The Apostle Paul says much that relates to the theme of achievement. But the first and last point that he contributes to the discussion is that achievement must be understood in light of our status in Christ.
Galatians, Sonship & Status
In Galatians 3:26–29, Paul boldly declares the consequences of our justification by faith in what is arguably the highpoint of the letter:
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ like a garment. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.
(Galatians 3:26–29 HCSB)
In Christ Jesus, believers are sons of God (v.26). While it is appropriate to translate this inclusively as children of God (so NIV), the point is that we share in the sonship of Jesus Christ through faith in him. His privileges and status as a son are shared with us—we too are “heirs according to the promise” (v.29).
For believers in Christ Jesus, achievement cannot measure status.
A central consequence of sonship is that, in Christ Jesus, there is “no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female” (v.28). This does not mean that our differences are eradicated, as some may argue. Rather it means that our status as sons makes our differences irrelevant in relation to our standing before God. Since we are all “sons,” all believers share in equal status. We have attained the highest possible status for human beings—we are sons of God; we are children in God’s family.
Paul mentions three key oppositions that divided the world in his day—Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, and male and female. We don’t have space to treat the significance of each of these, but suffice to say that these sets of oppositions determined one’s status in the ancient Roman world. Paul’s point is that as members of God’s family, our status is no longer correlated to whether or not one is a Jew, slave, or female.
Modern Status and Christian Achievement
Today we no longer divide the world through these categories. Though slavery still exists in different forms, and though women often are not treated equally in the workplace, these are not the key ways that we determine status. Status in the western world is primarily aligned with power, wealth, and achievement.
Our world puts a high premium on achievement. And while there’s something appropriate about that (more on this later), for believers in Christ Jesus achievement cannot be used to measure status. We are all one in Christ Jesus. We are all sons of God. We are all equally children in God’s family.
This means that “underachievers” are as valued by God as any other child in the family. It means that “overachievers” are no more important than anyone else.
There is much more to be said, but for Paul this must be the over-ruling principle for understanding achievement: it means nothing for our status before God. Our status is entirely determined by being in Christ.