Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Selfish Ambition

One of the great freedoms Christ promises us in the New Testament is the freedom from ourselves; the freedom from our selfish ambition.  The Bible makes clear that selfish ambition is at the root of so many of our sins.  “If you have envy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and lie against the truth.  This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic.  For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16).

Could selfish ambition be the foundation for “every evil practice”?  It often forms the foundation or motivation for our evil actions.  The apostle Paul encourages us to lay aside selfish ambition as a motivating force.  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty conceit” (Phil 2:3).  Is that kind of “nothingness” regarding selfish ambition even possible?

As with all things pertaining to living the Christian life, we have been freed from the dominion of sin as our master.  This includes freedom from selfish ambition.  This freedom was accomplished by our being united with Christ in His death and resurrection (Rom 6:4-7).  But learning to live into that promise, that spiritual reality, is a process.

Yes, you have the power to overcome your selfishness.  And the positive replacement for it is found in the rest of Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.”  Humility is the answer to selfish ambition.  And by virtue of your new life in Christ, you have this humility inside.  The question is how to put this humility into action.

The interesting thing about selfish ambition is that only you know how deep it goes.  The Bible teaches that even preaching can be done out of selfishness.  “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife…proclaiming Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives” (Phil 1:15,17).  Because selfish ambition is a motivation more than an action, you cannot always tell how deep my selfishness goes.  But I know.  And God knows.

Engage with God’s promise and God’s power to overcome what is really our greatest and last enemy; ourselves.  Set yourself free from selfish ambition by practicing humility of mind.  We do this in many ways.  Not having to win every discussion or disagreement.  Stopping to hear one another’s thoughts, intentions, and opinions.  Looking out for the interests of others by celebrating the successes of our brothers and sisters and by honoring the gifts they bring to the table.  Practicing hospitality by allowing others to be served and thinking of their needs first.  Thanking those who have been hospitable and generous to us.  Using our freedom to serve others, setting aside our own plans when an urgent and sincere need arises.  Being generous, as God is generous to us.  And the list in Scripture for how to put your humility into action goes on and on.

You have been set free from your slavery to sin by Christ’s death and resurrection.  And you have been set free from selfish ambition as your primary driver or motivation.  God has given you the power and the Spirit to break the chain.

Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Worry

Just as the peace of Christ is the antidote for the chain of fear, the joy of the Lord is the antidote for the chain of worry.  Much like fear, worry is so often colored by this anxious age we live in.  The list of things to worry about is almost endless.  But into this milieu, the call of the New Testament is, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!”  (Phil 4:4).

Or, as Karl Barth has written, “It is astonishing how many references there are in the Old and New Testaments to delight, joy, bliss, exultation, merry-making, and rejoicing; and how emphatically these are demanded from the Book of Psalms to the Letter to the Philippians.”  Yes, throughout the Scriptures we are urged to live joy-filled lives.

Our fundamental, foundational stance as a believer is to be one of joy.  Our serious, melancholy pessimism should be the exception.  Yes, those empathetic emotions are real.  And there is a time for grief over our struggles; and those of our families, our communities, our churches, and our world.  But underlying our concern is a bedrock of joy given to us by the Father.

Did you know that you have already been given the incredible gift of joy?  It is not something you have to strive for.  It is not something you have to work for.  It is not something you have to earn.  You already have it inside.  How?  Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22).  When you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you were given the Holy Spirit to live inside you.  You did not earn it; it is pure gift from God.

And by virtue of this gift – by virtue of His Spirit living inside you – you already possess all of the Spirit’s fruit.  In the natural world, a fruit tree can only produce the fruit of its DNA.  It cannot produce any other fruit.  Likewise, you were ordained to produce the fruit of the new Spirit that lives inside and one of those fruits – already there by virtue of your spiritual DNA – is joy.

It may seem like a subtle distinction, but the key to experiencing that joy is to recognize it is already in there and then proceeding to unwrap it at every opportunity rather than seeing it as a character quality that we must strive to attain.  It’s already in there!

Can I encourage you to throw off the chain of worry?  There are many more aspects to breaking this chain in terms of our faith in God’s goodness, His sovereignty, His love, and so much more.  But for today, our focus is on the joy that He plants inside.  Rejoice in the gift of joy that He has given to you.

Is there a time to ponder the sobering reality of evil in the world?  Yes, there is.  But the underlying reality of a joy-filled life is a constant theme throughout the Scriptures.  And it is a reality that has been beautifully summarized by English author G. K. Chesterton, “A person is fully human when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial.  Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul.  Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labor by which all things live.”

Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of the Imposter Syndrome

Have you heard of the “imposter syndrome”?  It is a term coined by psychologists in the late 1970s to describe high-achieving individuals who were marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.  It is really another chain of fear.  Let me describe how this fear manifests itself in our spiritual life.

Depending on the church you grew up in, your family of origin dynamic, or even your present day experience in a community of believers, we generally develop some standard in our lives that we feel we must live up to in order to be accepted by the community.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I like standards.  I like encouraging each other to pursue holiness.  There is nothing wrong with helping each other move forward into a maturing Christian life.

The subtle way this can go awry is when we rely on keeping the standard as the basis for our acceptance with God and our community.  We so often put the cart before the horse.  Even if we don’t say it out loud, our attitude is, “You keep the standard, you arrive at some level of righteous living, and we will accept you.”  But true spiritual community is just the other way around.

True Jesus-following community starts with, “I will shower you with love, acceptance, and forgiveness no matter where you are in your Christian walk.  And because I love you, I will invest my friendship with you in ways that help both of us move toward Christian maturity.”  The love and acceptance come first.

This kind of community frees us from the fear of the impostor syndrome.  When we rely on others’ opinions of us for our spiritual self-worth, we live in fear of “being discovered”.  We live in fear of those around us finding out we are not all we were cracked up to be.  We have flaws. We have besetting sins.  We have personality disorders.  We are not perfect.

But when your opinion about yourself comes from what God has already done for you through His grace, then this is what you learn.  You are deeply loved, completely forgiven, fully pleasing, totally accepted, and complete in Christ.  And the sheer beauty of grace is that we are not any of those things because we deserved it or earned it by our merit.  No, we are all of those things because God gave them to us.  Just receiving and not earning is such a freeing experience.

You are loved because God loves you.  You are forgiven because God forgave you.  You are pleasing to God because He made you righteous.  You are acceptable to God because He paid the price for your sins.  Nothing else is required to gain His acceptance.  Christ already paid the price.  And you are complete in Christ.

So dismantle the chain of the fear of being “found out”.  The more I discover about you and the more you discover about me will be the building blocks to a friendship that moves both of us forward into experiencing all that Christ promised in a life set free.

Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Fear

Another chain that shackles our living free experience is the chain of fear.  We live in an anxious age.  I honestly don’t know when in my lifetime I have felt such angst about every single topic that comes up in conversation or in the news.  Think about these issues; marriage, family life, health, immigration, the well-being of children, politics, clean water, violence, climate change … and we could go on and on.

We all have ideas of how to respond to these political and social issues and it discourages us when the answers we see in the world around us show not only a pervasive immorality, but an outright complete lack of common sense.  Instead of moral or even common sense solutions, we are bombarded by extreme positions, moral confusion, complete dysfunction, scarcity, and intimidation by those in power.  It stirs up fear.

Into this confusion and anxiety, Jesus says, “Do not fear, do not be anxious.”  And He gives us this promise, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).  The antidote to fear is the peace of Christ.  The answer to fear is courage; the courage to trust His constant presence and ultimate power to make things right.  The remedy for fear is our faith in the promises of God.

“And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).  Christ’s promise and Christ’s presence drive out fear.  We sometimes struggle to experience that presence today because to be honest it is not always easy to sense the Holy Spirit inside.  It is a little bit of a mysterious connection.  It requires us to stretch our faith muscles and believe what we cannot see.  But in the world to come, when our present world has been overcome for good, we will see and grasp God’s presence in the most real way possible.

But until then, we have the promise that Christ has now, in the present tense, overcome the world.  And through our connection to Christ, as our Savior and Brother, we can overcome the world, and the fear that comes with it.  It is not a physical victory – our personal world and the larger world may still be falling apart around us – but we are promised a spiritual victory of experiencing the peace of Christ inside.

So throw off the chain of fear.  Do not allow yourself to become immobilized by the sheer volume of moral confusion in our world.  Love, serve, and encourage those Christ has brought into your life.  Demonstrate to those around you what a life set free looks like; a life set free from fear, worry, and anxiety.  Because despite all the pompous declarations of the world – and political or social victories they celebrate – deep inside, the peace of Christ is the desire of every heart.

Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Guilt

Moving now from shame to guilt, let’s review.  Guilt is, “I have done something wrong.”  Shame is, “I am something wrong.”  Shame is never who we are after our conversion to Christ.  Guilty, on the other hand, is who we are when we sin.

Understanding guilt is an important piece of understanding our salvation.  In a legal (from a moral standpoint) sense, prior to Christ, we are all guilty.  We are sinners in Adam and we are sinners in our actions.  We are guilty on both counts.  But Christ took our guilt upon Himself when He died on a cross in our place.  The concept of substitution – Christ dying in our place – is at the heart of the gospel’s message of redemption.  Christ died for our sins.

The beauty of the love, grace, and mercy of God is that all the guilt related to our sins goes away when we embrace the gospel message of Jesus Christ.  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).  “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).  “Having forgiven us all our transgressions, having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col 2:13-14).

Your sins, in a legal sense, are forgiven; past, present, and future.  So what if I sin today?  Is the penalty covered?  Are there no consequences?  When we sin today, the legal penalty of that sin is already taken care of.  But in the area of our daily practice of holiness and of living into our new freedom in Christ, there is guilt and consequence when we sin.

Since sin is not compatible with our new identity in Christ, not fitting with the Holy Spirit who now lives inside, sin breaks our fellowship with God.  It also breaks our fellowship with God’s family, our brothers and sisters in Christ.  So when we sin, we are truly guilty.

But God has given us a way to restore that fellowship through confession and repentance.  “If we confess our sins (acts committed, not our sin nature), God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (those ways we are not living into our identity in Christ).  God’s cleansing is removing the hindrances to living the fruits of the Spirit that we already possess but are stunted by sin.

Think of it this way.  By virtue of our spiritual DNA – the Holy Spirit living inside – we are destined to produce the fruit of the Spirit as outlined in Galatians 5; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  This is who we are.  But just as a fruit tree can be stunted and produce bad fruit or no fruit due to disease, so we can produce bad fruit or no fruit due to sin.  Our “fruit” production can be damaged by sin.  When we confess our sins, God is faithful to heal the disease of sin.

So if we are truly guilty when we sin, how does guilt become a chain?  Guilt becomes a chain when we forget God’s two great promises regarding our guilt.  The first promise, in a justification sense, your sins are forgiven forever.  The second promise, in a sanctification sense, you can be forgiven your present sins, be restored to fellowship, and infused with power to overcome sin.

When we fail to believe those promises, we are under the chain of guilt.  When we aren’t really sure if God’s forgiveness is complete; for example, am I still paying the price for attending a séance as a teenager or for wishing my classmate dead when they cheated me out of my first place award or … you fill in the blank from your past.  These sound crazy, but trust me, when we fail to believe and embrace and live into all of God’s promises regarding our forgiven guilt, we can be hamstrung by some crazy ideas.  Let the chain of guilt go.  Confess any sins of the present and move on in the grace, freedom, and joy of who you are in Christ.  There is no more “paying for your sins” to be done.  By God’s grace, by His free gift, you are forgiven.