What is success?

by | Jul 24, 2013 | Business, Discipleship, Life

It could be argued that success is defined by its context.

For example, success in a military profession will look very different than success in motherhood.

I get that… there are definitely ways that looking at success through that sort of segmentation is helpful. But I want to step back and look at a bigger picture.

I believe we all feel an urge to divide our lives into compartments…. boxes if you will. We do it for a variety of reasons. It’s easier to stay organized mentally when you think of life in smaller chunks. Things don’t feel so out of control or hectic when you give yourself permission to address one “area” at a time. Depending on who you are, how you were raised, the priorities you’ve developed throughout your life, it will look something like this…


That approach to life is where we get the idea that success looks different in different contexts. Again, I get that.

But I want to suggest that thinking of life that way leads to a serious problem.

We stop thinking of ourselves as integrated beings, as a whole with many facets. We forget that what goes on in one of those “areas” necessarily relates to and impacts the others.

That’s why we have…

  • politicians who insist that their private life is entirely unrelated to their public life.
  • pastors who try to resume ministry immediately after a personal disgrace is exposed.
  • dads or moms who are a top producers at work but are failing miserably at home.

In reality, the box illustration looks like this…

life box

Everything touches everything. All aspects of life have an affect on the others. It’s like the mixture of ingredients in your favorite recipe. If one were missing, the recipe would not turn out the same. Such is life.

So what is success in life?

With all that in the backdrop, success becomes less about individual achievements in particular spheres, and more about the overall impact or tone of a person’s life. We can’t legitimately say someone who has died was a “great man” if his family was in shambles. We can’t say his life was inspirational if he was known to have had mistresses on the side. We can surely acknowledge the good things that come from a person’s life even if other aspects of their character are questionable. But we can’t rightly make a sweeping general statement that they were “good” or “successful.”

By that criteria none of us can truly be called by those titles, can we?

We all have areas of weakness, frailty, and outright sin that are in the process of reclamation. Each one of us is in need of reintegration.

That means that success in life can’t come from within us (contrary to popular belief). We don’t have the power or capacity to pull off such an audacious goal.

We need help… badly.

Thankfully, help is available.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.Titus 2:11-14

The grace of God has appeared. His help is available. The things that plague us, that hold us back, that keep us from attaining success in life are able to be conquered by His grace (meaning, with His help).

Through God’s grace we can:

  • renounce ungodliness and worldly passions.
  • live a self-controlled, upright, and godly life.
  • wait for the appearing of our Savior, Jesus.
  • do good works that truly matter.

THAT is success in life.

It is an integrated, overcoming kind of success that addresses our deepest needs, not just our temporal wants.

It’s a liberating success, setting us free from our inherent limitations of sin and selfishness.

It’s a success that makes our lives into conduits of God’s grace so we are able to eternally, positively impact others.

It is a success entirely dependent, moment by moment, on the living person of Jesus Christ who will one day return to perfect what He has begun.

It is a success that enables us to cease striving for menial ambitions and instead view every opportunity in light of the greater purpose He has for us.

NEXT: Why you will succeed when others fail