What marks a successful Christian life? Is that even an appropriate category? How do you know if you are doing well? If you are reading this, I assume you want to grow in Christ, to experience transformation of your character, growth in knowledge and increased obedience. These are good things. We are called to maturity in Christ (Eph 4:11-16), and that, to me, is what is best meant by ‘successful’ Christianity. But how do we measure maturity? Is it a list of chores or checklists that we tally up?
I am indebted to author Neil Cole in his book Organic Leadership for helping supply a helpful and memorable answer for thinking through this. A successful Christian life can be broadly characterized by three characteristics.
Christians should be growing in faith. Christ calls his disciples to faith in him, trusting him in every circumstance. Life will never be easy for the believer, at least not for long. Trials and afflictions will come your way. In the midst of it, will you trust him? Will you pray with faith and grow to trust his plan, his providence, and his goodness? I think that the word ‘faithfulness’ also captures another idea: Christians should be growing in fidelity, that is, dedication to Christ. As we grow in our loving dependence upon him and confidence in him, we also grow in affection for him. A faithful Christian trusts and adores Christ, is committed to staying with Christ regardless. Jesus puts it powerfully in John 15:4, “Abide in me, and I in you.”
John 15:8 says, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” Fruitfulness is the natural effect of being in Christ. It is the result of Christ dwelling in you by his Spirit. It includes two aspects: godly character and good works. First, Christ changes who you are internally by the work of his Spirit. We are told of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. In Christ, our old desires have been crucified and are being replaced with God-loving, God-centered desires. Over the course of a lifetime as we faithfully abide in Christ, we are being changed. This produces the second aspect of fruitfulness, good works. God is glorified by this not just because we become ‘good people’, more civil, nicer, friendlier. His concern is that we, who were formerly rebels against him, hating his work, now as his children begin doing his same works. God delights that his children obey him and live like his Son in the world.
We might just stop at those two. However, many have professed to begin the Christian life and have not finished, as the parable of the four soils attests. God’s intention is not temporary or fair weather Christians. He does not delight in professors who are faithful to Christ for a season, or bear fruit for a while. His saints must be faithful and bear fruit until the end. All seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 make reference to this. Endure to the end. Finish well. Fight the good fight. Finish the race. Keep the faith.
I find that these three markers are helpful in assessing spiritual health. Do you see stability and growth in these areas? Are you growing in faithfulness and fruitfulness? Are you practicing endurance through trials even now, that you might win the prize? If so, then you are doing well.