I think that there are many who confuse selfish ambition with faith. And I have been one of them.
Years ago, when I first stepped into ministry, it was a very heady experience. I enjoyed the approval of those around me and received praise from my peers. Like a strong intoxicant, I began to crave it more and more – so much so that I found myself in emotional withdrawals if I didn’t get my “fix.” I wanted to be the next great voice for the Kingdom of Christ – not because of Jesus, but because of personal ambition.
You see, I failed to understand what Paul meant when he said: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10, NIV).
It’s that last statement that gripped me: “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” I wanted those around me to think well of me, to approve of me. I wanted to be admired by men and this led me down a path where I no longer served the Lord Christ but my own ambition. However, I didn’t see it that way.
I looked upon what I did as advancing the cause of Christ. If I could become well-known, if I could be great in the eyes of men and be accepted as an influential voice, then I could REALLY serve the Lord. I transposed faith with ambition and deceived myself into believing my life was pursuing Christ. It didn’t work. And, let me tell you, the humbling power of God was on the way.
If you are a born-again believer in Jesus, and you have confused faith with selfish ambition, rest assured that God will humble you. Peter reiterates this, saying: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5b, NIV). I won’t go into the details of how God humbled me because it will be different for everyone. Suffice it to say, it works.
As I look back, now, on the vanity and pride during the early days of my service to Jesus, I wonder how God could ever have chosen such an arrogant, self-serving person like me. I have learned what Paul meant in the text above. Personal ambition is no substitute for faith. True faith seeks the will of God and the delight of the Savior. True faith is satisfied when service is rendered, even when no applause are forthcoming. And, true faith does not seek to please men but to please God.
In the Gospel of John 5:44 (NIV), the Lord Jesus said this: “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” The answer is: you can’t.
Let me conclude from the book of James: “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:14-16, NIV).
A.W. Tozer declared that this world is not a playground but a battleground. Still, many Christians walk through this world as if their faith is nothing more than a gentle stroll through a quaint vale. But one of the great realities of the Christian experience is that we are at war.
The Apostle Paul declared, "“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Let us use our imaginations as we consider this example:
You were born into a world at war – and you were born on the wrong side. Without being aware of it, you were drafted into the service of the enemy of God and were used to promote and advance his agenda.
Then something amazing happened – something beyond the comprehension of all but One. The King of creation stepped onto the field of battle and with one great exclamation provided the means of escape… and you took it! If you are in Christ you transferred your allegiance to the King of kings. One thing didn’t happen, however. You didn’t leave the war – in fact, you’ve become more a part of it than ever before.
For the enemy counts you a deserter and a traitor – you have changed sides and are marked. You stand as a testimony to the greatness of the King of kings, and all who see you will know that you no longer follow the patterns of this world but have been reborn and are now the servant of Jesus. But you are on a battlefield and are behind enemy lines. You are surrounded by those who still stand in opposition to your King – and they don’t even know it.
The promise of persecution has a reason:
What did you do to bring on persecution? Not much… just two things:
1. Your Relationship to Jesus
Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).
This is the first reason for persecution – you belong to Jesus. Your relationship to Him is of such a significant reality that you no longer even think like the rest of the world. Consider the changes in your attitudes, your manners, your loves and hates, your relationships and all that makes you a human being. All of these have changed.
Again, Jesus prays, “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world” (John 17:14).
The transfer is done, the allegiance has changed, the truth has been revealed, the true King has deposed the usurper in your heart and you belong to Jesus.
2. Your Work for Jesus
Consider the response of the Sanhedrin: “They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go” (Acts 5:40b).
The Sanhedrin wanted to put the apostles to death, but only the sage advice of a man named Gamaliel prevented that. Yet, the men determined to stop the work of the apostles and had them flogged. In fact, you can read the history of the church and see down through the ages the response of the world to the work of those who are in Christ.
It is said that D. L. Moody, while he was traveling across Canada – preaching the word of God – was distressed. He had enjoyed favor and blessing at every stop, with no hindrance from anyone. Without any persecution, Moody was troubled and fearful that he had stepped out of God’s will. Instantly he stopped on the side of the road and knelt down to pray. At that moment a man happened to pass by. With a curse on his lips, the man spat on D. L. Moody as the preacher knelt in prayer. Moody jumped to his feet, hands lifted to the heavens, rejoicing that he was still on the right path with God.
The promise of persecution requires a response:
So, what do you do? What is the response of a born-again believer when it comes to the persecution of the world?
1. Shine Your Light
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
This declaration of Jesus comes right on the heels of His warning that we will be persecuted (see verses 11-12).What is the response from those who are persecuted – don’t go into hiding, shine all the more!
2. Set the Example
Peter declares, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). And again, “…keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:16).
Jesus set the example for us. He walked in the steps of suffering and persecution so that we could know the salvation that He freely offers. He showed us God and suffered for it. We are called to be the example to the world – the light of His glory to a watching planet that needs to see the truth of Christ and know that nothing can dim the Light.
The promise of persecution has a reward:
Never forget that God has a purpose for everything – even persecution. There are a multitude of promises that God provides for those who are willing to suffer for His name.
1. A Path to Maturity
James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
There is no road to spiritual maturity and vitality that does not go through times of trial and persecution. You must understand this – for then you will joyfully embrace whatever might come for you know that God will accomplish His grand purpose through it.
2. Confidence on the Day of Christ
Hebrews says, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:35-36).
Jesus says, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22).
One of the evidentiary signs that we belong to the Lord Jesus Christ is that we have stood our ground when the world has come against us. Those who are willing to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus are those who truly belong to Him. If we acknowledge Jesus before men, we know that He will acknowledge us before the Father – that is His promise.
I want to leave you with one final thought: If you are able to get along with the systems of this world that are opposed to Christ – you might still belong to the enemy of God. Remember that Jesus said, “If you belong to the world, it will love you as its own” (John 15:19). Or in Luke 6:26 Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.”
Paul was right: if you desire –just desire—to live a godly life, you will be persecuted! There is no escaping this reality. Every disciple of Jesus Christ must understand that this is a promised persecution.
(This article originally aired on Alive In Christ Radio Live.)
What are you willing to do to become an effective, productive Christian? Will you go to school? Will you take training classes on how to serve the Lord? Will you, as some have done, spend hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on a spiritual “coach” who will help you see the mistakes you make and corrections to take? School is good, training is important, and having someone to “coach” you has some value. But, did you know that God has already given you what you need to become an effective Christian? God wants you to be effective and productive – but remember that His view of effectiveness is not from a worldly, pragmatic understanding. God’s view of effectiveness is built on one thing – your knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Today, we're going to take a look at four important dynamics for an effective Christian life. Let me encourage you to read 2 Peter, chapter one.
First - Character Counts
At a conference in Spokane, WA--several years ago--Pastor and author, Henry Blackaby, said this: "You can have a Ph.D. in skills, but your character will ruin you." Ultimately it will be the quality of your character that will open the doors of effective Christian living. Like the punctuation of your life, your character will either leave an exclamation point or a question mark on your faith.
Second - Growth is Imperative
If you're not growing... your dead. Truly, the Christian faith is not a static experience that has a limit to growth. Psalm 84 says that the faithful will go from "strength to strength." But for how long? "Until each appear before God in Zion." That is - you are meant to be in a growth mode until the day you stand on the streets of Heaven itself. Remember - it is the stagnant pool that becomes septic and unfit for use.
Third - Results Matter
This may surprise some people, but God wants His church to be productive. However, God does not measure results by worldly standards. God does not have a quota as if He is some supreme foreman demanding that the production line get into gear! God's sights are set on your faithfulness - that is what He is after. And, if you add the qualities of character to your faith, then you will become productive.
Fourth - Have the Right Information
Your effectiveness hinges on your knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Like having a road map of Berlin won't help you navigate the highways of Los Angeles, so having the wrong knowledge of Jesus Christ will devastate your effectiveness.
When your life takes on the quality of Christ, you will discover that you are becoming effective in your faith. Jesus called us to follow Him - and in so doing, He promised to transform us to become fishers of men - that is, effective and productive.