I receive many emails asking questions about how to live a victorious Christian life. While many experiences, choices, and actions come together for our maturity, others can be a great hindrance.
Years ago, I heard a teaching by Ian Thomas of “Torchbearers International” in which he identified one of the greatest hindrances to a successful Christian life. He declared that “We must eradicate anything that means more to us than Jesus does.”
That single statement shaped my spiritual life from that moment forward. Let’s work through what it means via Scripture and in our lives. I promise that if you take it as a challenge—to remove anything from your life that means more than Jesus does—your relationship with Him will be transformed!
DON’T MISS THE “FULL GOSPEL”
If all Jesus Christ did when He died on the cross was to forgive our sins, then He made us fit for heaven while leaving us unfit for earth. The forgiveness of sins is just part of the Good News of the gospel.
It is NOT the fact that our sins are forgiven that enables us to live a new life! It’s the reality that the One who died for our sins rose from the dead! He conquered sin so that we can conquer it in our daily lives. And He left the Holy Spirit to inhabit our bodies until we reach heaven, so that He in us might be all we need to live in freedom from sin, with the ability to have a relationship with our sinless God.
Unfortunately, we often “hold in our hands” things that we love more than we love Jesus. They can lead us into sin or keep us from fully, freely living the Christian life. Jesus looks at those things and says, “Drop them. I want them totally eradicated out of your life.”
His death and resurrection make that possible! We are able—if we choose—to focus only on Jesus and live in His love.
GOD’S PLENTY VERSUS MAN’S POVERTY
Here’s what happens when we hold onto earthly things rather than letting go of them and reaching out for God’s best.
God had just brought his people out of slavery in Egypt, through the waters of the Red Sea and the wastelands of Mount Sinai. His role in their freedom could not be denied! They had seen the very hand of God, and they were poised on the threshold of the Promised Land (see Exodus 13-14).
It was time to march ahead and claim the spoils of victory. But they got stuck!
They had enough faith to get out of Egypt, but not enough faith to get into the Promised Land.
They were stuck in man’s poverty instead of enjoying God’s plenty.
For many people that is the Christian life. We have enough faith to cross the Red Sea, but not enough faith to enter the Promised Land. We are stuck in our own poverty instead of enjoying God’s plenty. We choose to hold onto what we know rather than following God into His best for us.
GOD GIVES THE VICTORY
The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the Rod of God in my hands.”
Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. (Exodus 17:8-11)
When Moses’ arm was lifted up, holding the Rod of God, Israel prevailed. When Moses’ arm lowered, the Amalekites prevailed.
Joshua’s will, power, desire, or sacrifice didn’t provide the victory. Neither did the Israelites battle prowess or effort.
Victory and defeat lay not in Joshua or in Israel. The victory was in the staff of God.
WHY DID GOD CHOOSE TO USE MOSES?
Moses became great in Egypt. At the age of 40, he had earned the highest academic achievements that Egypt could provide. He was a renowned soldier and the adopted son of Pharaoh. The world was laid at his feet.
But then, God called Him lead the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt.
Moses set out on his own to become a missionary, and when he murdered two Egyptian soldiers, he became a murderer instead. He fled to the wilderness, and for next forty years he was useless to God and man. He had yet to learn that the victory belongs to God and not to himself.
We’re next introduced to Moses 40 years later. He is now eighty. I’m reminded of the old saying, “It took man 40 years to make Moses a somebody. It took God 40 years to make Moses into a nobody.”
That is what it sometimes takes if we are to know the total power of Christ’s indwelling.
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So, Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:1-5)
The bush burned and burned and burned and burned.
I imagine Moses might have thought, “Now that is a very peculiar bush. I have never seen a bush like that before. I suppose that in many ways I was a bush like that forty years ago. I burned brightly for God; but, within 24 hours I burned myself out. For forty years, I’ve been nothing out here in the desert but a heap of ashes. If only I could be a bush like that that burns and burns and burns.”
Then, God continued speaking to Moses: “You see, Moses, if this bush had sought to sustain its flame on its own as you did forty years ago, it would have burned itself out and become a pile of ashes long ago. This isn’t a remarkable bush, Moses. This is a bush in-dwelt by a remarkable God.”
Then God could have said, “Do you see that scrappy old goat-eaten bush over there? That one would have done. Do you see this beautiful one here with all of the green foliage? That one would have done.”
“Any old bush will do as long as I am in the bush.”
When Moses responded to God, recognizing Him in the bush, he was ready to be used for God’s purpose and victory.
WHY THE ROD OF GOD? WHAT DID IT SIGNIFY?
Next, Moses asked for details—how will I get Pharaoh to agree to let your people go? How will I get the people to believe me? What if they say, “The Lord did not appear to you?” (Exodus 4:1).
Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?”
The Lord said, “Throw it on the ground.”
Moses threw it on the ground, and it became a snake, and he ran from it. Then the Lord said to him, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.” So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand.” (Exodus 4:2-4)
Imagine with me what might’ve happened.
God: “What is that in your hand?”
Moses: “It’s my shepherd’s staff. It’s just a piece of wood, a stick. I use it to tend sheep.”
God: “Drop it!”
Moses: “Why? It’s only a piece of wood. It’s a great comfort to me in the wilderness. It’s never hurt anyone. I need it every day.”
God: “I said, drop it.”
Moses obeyed God and dropped it, and it became a snake.
As he jumped away, Moses looked back over his shoulder and cried, “God, it’s a snake!”
God said, “Yes, I know. That’s why I told you to drop it. You didn’t know that it had a snake in it.”
Allegorically, the snake represents evil … remember the Garden of Eden?
It also represents all that we all hold onto that means more to us than Jesus does.
Imagine the look on Moses’ face: “Did you say, ‘tail’? Grab it by the TAIL?”
God: “That’s right – the ‘tail’.”
Moses: “But God, what about the business end?”
God said, “You take care of the tail, and I’ll take care of the head.”
Imagine that a snake slithers into in your cabin between you and the door. It raises its ugly head and slithers toward you in business-like fashion. If you had to deal with it, where would you grab it? Certainly not the tail. You want to grab it right behind the head where it cannot swing around and bite you.
God said, “Moses, pick it up by the tail.”
Moses obeyed and caught the snake by the tail. It was harmless because God had taken the snake out.
It was no longer the staff of Moses. It was the Rod of God that Moses would carry as the leader of Israel.
God said to Moses, “Take the Rod of God and set my people free.”
With the Rod of God, the sky was filled with hail, ditches overflowed with frogs, rivers turned to blood, fields filled with locusts and every firstborn Egyptian child breathed no more. With the Rod of God, the Red Sea opened. With the Rod of God, Amalek was defeated.
WHAT ARE YOU HOLDING IN YOUR HAND?
Now is a good time to ask a question: “What do you have in your hand?”
Perhaps it’s financial stability, a career, or a hoped-for promotion. Maybe it’s a relationship you count on or one you’re pursuing. Maybe it’s a material possession … maybe it’s an emotional crutch.
Whatever you are holding may be the one thing that’s keeping you from experiencing a victorious Christian life. That’s the snake—the evil—in it.
God says, “Drop it. Give it up. When I’ve dealt with it and know that I mean more to you than it does, then I’ll give it back to you with the snake taken out.”
Perhaps you’re frightened that if you drop it, God may not give it back.
That simply means that what you’re holding on to has already become the object of your idolatry. It has taken God’s place in your life.
Are you ready to let it go?
I think sometimes the hardest part is identifying why you’re holding so tightly. I’ll encourage you to pray and ask God to reveal the truth to you. Ask Him to set you free from the bondage of whatever you’re holding.
You are not in this alone. He will give you the victory! That’s who He is … and He will bless and honor your decision to let go and grow.
I’ll leave you with this illustration from Charles Trumbull, one of my favorite biblical expositors. He attended a circus in London in 1934. The acts were stupendous! The show was spectacular.
The lights dimmed in preparation for the final act. All eyes focused on a snake trainer now standing on center stage. As the drums begin to roll, there was a rustle behind him.
An ugly boa constrictor slid out of the grass toward him.
He allowed it to wind around is legs, knees, thighs, chest, head, until at last with one thundering roar of applause he was completely lost to sight—encircled by snake.
Amidst all the clapping came a blood-curdling scream. There was an instantaneous silence so thick you could cut it with a knife. The audience heard the cracking and snapping of his bones as his body was crushed to a pulp.
The trainer had that snake for eighteen years. He secured it when it was only nine inches long. At any time, he could have thrown it away. He could have killed it between his thumb and forefinger. But he played with it, tamed it, and it killed him.
What do you have in your hand?