At Work & Theology 101

Two Great Lies About Success

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Two great lies have been promoted in our culture over the last twenty years. They are told to children in school, students in college and throughout the business world.

The first great lie is “If you work hard enough, you can be anything you want to be.” It is often sold as the American Dream, expressed in sayings such as “In America, anyone can grow up to be President.”

The second great lie is like the first one, yet possibly even more damaging: “You can be the best in the world.”

These lies are accepted by many Christians as well as non-Christians. They have done catastrophic damage to our view of work and vocation because they have distorted our Biblical view of success.  These two lies are defining success in 21st century Western culture.

We have suggested that there are five foundational ideas about work taught in the Scripture and understanding these five ideas will help us build a solid, Biblical view of work, vocation, and calling. In previous blogs we have worked our way through the first four:

  1. The Four Chapter Gospel: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration
  2. The Cultural Mandate: Our original job description
  3. Working in the ‘already not yet’ of the Kingdom of God
  4. The Doctrine of Common Grace

Finally we turn our attention to the last and most practical of these foundational ideas, what is the Biblical idea of success as it relates to our vocational calling.

Success, defined as, being the master of your own destiny, has become an idol of our culture. New York City pastor, Tim Keller, describes the idol in these words:

More than other idols, personal success and achievement lead to a sense that we ourselves are God, that our security and value rest in our own wisdom, strength and performance. To be the very best at what you do, to be at the top of the heap, means no one is like you. You are supreme.  (Counterfeit Gods, 75)

If we are to rediscover the Biblical doctrine of work, and if we are to correctly understand our own personal vocational calling, we must recognize how the Bible defines success.

The late John Wooden, the most successful college basketball coach in the history of the game and a committed Christian, was once asked how he would define success. He replied, “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” (My Personal Best, 90)

The New Testament defines success in a similar way in a story which Jesus told in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Through this series on success, we will continue to unpack the profound Biblical insight that this parable offers, not only into the definition of success, but into the purpose of our call to work.

Question: How have you defined success for your life? Leave a comment here.

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