Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

         In the entire world, I wonder if there is even one person who wakes up in the morning and declares, “Today I will do my very best to be a failure!” On the contrary, most people are motivated with a desire to succeed in whatever they decide to do with their life, even if it is “succeeding” in a life of crime. True success in life, by God’s standards, is not measured by the means we employ to become a “winner,” or even what our goal is, but rather by His Word (truth) and God’s perspective (reality). Therefore, many people who are overcomers according to God are wrongly judged as failures by the world, the flesh, and the devil.

      Compare the life of Christ with the world’s definition of failure as it is so beautifully written in One Solitary Life: Let us turn now to the story. A child is born in an obscure village. He is brought up in another obscure village. He works in a carpenter shop until he is thirty, and then for three brief years is an itinerant preacher, proclaiming a message and living a life. He never writes a book. He never holds an office. He never raises an army. He never has a family of his own. He never owns a home. He never goes to college. He never travels two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He gathers a little group of friends about him and teaches them his way of life. While still a young man, the tide of popular feeling turns against him. One denies him; another betrays him. He is turned over to his enemies. He goes through the mockery of a trial; he is nailed to a cross between two thieves, and when dead is laid in a borrowed grave by the kindness of a friend.

      Those are the facts of his human life. He rises from the dead. Today we look back across nineteen hundred years and ask, What kind of trail has he left across the centuries? When we try to sum up his influence, all the armies that ever marched, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned are absolutely picayune in their influence on mankind compared with that of this one solitary life…(I understand that this is the original essay by Dr James Allan Francis in “The Real Jesus and Other Sermons” © 1926 by the Judson Press of Philadelphia (pp 123-124 titled “Arise Sir Knight!”).

      In order for Christians to not faint under the cruel scrutiny of the worldly mind, or shrivel under the harsh condemnation of Satan, they must get into God’s Word, and stay in it. The Word of God is the eternal guide in all that concerns us, directing us into the way of life and everlasting happiness, which is, regardless of outward circumstances, the opposite of failure. We must be careful to compare Scripture with Scripture, meditate upon it, and remain diligent, watchful in prayer, discerning, and wise to test the spirit behind everything. Every believer, regardless of age, background, or gender must “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” 2 Timothy 2:15. To “rightly divide the word of truth” means never taking a Scripture out of context to prove a point, or build a “doctrine,” or establish a belief that is contrary to the whole counsel of God.

      Dealing with a sense of failure may start early in life depending on a child’s environment, which means the amount of pressure put upon him or her to agree with the standards of others (conform), or to act in an expected manner (perform), or to change habits and attitudes (reform). To conform, perform, or reform in compliance with the will, wishes or demands of others (be they Christian or not) can lead to a false sense of failure due to the fact that all of these states of “self-improvement” through self-effort fall far short of being transformed by the Holy Spirit. In other words, God is not asking us to conform, perform, or reform, because it is His will that we allow Him to transform us into the image of Christ. Thus, conforming, performing, and reforming to the standards and expectations of others is not a guarantee against failure. In fact, these very things contribute to personal failure for they are, in and of themselves, dead works of the flesh that are worthless and unprofitable to both soul and spirit. In this condition, Satan has an open playing field to bring accusation and torment to the unsatisfied, longing and empty soul who never comes to a place of rest because of the haunting and mocking fear of failure.

      As for myself, in my early childhood years I knew I was loved, which set me free to dream big dreams during the various stages of growing up. I remember as a preschooler pretending to sing like the then very famous operetta soprano, Jeanette MacDonald. At that young age I wanted to grow up to be just like her. A few years later I fancied myself singing and dancing with Lawrence Welk and his orchestra. (The truth is, I never could “carry a tune in a bucket.”) Then came the “cowboy” years, and with 59 westerns regularly airing on TV, my best friend and I determined to own a dude ranch with herds of horses in Montana when we grew up. My mother, on the other hand, balked at that idea and told me she raised me “to be a lady,” not a cowgirl. Her idea of success was for me to marry a doctor or a lawyer, and have an upper class lifestyle; which, I suppose, any mother might wish for her only daughter. Then, when I was sixteen, I announced to her that I was going to be a missionary at which time she stated I would die some place in Africa. Sometime later when I told her I planned to be an artist, she told me I’d starve to death in some alley. Therefore, I had no doubt what represented failure in my mother’s mind.

      Have I ever felt like a failure for never being able to sing like an opera star? Nope. Am I a failure for never ending up as a dancer on Lawrence Welk? Nope. How about never becoming a cowgirl in Montana? Nope. Am I a failure because I never met, maneuvered, and managed to marry some aspiring doctor or lawyer? Nope. Does this mean that I have never felt like a failure? No, and that is because of one little word—sin. Sin sums up the real definition of failure because sin is failure to reflect, or mirror, the glory of God. It is “missing the mark” and we all have failed in this respect. Sin is failing God in any aspect of our life where we do not glorify Him. Therefore, in that respect, all humankind is a failure.

      We have an enemy who never lets us forget our failures. The accuser of the brethren, our great enemy, Satan, never “shuts up.” Revelation 12:10 tells us, “And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.” [Emphasis added.]One of Satan’s most powerful weapons against us is the accusation of being failures in every area of our lives, physically, mentally, and spiritually. In the physical realm, even though I became the three things that were uppermost in my heart—a servant of God, an artist, and a writer—there have been many a time when the enemy has brought accusations to my mind of being a failure. “You” he hisses, “never became a great missionary like Gladys Alyward, or Amy Charmichael, or Isobel Kuhn. You haven’t even preached as much as any of the notable women in the past, such as, (to name a few from the late 1700’s and early 1800’s) Mary Bond, Susannah McCurdy, Martha Jago, Mary Barrett Taft, Catherine Schertz, Patricia Townsend, Anna Nancy Towle, etc.

      Obviously, the accusation of failure by the enemy brings condemnation, sorrow and regret. Condemnation separates us from God who sent His Son to reconcile us to Himself. Instead of condemning us, the Holy Spirit convicts us in order to bring us to the place of repentance. Conviction of the Holy Spirit leads us to agree with God that we are not necessarily failures according our own standards, or those of the world, but rather sinners because we have fallen short of God’s glory. The Bible doesn’t declare that we are all a bunch of rotten failures because we haven’t tried hard enough, but instead it declares that we are all sinners in disposition, separated from God. Jesus came “not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” Mark 2:17b. We are not made righteous by working hard to avoid failure, but are made righteous through the blood of Christ. “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood” Revelation 1:5. Our failures in this life may, or may not be the result of sin. Often our failures are simply the result of just being human. We should never feel like a failure if we have done our best, yet failed. Remember, people who never try to accomplish anything because of fear of failure are failures already.

      The Word of God is clear that what the world, the flesh and the devil deem as failure is not in accordance with the will and ways of God. As Christians, what we are called to be are overcomers in this life—to overcome the world, the flesh and the devil. Failure to do so will indeed bring us down to eternal defeat, so it is with sobriety of mind and heart that this article is written.

      Beginning with the world, it has its own set of standards that it sets up before everyone as to what defines both success and failure. These standards are like a steady drumbeat that bombards us from the cradle to the grave through countless avenues beginning with parents and family, to teachers and professors, to literature, art, music, television, Hollywood, social media, and other propaganda machines. No one can escape the constant pressure that is exerted upon his or her way of thinking, and worldview by the world’s cultural, philosophical and psychological propaganda.     

      The world presents a false reality that is hard to resist because, after all, we live in a material world that we relate to with the physical senses, and vain imaginations. Young people are especially targeted to be carefully groomed by the world through appeals to their pride, desensitizing ploys, entertainment, and false promises of happiness to be realized through fame, fortune and power. Even though it is an impersonal and uncompassionate taskmaster, the world is simply irresistible to fallen man until he or she becomes truly born again. “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things become new” 2 Corinthians 5:17. Jesus warned, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul” Matthew 16:26? It is tough but true that when a person fails to live up to the world’s standards, the world is quick to condemn him or her as a failure.

      The question is should a Christian who is condemned by the world as a failure receive such an indictment? God’s Word assures us, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” 1 John 2:15-17.

      The Word of God warns us that Satan is the “god of this world” who presents himself as “an angel of light.” Therefore, we can discern and conclude that he is also the evil force that operates behind the scenes on the world stage with the intent of deceiving all mankind. (See Revelation 12:9 “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.) [Emphasis added.] Consider, “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” 2 Corinthians 4:3, 4. If the world itself, or those closest to you who know not Christ, or even your own self judges you as a “failure,” then remember the words of Jesus in John 16, and especially verse 33 which states, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

      Concerning the flesh, or the “old man,” it is all about self—the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, which, like the world, will pass away. Failure to the fleshly, self-centered person can be just about anything that opposes or upsets what is of utmost importance to him or her. The flesh sets people up to strive for unobtainable goals. For example, if a woman believes that “success” depends entirely upon her appearance, then vanity is of the utmost importance to her. Having a bad hair day, breaking a nail, developing a blemish, or gaining a pound is tantamount to the end of the world. If a man believes failure is not being, or possessing the best of everything, then he might well consider himself to be a failure if he loses in a competition, is overlooked for a promotion, drives an older model car, or is unable to afford an impressive home in an upper class neighborhood. These are just a scant few examples of how the flesh can cause a person to condemn him or herself as a failure.

      A fleshly person can also easily cave in to an insatiable appetite for addictive substances, immoral practices, bad habits, or any extreme or excessive lifestyle. Galatians 5:19-21 sums it up best, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness [depravity], Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, [malice], wrath, strife, seditions [rebellion], heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Emphasis added.)

      As with worldly people, a fleshly person can seek to satisfy their need for recognition, acceptance or attention in a church setting. This is especially true if the church is soft on sin, and tends to placate people who feel sorry for themselves because they feel as if they are a failure, or because others view them as a failure. As Christians, we do people a great disservice when we placate them in their fleshly state instead of confronting them with truth to bring such a soul to repentance and salvation. The Lord Jesus made it clear concerning the power of truth, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” John 8:31b, 32. Take note that, as with all of God’s promises, this verse is conditional. Nowadays you hear unsaved sinners of every sort quote the last part of this verse as they smugly apply it to whatever circumstance or situation that confronts them as if it was a magic wand that is going to automatically part the waters for them. But, to repeat what Jesus said, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed.” As Christians, we need to guard against quoting God’s Word out of context in order to make it “fit” where it was never meant to “fit” by God!

      Finally, we are to overcome the “evil one” or the devil. Revelation 12:11 tells us how the accuser of the brethren can be overcome by the saints, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” Satan is defeated by “the blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” Matthew 26:28. The gates of hell cannot destroy the “church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” Acts 20:28. Satan cannot condemn the saved as failures for Romans 5:8-10 declares, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” Furthermore, our consciences are purged “from dead works to serve the living God” Hebrews 9:14b. We can stand against the accusation of Satan that we are failures because we “were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from [our] vain conversation received by tradition…But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” 1 Peter 1:18, 19.

      Those who have overcome Satan have “Put on the whole armour of God, that [they] may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” Ephesians 6:12. Overcomers know how to both stand, and withstand, the attack of the enemy. James wrote, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” James 4:7. Peter tells us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world” 1 Peter 5:8, 9.

      In conclusion, regardless of what the world, the flesh or the devil may declare as being evidence of failure in a person’s life, those who are able to proclaim with the Apostle Paul, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” Philippians 3:13, 14 will never taste the bitterness of eternal failure.