This is a topic I’ve been wanting to talk about for a long while. That’s because it’s an issue that is really prevalent in American culture. I already wrote a little bit about this in my blog post about living a minimalist lifestyle, but I’d like to dig a little bit deeper in this post.
The American church has an issue. We value things that don’t really matter, and we judge people’s value by things that really say very little about who they actually are. God looks at the heart, but we sure do look at what’s on the outside (1 Samuel 16:7).
We base our identities on everything but God. God cares about two main things: how much we love Him and how much we love others (Matthew 22:37-40). But we care about how accomplished and successful we are, and we end up basing our self-worth on things God doesn’t even care about.
I’ve heard Christian parents brag about their kids’ accomplishments in a borderline obnoxious way. This may seem like a loving thing to do, but when you really think about it, it’s actually not. You have to ask, if their kid wasn’t so “accomplished,” would they still love them and be proud of them? Or would they be disappointed? Do they base their children’s worth on accomplishments and worldly success?
This success-based love is so contrary to God’s unconditional love He has for us simply because we are His children. There are no prerequisites. We don’t need to accomplish certain things in order to be valuable to Him. He doesn’t care about our GPA or our extracurriculars or our income. He doesn’t care how nice of a school we went to or how many clubs we’re in. He loves us simply because we’re His children.
I was always the academic one. In high school, I ended up getting a 3.7 GPA (which isn’t insanely impressive, but still pretty decent), and I was in the top percentage of my class. I was very proud of this and loved the fact that I was recognized for being more academically successful than the majority. I never really thought about how people with mediocre grades felt when they were made to feel less valuable and successful than honor students.
But even as an honor student who got into a highly selective college, I still wasn’t very accomplished. There were other people who would have thought my resume was pretty pathetic. I may have been in a couple extracurriculars at the end of high school, but a lot of people I knew had been in tons of extracurriculars all throughout high school. I may have won an award for writing my senior year, but I knew people who had won several awards for different things.
The thing is, no matter how impressed people were by my academic accomplishments, it still didn’t bring me security and confidence. There were always people who were more successful and accomplished than me, who had higher GPAs and higher ACT scores. My few “accomplishments” weren’t enough to fulfill me, and simply achieving more wouldn’t have solved the problem. Deep down I knew they had very little to do with the core of who I am.
In high school, I had no problem basing my identity on insignificant accomplishments. Maybe you’re thinking, Academic accomplishments aren’t insignificant. But when you read the Bible, the thing is, they pretty much are.
Yes, we’re supposed to work hard at whatever we do (Colossians 3:23). But that doesn’t mean that we’re supposed to put school or work or activities first. That doesn’t mean you have to get straight As. That doesn’t mean you have to be involved in activities you don’t even care about just because you want to look impressive and find some semblance of belonging. That doesn’t mean you have to have an impressive job.
Listen, God doesn’t care about your GPA. He doesn’t care about how many sports or extracurricular activities you’re involved in. He doesn’t care about the volunteer activities you do if the only reason you’re doing them is to look like a nice person, because Jesus said we should keep our good deeds secret (Matthew 6:1-4). He doesn’t care about your salary. He doesn’t care what awards you got in high school and college. He doesn’t care about your athletic accomplishments. He doesn’t care how many instruments you play. He doesn’t care how busy you are.
I’ll tell you what God cares about. He cares about your integrity. He cares about your heart. He cares about how much fruit you’re bearing (John 15:1-8). He cares about how you love others (John 15:12). He cares about whether or not you’re looking after the least of these (Matthew 25:40). He cares whether or not you’re truly seeking first the Kingdom (Matthew 6:33) in every aspect of your life.
So if you’re someone who has grown up in a family that is all about accomplishments and appearances and boasting, I’m sorry. If you’re someone who has felt less than because you didn’t get good grades or have any special talents or interests, I’m sorry.
If your GPA is far from impressive, you’re not a failure. If you didn’t get into any prestigious colleges, you’re not mediocre. If you’ve never been in any fancy clubs or extracurriculars, your life isn’t empty. If your job is mediocre and your salary is below average, your life isn’t pathetic. You’re in a better position than supposedly successful people, because you’re less likely to rely on the things of this world.
Right now, I’m not in any clubs or extracurriculars because I don’t want to be and would only be doing so because I feel pressured to. I make an effort on papers and study for tests, but I don’t work as hard in school as I could, and I could get better grades if I tried harder. But school isn’t my main priority in life.
Whenever I put anything before God, my whole life becomes pretty miserable. So how foolish it is to think that we can put our reputations and pride before God and still be faithful followers of Christ.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to do well. I’m not saying it’s wrong to be involved in things. I’m not saying it’s sinful to accomplish a lot in life. But when we base our identities on our accomplishments? Then we’re in trouble. Because it will all pass away when we do.
When we stand before God, He’s not going to ask about our GPA or what activities we were involved in. He’s not going to care about that time we got promoted at work. He is, on the other hand, going to judge our hearts and our actions. He’s going to judge us based on how we responded to Jesus’ two commandments for us under the new covenant: to love Him and love others.
If you want to accomplish something in life, ask yourself what you’re doing for others. Ask yourself if you’re fervently seeking God. Read Galatians 5:22-23 and honestly ask yourself if you’re really bearing fruit.
As Christians, we can’t afford to base our identities on the same things the world bases people’s worth on. We can’t afford to live always caring about impressing people. That’s called pride.
In our culture it’s so tempting to look to outward accomplishments to define who we are. We all do it to a certain extent. But we don’t need to base our identities on something so unstable and transient.
The world will always try to tell you you’re not good enough. There will always be someone more successful than you. You will never be busy or accomplished enough to fill the void in your heart that only Jesus can fill.
Let’s not act like the world and restlessly attempt to scramble together some semblance of an identity based on outward things. They need accomplishments to feed their egos because they don’t know their true identities. But as followers of Christ, we should know who we are, and most importantly, Whose we are.
When we grasp the reality that we are children of God, we won’t look to outward things for a sense of self-worth.
Bible verses that relate to this topic:
The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. |1 Samuel 16:7|
And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless. |Ecclesiastes 4:4|
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. |Matthew 6:19-21|
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. |Matthew 6:33|
Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? |Matthew 16:24-26|
Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. |Matthew 20:26-28|
Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop — some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown. |Mark 4:18-20|
Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all. |Mark 9:35|
Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces. |Luke 11:43|
For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. |Luke 14:11|
You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value is highly detestable in God’s sight. |Luke 16:15|
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him. |1 Corinthians 1:26-29|
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. |2 Corinthians 5:16|
Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. |Galatians 1:10|
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. |Galatians 6:14|
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. |Colossians 3:1-2|
We are not trying to please people but God, Who tests our hearts. |1 Thessalonians 1:4|
…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands |1 Thessalonians 4:11|
Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. |James 1:9|
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. |James 4:14|
Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him? |James 2:5|
For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. |James 3:16|
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s might hand, that He may lift you up in due time. |1 Peter 5:6|