Was He Tempted by Ambition?

We have already looked at some of the unfolding wonder of the fact that not once did Jesus Christ protect His own humanity when He walked the earth as God. He could have, but He did not.

   His heart, knowing our hearts, would not permit it.

   He loved the entire world so much that He gave Himself for it. How would He have dared commit one act of self-protection which might have shut out even one person?

   In Chapter 7, we shared from Luke 4:1-4 Jesus' first temptation in the wilderness. Had He turned even one small stone into a loaf of bread, He would have shut Himself off from all the hungry people in the world. And I believe His love is so great that if only one person in all the ages was going to know hunger of any kind, He still would not have fed Himself that day.

   To me, it is not enough to say that Jesus Christ was sinless because He was the Son of God. I must press further and know that He was the Son of God because He was sinless. He was a human being, but He thought with God's mind and loved with God's heart.

   This lifts my allegiance to Him out of the mere dogma

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of doctrine and gives it heart and conviction. As I see that God's true character is discoverable in Jesus Christ, my inherent resistance toward Him melts away. I do not need to whip myself up into loyalty to Him. My intellect itself, enlightened by His Holy Spirit, demands that I follow Him. My heart cries, "God has to be like Jesus!" Life will not be justified otherwise.

   In one sense, the authentic Christian who believes in Jesus Christ as the revelation of God Himself is the only one who truly believes in human dignity! Humanism, as a philosophy, falls far short here. When I see in Christ how important man is to God, I can only conclude that "all else is vanity" but to belong to Him.

   If only one person in all the world had needed a Saviour, He would still have gone to the Cross.

   This knowing opens hearts. Opens hearts to receive Him as Saviour and opens hearts to follow him as Lord.

   To know Jesus Christ as Lord and God as Thomas knew Him, is, in the philosophical sense, to know a self-evident truth. When we link our lives to His, we find that He Himself is His own verifiable data.

   Across the nearly two thousand years of the history of Christianity on earth, men have tried to kill off in themselves ambition, or the human bent to self-glorification. This has become a fetish in many religious groups. Men have often injured themselves physically in their desperate efforts to become humble, to choke off their naturally ambitious natures. To some Christian groups, both Catholic and Protestant, this has been the indication, if not the way, to what man calls salvation.

   The Protestant may believe that his salvation comes only as a result of faith in God, but over and over he has attempted to prove his salvation, to man at least, by appearing to be humble. By running himself down in order to "glorify God." By setting up a man-concocted list of

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do's and don'ts and forcing himself and the others in his group to follow them.

   Somewhere throughout all of Christian history, there have been and still are those who attempt to erect boundaries around the Christian life. To "fence in" what Christ came to set free! Andre Gide referred to the "cramp of salvation." Before I met Jesus Christ and knew Him to be God Himself, I looked with horror on the possibility of confining my life to what I honestly believed to be the boxed-in existence of the followers of Christ. Now that I have been His follower for ten years, I see that this is not His way. It has been the way of those who try sincerely to work out their own guilt feelings by self-effort, in an admirable but futile manner. Doctrinally, they may believe that Christ on His Cross handled the guilt of all human nature. Experientially, they work at squelching themselves until their daily lives do indicate a state of spiritual "cramp."

   When we put ourselves in a box, we follow what Dr. J.B. Phillips calls a "God-in-a-box." In his great Christian classic, Your God Is Too Small, Dr. Phillips says: "The man who is outside all organized Christianity may have, and often does have, a certain reverence for God, and a certain genuine respect for Jesus Christ. But what sticks in his throat about the Christianity of the Churches is not merely their differences in denomination, but the spirit of 'churchiness' which seems to pervade them all. They seem to him to have captured and tamed and trained to their own liking Something that is really far too big ever to be forced into little man-made boxes with neat labels upon them. 'If,' the Churches appear to be saying to him, 'you will jump through our particular hoop or sign on our particular dotted line then we will introduce you to God. But if not, then there is no God for you.' This seems to him to be nonsense, and nasty arrogant nonsense at that. 'If there's a God at all,' he feels rather

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angrily, 'then He's here in the home and in the street, here in the pub and in the workshop. And if it's true that He's interested in me and wants me to love and serve Him, then He's available for me and every other Tom, Dick or Harry who wants Him, without any interference from the professionals. If God is God, He's big, and generous and magnificent, and I can't see that anybody can say they've made a particular corner on God, or shut Him up in their particular box.' "1

   These are strong words, and written by a clergyman, too. Of course, as Dr. Phillips elaborates, we see that no one group intends to do this. And neither do I believe we can attack them outwardly and leave it at that. Attacks avail nothing anyway. And they are not necessary at all. What is necessary is for us to look at God as we can see Him in Jesus Christ and discover individually that no matter what Christendom has done through the years since His resurrection, to make itself appear "separate" or right or humble or "saved," Christ can still give us the straight word on self-gratification or ambition and make us realistic about it.

   If you, as an outsider, are cringing at the thought that if you become a Christian you will have to douse the ambition that possesses you and crawl into the "box" with the others you know, forget it.

   God may not approve of your particular ambition, or He may need to change you so that it no longer possesses you, but He does understand it. And He will redirect it for you — creatively.

   Going on with our inspection of Jesus' temptations in the wilderness, we see that in the second temptation (Luke 4:5-8) He makes possible the opening of the hearts of the overly ambitious. Here He was shown the kingdoms of the world and told that He could rule over them. In verses one and two of Chapter 4, remember that He

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"was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being forty days tempted."

   Jesus was tempted.

   It is no effort for me to resist robbing a bank when I pass one. I'm just not tempted to do it. This is no virtue on my part. Merely lack of interest. In order to be tempted we need the desire within us to do or have a thing. Something in us must respond to it. This is why a feeling of pride in a Christian because he doesn't drink — when he has never wanted to — is ridiculous!

   But Jesus Christ, unlike many religious groups, does not approach your temptation to further yourself, by shutting you in a box. He approaches it, as He approaches your total personality, out in the open with all of Himself. He became a human being. He remained God, but He was utterly human. Something in Him responded to ruling the kingdoms of the world. He was tempted. He approaches you realistically and with full freedom on your part and His. He does not attempt to get you to pour yourself into an accepted mold in order to appear pious, or unambitious, or humble, or "saved."

   He approaches you as you are with Himself, as He is. He lets you know that He not only understands your ambition to get to the top quickly, He lets you know that He was tempted on this point, too! This fact in itself makes me more willing to be honest with Him concerning my own temptations along the lines of ambition. Before I became His follower, I was driven by ambition to reach the top in my profession. Since I have known Him, this is still one of my strongest temptations. Now and then I receive an offer to write something which I know is either not God's highest will for my life or which is against His will. But it may further my career as a writer.

   What can I do here?

   Use my will power and turn it down? Yes, I can. But there are two dangers involved in this. There is, first of

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all, the danger that in turning it down I am pushing down into my subconscious mind the beginnings of a resentment against God for having a will like His instead of a will like mine. And there is always present the danger of becoming "spiritually ambitious" because I feel pride in having turned it down for His sake!

   God does not pour us in a mold. He has said: "Come now, and let us reason together." And this is the Christian way. The Christian who has taken the time to find out what God is really like in Jesus Christ can go right to Him no matter what the temptation. We do not need to have come to the final decision before telling Him about it. Even if we are still fighting in our hearts, we are perfectly free to confront Him with, "But, Lord, how can You possibly know or understand how I feel in this particular situation? After all, You're 'meek and lowly in heart.' I'm ambitious! Ambition didn't bother You. But it bothers me. What can You say to me directly on this, Lord?"

   And He can reply, "I know exactly how you feel. Don't forget, I was tempted there in the wilderness that day. I was tempted with the offer of those earthly kingdoms. I do know how you feel. I knew that earthly kingdoms were not what I really wanted in the end. Being one with the Father, I knew that all that would ultimately satisfy Me would be the hearts of the people who made up these kingdoms. I knew this to be the Father's highest will, and so it was Mine, too. Even if you can't see this right now, you can trust Me to know best. And I have opened the way for your obedience by the very fact that I allowed Myself to be tempted along this same line. Follow Me!"

   In this same temptation, He also has a direct word for the nobodies among us. Jesus identified totally with the little people of this world, all the way from His birth in the most humiliating surroundings, to His death on a criminal's cross. And He did not forget the nobodies

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among us that day in the wilderness when He turned down the kingdoms of this world.

   Most people are never offered a kingdom on this earth. Most people just go along making ends meet. Now, suppose Jesus Christ had yielded to the temptation to become an earthly ruler. Suppose He had accepted just one tiny kingdom! Could a nobody even want to come close to a God like that? Could the average person feel that he or she had a right to come close and ask of a God like that?

   Jesus Christ lays down no complicated rules. His great commandment is that we love the Lord our God with all our hearts. In His every action, He showed that He knew we could never do this until we knew what God was like. And so, in His every action, He showed us the heart of God. The only heart magnetic enough to draw us away from self-love and personal ambition.

   He showed us the Father when He showed us Himself. He dared to say, "I, if I be lifted up... will draw all men." And He dared to say it because He knew who He was! His is not a static, cramped plan of salvation. His is the eternal offer of a strictly personal relationship with Himself, in which we can know we are understood, and through which our every temptation can be met. His offer is not a life lived in a box of religious platitudes and rules. It is a life lived in the open wonder of an ever brightening personal relationship with Himself.

   Anyone can talk things over with God through Jesus Christ and come to a creative conclusion. In these wilderness temptations and on through His earthly life, to the Cross and the open tomb, He has made nearness to Himself possible for every type of human being. Not only has He made it possible, He has made it irresistible, once we know Him as He is.

Chapter Ten  ||  Table of Contents