Recognizing Modern Idolatry Day 6: The Idol of Success, Part 2
Our study yesterday took us through the life of King Saul in the Bible, a tragic example of how the idol of success so quickly can entangle us. You can find a brief summary of his story here, or read it in 1 Samuel chapters 9 to 31. To recap a piercing question from yesterday, with Saul’s example in mind, how often do we pridefully choose to go against the clear will of God instead of recognizing His loving authority over us? When pride in our accomplishments and preoccupation with our personal pursuits rule us, we fall for the lies of the idol of success.
Our blindness to the allure of success is partially due to the current culture’s push toward making Christian churches function like entrepreneurial organizations. Many churches are following what author Michael Horton calls a “Christless Christianity,” in which the gospel of redemption from sin and judgment is replaced with a feel-good message of morality and empowerment to improve our earthly lives. Horton describes what this contrast looks like:
“We are getting dangerously close to the place in everyday American church life where the Bible is mined for ‘relevant’ quotes but is largely irrelevant on its own terms; God is used as a personal resource rather than known, worshiped and trusted; Jesus Christ is a coach with a good game plan for our victory rather than a Savior who has already achieved it for us; salvation is more a matter of having our best life now than being saved from God’s judgment by God himself; and the Holy Spirit is an electrical outlet we can plug into for the power we need to be all that we can be” (What is Christless Christianity? | GotQuestions.org).
If the above statements are true, then we have substantial reason to be concerned. The Word of God is not written for our social advancement but for our spiritual edification. God is not a donor whom we seek out when our cash flow is low or we need some career advice; rather, He is our Creator and Lord who deserves our worship and obedience at all times. The Lord Jesus is not an insightful life coach, but the only Life-giver who died and lives again so that we may live eternally. Our salvation is not the removal of suffering or the increase of material blessings; it is a reconciliation between sinful people and a holy God. The Holy Spirit does not indwell us to fulfill our earthly destiny, but to sanctify us and empower us to share God’s good news and make disciples. We must not make the mistake of thinking that Christian faith means we carry Jesus along as a prop as we go make a name for ourselves in the world. Trusting Him means we deny ourselves and take up our cross to follow Him wherever He goes (Matthew 16:24).
When we look at our own hearts, can we say we believe these truths? Or, as we examine our day-to-day priorities, have we instead bought into the lies that the idol of success is selling? Think on these guidelines as you take inventory today. If you look at the Bible as a book of inspirational anecdotes and believe that every promise in its pages is meant to be fulfilled in your life, you may be worshipping the god of success. If setbacks in your career or roadblocks to your personal dreams and plans cause you to deeply question the character of God, examine your heart before God to see if you are seeking after your own glory rather than His glory. Confess your idolatry and repent.
As we seek to direct our wayward hearts back to God in worship and obedience, we will pursue a life of service instead of mere success. While our pride pulls us toward activities and investments that enrich us, an attitude of humble service to others will allow us to find deep joy in activities and investments that honor the Lord and enrich the lives of those around us. We can avoid the tragic errors Saul made by allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us; He can fill our hearts with faith and joy, and He will strengthen us to live in faithfulness and obedience to God.
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (James 3:13-17, ESV)