April 7, 2015

How God Defines Success

by Nathan Busenitz

true_successWhat does it mean to successful?

That is a vital question for anyone to ask – one that determines a person’s priorities and direction in life.

Whether you are a pastor, an accountant, a school teacher, a stay-at-home mom, an office manager, a construction worker, an engineer, or any other occupation – if you are a believer in Jesus Christ – this question pertains to you. What does it mean to be successful?

What does true success look like, not in terms of getting a new promotion or a raise, but in the highest and loftiest sense of that word?

Consider the “heroes of the faith” listed in Hebrews 11. From a worldly perspective, these individuals would hardly be regarded as successful.

– Successful people aren’t mocked and scourged.

– Successful people don’t get chained up in prison.

– Successful people aren’t stoned to death, sawn in two, or beheaded.

– Successful people wear more comfortable clothes than goatskins.

– Successful people are not destitute, afflicted, and ill-treated.

– Successful people don’t wander in deserts or live in holes in the ground.

Or do they?

That all depends on how you define “success.”

If success is defined in terms of the passing pleasures of this life (like fame, fortune, and immediate fulfillment) then those listed in Hebrews 11 might not qualify as being successful.

But if success is defined from God’s perspective, where faith in Christ and faithfulness to Him is what matters most, then the men and women of Hebrews 11 not only understood what true success is, they applied that understanding to every aspect of their lives.

Consider what the author writes in Hebrews 11:13–16:

All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.

These men and women of faith trusted in the promises of God – many of which they knew would not be fulfilled in this life but in eternity – and they based their life on those promises. They looked forward to heaven. They had an eternal perspective. And that perspective changed how they viewed everything in this life.

A temporal perspective says that this life is all there is, so pursue the here and now. An eternal perspective says that to live is Christ and to die is gain because we look forward to the life to come.

A temporal perspective scoffs at the wisdom of God and calls it foolishness; it mocks the thought of a resurrection of the dead; and tramples underfoot the blood of Christ by treating Him with contempt. But an eternal perspective clings to the Cross, and worships the risen Christ. We are gladly called fools for His sake, and we forsake everything else in order that we might gain Him.

The reality of eternity changes how we understand the goal and meaning of life. It changes everything about us, including our understanding of success.

The fact is that many of the foremost heroes of biblical history would be regarded as fools and failures by the unbelieving world. But heaven’s measure of success is radically different. Consider the following three examples:

– There was a preacher who preached for many years but never saw a convert. His neighbors and countrymen ridiculed him, but he didn’t stop preaching. From the world’s standpoint, his ministry was a total failure. His name was Noah, and from God’s perspective he was a true success.

– There was a man who left his family and moved many miles away because God told him he would be the father of a great nation. Yet, his wife Sarah only gave birth to a single son. His name was Abraham. From the world’s standpoint, he was a failure. But from God’s perspective he was a true success.

– There was another man who was adopted into the royal court of the greatest nation of his day. He grew up a powerful prince, who had everything he wanted at his beck and call. Yet, he left the riches and prestige of royalty to lead a complaining band of former slaves through the desert for 40 years. His name was Moses. From the world’s standpoint, he was a failure. But from God’s perspective he was a true success.

We could tell of many others: Abel, who was murdered by his brother Cain; Joseph, who was unjustly throne into prison; Job, who lost everything he had including his health and his family; Elijah, who cried to God because he thought himself to be the last true believer in Israel; Isaiah, who was sawn in half; Stephen, who was stoned to death; and the twelve apostles, most of whom were martyred for their faith in Christ.

From a worldly standpoint, they appeared to be failures. Yet, from God’s perspective, they were found faithful. They were true successes in His eyes – and ultimately, only His assessment matters.

Nathan Busenitz

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Nathan serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Church and teaches theology at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles.