The Difference Between Selfish and Holy Ambition


We live in a me-first culture. We want to be the best. Our flesh is hungry to worship itself, and that appetite is satisfied through a hardy diet of selfish ambition. So we form our identity through our accomplishments. We work hard in our careers, our education, our lifestyles—and even our churches—to guarantee success.

Ambition is the desire for success. It requires determination and effort. Ambition drives our work ethic.

The desire to see something succeed is good, but sin taints our desires. Instead of desiring God’s success, we strive for our own. We want our names to be great. We want our works to be famous. We’re willing to settle for our name in lights when we could be offering The Light to others.

Selfish ambition is not new to our culture. Five hundred years before Christ, God sent the prophet Haggai to speak to his people about their sinful ambition. They were consumed with building lavish houses but were indifferent to God’s house lying in ruins after it was ransacked by the Babylonians.

We would be wise to heed Haggai’s message today. God wants his people to have a holy ambition. But how do we make sure our ambitions are holy and not selfish? In the words of Haggai, we must consider our ways.


You don’t really have to try hard to have selfish ambitions. Our flesh naturally seeks its own glory. However, God’s Word makes no allowances for seeking our own glory. Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition.” Selfish gain is antithetical to the gospel. This biblical command is clear and absolute: do nothing. There are no allowances for when we can pursue something out of selfish ambition. None.

It's easy to deceive ourselves into thinking we’re living for God’s glory until our glory is threatened. We labor to build our own kingdoms at the expense of his. God spoke through Haggai to accuse the people of doing just that. He wanted his people to rebuild his temple. His complaint was that his house lay in ruins while they busied themselves with their own houses (Hag. 1:9).

How did the people respond? In repentance. They turned from their sin and both obeyed and feared the Lord (Hag. 1:12). This is our proper response today. We must repent when God confronts our own pursuits of glory. Immediately laying down our selfish ambition for godlier aspirations.


God performed a work of spectacular grace for the former exiles in Haggai’s day. “The Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God” (Hag. 1:14).

God stirred the hearts of his people to obey his command to rebuild the temple. We serve the heart-stirring God. Are you concerned that you can’t obey, can’t repent, or can’t have a holy ambition? The best advice I could extend to you is simply to know your God. He turns the hearts of kings (Ezra 6:22). He will stir your heart. Ask him.

God uses prayer as a means to stir our affections. We must pray and ask our father to perform in our hearts what we cannot do on our own. We must pray for a holy ambition. We ask him to stir our hearts towards him, his kingdom, and his glory. In asking him to do so, we shift our attention from ourselves, our castles in the sand, and our own glory. He did it in Haggai’s day. May he work the same miracle in our hearts.


Though God stirred the hearts of the people to pray, they were by no means passive. The people had work to do. God commanded them through Haggai, “Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified” (Hag. 1:8). God provided tasks for the people to accomplish and for him to be glorified through. God is motivated by his glory, and he wants his people to be, too. In order to see his glory revealed in all the earth, we must have a holy ambition.

God doesn’t give the people a job to do and then leave them to do it alone. Haggai spoke these encouraging words to them, “Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts” (Hag. 2:4). Our God is Immanuel. He is with us just like he was with the Israelites. He is with us when we work.

God’s presence no longer demands a physical temple. We, the church, are his temple (1 Cor. 3:16-17). We have kingdom-building work to do, as well. Ephesians 4:12 teaches that we are equipped for building up the body of Christ. We build. God provides the gifts. We walk in them. We strive forward. God gets the glory. We do the work, confident in his abilities and in his presence.


The people in Haggai’s day were not perfect. And yet, God was determined to bless them. In grace, God confronted them with their sin. In mercy, he forgave them. In power, he stirred up their hearts to obey his command and rebuild his temple. In love, he assured them of his presence. And he promised to bless them (Hag. 2:19).

Receive the blessing of your God. Receive his gifts of mercy, grace, power, and love. Receive the gift of his assured presence in your own work. His word promises that the doers of his word will be blessed in their doing (Jas. 1:25).

Have a holy ambition to be doers of the word (Jas. 1:22). God is about his own glory. So if we are ambitious to do his work, he will glorify himself by doing his word. Work hard for others to see the glory of the Lord. Desire God’s church to be successful, and be blessed as you labor alongside his people with him. Be blessed in your holy ambition.


The book of Haggai is only two chapters, but he pleaded with the Israelites to consider their ways several times. He wanted them to think about what they were doing. He wanted them to consider how their actions of building their own kingdoms—while neglecting the Lord’s—impacted their relationship with their covenant God.

Perhaps, the word to the Israelites is also a word to us: consider your ways. Are you busying yourself with your own success? Do you desire God’s kingdom to advance on earth? Is your ambition primarily selfish or holy? Consider your ways.

God desires his people to join him in building his kingdom. We easily get distracted by building our own. Don’t waste your ambition. Repent of your selfishness. Pray for God to transform your ambition. Work hard with your God to see his kingdom advance. Be blessed in the work. This is how we recover a holy ambition.

We are by nature glory seekers. But whose glory are we seeking? I humbly propose that we aim our success at the fame of God’s name on the earth; that we be a people not committed to our own success, but the success of our great God’s renown being known and treasured across the planet. He transforms our ambitions for his glory and for the good of his church.

Are we—like the Israelites—preoccupied with our own selfish prerogatives or are we engaging in the rebuilding of his temple by building up the church? May we leverage all our careers, our gifts, our goals, our dreams, and our very lives for his glory. May we be a people with a holy ambition.

Christy Britton is a wife and homeschool mom of four biological sons. She is an orphan advocate for 127 Worldwide. She and her husband are covenant members at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC. She loves reading, discipleship, Cajun food, spending time in Africa, hospitality, and LSU football. She writes for several blogs, including her own, www.beneedywell.com.

A World Made Beautiful


It was only mid-June but already the grass crunched under my feet like potato chips. We were just at the beginning of the great drought of 1988–89 in the US, one of America’s worst. The ugliness of the earth was matched by the ugliness of my dead-end, drug-infested street. We were also at the height of the crack-cocaine epidemic in Detroit, and my community was as scorched by violence and drugs as the extra crunchy grass and trees in my front yard. My world was far from beautiful. The burned-out houses on our block were constantly accessorized by drug addicts and drunks. The stink of toxic fumes from the nearby waste disposal plant hung in the dense, hot air along with the rattling speakers of rap music blaring from cars passing by. Beauty was far from my mind. People living in places like mine are far more concerned about things like food, safety, and shelter. Death was a way of life.

I had just graduated high school and my graduating class was missing several who were a part of the twenty-one homicides in my immediate neighborhood. Death from gunshot, death from drugs, death from disease, and death from suicide—beauty was nowhere to be found. That is why I was caught off guard by my mother’s request. “York,” she hollered authoritatively, “you are going to have to take care of the hedges in the front yard this summer.” We had lived in the house for three years, and I had never even taken notice of the bushes in the front yard. My mother was recovering from surgery, so I was tasked with caring for the bushes. This small task in a place of death and ugliness, however, was one of the first ways I began to suspect that there was something more, a story about everything.

Surprisingly, caring for these bushes also launched a lifelong love for natural beauty, which I’ve cultivated into a talent for landscaping and gardening. This has become a core part of who I am today, but at the time I don’t think I had ever stopped to take note of a tree, a bush, or a flower in all my life.

A row of seven bushes about five feet tall separated our house from the invading urban squalor. For some reason, this hedge did more than separate our house from the neighbors; it seemed to actually do something. It kept ugliness from creeping over onto our property. When I began to take care of the bushes, I wouldn’t have called them beautiful. They too were crispy from the drought and filled with weeds. I began by weeding, trimming, and excessively watering. I then covered the ground around them with stones, which I later learned would help with erosion and water retention. I began to take small joy in seeing new shoots and leaves, watching the bushes become vibrant under my care. My teen friends laughed at me as I spent hours each week nurturing bushes for my mom. It didn’t take long before this raggedy row became lush and green and strikingly full of life against a backdrop of ugly sounds, sights, and smells. My friends laughed a little less over the summer as they saw how my care made a small difference in making something green in one of the worst droughts in American history.

Though our house was ugly and the surrounding area was terribly ugly, this simple, beautiful row of vibrant bushes stood as a barrier, a marker against the drug addicts, drug pushers, trash dumpers, homeless, sleepy drunks, and others. Our house had a modicum of respect because there was something living there, something green, something beautiful.

What Beauty Is and What Beauty Does

Beauty is an elusive term, one often thought to be merely subjective. Standards of beauty have changed from era to era, from peoples to peoples. An element of personal taste goes into labeling something beautiful, but there is also a fixed element. An oversimplified, standard definition of beauty is: the right proportion and alignment of attributes in something or someone that brings deep emotional and/or mental pleasure to the beholder. Sounds pretty sterile, doesn’t it?

When we are in the presence of beauty, our experience of it is far from sterile; it is transcendent. Google the term and you will get some combination of the elements of this sterile definition. But something is missing in this basic definition. Beauty is much more than a proper alignment of attributes. It goes beyond providing mere mental and emotional pleasure. Beauty actually does something. Beauty is functional. Because of this, beauty is the font that God uses to write the story of everything. God’s beauty actually accomplishes something, as I learned during a time of ugliness and drought with those green bushes. The beauty of the bushes didn’t just look good; their beauty offered a tangible protection against the ugliness surrounding us.

Part of the reason a concrete definition of beauty is hard to articulate is that beauty is one of those firefly ideas—it belongs to another realm. You know that you are in the presence of beauty, even in a basic simple expression like my bushes, by what beauty accomplishes both in us and in the world around us. Beauty can captivate us at a soul level. Beauty ushers in a “holy hush” most commonly experienced as eerie silence. Beauty is most striking when it stands against the backdrop of the ordinary and ugly. My simple row of bushes would never have stood out as beautiful if it weren’t for the drought-ravaged lawn on which it stood. A normal, ordinary day became a magical wonder of beauty at dusk in that field of fireflies in part because of the ugliness of the home, dilapidated barn, and field of mud and corn.

We see this all the time. A sudden change in weather patterns can create an elemental display of natural beauty in a snowstorm, fog rolling across a still lake, or a thunderstorm flashing with bright light. Watch a person stare into a sunset, lose themselves as snow swirls about them, or forget the world around them as they gaze into a fireplace. Beauty beckons us into a half-conscious state where we are joyfully unconcerned with concern.

Think about when you have experienced something beautiful. How did it make you feel? Think about when you created something beautiful, perhaps a piece of art or a row of flowers or a table full of food. Whether we are experiencing or creating beauty, it beckons us. It calls to us. Open Instagram and scroll through the newsfeed of your friends. Do you find yourself a little lost on the more artistic shots, the shots of snow on mountain peaks, the shots of the beautiful smiles of your friends’ children? Part of what makes our consumption of social media so addictive is not just the people in our feed but how they are often immersed in a vibrant world and radiating life. Social media for most people is not just about friendship; it is about the beauty of the world and the beauty of people. My phone has become for me a window into other worlds, often as powerful and inescapable as a fire in the fireplace or watching the sun dip low into Lake Michigan.

Regardless of whether we find beauty in the palm of our hand or in the natural world around us, we are subject to its power because of where beauty comes from. Beauty is a sneak peek through a portal into another time and place. It’s an artifact of another world. Certainly, fireflies dancing against the backdrop of a summer meadow at dusk is a beautiful sight, but watch the people watching it and you’ll see the power of beauty. Beauty enraptures us, holds us spellbound, and causes a reverent hush. But beauty does more than this. Beauty elicits within us a set of transcendent reactions. The word transcendent means that which is beyond our physical, visible experience. Transcendent reactions to beauty include hope, joy, longing, passion, and love. Beauty expands the interior of our hearts and minds and allows us to experience transcendence. Beauty actually accomplishes something. It opens a door within our souls to experience God’s story of everything.

Taken from Do Something Beautiful: The Story of Everything and How to Find Your Place in It by R. York Moore (©2018). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.

R. YORK MOORE is a speaker, revivalist, and abolitionist. He serves as National Evangelist for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA. York became a Christian from atheism while studying philosophy at the University of Michigan. He also has an MA in Global Leadership from Fuller Seminary. York is the author of several books and he lives in the Detroit area with his wife and three kids. For more information, visit www.tellthestory.net and follow him on social media channels @yorkmoore.

Want to Know God's Will for Your Life? Start With This Question


If you’ve ever said, “I just want to know God’s will for my life,” this book is for you. If you’ve ever gazed at the trajectory of your life and wondered if you were headed down the right path or off a cliff, keep reading. By the time you finish these pages, I hope you will never have to question what God’s will is for you again. Or, at least, not the way you may have asked it in the past.

It’s a uniquely Christian musing, this question of God’s will. Those who have never called on the name of Jesus Christ are not the least concerned with discovering its answer. It reveals a believer’s awareness that, to be a follower of Christ, not every option is open to me: whatever the way forward, it is not wide but narrow. God has a will for my life, and based on my unsuccessful history of trying to follow the way that seems right unto man, I had better do my best to discern what that will is.


But that discernment piece is tricky. When we reflect on what our lives were like apart from Christ, we tend to focus on the poor decisions we made and their ensuing consequences. How we spent our time, our money, and our efforts plays before us like a blooper reel, but instead of making us laugh it forces us to whisper, “Never again.” Before we believed, we did what felt right or what seemed rational to our darkened minds. But now we know our feelings deceive us and our self-serving logic betrays us. No worries, though. Now we have a direct line to God. We’ll just ask him what we should do.

Without meaning to, we can begin to regard our relationship with God primarily as a means toward better decision-making. We can slip into a conception of God as a cosmic Dear Abby, a benevolent advice columnist who fields our toughest questions about relationships and circumstances. Because we do not trust our judgment, we ask him who we should marry or which job we should take. We ask him where to spend our money or which neighborhood to move into. “What should I do next? Keep me away from the cliff, Lord. Keep me on the narrow path.”

These are not terrible kinds of questions to ask God. To some extent, they demonstrate a desire to answer the question “What is God’s will for my life?” They show a commendable desire to honor God in our daily doings. But they don’t get to the heart of what it means to follow God’s will for our lives. If we want our lives to align with God’s will, we will need to ask a better question than “What should I do?”


We Christians tend to pool our concern around the decisions we face. If I pick A when I should have picked B, then all is lost. If I pick B, all will be well. But if Scripture teaches us anything, it is this: God is always more concerned with the decision-maker than he is with the decision itself. Take, for example, Simon Peter. When faced with decision A (deny Christ) or decision B (acknowledge him), Peter failed famously. But it is not his poor decision-making that defines him. Rather, it is the faithfulness of God to restore him. Peter’s story serves to remind us that, no matter the quality of our choices, all is never lost.

This makes sense when we pause to consider that no decision we could ever make could separate us from the love of God in Christ. God can use the outcome of any decision for his glory and for our good. That is reassuring. Peter was faced with two choices—one of which was clearly unwise. But often we must choose between two options that appear either equally wise or equally unwise. Often the answer to the question “What should I do?” could go either way.

Which brings us to the better question. For the believer wanting to know God’s will for her life, the first question to pose is not “What should I do?” but “Who should I be?”

Perhaps you’ve tried to use the Bible to answer the question “What should I do?” Facing a difficult decision, perhaps you’ve meditated for hours on a psalm or a story in the Gospels, asking God to show you how it speaks to your current dilemma. Perhaps you’ve known the frustration of hearing silence, or worse, of acting on a hunch or “leading” only to find later that you apparently had not heard the Lord’s will. I know that process better than I’d like to admit, and I also know the shame that accompanies it—the sense that I’m tone-deaf to the Holy Spirit, that I’m terrible at discovering God’s will.

But God does not hide his will from his children. As an earthly parent, I do not tell my kids, “There is a way to please me. Let’s see if you can figure out what it is.” If I do not conceal my will from my earthly children, how much more our heavenly Father? His will does not need discovering. It is in plain sight. To see it we need to start asking the question that deals with his primary concern. We need to ask, “Who should I be?”


Of course, the questions “What should I do?” and “Who should I be?” are not unrelated. But the order in which we ask them matters. If we focus on our actions without addressing our hearts, we may end up merely as better behaved lovers of self.

Think about it. What good is it for me to choose the right job if I’m still consumed with selfishness? What good is it for me to choose the right home or spouse if I’m still eaten up with covetousness? What does it profit me to make the right choice if I’m still the wrong person? A lost person can make “good choices.” But only a person indwelt by the Holy Spirit can make a good choice for the purpose of glorifying God.

The hope of the gospel in our sanctification is not simply that we would make better choices, but that we would become better people. This is the hope that caused John Newton to pen, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see.” It is what inspires the apostle Paul to speak of believers “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). The gospel teaches us that the grace that is ours through Christ is, by the work of the Spirit, transforming us increasingly into someone better.

But not just anyone better. The gospel begins transforming us into who we should have been. It re-images us. Want to know what it should have been like to be human? Look to the only human who never sinned.

Content taken from In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character by Jen Wilkin, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

Jen Wilkin is a speaker, writer, and teacher of women’s Bible studies. During her seventeen years of teaching, she has organized and led studies for women in home, church, and parachurch contexts. Jen and her family are members of the Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas.

10 Reasons Your Anger Isn’t Righteous


A frenzied young rabbi runs helter-skelter through holiday crowds. He upends tables, scatters gold and silver, and sends animals and humans fleeing in every direction. Those with sense run for the exits, not eager to find themselves on the business end of this mad Galilean’s handmade whip (see John 2:15). Others, with more greed than sense, dive after loose coins and lost profits.

This episode must have made an impression on Jesus’ disciples, as it’s one of the few stories that made its way into all four Gospels. It is hands down, the wildest depiction of Jesus we have. Rather than “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” we’re presented with “angry Jesus, zealous and wild.” Here is a shockingly aggressive, courageous, passionate, intense Messiah. Paint his face blue and give him a Scottish accent, and any one of us might be inspired to follow him into battle.

This is angry Jesus.

And if Jesus can get angry, can I?

If we’re honest, this whip-brandishing Jesus is the same Jesus we too easily invoke to justify our own anger. If there is such a thing as righteous indignation, most of our anger probably is justified, right? And if the Bible tells us to “be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26, emphasis added) then maybe we’ve got a green light for our rage.

But the Scriptures don’t give us leeway for such faulty logic. Consider, for example, the words of James: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jas. 1:19-20).

James is speaking not of righteous anger, but the more common “anger of man,” which is directed by human passions and desires (see Jas. 4:1-3).

Most of the anger we justify as “righteous”—the flare-ups and frustrations caused by petty annoyances or personal affronts—isn’t righteous at all. Here are ten reasons why.


“The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jas. 1:20).

If human anger was a machine, no raw material fed into the front end could create an output of righteousness. No amount of tinkering, adjustment, or redesign would produce goodness. It’s simply not the right kind of machine. Has your anger ever resulted in good things in your life?


Human anger may claim to be all about righteousness when, in reality, it’s all about self. We reason something along these lines: Someone has sinned against me, and sin displeases God. I care about God’s feelings and am commanded to imitate him. Therefore, my displeasure at this sin—really, my anger at this person—is justified.

This logic, natural as it seems, ultimately aims at preserving self rather than upholding God’s glory. Sin displeases God primarily because it’s an affront to his glory, yet I’m angry because someone has sinned against me. Sadly, I use God’s glory to justify my own anger.

The common denominator of human anger is self-preservation. This is what it’s for, thereby setting it against any threat to the self. Righteous anger, on the other hand, postures itself for the preservation of God’s honor, and against any threats to it (including sin). The common denominator of righteous anger is the preservation of God’s honor.

Twenty years of pastoral work has, at times, given me a front-row seat to the furious self-preservation that arises when a person’s idols are threatened. The most common idol is the human ego. Thankfully, Christ frees us from our natural human tendency to protect ourselves:

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

Because we belong to him, we are freed from the burden of self-preservation.


Jesus said it most clearly: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:43-44).

We often use “justified anger” to keep enemies in their proper place as enemies, and in the process fail to keep the love command. Jesus provides a relational reason for this most difficult of commands: “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:45a).

Children naturally tend to act like their parents, embodying family traits and living out family values. Our Father sets the family standard by loving those who hate him and transforming enemies into family members. As the ultimate peacemaker, he calls his children to imitate him: “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus says. Why? “For they shall be sons of God” (Matt. 5:9).

The Apostle Paul directs believers to “live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18), a mode of life that will naturally shrink one’s circle of enemies. But when anger is given space to feed off enmity, it subverts peacemaking, stifles reconciliation, and kindles conflict.


“Strive for peace with everyone … See to it that … no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Heb. 12:14,15).

The relational crop produced by anger includes bitterness, among other things. Righteous relational stewardship, on the other hand, severs anger at its roots, prevents bitterness, and nurtures peace.


“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’ ” (Rom. 12:19).

Human anger keeps records of offenses and takes responsibility for revenge. When an offense is mainly against me (rather than God), then I suppose justice lies within my power. I become the judge, putting myself in God’s place, and arrogantly take justice into my own hands.

Human anger is a brand of unbelief—a failure to trust God to bring the justice he has promised. Faith, on the other hand, exchanges anger for trust and leaves justice where it belongs: in God’s hands.


“Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).

Anger has an uncanny ability to overcome and control us, yet God would have us control it. Often our anger becomes all-consuming, dominating our emotions, our moods, our attitudes. It even affects our physical health, sleep, and productivity. Like a fire that rages out of control, anger running wild threatens to burn us up in the process.


“Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph. 4:26).

This verse does not clearly prohibit anger—it simply imposes a time limit. Paul recognizes the fallenness of human relationships, the daily temptation to anger, and the constant necessity of repentance. This is a call to reconciliation, not a blanket permission for unqualified rage during daylight hours.

And even if Paul does allow room for “righteous anger,” he protects us from its fermentation. Human nature can easily turn even righteous indignation into sin. Therefore, we must not hold on to it for one moment longer than is necessary.


“And give no opportunity to the devil” (Eph. 4:27).

Anger—especially when cultivated, nurtured, and allowed to fester—is the devil’s playground. A murderer from the beginning, the devil loves anger and is keenly aware of its slippery slope. Unfettered anger plays into his hands, pays him homage, and furthers an agenda opposed to God.


“Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matt. 5:22).

Jesus calls attention to the eternal consequences of anger. Not only does it affect us and those around us in the present, but its effects could remain with us forever. When we heap burning coals on our own heads, we’re liable to carry the scars forever.


“But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:15).

Human anger refuses to consider forgiveness as an option, but Jesus’ words are clear: forgiveness unextended implies forgiveness unaccepted. The ultimate moral ugliness in the New Testament is a refusal to forgive.

But forgiveness is difficult. As Tim Keller writes, “When you forgive, that means you absorb the loss and the debt. You bear it yourself. All forgiveness, then, is costly.”

We don’t want to pay that debt. We are often unwilling to take on that cost because it feels like a loss for us.

In Christ, we have access to a forgiveness that absorbs our debt. Whereas my anger is for me at everyone else’s expense, Christ’s love is for me at his own expense. In him, we encounter a love that is completely for us. The one who has every right to be angry with sinners chooses to absorb his own anger. In the mysterious beauty of Christ’s love, we are freed from the prison of our own anger and provided with the freedom and resources to forgive.

Mike Phay serves as Lead Pastor at FBC Prineville (Oregon) and as a Staff Writer at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He has been married to Keri for over 20 years, and they have five amazing kids. You can follow him on Twitter (@mikephay) or check out his blog.


How the Resurrection Reshapes Success and Regret


The Discovery is a 2017 film about a scientist who makes a find so significant it drastically alters the world. He discovers brain waves continue to emit from the mind after a person is dead. What’s so significant about that? It’s scientific proof of an afterlife. Somehow, someway, the deceased’s brain continues to function after their heart has stopped.

People respond by committing suicide, millions of them, all around the world. Why? With definitive proof of an afterlife, they now have hope for a better life. They don’t have to linger in loneliness or struggle with cancer. All they have to do is pull the trigger, and they can be reunited with their loved ones.

If you had definitive proof of an afterlife, how would you respond? If you knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, you’d enter another life after you die, what would you do? Would you pull the trigger?


St. Paul also made a powerful discovery that radically altered history. He encountered a person from the other side, the resurrected Christ, and came to believe that Jesus was not only raised from the dead, but all who hope in him will be raised to eternal life.

But his response was different. Instead of taking his life, he gave his life. Instead of leaping to find what’s on the other side, he transformed his life on this side. You could say he “pulled the trigger” on his old life, and his old life wasn’t too shabby.

He formerly went by Saul and, according to the standards of Judaism, Saul was no slacker. He was circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin (Phil. 3:5). In other words, he wasn’t a newbie in the faith; he was circumcised so early he was raised in the faith. And of all the ethnicities in the world, he was from the chosen people. And out of all of Israel, he was from a special tribe, the tribe that furnished Israel with their very first king. Saul had a great pedigree, but he had even more.

His zeal eclipsed many of his contemporaries, aligning him with some of Israel’s greats (Moses, Elijah, Phineas). An expert in the Law, Saul was esteemed by many. You might say he was the Steve Jobs of Judaism, with a passion for perfection to go with it. Saul arrested and persecuted Christians who perverted his Jewish faith. No one questioned his commitment, until his encounter with the risen Christ.

Then something switched, and his zeal ran toward Christ in a life of hopeful self-denial. He traveled unreliable roads and weathered seas throughout the Mediterranean to share the good news about Jesus, all while living off of his tent business and the support of friends. He wrote letters to struggling churches, and his writings eventually comprised half the New Testament. Along the way, he encountered misunderstanding, ridicule, rejection, prison, flogging, and even shipwreck. Yet he persisted. Why? The resurrection of Jesus had radically changed his notion of success.


If you’ve been around successful people, you know how suddenly small and insignificant it can make you feel. A tiny voice pops into your head and starts interrogating you. What have you accomplished? What do you have to show? Why is that?

Sociologist Ernest Becker says it’s a response to death. Sensing our ephemeral nature, we create what he calls “immortality projects.” We might get a higher degree, establish a family, start a business, engage in philanthropy, or take a selfie, all in an attempt to avert death. We’re haunted by questions like, “What will people think about me after I die? What will they say at my funeral? Will anyone remember me?”

Becker says this undeniable impulse is an attempt to deny death. To construct a way for us to live on, long after we are gone. Paul comes along and puts a gun to his immortality project when he says, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Phil. 3:7–8). Resurrection fundamentally alters the meaning of success.

Paul looks back at all his accomplishments and describes them as loss—three times he uses the word. What would compel a person of his stature to throw shade on his success? Christ. Each time he mentions loss, he pairs it with a gain: loss for the sake of Christ, loss because of the surpassing worth of Christ, counting achievement as rubbish to gain Christ.

The word surpassing means “above the mark.” He’s saying when I stack my accomplishments next to Jesus, they can’t even see him. The risen Christ is so good he’s off the scale, valuable beyond measure. By comparison, my accomplishments are rubbish.

Instead, success is this: “knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection” (3:10). It’s knowing the one who holds all things together, the God who swallows death, the rider on the white horse who will judge the quick and the dead, the King of a renewed creation. Knowing him is the greatest discovery—ever. And when you’ve got the greatest thing, you can live without a lot of things.


Eventually, the scientific crew working on the “the discovery” realizes the post-mortem brain signals are actually connected to episodes of a person’s past, not to an afterlife. When they convert the waves into images, they observe the episodes actually are moments of regret in a person’s life. Unknowingly, the suicides are waking up, not to a circle of loved ones but moments of intense regret. The central character gets stuck in a loop trying to prevent the suicide of a woman he loves.

Faith in Jesus, however, does not lead to an eternal loop of regret. Rather, to borrow a phrase from C. S. Lewis, it allows heaven to work backward. The meaning, love, joy, and goodness of heaven are transported back into the heart through union with Christ, which helps us weather things like loneliness and cancer.

Of course, our experience of heaven working backward is uneven. We are, after all, still on earth so to speak. And once we reach heaven, Lewis notes that even a past agony, and I’ll add even a regret, will turn into a glory. Why? Because that old pain will serve to intensify the present, everlasting comfort of Christ’s nail-scarred hands. Our regret will be faint, but a vivid reminder of the grand discovery—the remarkable mercy of Christ, who rose to forgive and renew all things.

Jonathan K. Dodson (M.Div, Th.M) is the founding pastor of City Life Church in Austin, TX which he started with his wife, Robie, and a small group of people. They have three children. He is also the founder of GCDiscipleship.com and author of a number of books including Gospel-Centered Discipleship, and Here in Spirit: Knowing the Spirit who Creates, Sustains, and Transforms All Things (IVP, 2018).

How Do Christians Get Better?


“I’m not getting any better,” he muttered from across the room. We gave an understanding nod. “I’m trying—I really am—but sin keeps tripping me. I don’t know what else to do.”

Our high theology did nothing to calm his despair.

But our pastor was unburdened by the moment. He looked the man in the eye and said, “The primary aim of the Christian life is not to avoid sin but to follow Jesus.”

I didn’t expect this response. Then again, the gospel is always surprising.


Sin is everywhere. But sin is not only a danger outside, it’s a danger inside as well. Sin is a part of us, living in our hearts since birth. Sin is the disease we can’t cure, the ailment we can’t ease, the problem we can’t solve. Words of despair are the only rational response to sin in all its ugliness. We need someone who can fight for us.

In Numbers 21, the Israelites grew impatient with God as he led them to the Promised Land. They tired of the food and water God provided—the miraculous bread from heaven became a bore; the fish of Egypt tasted better. They spoke against God, blaming him for their plight as he led them into plenty.

God’s punishment was swift and strong: “The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died” (Num. 21:6). Throughout the Bible, the serpent symbolizes Satan and his schemes. The venom was a painful reminder of their rebellion against God.

What were the Israelites to do?


What advice would you give those with venom in their veins? Some would say they only need to go to the doctor. Stand up and walk toward the healer. But how can a paralyzed person walk? Others may say they need to have enough faith to believe God will heal. But how can one who’s unbelief got them here make such a quick turnaround?

Most advice doesn’t account for our complete inability to fix ourselves. Fearing sin only takes us so far; it does nothing to keep us from sin altogether.

Too often, the despairing man or woman across the room receives a head-nod and a handful of suggestions. They’re told to cut the cord, smash their idols, maybe get outside more. Some say they’re too hard on themselves. After all, they can’t be as bad as other people. But none of this helps. In fact, it may grow our fears. How can we be sure we’re doing enough?

The bad news is our effort doesn’t overcome our sin. The good news is our effort doesn’t overcome our sin. Left to ourselves, we would fail. But left in Jesus’ hands, we receive his success.

Sin is overcome by Jesus’ grace applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit. We don’t need a list of suggestions any more than the dying Israelites needed to stand up and get moving. We need a rescue. We need a savior. Effort may give us a chance, but the gospel gives us far more—the gospel gives us Jesus.


As the snake-bitten Israelites lay dying in the desert, God commanded Moses to construct a bronze serpent and lift it up on a pole. It’s an odd prescription, but God’s ways are not our ways. His response to sin is to present a savior to behold, not a list of rules to follow. It’s the looking and believing that makes the difference.

In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul says “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The Israelites in the desert looked at a statue of the thing killing them. At the cross, we too behold the image of the thing killing us—ourselves. Jesus became human. And on the cross, Jesus became sin. All the ugliness of our sin was there, clinging to the skin of Jesus, seeping into his body, infiltrating his perfect heart. The sin that paralyzed us paralyzed Jesus.

With his last breath, he proclaimed, “It is finished.” Death flooded in. Salvation was at hand. A centurion saw and said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!" (Mark 15:39).

Those who beheld his crucified body went home despairing. How would they ever get better now, after the one they thought would save them had died? Then something remarkable happened. Three days later a stone rolled away, and Jesus walked out of the grave. The serpent’s bite was overcome!


Before Jesus died or rose, he had a conversation with a Pharisee seeking God named Nicodemus. He wanted to know the way to life. Jesus told him he must be born again. But that made no sense to Nicodemus. How can one be born when he is old?

There was a way, Jesus said, but only through himself: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

What snake-bitten sinners need is to look to the One who can save them.

How were the paralyzed Israelites saved in the desert so many years ago? It was not through their effort. It was not because of their good deeds. It was not even their amount of faith. It was beholding the serpent lifted up.

What you get depends on what you set your eyes on. Jesus was raised on the cross so our eyes would raise to him. He was raised from the grave so our eyes would continue to look to our living Savior.

Sin is scary. It should be. But Jesus has conquered it on our behalf. As Al Mohler has said, “Christianity isn’t about how Christian you feel, but how faithful Christ is.” With Jesus, what you see is what you get—a complete Savior for your complete need.

A friend of mine lost part of her eyesight last year due to an optic nerve injury. She has no hope of a complete recovery. But in her blindness, she sees the sharpness of Jesus. She recently told me, “I can’t see very well, and it’s not going to get better in this life. But, you know, I don’t think that when I stand before Jesus he will be blurry.”

If your life is blurred by sin and you’re not sure what to do, look to the One who’s making all things new, including you. The way to get better in the Christian life is by looking to Jesus rather than fearing sin.

David McLemore is the Director of Teaching Ministries at Refuge Church in Franklin, Tennessee. He also works for a large healthcare corporation where he manages an application development department. He is married to Sarah, and they have three sons.