Skip to content ↓

The Peril of Success

The Peril of Success

Few of us meet with the success we hope for. We embark on new projects, our minds filled with grandiose dreams, but then have to content ourselves with far less than we had longed for. We set out to conquer the world but find the world doesn’t always go along with our plans. Fantasy and reality so often remain poles apart.

But not always. Sometimes we do meet with success. Sometimes we do achieve our goals and realize our dreams. Sometimes our longings are fulfilled. And on the periphery of these moments of satisfaction lurks a quiet danger.

It is perilous to gain success that exceeds our sanctification.

It is good to desire success and good to dream of it. It is good to set goals and a pleasure to achieve them. But danger comes when too much of our effort has gone into gaining success and too little into gaining sanctification. When pursuing goals outstrips pursuing godliness we leave ourselves vulnerable to pride and greed and a million other sins. Sometimes success blesses us and sometimes it curses us. Sometimes the very thing we labor for is the very thing that destroys us. Sometimes God’s greatest blessing is withholding the success that would make a shipwreck of our lives or our faith. It is perilous to gain success that exceeds our sanctification.

I have seen it in young people who want to serve the Lord and change the world through a public ministry. They want their book to hit the bestseller lists, their single to crack the charts. Then it does and it destroys them because their sanctification was insufficient to handle their success. They believed the accolades, they were swept up in the publicity, they were carried away. I have seen it in older people who labored for long years and finally, finally gained their heart’s desire. But they had neglected their souls, neglected their character. They gained the whole world but lost their marriage, lost their family, lost what matters so much more.

The words we should long to hear are not, “Well done, good and successful servant,” but “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

It is good to desire success, but better to desire sanctification. It is good to dream of achieving goals, but better to dream of attaining godliness. The words we should long to hear are not, “Well done, good and successful servant,” but “Well done, good and faithful servant.”* At the final accounting, our achievements will count for far less than our faithfulness.

Make your plans. Set your goals. Start your projects. But as you plan for success, plead for sanctification. As you embark on that new project, determine that you will gain new godliness. Pray that God will keep you from success that exceeds your sanctification.

*Adapted from an anonymous quote I encountered in Iain Murray’s Seven Leaders.


  • Making Good Return

    Making Good Return

    I don’t think I am overstating the matter when I say that this has the potential to be one of the most important books you will read. It’s a book that may shape years of your life and transform the way you carry out one of the key roles God assigns to you…

  • A La Carte Friday 2

    A La Carte (June 14)

    A La Carte: 3 steps to find your voice / 7 things good dads say / One day leads to another / Let’s stop hyper-spiritualizing counseling / Enjoying the many flavors of the Word / What I wish you understood about the ethnic-specific church / and more.

  • A Whole Batch of New Books for Kids

    A Whole Batch of New Books for Kids

    Every month I put together a roundup of new and notable books for grownup readers. But I also receive a lot of books for kids and like to put together the occasional roundup of these books as well. So today I bring you a whole big batch of new books for kids

  • A La Carte Thursday 1

    A La Carte (June 13)

    A La Carte: Were the earliest Christians illiterate? / Our new religion isn’t enough / Why do evil and suffering exist? / The missing ingredient in too many marriages / Is Genesis literal or allegorical? / The death of fear / and more.

  • Tear Down Build Up

    It’s Easier to Tear Down than Build Up

    In my travels, I encountered a man whose work is demolition. When buildings are old and decrepit, or even when they just need to be removed to make way for others, his job is to destroy them and haul them away. New or old, big or small, plain or fancy—it makes no difference to him.…

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (June 12)

    A La Carte: Does Bach’s music prove the existence of God? / Living from approval, not for approval / A surprising test of true faith / Do you have the support you need to grow? / Who was the “black Spurgeon?” / and more.