Updated: Jul 1, 2022
Have you ever felt defeated as a Christian? Like your whole walk with the Lord feels like a joke?
Years ago in my twenties I realized I was spiritually stuck. Despite the observable fact that I was an avid churchgoer who stayed in the Word, prayed a lot, and often confessed my sin, I was twirling around nonetheless in an eddy of frustration and not experiencing breakthroughs and real growth.
My worst carnal struggle was not my sexual sin, even though that was there; nor was it my longing to be pretty, which was such a big problem that I had developed an eating disorder in my quest toward fatlessness; nor was it my tendency to talk too much, which anyone who knew me could have attested to. Those three things, no doubt, were battles of the flesh that I had veered into, back and forth, in a series of good and bad streaks.
The way I finally stopped living an on-and-off commitment to the Lord was by realizing the subtle thing that had been stunting my growth. What had hooked itself into my psyche was something so disguised that I could not see what it was. Its face did not look like sin. On the surface, it even appeared to be noble.
My big sin was this: I was trying hard to be “a good Christian.” In other words, I was entangled in what the Bible says is “demonic.” Folks, it is demonic to strive in your flesh to be a religiously successful person because in doing so, you inadvertently dive deep into the sin called “selfish ambition.” James 3:14-15 reveals the treachery of this overlooked sin:
“But if you have . . . 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.”
Selfish ambition is deceitful. It leads you to believe that you can be superior to others. It makes you arrogant.
It makes you “hard on yourself” so that you “beat yourself up” for not being the kind of person who astonishes others with your unique brand of greatness.
I found freedom by forfeiting my selfish ambition. My life changed when I honestly stopped trying to be a high level Christian comparatively speaking. I became unstuck when I adjusted my goal to that of simply being a real Christian. I’m no longer trying to be “a good Christian.” I’m instead determined to be a Christian. That is enough.
Given my Ph.D. in Systematic Theology since 1996 and my role as a teacher which I have had since age 12, I felt like (red flag: “felt like”) I was supposed to somehow embody a higher plane of Christianity. Granted, it is true that teachers “incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). But the point is not for the teacher to attempt to be an impressive Pharisee. The point of stricter judgment is for the teacher to teach truth! And the truth, dear friends, is that none of us mere mortals have the capacity to generate any real righteousness of our own. Righteousness is found in Jesus Who clothes us with “His” righteousness (Isaiah 61:10; I Corinthians 1:30).
Remember the verse we often sing from Matthew 6:33? Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness . . .
The righteousness we seek is His.
If you want to get unstuck – and stay unstuck – stop trying to be great. God is great. You’re not great. Neither am I. It’s arrogant and dishonest to kid yourself into thinking that you could ever be great. Let’s ditch our selfish ambition and praise the Lord for His greatness, so that we can find the humility to repent and imitate Jesus and start making progress in our walk with God. It is truly possible to do so (even for you).
We ask for forgiveness for our vanity and conceit. Please pardon us for thinking too highly of ourselves.
I pray for every believer in every nation to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God, so that we each get exalted by You (I Peter 5:6-7). Please help us to shun the notion of exalting ourselves, of trying to be great, or even of trying to be a good Christian. Help us instead to follow Jesus. I pray for the moral courage for each of us to repent by carrying Your light load (Matthew 11:28-30) and stop beating ourselves up for being far less impressive than we long to be. Help us to take seriously Your commandments (I John 5:3). Here we are, Lord. Please build us at Right On Mission (Psalm 127:1).
In Jesus’ Name