This is an interesting question. But the question that should be asked first is, “What do we mean by success?” See, the answer to the question, “Can a Christian be successful?” is wrapped in how we define success. So let’s look at how Jesus defined success.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. – Luke 9:23, ESV
If we would come after Him… in other words, if we would truly be His disciples. See, anyone can say they’re with Christ. They can say they belong to Jesus. It’s not about what we say, however, but what we do. Jesus lays it out. Want to be one of His? Great! He’s got a 3 step formula for us:
- Deny ourselves.
- Take up our cross daily.
- Follow Him.
The world tells us to fight for ourselves. Deny ourselves? That’s crazy talk! We have to fight to get what we deserve. They didn’t get my order right when I ordered my burger? Then I have a right to complain loudly to the manager! After all, I wasn’t the one who made the mistake! And to this Jesus would say, “Wait a minute. Think about your actions and the consequences of them. Is getting upset at the manager going to reveal to him or her who I am? So if you want the situation to be about you, go right ahead. However, if you want to come after Me, if you want to be one of Mine, then deny yourself.”
To add on to that already difficult first step, He tells us to take up our crosses. And not just once in a while. Not just Sundays and Wednesdays. Not even just Monday through Friday. No, He said, “Daily.” Take up our crosses? What is meant by that? A cross was an instrument of extreme punishment. It was a symbol of great suffering. It was meant to demean and break not just the person being executed, but anyone who might come across the scene. And Jesus knew His audience would understand the audacity of His request. He was basically saying, “Do you want to come after Me? Be prepared to suffer. Be prepared to be ridiculed, to be spit on, to be hurt, even to be killed. And be prepared for it every day. Oh, and remember how I did it. I didn’t fight back. I didn’t argue. I took it and I prayed for those who inflicted such harm to Me. That’s what I’m expecting of you, too.” If we do the first, denying ourselves, the second follows as a natural consequence.
Then the third is simple, right? We just follow after Him. But think about where Christ is going. Jesus is at war with the Enemy. He is redeeming those whom the Devil has taken prisoner. He is wading fearlessly into murderous crowds, unafraid and unashamed. Are you ready for this? See, if you want to come after Jesus, you better be. But here’s a point to chew on. Jesus isn’t standing on the sidelines like some coach shouting instructions to His team. He’s leading from the front. He is taking the first hits. He is in the thickest and heaviest of the fighting. It’s not on our shoulders. It’s on His, because He has chosen to be there. How can we possibly say we aren’t willing to join Him?
Actually, it’s rather easy. We see it every day, both inside the Church and out. Jesus’ definition of success doesn’t sit well with most people, even most people within our congregations. But here’s the key point: His definition is the only one that matters. He’s the only one qualified to give the definition of success because He’s the only judge of it. And He gave it in the words we have recorded as Luke 9:23. How does your definition of success match up with His? Is it close or somewhere in the next galaxy? How close is your heart and mind to His definition? Can a Christian be successful? Absolutely, but only if you’re working with Jesus’ definition. And if you’re a Christian, it’s the only definition of success you care about meeting.