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Biblical Success

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Biblical Success’ preached by Pastor Mike White on Sunday, 2/1/2015, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here:

The Biblical Call to Success

We all want to be successful. The American Dream is something that has been deeply ingrained in most of us. But as Christians, sometimes we can feel forced to abandon our ambitions for success. If we’re working too hard, it must not be God, right?

For so many years, Christians have been known by the rest of the world as people with big ideas, but below average execution. We have been known as people with good hearts, but little business sense. Christianity has become synonymous with not-for-profit. But what if I told you the Bible calls us to be successful?

I believe that Christians should be the most successful men and women in our fields. We should be the hardest working people in our workplaces: not for our glory, but for God’s glory alone. We should be the best writers, and the most gifted physicians. We should be the most talented athletes, and the most popular musicians.

We’ve seen professional, Christian athletes professing their faith in increasing numbers recently. Jeremy Lin, the overnight superstar for the New York Knicks, was forward about his faith in Jesus Christ. Tim Tebow prayed in the middle of games as a quarterback for the Denver Broncos, and unashamedly praised God in press conferences off the field. Russell Wilson, the quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, leads players in on-field prayer before and after NFL games every week. He admits in magazine interviews that he became a Christian at age 14 when Jesus spoke to him in a dream. Then, he says, the Lord led him to switch from baseball to football.[1]

What are these men and women athletes doing? They’re being salt and light:

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. – Matt 5:13-16

As God’s people, we are designed to be the best and brightest. We are encouraged to step into that role so we can position ourselves to be mouthpieces for God! We are called to be the most talented people in our field so that, when we achieve success, we can give God all the glory! Professional athletes have been leading the charge, but now I believe it’s time for the rest of us to step up and do our part.

We are all called to be successful. That is not to say, at all, that if we’re unsuccessful in any way, shape or form, that God will not use us to speak to others. However, the Bible is clear on the subject of success. It is something we are supposed to allow God to achieve through us, as a demonstration of His power.

Jesus invites us to a Biblical standard of excellence. Please note that there is a marked difference between an invitation and a requirement; and that is the difference between the Law and grace. Levitical Law required us to maintain a standard of excellence to earn God’s favor. Grace, on the other hand, invites us to accept a standard of excellence we could never attain on our own, because we already have God’s favor.

Jesus spoke to His disciples about professional excellence:

He also said to His disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’ Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’ So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ So he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ So he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. – Luke 16:1-8

The verses above tell the story of a business administrator who – let’s face it – is not too good at business. He had been accused of wasting his boss’s finances, and failing to collect invoices. He lacked creativity, and had become a little too comfortable with his cushy job.

He finds himself on the verge of being laid off. But then God gives him business savvy. He deals “shrewdly” to collect on all of his boss’s outstanding accounts. And guess what? The plan worked. The boss was blown away, and the steward kept his job.

Jesus finishes the lesson to His disciples with this addendum:

And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home. He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? – Lk 16:9-11

The people in our workplaces will notice proficiency and excellence. When we demonstrate success and precision in everything we do, they will want to know how we’re able to handle so much responsibility with so much grace. When the men and women in your workplace know you have the ability to steward professional success, they will want to know how you treat your soul. And that will be the invitation you need to introduce them to Jesus Christ.

I’ve worked with many Christian organizations over the years. Unfortunately, many of us are not administratively gifted. When we can’t manage interactions, finances, and other resources well, the people around us won’t have any interest in learning Who we’re all about. But when we achieve desirable results through administrative efficiency and the pursuit of excellence, the entire world will take notice. They will want to meet us to find out the keys to our success; and they will want to meet our God to find out the keys to our favor.

Misplaced Ambitions

We all want to be successful. But most of us go about trying to achieve success in the wrong way. Most of us try and earn it, in and of ourselves. God invites us to pursue excellence, but only through the miracle-working power of His Holy Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit gives us life (Rom 8:11). He strengthens us when we’re physically exhausted, and speaks through us when we don’t have anything compelling to say (see Mk 13:11).

When we try to become successful on our own, without God’s help, we end up tired and frustrated. We’ve all been there. We work our butts off until we run out of gas. Then, after we’re burnt out, we watch in disappointment as everyone around us gets promoted – especially the people who don’t deserve it!

We must understand why it is possible for men and women who don’t know their loving Father to achieve worldly success. The answer to the question, “Why do good things happen to bad people,” lies in the understanding of common grace. Common grace is the inborn characteristic that gives every human being the innate ability to pursue and display the knowledge necessary for success. In a nutshell, common grace explains the undeserved blessings which God extends to all mankind.

All of us are made in God’s image (Gen 1:27), which explains why so many men and women who are not Christian are so insanely talented. The Reformed scholar Louis Berkhof explained it this way:

“[Common grace] curbs the destructive power of sin, maintains in a measure the moral order of the universe, thus making an orderly life possible, distributes in varying degrees gifts and talents among men, promotes the development of science and art, and showers untold blessings upon the children of men…”[2]

Common grace is what explains political concepts such as common morality.[3] God demonstrates His potential through all men and women so that nobody has an excuse not to believe in Him (see Rom 1:20,21).

Common grace is separate and distinct from saving grace: the grace we enjoy as Christians. Saving grace means forgiveness for, and freedom from, all sin; common grace does not. That is why successful men and women who take advantage of common grace, without accepting saving grace, so often struggle with severe issues like depression and substance abuse (which stem from guilt, condemnation and fear).

When people around us are successful, we shouldn’t become frustrated. We should ask God to help us understand the favor we are meant to enjoy in our own lives. We should seek God, and ask Him to illuminate His purpose for our lives. We should ask Him to lead and guide us into financial well-being and Biblical prosperity.[4]

When we talk about Biblical success, we’re not just talking about money. We’re talking about the ability to pursue God’s call on your life: not just as a hobby, but as a profession. The definition of a “professional” is:

“A person engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as a pastime. Someone who is well-trained and able to succeed in a given area.”[5]

Are you living out God’s calling on your life, and getting paid for it? Are you pursuing His will on a full-time basis? Not everyone will be called to full-time ministry; but all of us are called to be full-time ministers. All of us should invite God to gradually lead us out of our day job and into our calling.

We have so many people in our church who have left large corporations to start their own businesses, founded on Biblical values and principles. I have nothing against large corporations, but it’s so beautiful to watch those transitions happen. No matter where you work, God should be your boss; and if that’s not possible in your current seat, then maybe it’s time to play musical chairs.

God wants to make you successful. He wants everything you do to overflow with excellence. He wants to be involved in every investment decision you make. He wants to be part of every conversation you have at the office.

I come from a financial background. I’ve made some successful investments; and I’ve also made some financial decisions that haven’t turned out so great. Looking back, all of my successful decisions were preceded by seeking God’s guidance before making the investment. All of my unsuccessful trades were encouraged by pride: me, trying to be smarter than everyone else in the marketplace.

If God is not involved in the investment process, we can’t hold Him liable if it fails. But when we seek Him before we make decisions, we have the full confidence that the best business Partner around will lead us through whatever we face!

Freedom through Obedience

Success hinges on obedience. Prosperity hinges on obedience. Ultimately, our freedom to live a life for God hinges on obedience. Deuteronomy 11 explains this well:

For the land which you go to possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and watered it by foot, as a vegetable garden; but the land which you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year. ‘And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil. – Deut 11:10-14

We all want God to bring us into the Promised Land: a place where God takes care of our every need, and is always looking out for us. But few of us are willing to pay the price.

Verse 13 (above) is a conditional statement. If we serve God with everything we’ve got, then He will water us with more provision that we can handle. Obedience activates God’s blessings. God wants to be involved in every single decision you make: personal, financial and spiritual.

Effortless Success

We are called to pursue success. More accurately, we are called to allow God to demonstrate His favor through us. This is the Biblical path to success: allowing God to work through you with a spirit of excellence. The best decision we can make is to stop trying so hard, in and of ourselves, and allow God to start working on our behalf.

If you try to succeed in and of yourself, you will fail. But if you admit to God that in and of yourself you will fail, He will make you succeed. Paul was a man who understood this well:

And [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. – 2 Cor 12:9

We, as Paul’s spiritual descendants, would do well to understand it too. We become a magnet for God’s power when we boast in our infirmities. We become a recipient of God’s success when we boast in our inadequacies.

As New Testament Christians, God promises that His Holy Spirit will work through us:

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.  – Rom 8:11

Jesus was the most successful Man who ever lived. He didn’t achieve His success by spinning His wheels and trying hard. He allowed God’s Holy Spirit to work through Him. When His Father showed Him what to do, He did it. And so should we.

If you feel under-qualified to pursue the things God is calling you to do: great. That means your heart is exactly where it needs to be for God to successfully work through you. Without Him, we can do nothing; but through us, He can do all things.

– by Pastor Mike White

© Michael D. White, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[2] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology 4th ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), pages 434-435.

[3] John Kerry gave a speech with a reference to “common humanity” which defended the United States’ response to Bashar Assad’s Syrian regime. You can view the video and read the transcript here:

The thrust of common humanity (or common morality) is that men and women should pursue good over evil. If there is no God, however, then common morality loses its purpose. If our lives are nothing more than blips on the radar of infinity, then what we do on earth simply does not matter. By arguing for good over evil, therefore, even the most anti-religious proponents of common morality are embracing the existence of God without even realizing it.

[4] At CityLight Church, we define Biblical Prosperity as God’s abundant provision for the unique purpose He has put on your life. He may not give you everything you want, but He will give you everything you need (see Matt 6:25-34).

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