The Blessed Achievement of Failure
No matter which way you slice it, our definition of success is different than God’s definition.
The problem that we often run into with success, as with many other areas, is we seem to lay our view of success over God’s Word and read it through the lens of our own definitions.
As churches, we turn to different gimmicks to get some type of visible results, while the scriptures are clear that God will and is building His church. (Matt. 16:18)
As individuals, through spiritual disciplines or other means of faithfulness, we seek to find our way into a so-called ‘victorious’ Christian life and quickly forget how Christ measures success in this life.
There are those who proclaim that the goal of the believer is to successfully strive to live a “victorious Christian life” and become the spirit-filled Christian that we were meant to be, however, this concept of a victorious life is not only foreign to scripture – it has disastrous effects.
Holding to this mindset will inevitably lead to one of two destinations:
- Pride: We will lie to ourselves believing that we are better Christians than those around us.
- Despair: We will live in despair because we constantly fail and fall, day in and day out.
How are we to view victory or success in this life?
Ultimately, success can be found in weakness.
Yes, you read that right. We can measure our success by our weaknesses.
The scripture is when it reads that it is in our weakness that God is made strong (2 Cor. 12:9), and even the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of men. (1 Cor. 1:25)
Instead of looking at and evaluating our lives, understanding the gospel makes us extrospective. It allows us to look outside of ourselves, and to understand that any “success” we see in our lives is only because of the work of Christ done on our behalf. When we do this our failures are swallowed up in the victory that He has already won. CS Lewis addressed this same issue in the 1900s when he wrote that it is not our business to succeed as an encouragement to a friend .1
Why are we constantly looking for success?
Author Michael Horton explains that we do this because it is, easier to take our eyes off Jesus Christ in heaven, at the Father’s right hand, interceding for us, and focus on ourselves and what we are doing.2 We are not satisfied with the intangible working of the Spirit, rather, are bent on accomplishing something tangible, for ourselves and those around us to see.
But this is not God’s design.
Barbara Duguid states this beauty in her book describing letters written by John Newton. She writes,
“God could have saved us and made us instantly perfect. Instead, he chose to save us and leave indwelling sin in our hearts and bodies to wage war against the new and blossoming desires to please God that accompany salvation. This is a raging battle that we often lose, and that often leaves us feeling defeated and joyless in our walk with God. Yet Newton also points out that since we know God does all things for His own glory and the good of his people, his decision to leave Christians with many struggles with sin must also somehow serve to glorify him and benefit his people. This is shocking news, isn’t it?”3
What Newton was saying, is, it is God’s design that we will actually come to know and love him better as desperate and weak sinners in continual need of grace, than when we are living what we perceive to be successful Christian life.
Duguid continues this by stating that this view finally makes sense out of our experience as Christians. Joy and peace come, not as we try harder and harder to grow, but as we see more clearly the depths of our sin and understand more fully our utter helplessness. Only then will we take our eyes off ourselves and look to Christ for all we need in life and in death. Only then will we truly cherish our Savior and believe that we need him every minute of every day and that without him we can do nothing.4
This indeed will give us the rest that Jesus promised us! (Matt. 11:28)
God’s grace to us is seen clearest in our complete dependence on him. God doesn’t call to us from a place of need; we call to him. Pastor J.D. Greear explains this principle when he wrote that in God’s economy, we get the grace and God gets the glory. Any time that these roles are switched, we land ourselves in a pattern of guilt-laden burnout.5
So let us have the same mind about success and failure that God has about the issues and run our race with joy. Because even in failure, we are living the “victorious Christian life” because of the work of Jesus for us.
1 Lewis, C.S., The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 2 (to Arthur Greeves 12/29/1935)
2 Horton, Michael, Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2012). 257
3 Duguid, Barbara, Extravagant Grace (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2013). 30
4 ibid., p.32.
5. Greear, J.D., Jesus, Continued (Nashville: Lifeway, 2015) ch. 5