Photo by Jake Hills

What the Bible Teaches about Success

The Bible inspires us to live our brief, earthly lives to the fullest of our potential. It also promises that God will help us to “have good success” (Joshua 1:8b KJV) if we live by certain guidelines. But are success in ordinary human terms and success in God’s eyes the same thing? A lot rides on whether or not you know the answer to this question.



Success may be defined simply as “achieving a set goal,” but the Bible defines it as more that that. It is a matter of achieving the right goals! And only a knowledge of God’s plans and purposes as revealed in the Bible can help us to understand what those goals are meant to be.

In the 1929 Rose Bowl game, Roy “Wrong Way” Riegels recovered a fumble, spun around, and sped 69 yards toward the goal line. He ran hard and ran fast evading several tacklers and made it to the one yard line before being stopped. It was a great run except for one thing – he was running toward the wrong goal. We can all be like him if we do not let God show us the right goals for which we should be aiming.


This may surprise you, but it is possible to live what most people would consider a highly successful life only to find out that, by God’s definition, we were aiming at the wrong goal. Jesus told an arresting story (often called “The Parable of the Rich Fool”) about a prosperous but short-sighted farmer to illustrate this important principle.

After experiencing a very abundant harvest, the farmer “thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:17-19 NIV).

At the very moment when this man was congratulating himself on achieving what he considered to be a highly successful life, another voice intruded on the conversation: “God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” (Luke 12:20). Jesus concludes the parable by saying: “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). The Expanded Translation of the Bible says that he was “not rich with a view to that which God considers true riches.”


Often, Jesus’ parables are a form of “shock treatment” for our souls that is meant to awaken us to key spiritual realities. Here are some crucial things which we ought to learn from this parable: (1) This man was very successful in his profession; (2) he had, in a sense, achieved the “American Dream” of financial security and a comfortable lifestyle; (3) God did not commend the man on his success; in fact, He called him a fool!

Why did Jesus call the man a fool? Because the man had, apparently, spent his time on Earth without any serious consideration of God’s will or plans for his life, or for his eternal future. He was too busy executing his own plans to accumulate wealth, sit back and live a life of ease. But he left God out of the picture! He had made good worldly “retirement plans,” but had not prepared himself for the day in which he would leave this world to meet God.


We are all given one chance to live – one rather brief period of time to discover the meaning of life and the purpose for which God created us before we depart for the next world. And it is vitally important that we come up with the right answers to these deep questions.

when this life is over, we will all stand before God to have our lives evaluated according to God’s standards. When this happens, do you think that God will consider your life to be a success?

Hebrews 9:27b (KJV) tells us: “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” This means that when this life is over, we will all stand before God to have our lives evaluated according to God’s standards. When this happens, do you think that God will consider your life to be a success?


Most people who are not Biblically informed settle for lifestyles that may not pass the “Success Test” in heaven. Some of these worldly notions of success—along with Scripture verses relating to those notions—include:

(A) Financially-defined success. “For a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15b KJV). “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon Earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21 KJV). The accumulation of wealth and possessions, in itself, is not a Biblical measure of success.

(B) Professional success. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36 KJV).  It is possible to rise to the top of one’s profession and lose one’s soul in the process. God cares more about our souls than He does about our resumés.

(C) Culturally-defined success. “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2 KJV). We are not to imitate the world or accept its definitions of right, wrong, and success but, rather, should seek to discover the perfect will and plan of God for our lives.

(D) Educational success. “Let no man deceive himself, If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (I Corinthians 3:18-19a KJV). It is possible to have many advanced degrees and great intellectual prowess, and yet have a very low spiritual IQ. “For after the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (I Corinthians 1:21). Many intellectuals would not be caught dead in a Bible-preaching church “for the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness” (I Corinthians 1:18a KJV). What those intellectuals fail to realize is that someday, they will be caught dead somewhere. When that happens, the cross is the only thing that can save them.

(E) Personally-defined success. “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow… Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’ (James 4:13-14a, 15 NIV). Plans made outside of the will of God come with no guarantee of success. Success in the Christian life comes from following our callings, not our longings.

(F) Family-defined success. “When they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.’ And He said to them, ‘Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?’ But they did not understand the statement which He had made to them” (Luke 2:48-50 NAS). Though we must respect our parents, we must honor God’s will for our lives above the expectations of our families. Think of this: If Jesus had decided to settle down and live a quiet life as a carpenter taking over the family business, where would we all be now?


In a given culture, obtaining a quality education, having a good career, raising a family, and living as a respectable member of society may regarded as the standard definition of success. However, Jesus and the Bible tell us something rather different. If we want to be successful in heaven’s eyes, nothing is more important that learning how God and the Bible define success.


God is an intensely purposeful being. Nothing that He does is without a purpose and a plan, and that includes creating you and me. The Bible tells us that we are spiritual beings created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) for whom He has a very high calling and purpose. God has a Master Plan for the whole human race, and one of the most important questions for each person is where and how we are meant to fit into His plan. Here are some clues:

(I) We were created and designed to have a relationship with God. Though we cannot totally understand His motives, God created man as a spiritual being in order that we might have a special relationship with Him – and he invites us into that relationship. I Corinthians 1:9 (KJV) speaks of this when it says: “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” This means that God has invited us to share in an intimate partnership and relationship with Jesus Christ.

(II) God’s Master Plan for all that He is doing on Earth throughout the history of mankind is focused upon achieving two specific goals:

(A) To establish an everlasting kingdom populated by redeemed human beings recreated according to His likeness and reflecting His glory (Daniel 7:27; Ephesians 4:24; II Corinthians 3:18).

(B) To form an eternal family of “saints” (spiritually transformed human beings) with whom He can share His love.


All success or failure in life must be measured against these two eternal priorities of God. True success, therefore, can be defined with regard to seven spiritual goals, arranged below in an acronym spelling “SUCCESS.”

(S) Seeking to know God and to develop a personal relationship with Him.

(U) Understanding the plan and purposes of God.

(C) Calling on Jesus to save us and make us into the people we are meant to be.

(C) Committing ourselves to discovering God’s specific plans for our lives.

(E) Examining every part of our lives with regard to eternal priorities.

(S) Studying and learning to follow the directions which God has given us in His Word.

(S) Sharing what we have learned with others so as to grow God’s kingdom and family.

To the extent that you are pursuing and practicing these objectives, you can say that you are being successful. If you are not, then you risk finding out—like “Wrong Way” Riegel or the rich fool—that you have missed the goals for which you should have been shooting and are poorly prepared to face God when your time on Earth is over. Fortunately, life is an open-book test. You can open the Book which gives you answers, and prepare to have an awesome and successful life here on the Earth and in the world to come!

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