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In a world of secrets, outward success is everyone’s goal.  If we can just succeed, we won’t have to face ourselves.  No wonder that doesn’t work.  It can’t work.  The reality of what we are will always topple this house-of-cards persona we so earnestly wish were true.

The gospel is not God’s way of giving us an even better self-improvement goal.  The gospel is God’s judgment on our better selves and his replacement of it all with Jesus.

Every one of us thinks, “If only I could do __________ or be __________, then I would arrive.”  So, what does “arrival” look like to you?  If it isn’t Jesus, the risen Lord himself, every arrival you achieve is only another set-back.

If you make financial security your arrival, you are already trapped in anxiety.  If you make a thin body your identity, you will hate yourself more.  If you make a porn-free life your okayness, you are doomed to compulsion.  God’s remedy for you is not more money or better looks or perfect control.  God’s gift to you is Jesus.  With Jesus, we are saved.  Everything is going to be okay.  Without Jesus, we are damned.  Nothing will go right.

Forsake all fraudulent success.  Make Jesus your goal, your arrival, your identity, your comfort, your okayness, and he’ll gladly give himself to you — and on terms of grace.  But reach for anything else, and it will turn into its opposite and betray you.

To paraphrase the apostle Paul, “I’ve lost everything, and I don’t even care, because now I get Jesus” (Philippians 3:8).

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14 thoughts on “Success and Jesus”

  1. Mark Wood says:

    Great thought. All of those things are distracting idols. They take our focus away from Christ and rob us of the intimacy in fellowsip that we need. Hebrews 12:2

  2. Brian says:

    So helpful!
    I’m astonished at how quickly I forget these truths.
    Thank you, Ray.

  3. Michael Moran says:

    Amen, and amen. Thank you for the reminder.

  4. If Jesus gets left out of our success, then it isn’t God who defined it as successful.

  5. jamin osborne says:

    I am reading this in my hotel room before going to sleep while at a two day sales training event for my outside sales job. Thanks for helping me keep things in perspective. It is all about Jesus.

  6. Alv says:

    Hi Ray,

    I agree with everything you said, but I often struggle with what it means to make Jesus the goal or identity. I think I overthink it often and want there to be a five-step plan (which I know there isn’t), but I was wondering if you have any insights into basic Gospel living that I could meditate/reflect on.

    Thank you for your sermons and blog posts — God has really blessed me with them.


    1. David says:

      Thanks for an honest comment. A little booklet that has helped me keep the “essentails” has been The Gospel Primer, by Milton Vincent. It helps to keep me on track. It’s not a plan. It just puts truth in front of you. Its not a shameless plug. Our Church uses it regularly to encourage everyone the glories of this great salvation we share.

      1. Alv says:

        Thanks David.

        I will definitely look into it.

        If you have any other resources, please let me know!


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Ray Ortlund

Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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