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Rethink Success (Part 2)

When I first arrived in the Saddleback Valley 40 years ago, I met many people who seemed to have it all. They had plenty of money and a wonderful place to live. Yet despite their success, they longed for significance. They wanted to know their lives mattered.

These people reminded me of Nicodemus in the gospel of John. Like many who achieve wealth and status, Nicodemus had everything a person could want, but it wasn’t enough. He didn’t know what to do with all that success. 

But Nicodemus took the first step in finding out—he went to Jesus. When he did, Jesus led him on a three-step journey from success to significance. 

These are the same three steps we need to encourage successful people to take as we engage them with the Good News about Jesus. 

Move From Getting Ahead to Starting Over

Jesus’ first words to Nicodemus were, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3 NLT). Nicodemus was ready to move further up the ladder of success and saw Jesus as the next step. Jesus’ response must have been hard to hear. He told Nicodemus he wasn’t the next step on the ladder; Jesus told him he had to start all over again. Nicodemus thought he could scale new heights before experiencing new birth. 

Don’t try to scale new heights until you’ve experienced new birth. 

Most of us know the phrase “born again,” but many people we’re trying to reach don’t. Here’s how I try to explain it to people: Just like we all have a physical beginning, we also need a spiritual beginning. We can’t just slowly slide into a spiritual beginning; there needs to be a starting point. Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (NASB).

To take a step toward significance, you must choose to start over spiritually. You need to let God do something new in your life. God isn’t another step on your ladder of success—he is a whole new ladder.

Move From Thinking Physically to Thinking Spiritually

Nicodemus responded to Jesus’ statement about being born again with obvious confusion. “‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’” (John 3:4 NIV).

Jesus wasn’t talking about physical birth. Nicodemus didn’t get it; he had to think spiritually.

When we think about what success looks like for our lives, our minds often move to fame, power, and money. We think about becoming a movie star, batting at Yankee Stadium, or having loads of money. However, God wants us to think bigger—beyond physical success.

We need spiritual success.

A strategy for success that ignores the most important part of us—the spiritual part—is flawed from the very beginning. Because we can see  physical success, it’s easier to think about the physical world when we think about success. But Jesus says the physical world is way too small of a vision. 

What would it look like to think bigger—not just physically, but spiritually?

  • What would be the first thing God would heal in your marriage?
  • What would change about your prayer life?
  • How would you approach a struggling relationship differently?

Jesus wanted Nicodemus to think about how God could change his inside motivations and give him joy—and Jesus wants the people we’re trying to reach to think about that, too. That’s so much more important than money, power, or fame.

Move From Respect for Jesus to Belief in Jesus

Most people are familiar with John 3:16—the most famous verse in the entire Bible. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (NIV).

It’s a significant verse, but the following one is equally important. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17 NIV). That’s God’s strategy for significance in our lives. Jesus challenged Nicodemus to not just respect him but to trust him for salvation. 

Jesus wants more than our admiration, he wants our worship.

To find significance in our lives, we can’t just look at Jesus differently; we must trust him with our lives. We can believe Jesus is a great guy, even a good moral teacher. But to live a life of eternal impact, we need to take it another step.

Nicodemus ended up living a significant life. Two thousand years after his death, his encounter with Jesus is still being shared.

You may know people who have it all, but they’re not living for something bigger than themselves. Help them take these three steps, and watch them move from success to significance.

Read Rethink Success (Part 1).

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