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A long-term friend of mine who is also a very committed disciple of Jesus used to have a number of catchy responses to some of the answers he got to the common question, "So, how are you?" One of the common responses was, "I'm not bad, under the circumstances". That was Bob's invitation to ask another question. "What are you doing under them?"

Bob was one of those who, at that time in his life, believed that "the victorious life" was the right and privilege of every Christian. To live "under the circumstances" (i.e. under the control, influence and consequences of the circumstances ) was to be the victim, not the victor.

To admit that one was a "victim" was to bring one's commitment to God into question. This, in turn, generated a pressure to be less than honest and pretend (lie?) about one's spiritual condition. 

Of course, this perfectionist theology was flawed from the outset and it led to a great deal of heartache. A lingering sense of failure, guilt & worthlessness disempowered many Christians who accepted this theology.

Like all incomplete theological systems that are accepted uncritically, there were elements of truth in it but not enough to validate it in the experience of God's people.

I bring to your attention two perspectives, each needed to maintain a balance between both.
 

Well, how much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions,  quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight.  Women received their loved ones back again from death.  (Heb 11:32-35  NLT)

This is just one Biblical passage that would be identified as the "Victorious Christian life". Consider what these saints accomplished, the victories they achieved, the changes they implemented. The list is breath-taking. To me, these people represent "the victorious Christian life". Imagine how much in demand they would be to speak at Pastors' Conferences, Church Seminars, International & Interdenominational meetings? Why, the Christian Church would be so spiritually enamoured and besotted with these "victorious" believers that other speakers who could not make the same claims (even though they had much to offer the Church) were overlooked in favour of those who could tell of the "spectacular".

Which brings me to the second perspective which I ask you to read

But others trusted God and were tortured, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free. They placed their hope in the resurrection to a better life. Some were mocked, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in dungeons. Some died by stoning, and some were sawed in half; others were killed with the sword. Some went about in skins of sheep and goats, hungry and oppressed and mistreated.  They were too good for this world. They wandered over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.   (Heb 11:35-38  NLT)

What I am reading sounds like this: But others trusted God and things turned out very differently for them. The first group may have had great success etc. But this group, even though they trusted in God no less than the first group, experienced torture, imprisonment, martyrdom. No mention is made of victories - only the lives of fugitives, always on the run, aliens in a world that was not worthy of them. To watch their lives unfold and to see all the negatives that impacted their lives, they could well be forgiven for thinking "someone up there didn't like them"!!

In the remaining verses, the two group are drawn together.

All of these people we have mentioned received God's approval because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40 For God had far better things in mind for us that would also benefit them, for they can't receive the prize at the end of the race until we finish the race. (Heb 11:39-40)

"All of these people...." whether they were listed among the "successful" or the "martyrs", received God's approval because of their faith. So, what are we meant to learn from this comparison?

The lesson for me is one about balance.

It would be incorrect to say that the victors (Group 1) were right in the way they lived and their "successes" were an evidence God expressing His approval. It would equally be wrong to say that the victims (Group 2) had somehow incurred God's wrath or disapproval as evidenced by their negative experiences.

 The reality is that we need to experience God as victors and victims. To know the Christian life only within the confines of victory is to have a very unbalanced and untested view and experience of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

This is why our "victory" theology will leave us abandoned when we encounter "trials of various kinds" (James 1). Right the way through Scripture there is the assumption that the "God followers" will have seasons in life that will put them to the test. My wife has said on many occasions in my hearing that "all sunshine makes a desert".

For balanced growth we need all four seasons.

M y prayer is that anyone reading this article from within the presence of a perfectionist theology will take heart that there is a life of freedom as a Christian that is more authentic than the one they have been living thus far. Yes, it certainly holds the promise of victory as well as the reality of trial and testing.

 

 

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