guidelines on how to achieve that.

Notice that John 15:5 identifies this relational approach to life as that which bears fruit. Several factors seem to contribute to this result. Primarily, an abiding relationship with Christ produces a totally different chemistry than merely pursuing biblical behaviors. As persons created in the image of God, functioning relationally has a transformative effect on us. This is especially the case in our relationship with Christ, which, as the verse teaches, imparts spiritual life—the power to live biblically.

Acting from a relational foundation also bears fruit because doing so guides us in determining biblical behaviors. Using the Bible as a cookbook for the recipe of life may result in our serving up some plastic food. By using a dynamic relationship with Christ as a starting point, we will do a better job of getting the ingredients mixed right. If a spouse makes a comment that irritates us, we stand a better chance of responding biblically by asking Jesus what we should do and then seeking to find the mind of Christ in Scripture than we do if our search for a biblical response is impersonal.

Doing what is biblical apart from the relational dimension can also produce pride—viewing our lifestyle as our own creation.

The challenge related to this approach to life resides in our propensity to slide back into impersonal functioning—just seeking to live biblically without consciously seeking the direction of Christ. As with success in marriage, so success in our relationship with Christ demands living within the environment of our relationship with Him.

As our lives become an outflow of that relationship, Christ assures us that we will bear much fruit. We exist to glorify God. Jesus said, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit.” Consequently, bearing fruit as a product of our relationship with Christ makes us a success in life.

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