Success – An Enticing Road to Self-Destruction

Missouri v Texas A&MIf you don’t follow college football, it’s possible that you’ve still heard of Johnny Manziel, aka “Johnny Football.”

Manziel’s remarkable and historic season last year, quarterbacking the Texas A&M Aggies, won him a Heisman trophy. He set numerous NCAA Division I records. His name is in the history books for numerous records. It was one of the greatest college seasons of all time. And it was followed by one of the most tumultuous off-seasons in college sports.

More than any collegiate athlete since Tim Tebow, the media has loved Manziel. Like Tebow, Manziel’s fame comes as much for his behavior off the field as it does for his undeniable performance on the field. This year, Manziel’s eligibility has been put in question due to reports that the collegiate quarterback accepted money for signing memorabilia. This has come on the heels of him openly and defiantly tweeting pictures of himself gambling and partying at frat houses and stating how much he couldn’t wait to leave his current college, all in addition to allegations of drug use, mistreatment of team personnel, underage drinking, bar fights, being asked to leave the Mannings quarterback camp due to repeated tardiness, and even an article in ESPN The Magazine where his parents expressed their concerns about Manziel’s stardom going to his head.

This past Saturday, Manziel once again evidenced that he hasn’t matured, grown, or changed in any noticeable way. Despite sitting the first half of his team’s game against Rice University for suspension, Manziel played pretty well in the second half. And he let everyone know how he felt about it. He lashed back at the Rice students for taunting him, was penalized by officials and yanked from the game by his head coach.

It doesn’t matter what religious beliefs you do or don’t hold, what views you have on morality or not, by virtually everyone’s estimation, Johnny Manziel carries himself like kind of a - Johnny Football 3

I honestly know very little about Johnny Football’s past and how he became like this. I don’t know what, if any, faith convictions he holds. I know his parents are a wealthy Texas oil family and that he’s been recognized as something of a folk hero in Texas long before his Texas A&M days. But the pattern of how someone becomes an absolute monster with seemingly zero respect for peers,  institutions, or even law enforcement/authority…..this is fairly familiar.

When you have great success, as Manziel has, to the degree that people hold you up on a pedestal, you start to look down on others. In a sense, it’s natural, and horrible. You begin to identify yourself with what it is that everyone else values you for (Manziel’s nickname is literally “Johnny Football” – how much more transparent can his identity get?!). And when you see evidence that you’re superior to others in that way, you believe you’re superior to others in every way.

Have you ever noticed how humans, when they are treated like gods, begin to live as though God’s laws no longer apply to them?

If not, let me give you another example of a young man who let success go to his head. King David was a shepherd boy who desired God’s heart. David was “blessed” with a tremendous amount of success. Israel’s empire expanded greatly under David’s leadership. But it didn’t take very long for David to begin buying his own hype and for his heart to start running on the fuel of human praises. At that point, sitting in the seat of honor which should only be reserved for God himself, David began to live as though God’s laws no longer applied to him.

If you read through 2 Samuel 11 carefully, you’ll notice that virtually every moral command of God is brushed aside by David. He’s a lazy, irresponsible leader (“In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out….But David remained in Jerusalem.” vs. 1). He invaded a woman’s privacy by spying on her while she was bathing, lusted after her, coveted this woman who belonged to another man, sent for her to come visit him, and had sex with her (“From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her.” vss. 2-4). He sent for Bathsheba’s husband who’d been faithfully serving his country, got him drunk and tried to deceive him into thinking Bathsheba’s pregnancy was his doing (“Send me Uriah the Hittite…..David made him drunk. vss. 7,13). And finally, when realizing his plan of deception wouldn’t work as hoped, David had Uriah killed (“Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest… he will be struck down and die.” vs. 15).

I don’t know about you, but by my count, understanding the broader spirit and principle of each of the commandments, that is literally every one of The Ten broken. King David, like Johnny Football, had so identified with his highly valued position, that he started to consider himself god. And at that moment, commands from the God of the Bible don’t matter to you.

NCAA Football: Rice at Texas A&MYou can call it entitlement or narcissism or a _________ complex or whatever you want. But the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans and told them that sinful humans have a tendency to “exchange the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being….(and) exchange the truth about God for a lie, and worship and serve created things rather than the Creator.” (Rom 1:23, 25) Now, if you happen to find yourself on the receiving end of the position of someone who is “worshipped,” which in our world today is most often those who find the greatest success, it can destroy you in an instant. If you think that you’re the primary cause of your good fortune, it will spiritually kill you. Pride is the single most destructive spiritual force.

Do you want to know what the Bible’s opinion of your success is? “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” (James 1:17) It’s all a gift. “But,” you say, “it was MY million dollar idea.” Well, who do you think gave you specifically the brain that came up with that idea and led you through all the life circumstances that planted and incubated that great thought in your head? “But,” you say, “I’m the one who put in all the hard work.” Yes, but who do you think gave you the health, and the opportunity, and the drive, and the skill set to do the hard work. According to the Bible, EVERY GOOD GIFT comes from God. The only reason you have any good in your life is God. Believing that does two things to you: 1) it keeps you humble, and 2) it helps you see the goodness of God, both of which keep you more grounded in reality AND make you an instrument that helps humanity instead of a monster who touchdown dances on humanity.

Christians know that, in the narrow sense, the only way I experience ultimate, everlasting salvation is by God’s grace through my Savior Jesus dying for my sins on the cross. Entirely a gift. Fewer Christians though, believe that in the broad sense, the only way I experience any salvation (i.e. any good) is also due to the grace of God poured out upon me. Entirely a gift.

Thank God for your successes, because he’s the only reason you experience any. Thank God also for your lack of success. You don’t know what kind of monster he’s preventing you from becoming.

CLOSING PRAYER: Heavenly Father, every good thing I have, every good thing I’ve done, any good that’s ever existed in me is a gift from you. Day after day, help me die to myself and rise with Jesus. Give me humility that comes in knowing what you needed to do to save me and confidence in knowing your willingness to do anything, even die yourself, for my good. Use my life to declare your praises. 

8 thoughts on “Success – An Enticing Road to Self-Destruction

  1. Dale says:

    Thank you for exposing the snare worldly success can spring on the unwary. Not being a football watcher, I have never heard of Manziel, but now I am moved to pray for him. This blog was an encouraging read.

  2. SM Fry says:

    If you watched the last part of the game you also noticed that the Aggies coach had also had enough and benched him for the remainder of the game.

    • SM Fry says:

      I think that’s a good point. Often in our over zealousness we try and know people down a few notches who seem to be taking too much credit for their victories. It may not be the case at all and the person may just be excited and confident about his blessings. It is an encouragement that we are not too quick to jump to action and throw the best construction on our neighbor.

    • I’m not sure if that’s the case or not. I’d default to a favorite C.S. Lewis quote here where he says “Humility is neither thinking more of yourself or less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” If people (WELS or otherwise) are always putting themselves down unnecessarily, you’re right, they’re not being humble, because it’s still about THEM. The Bible says that it doesn’t really matter what I think of me OR what the world thinks of me. The only thing that matters is what God thinks of me, and through Christ, God loves me as his child.

      Now, if “putting yourself down” is just done in the name of honesty, is that really a bad thing? Would it be better if we willingly lied or were delusional about our shortcomings?

      • SM Fry says:

        Thanks for the insight. I think maybe what it could be is that constant struggle of the old man and new man. Our new man delights in giving God the glory and yet our old man wants it for himself.

        Jesus+Nothing=Everything is another book that helps Christians with realizing that when we make it less about “us” the more we understand God’s grace.

        There comes a time when you have to face lies that you have convinced yourself are true. In those times we are taken down a notch for our good. We face reality, re-position our focus on Christ and continue on the path of faith.

        Thanks James. I always appreciate your articles. I work as a staff minister and I often discuss your articles during teen Bible study on Sunday mornings.

      • Jacob W says:

        When I think about human accomplishment, what one person can do is nothing compared to what people can do working together for mutual benefit. It’s true of other hominids too. Within chimpanzee and bonobo societies, they also cooperate and practice reciprocal altruism. Actually, chimpanzee, bonobo, gorilla, and orangutan are all more peaceful than the societies of Homo sapien.

  3. Anonymous says:

    What is so wrong with being proud of your accomplishments? I feel like the WELS message is all too often “You’re awful, you don’t deserve anything, you should go to hell.” Yes, we have to realize that we are sinful. But the main point should be that God loves us anyway; not how horrible we are.

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