How do you define success?
Maybe it’s about earning a better degree, getting that promotion, or increasing your net worth. Perhaps it’s about looking better, having more friends, or starting a family. Or maybe it’s about being your own boss, doing more good in the world, or getting famous. Be honest now.
Whether you realize it or not, everyone has a definition of success. It’s usually a subconscious mix of the messages we receive from our family, friends, religious upbringing, and culture. Sometimes these messages serve us well. Often they don’t.
How you define success matters because your definition will end up defining you. As Thomas Merton said, “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”
So how do you know if you’re pursuing the right things? What does it mean to live a successful life? The answers are found in the Bible.
How the Bible Defines Success
Success begins with who God is, not who we are. The foundation of our success is what God has done for us, not what we have done for him. This leads us to grace. God’s ultimate act of grace was sending his son to live and die for us so that we could be made right with him.
As we receive God’s grace, we have the opportunity to walk by faith.
Faith is more than a belief that God exists. Even the demons believe that. And it’s more than believing in what God has done, although that’s important. To have faith is to trust in the person of God, to believe that he is good and to align our lives accordingly. At it’s core, Biblical faith is inherently relational. This shouldn’t surprise us, considering the fact that we are made in the image of a relational God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), created to live in relationship with him, each other, and the world around us.
So success begins with receiving grace and continues with having faith. But this faith is meant to be expressed through good works. Which leads us to the third component of success: obedience.
Obedience isn’t a popular topic in our culture, but it’s a vital part of success in the Bible. In the same way a soldier doesn’t receive a medal for disobeying her commanding officer, we won’t be rewarded for doing whatever we want. God’s word is clear: submission and success go hand in hand.
A life saved by grace, lived in faith, and marked by obedience is a great start. But these are not enough. In the Kingdom of God, success is as much about how you do as it is about what you do. So let’s look at the all-important subject of love.
When asked what was most important, Jesus spoke about love. When addressing spiritual gifts, Paul said none of them mattered without love. The Bible even gives us a detailed description of love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
Love is so central to success. We can’t obey God without love. We can’t relate well without love. And we’ll never be great without love.
Something remarkable happens when we receive God’s grace, walk by faith, and live in obedience and love: God is glorified. And that’s the last element of true success.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism states that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. To glorify God is to bring him honor and praise. It’s about making his greatness known to others. We don’t do this because he needs it, but because he deserves it.
According to the Bible, real success isn’t about having more pleasure, possessions, or power. We know that “This world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever” (1 John 2:17).
Real success is about receiving God’s grace, walking by faith, living in obedience and love, and bringing God glory. How these five elements get expressed will be unique for each one of us, but the core tenets are universal.
Don’t waste your life climbing a ladder leaned against the wrong wall. Listen to God’s word and live from his definition of success. In the end, it’s the only one that counts.