We can succeed and fail. What I mean by that is we can succeed in life and in ministry, but the way we succeed and/or the way we take it, we end up failing a much bigger test. Let me give you an example. Let’s say that Church A saw 50 people come forward and either accept Christ or rededicate their lives to the Lord. For the purposes of assumption, let’s say all the decisions were genuine. The number isn’t really the point. The fact that there were numbers is. That’s a success, right? We have 50 people who have either established a new relationship with Jesus Christ or who have purposed to get back on track with their existing one. But what if that church congregation said afterward, “Look at the success we had! We were able to bring 50 people to decisions during our revival!” I’ve chosen those words carefully – we, we, our. Nothing about God. And nothing about rejoicing in their own salvation.
And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” – Luke 10:18-20, NASB
The reason for Jesus’ rebuke is that the seventy He sent out came back and were joyful because they even had authority over the demons. They were rejoicing in their own accomplishment, in their own power (even though it wasn’t really their power). Christ said that wasn’t acceptable. We shouldn’t rejoice in our accomplishments. Not like that. Rather, we should rejoice because regardless of anything else, our names are written in the Book of Life and God has chosen to save us in His infinite mercy. It’s not that their accomplishments weren’t wonderful. They were. Being able to overcome demons due to Christ’s power is no small matter. But in pales in comparison to what Christ has done for us by sacrificing Himself upon the Cross. And given that, if we want to rejoice in something, there is nothing greater to rejoice in then our salvation due to Him. Nothing else measures up. Nothing else comes close.
Understanding this works in both directions. The first way is it can be armor against pride. As we come along side God and join Him in His work, in furthering His kingdom, if we remember that our salvation is truly what we should rejoice in, we stay grounded. God may use us in mighty ways. We may see amazing things by the hand of our God. However, we don’t fall into the trap of, “Look at what I’ve done,” or even, “I’m up there among God’s favorites because look at what He’s doing through me and my ministry.” Those are both traps of pride that the Enemy seeks to spring on us whenever he gets the chance. And while we might not readily admit to either of those, they are easy to fall into. So by remembering Christ’s redemptive work on the Cross, and by keeping things in perspective with relation to it, we defeat our pride and we remain joyful because of what our Savior has done.
The second way is it can lift us up. We might have had a rough time with life. We may have been treated unfairly. Or we may have struggled in our walk with Christ. We’ve made a mess of things and if we just focused on what was going on in our lives and our lack of positive progress, we’d be miserable. Christ reminds us that it is in our salvation that we should find joy. No matter what’s going on right now, no matter how bad it is, nobody and nothing we’ll face has an eraser that will work on the Book of Life. And when the greatest thing we have is our salvation, that means no one and nothing can take away the greatest source of joy in our lives. If we have nothing else to rejoice in, we can rejoice in our salvation and rejoice that it is a gift from God than cannot be stolen or cheated from us. Despite our failures, our sin, God is faithful. He will honor His promise. And for that, we can rejoice.
There’s nothing wrong with feeling good for doing something right. It isn’t an issue if we feel a sense of accomplishment for seeing success in a ministry or some aspect of life. We just have to remember that ultimately it’s all due to God. And that when we rejoice, let’s first and foremost rejoice in God’s extreme sacrifice done due to His extreme love for us. The other things are great. But they’re nothing compared to the Cross. They don’t measure up to the grace He offers us. And that should be the real source of our joy, the foundation of our celebration, and the fount of our exuberance.