The world defines success mainly by measuring the amount of wealth, power, and popularity a person obtains in this world. Worldly definitions of success are deceptive and tragic because they focus on what is fleeting and passing and ignore what is lasting and eternal (Hebrews 11:25; James 4:14; Psalm 102:3; Job 7:7). Worldly definitions of success are notoriously short-sighted and, if followed, end in misery (Matthew 16:26; Luke 12:20; 16:25). On the contrary, the Bible defines success in terms of what is spiritual and lasting and ends in eternal life and joy (Matthew 6:19–20; John 3:16; 15:11). Whereas worldly success is centered on the promotion and gratification of ourselves, biblical success is centered on obedience to and glorification of God (Romans 13:14; Galatians 5:16; 1 Corinthians 10:31).
What is a biblical definition of success? What does the Bible say about success?
Success is obedience to God, empowered by the Spirit of God, motivated by love for God, and directed toward the advancement of the kingdom of God. Success begins with obeying God's command to repent and believe in Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15; Acts 19:4; 20:21). When a person receives Jesus Christ they also receive the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13–14; 4:30; Romans 8:9; 2 Timothy 1:14). The Spirit empowers and enables believers to obey the teachings and commands of Christ (Acts 1:8; Luke 24:49; 1 Thessalonians 1:5). This obedience is motivated by our newly implanted love for God (Romans 5:5; Galatians 4:6). Whereas before we knew Christ we were alienated from God and without hope in the world (Ephesians 2:12), after we receive Christ, we are reconciled to God and desire to love Him with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength (Mark 12:28–30). Our old stony hard hearts are removed and replaced with hearts that are tender toward God (Ezekiel 11:19–20). We are made new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). True success is about believing, loving, and obeying God. It is focusing on that which is eternal rather than on that which is temporary. It is being transformed by the work of God in our lives, minds, and hearts (2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 12:2).
As we are transformed, we are also called to share the good news of Christ with others. We are as light and salt to the world (Matthew 5:13–16) and the aroma of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14–17). Having been reconciled to God, we are entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation—sharing the truth of salvation and life in Him with others (2 Corinthians 5:18–21). By living Christ-like lives, spreading the good news of the gospel, and making disciples, we participate with God in the advancement of His kingdom (Matthew 28:29–30).
It should be noted that God delights to give good gifts to His children, even including material things. Jesus talked about not being anxious for physical needs in Matthew 6. He said, "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33). There is nothing wrong with having worldly wealth; the error comes when we begin to value worldly things above God, when we worship the gift rather than the Giver. First Timothy 6:10–12 says, "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses." It is not money or status that is the issue, but the love of those things. Focusing our hearts on God and allowing Him to do His transforming work in us are what count for true, biblical success.
Any degree of victory or success we achieve is attributable to the grace of God working in us for our good and His glory (Ephesians 2:8; 1 Corinthians 15:10; Romans 8:28; 16:27); it is not from ourselves. Humility and a willingness to serve God and others is perhaps the most important attribute in the kingdom of God and the one most likely to end in true biblical success (Mark 9:35; Philippians 2:4–11).
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