Grades as Idolatry
An idol, as we’ve talked about often here at Lighthouse, is anything that we worship instead of God. Idolatry is misplaced worship. Tim Keller writes that an idol is “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give what only God can give.”
We are prone to make idols out of anything – even good things – whether success, relationships, family, money, or sports. One of the reasons why our idols can remain so hidden from us is because they convince us that they are actually good things in our lives.
Whereas children and family might become an idol for the parent or success and career for the young professional, grades and academics can be one of the most prevalent idols for those who are students.
With that in mind, here are four truths to keep in mind to guard yourself from making an idol out of grades:
1. Remember your identity in Christ.
In Colossians 3:1-4, Paul describes the believer’s identity as being united with Christ so that our lives are hidden in Him. One of the main ways that the idol of grades enslaves is by convincing you that your grades define who you are. Therefore, when you excel in school, grades are what make you matter in the eyes of others. When things don’t go so well, however, you feel the shame of failure and comparison becomes the thief of your joy. Thankfully, as believers, our identity is found not in our own performance, but in the perfect work of Christ for us.
2. Maintain your perspective.
You can identify your potential idols by evaluating how you respond when they are threatened. One of the ways that the idol of grades is threatened is by the prospect of failure. As believers, we have the privilege of knowing that regretful semesters and poor test scores are still an opportunity in which we can glorify God. In fact, Jesus’ words to Peter in Luke 22:31-34 shows us that sometimes God even allows us to experience failure in order to humble us and use us to turn around and strengthen others.
3. Prioritize your soul.
In Matthew 16:26, Jesus says, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” We must be mindful most of all about the state of our souls. Studying long and hard hours for class can be an exercise of faithful stewardship, but it can also be the enemy’s means of distracting you from the most important thing. Prioritize your soul by protecting your time in the Word, in prayer, and in community with God’s people.
4. Study for the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31 says “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” At the end of the day, the GPA on your transcript or even the prestigious career path that might await you in the future isn’t ultimately about you at all. As a disciple of Christ, your mission is to serve and pursue the glory of someone far greater than yourself. We can glorify God when we make Christ first place in everything (Col. 1:18), when we remember that the motives in our hearts are more important than the information in our heads, and when we don’t forget to love others selflessly rather than seeking to put ourselves first.
Francis Chow is a part-time pastoral intern leading Beacon, Lighthouse’s college ministry. He loves helping college students grow in their love for the local church. Francis is grateful to serve alongside the rest of the staff and to observe the humble leadership of the elders. In his free time, he enjoys trying new restaurants on Yelp, cheering for LA sports teams, and drinking coffee.
M. Div. [in process], The Master’s Seminary