Blessed Are Those Who Follow Their Dreams
The deception of the gospel of ‘Successful Christianity’.
Blessed is he who is proud of himself, for God will exalt him.
Blessed is he who follows his heart, for God will help him become famous.
Blessed is he who dreams big, for God will surely grant him abundance.
Blessed is he who seeks green pastures, for God will lead him to it.
Blessed is he who seeks his own benefit, for God will satisfy him.
Blessed is he who loves himself, for he will find fulfilment.
-The gospel of ‘Successful Christianity.’
The gospel of ‘Successful Christianity’ is probably in its golden age. This is not about any particular denomination or a theological view. Instead, it is an ancient way that newly found credibility and popularity in the global Church.
As I plan to examine it, many may get upset with me. You say I am promoting the ‘Poverty gospel’. “Mark, I think you are going too far. Don’t you think God wants every Christian to be successful in this world?” So here is my confession; even I believed this and was deceived for a long while. I pray we would not fall for this and get entangled with the ways of the world any longer.
Most of us might not distinguish it easily from its twin brother, ‘Prosperity gospel’. It is because it perfectly pretends as biblical Christianity and influences our every thought, attitude and aspiration. You most likely would have fallen into this because you have observed it in many Christian leaders you admire.
In this gospel, I am at the centre of everything. My inordinate desires are regarded as God’s plans and blessings. My success is God’s mission. Therefore, when I pursue my dreams, the God of this gospel will become my assistant to fulfil them because I am good. Therefore, I constantly seek my significance and security, safety and fulfilment in them.
Most preachers and motivational speakers randomly quote Bible verses to preach this gospel to help you and me pursue our dreams through which they can achieve theirs.
You may have heard these verses from them. “LORD will make you the head and not the tail”? And this verse, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” And this is the best “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
It all appears virtuous, right? It talks about promises, positivity, self-respect, happiness, control, autonomy, but it quietly rejects the spiritual disciplines of humility, submission, sacrifice, simplicity, meekness, dying to self, etc.
When our faith ought to shape God’s people and our world around, sadly, this success mantra is now shaping the Church. For example, a person who wants to pastor a church soon intends to become the CEO of the church with a dream to make it a mega-church, multi-site church, or his own spiritual enterprise, boasting in numbers or appearances. Another preacher who is good at preaching wants to build his personal brand and a global organisation in the name of reaching millions of people.
It is not just pastors or preachers; we all fall into this sin to distinguish ourselves as virtuous, godly, successful, intelligent, influential, and we quickly distance ourselves from failure. Remember how quickly Peter betrayed Jesus? While the mother of James and John fancies her sons sitting next to Jesus in his kingdom.
You may have noticed virtue signalling among Christians. We are very good at it. For example, I may say, “today, I did this fantastic charity work in my neighbourhood, glad to see so many families helped.” or “Brothers, God has given me the honour to share the gospel to my CEO today, covet your prayers.” Do you get what I mean? I am basically trying to say, you guys see how important, spiritual, and influential I am. I always want to pray like that Pharisee who is proud that he is not like a publican. I want to win debates, and I think I know how to save the world. I brag about my association with the successful, like famous, charming or influential, but I never want to be associated with failure. If needed, push them under the bus like Peter.
Social media has made this pursuit scale 100x. Like me bragging about the great company I work with or about the influential connections and friends I gained, or the successful ‘ministry’ I am doing. Now and then, publish my perfect godly family picture or the greener pastures God led me to because I think I am truly blessed.
Though I admit that Jesus died on the cross, I find no relevance in it today. It almost sounds like, “Yea, Jesus died on the cross for me so that I don’t have to carry the cross anymore.” So commands like “taking up my cross daily and follow Jesus,” or “turning my other cheek if someone strikes me,” or “giving my cloak to those who took my coat” doesn’t make sense anymore.
In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller likens our “inordinate” desires to idols. ‘Successful Christianity’ is nothing but idolatry. The contemporary church does not want to worship Christ, who was despised and rejected, but craves worship at this altar of ‘my success’.
When I put myself in the centre to glorify myself and serve my self-interest, I take even the good things like a career, love, material possessions, church, and family and turn them into idols. Eventually, in my pride, I despise God and my neighbour.
It all began in the garden where God called Adam and Eve, who were made in his image, to worship him and have dominion over all creation. But, instead, in their pride, they rebelled and rejected God as their Lord and King by wanting to worship themselves. So they were sent out of the presence of God. This idolatry had led to desolation and exile.
The worship of personal success leads us to slavery. But there is good news, Jesus came and redeemed us from slavery so that we could enter his kingdom. So, just like he redeemed his people from Egypt and brought them to the promised land through the wilderness, we can enter the kingdom of God by surrendering to his will.
The law of Christ
Most of us believe that if I am good, God will bless me, which means I will be well-off and thriving according to this world. But, on the other hand, if I am sinful, he will punish me. Job and his friends in the Bible also thought so. Even I did.
Detrich Bonhoeffer writes, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” That sounds a bit rude, right? However, that is what Jesus clearly told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23)
So, am I not supposed to have my dreams and ambitions? I may have to ask myself, “what did I mean when I took baptism?” Is not baptism about dying to self and rising with Christ? If I am alive in Christ, How do my dreams and ambitions look?
Now Apostle Paul adds to this. He merely does not obey this command but finds it as the only thing he is proud about. “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)
He explains further, “Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
The more I die to myself, the more I see Christ glorified in me because I was raised in Christ; now, my dreams and ambitions are on the things above, where Christ is seated on the throne, not on this world. It is about seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness. (Colossians 3:1–3)
This wisdom of God is foolishness to the world, but to us, it ought to be the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1: 27–29) Yet, despite this clear teaching, why do we compete with the patterns of this world? Why are we after my name, fame, power, pleasure, and success?
We ought to be happy to be called losers in this world. I recently read this excellent article in the Guardian title “Christianity, when properly understood, is a religion of losers.” The author describes how this loser’s life looks like, “There is no way 100 top business leaders would endorse the cross. It is life without the advertising, without the accoutrements of success. It is life on a zero-hours contract, where at any moment we can be told we are not needed.”
Jesus said. “…the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (Luke 9:22)
Detrich Bonhoeffer writes, “There is a distinction here between suffering and rejection. Had he only suffered, Jesus might still have been applauded as the Messiah. All the sympathy and admiration of the world might have been focused on his passion. It could have been viewed as a tragedy with its own intrinsic value, dignity and honour. But in the passion, Jesus is a rejected Messiah. His rejection robs the passion of its halo of glory. It must be a passion without honour.”
The author from the Guardian writes, “When he was nothing but a suspended carcass, dripping with his own blood and other people’s spit, there were no worshippers around clapping their hands and singing their hymns. They were long gone. At the very end, ironically at the moment of greatest triumph, he had no followers left. That says something profoundly counterintuitive about what a successful church looks like.
In the Bible, success and failure are inverted. The true king is crowned with mockery and thorns, not with gold and ermine. In fact, losers can discover something about themselves that winners cannot ever appreciate — that they are loved and wanted simply because of who they are and not because of what they achieve.”
We wrongly think we glorify God when we are successful according to this world. Therefore, when successful people talk abt Jesus, we believe it glorifies God. Unfortunately, this understanding isn’t thoroughly Biblical.
Tim Keller says, “The world values power, comfort, success and recognition. Jesus frees us to value grief, sacrifice, weakness and exclusion.”
Even in the life of Daniel or Joseph, God was glorified in their time of testing, not at the peak of success.
That doesn’t mean I can be lazy or apathetic. On the contrary, I am called to seek opportunities to pursue God’s righteousness, justice, mercy, holiness, humility in all that my Lord has entrusted me with. Then we will realise that it is in our weakness, failure and rejection Christ is glorified best. (Matthew 5: 10–12)
The triumph of Christ
By submitting to the law of Christ, which is the law of the cross, we participate in his triumph. Jesus promises the seven churches in the book of Revelation a reward for those who overcome as he has overcome. We overcome this world in faithfulness, obedience, endurance, holiness, humility, wholeheartedness, and love. There is no other triumph for a disciple than that of his Lord’s.
“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Philippines 2:8,9)
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:1–10)
Thus, in John’s vision of the throne room of God in Revelation, we see the lamb who was slain was triumphed to open the scroll, and we will reign with him on this earth.
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9,10)
As Andrew Murray rightly said, “Humility is nothing but the disappearance of self in the vision that God is all.” May we lay down our lives in worship before the throne of our Lord, who alone is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!