Leon L. Combs, M.A., M.Div., Ph.D.
March 28, 2004, modified November 18, 2015

I had a very good friend recently ask me “when will I achieve self-fulfillment?” and “how do I know if I am on the path to self-fulfillment”. Although this friend is a Christian, I thought that I should try to answer these questions in general and beginning at the beginning.

Self-fulfillment is a word that is passed around a lot lately and, I presume, has been being talked about for a very long time. First we have to know what “self-fulfillment” means. The dictionary is a bit disappointing in this task. The word “self-fulfillment” does not appear in any dictionaries that I have. The word fulfill means: “to bring into actuality; to effect; to carry out, to measure up to; satisfy; to complete”. These definitions are not very “fulfilling” to me, so I will put together something, as I understand it to mean in the world today. It seems to me that people use the word to mean completing their lives with a total utilization of their talents, station in life, gifts, etc. In other words, the phrase can be translated to mean that one’s life has been completed in such a manner as to totally live up to all of one’s potential. Of course with such a definition, one can never know until death if self-fulfillment has been achieved. However one can do an analysis at various checkpoints in one’s life to see if one is on the path toward this self-fulfillment, which was the second question asked.

Implied in these definitions and the common usage of the phrase is the definition of success, for certainly achieving self-fulfillment and being judged successful are involved in the phrase. Therefore we need to first define success and I have addressed this issue in a paper that I wrote some time ago: I will copy some of this paper here to help us with our task at hand.

“But before we start talking about successful people, we must all have the same definition of success. How do we define success? Webster's dictionary says that success is "Favorable termination of a venture; often, specifically, the attainment of wealth, fame, etc." and this definition is certainly one with which most people would agree. Think of a person that most people in the United States would consider very successful: Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, Elizabeth Dole, Hillary Clinton, and Ross Perot. How about Billy Graham? Well, most people would probably say that they admire Rev. Graham, but probably not classify as one of the most successful.
We also read in 2Cor 4:18, "while we look not at the things which are seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal". This scripture tells us that the only reality is in things which have an infinite lifetime, and that is only the spiritual area of reality. We see then that Jesus was telling us that the only measure of real success pertains to the status of our soul. Thus, real success would be in achieving things related to our soul that last forever.
We also read in 1Tim 4:7b-8: "On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come". Now we are getting somewhere in our pursuit for a meaning of success and the attaining of success. A disciplined pursuit of godliness will profit us both in our physical and spiritual life here and in the life to come. This is a double dose of success!
Success then is defined according to how much godliness we attain during our life here on earth. (The boldness is added for emphasis.) Now we have a goal: achievement of godliness. So we must discipline ourselves to the attaining of this goal in the same manner that an athlete disciplines himself/herself toward the achieving of the athletic goals or the persons with academic goals or business goals discipline themselves toward the achievement of their goals. We live and breathe the process of attaining the goal. We let nothing interfere with the attainment of the goal. The goal is always foremost in our minds.”

Of course we cannot talk about success without also talking about ambition. We have one sort of ambition defined for us as the following:
James 3:14 “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.”

The other sort of ambition is:
2Cor 5:9 “Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.”

Certainly we want to minimize the first type of ambition and maximize the second type of ambition. Therefore it seems to me that self-fulfillment for the Christian means achieving the greatest amount of Godliness in our lives while constantly attempting to be pleasing to God in all that we do.

We must then evaluate our passage toward self-fulfillment by constantly evaluating the increase of Godliness in our lives and how pleasing to God we have been. In other words, we want to constantly be evaluating our progress in becoming as much like Jesus as possible while we are living in this world. For the Christian then, total self-fulfillment would be attained when we are exactly like Jesus. When will this occur? It will only occur when we are glorified and that will occur either when we are dead or when Jesus comes again and we join Him in the sky in our glorified bodies. For the Christian then, every decision that we make about our life styles, jobs, friends, and indeed everything must be always held to the plumb line of achieving total holiness in our lives here. The Scripture commands us explicitly concerning this goal:
1Peter 1:15 - 16 “but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."”

So now we know what it means to achieve self-fulfillment and how to determine if we are on the path toward self-fulfillment. You may not like this treatise very much for it certainly seems like I have defined an impossible goal. Of course, you are correct. I simply remind you of the following:
Matt 19:26 “And looking upon them Jesus said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."”

Just as we cannot make ourselves be born again and thus make ourselves acceptable to God (Rom 3:10 “as it is written, "There is none righteous, not even one;”), we also cannot by our own works become sanctified and glorified. We are totally dependent upon God for our salvation. However the Scripture constantly commands us to be involved in our sanctification, such as
Phil 2:12 “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;”

Paul reminds us in Romans 7 of how much he struggled with this process of sanctification or self-fulfillment. Certainly if Paul struggled, I will struggle much more. But my life dedicated to this self-fulfillment will be immensely rewarding as I grow closer and closer to the true nature of Jesus. Even my best attempts will certainly end up a glorious failure, because as long as I live I will always have the old Adam nature working against my goal of self-fulfillment (holiness and pleasing to God). But praise the Lord, I have this strong desire always in my heart to become as much like Jesus as I can possibly become.

If indeed you also are a child of God, you also will certainly have this goal in your life.

Go for it!