By Brent Crowe
The Bible makes it abundantly clear that we are called to a life of excellence. But what does this look like? Practically, how do we pursue excellence?
Excellence is a standard rooted in our understanding of God
Excellence can’t be reduced to a mere goal within the journey; rather, it is a standard for the journey. That standard begins with God.
Those of us journeying homeward shouldn’t ascribe to excellence because it is a good idea in the larger scope of culture or because business leaders with accolades a mile long have written on the subject.
Rather, this standard has been determined because of our view of God and how he has revealed himself to us in Scripture.
We matter so much to God that he paid off our massive sin debt, which we could never do in a thousand lifetimes, with the blood of his Son. He has purchased us from the death that we surely deserved.
This was the understanding of grace the apostle Paul had, and this understanding should lead all of us to believe: grace demands more, never less. That is to say that a right view of grace should bid me to lay the entirety of my life as an offering at the feet of Jesus. In short, grace experienced calls me to a life of excellence.
New Testament scholar Andreas Kostenberger supports this idea: “God is a God of excellence, and if you are a Christian, he has called you to pursue excellence in everything you do, whether in the personal, moral, or vocational arena.”
God and his work in our lives is our starting point for framing this idea of excellence. Kostenberger wrote a book on this subject simply titled Excellence. The following quotation has been essential in shaping my definition of excellence: “Excellence is particularly important when the pressures of sheer survival and mediocrity are particularly intense.”
The primary reason for this is bound up with the nature and character of God. God is the grounds of all true excellence. He is the one who fills any definition of excellence with meaning, and He is the reason why we cannot be content with lackluster mediocrity, half-hearted effort, or substandard scholarship.
Without God as our starting point our discussion of excellence would be hopelessly inadequate.
Excellence is a decision and an achievement
With God as our starting point we must turn our attention to personal responsibility. Excellence is about becoming or making the decision to continually aim at a standard that is pleasing to God.
This does not contradict the reality that in Christ, God is already pleased with us. We don’t aim to earn his favor; we aim to please and glorify him because he has already shown us favor.
The highest good should always be the goal in the journey. We are to seek the highest good throughout the various dimensions of our lives—home, culture, vocation, church—because we seek to live a life Jesus can be proud of.
If you buy into this approach concerning excellence, you will begin to notice some changes. Changes like a low tolerance for mediocrity in your journey. Being average becomes something that other people do, but not you.
Excellence achieved gives you an appetite you never even knew you could have. It’s like when you start to eat healthy and discover you actually enjoy it. Then after months of food that’s good and good for you, the idea of a fast food diet is a notion you just can’t stomach! Excellence achieved, and continually achieved, is like maintaining a right diet that in and of itself is the highest good.
But just because you have a new appetite, a new standard that is being achieved, doesn’t mean you look down on others who pull through the drive thru of mediocrity everyday. You don’t despise it for others, you just loathe the notion of settling for less in your own life. After all, you only have one journey, one pilgrimage, just one chance to wander this world . . . so why not wander well?
Alas, excellence is an achievement, or rather a series of achievements. Again, we are not approved by God because of our achievements, but we seek to achieve excellence because God has already approved of us.
Throughout history, because some people were born into a certain family or at a certain time, they had opportunity thrust upon them. They may have inherited titles, lands, money, or even positions of stature in society.
But while one can inherit opportunity, and even be told of the standard of excellence that has existed in the past, it is always up the individual to achieve it. We must strive toward it, work toward it, and never give up on it. To give up on achieving excellence is to show ingratitude to God. And while most of us didn’t really inherit any of those aforementioned blessings, all of us can achieve the highest good no matter our post or position in this world.
Now don’t misinterpret me here. I am not suggesting that we make an idol out of an ideal. I am merely stating that if our starting point with excellence is God, and our decision to achieve excellence is motivated by our gratitude for grace, then continually seeking the highest good is completely logical.
That means the student in the band fulfills the role of band member by always seeking the highest good . . . the football player who didn’t make the starting lineup doesn’t sulk his way through a season, but practices hard and serves his team because he is seeking the highest good . . . the stay-at-home mom who pulls off the impossible everyday caring for a home and getting the kids to every practice does so seeking the highest good for her home and her family . . . the soldier, the teacher, the painter, the dentist, the doctor, the mechanic are all seeking the highest good.
The list could go on and on but it will always come down to one thing: We seek to achieve the highest good, a standard of excellence, because we are grateful that God gave the greatest good He could ever give to humanity . . . Jesus.
BRENT CROWE (@BrentACrowe) is vice president of Student Leadership University in Orlando, Florida. He holds a Doctorate in Philosophy and two master’s degrees from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Excerpted from Moments ‘Til Midnight: Final Thoughts of a Wandering Pilgrim by Brent Crowe (©2018). Published by B&H Publishing Group. Used by permission.