POINT 1 – WHAT IS SANCTIFICATION?
Tonight I’m continuing my series on the sanctified life, and we’re going to be looking at sanctified ambition. But before we start, maybe you’d ask me, ‘What is ‘sanctified’? What does it mean?’ Let’s take a further look at what ‘Sanctified’ means.
Sanctification has two meanings. On the one hand, it means to be set apart. And in terms of our Christianity, to be sanctified means to be set apart for God. We who are sanctified are set apart to belong to God.
You can imagine in terms of a surgeon, he takes his scalpels and he sanctifies them by separating them from the cheese sandwich he plans to have for lunch. Okay, there’s my cheese sandwich over there, and I’m going to set apart my scalpels for another work.
All who are born again believers in Jesus Christ are sanctified. Paul even calls the people of the Corinthian Church sanctified, and that’s crazy because they were a pretty sinful bunch!
I read something this last week that was really scary. There’s a social networking website that’s spreading around the world which is for the purpose of having affairs. So only married people are allowed to sign up, and the aim is to hook up with other married people for anonymous affairs. Some of you have heard of it. But this last week I read that their biggest demographic of users is evangelical Christians. Blows my mind!
But regardless of our actions, Christians are set apart for God – sanctified.
But sanctification also has another meaning. Sanctification is not just a state of being: “I am sanctified – set apart”; but it is also a process by which we become more and more like Jesus.
When we are saved, we are immediately set apart for God and for His purposes, but that doesn’t mean that we’re of much use to Him in our sinful state; God also wants to cleanse us, to sharpen us, to hone us, to make us more and more like Himself, useful and noble.
So if you can picture it, the surgeon sanctifies his scalpels by setting them apart from the cheese sandwich, but they are still pretty useless to him until he sterilises them. So, here’s my cheese sandwich, put it in a bag, sterilise my scalpels, wash my hands, now I’m ready to heal the hurting using my scalpels.
My purpose in this three week series is to be used by God to sterilise us more and more; that we can be useful to Him in His healing work on hurting people of this earth.
God has called us to be sharp and useful instruments. And so we start to sanctify ourselves. We stop maybe swearing, stop stealing, stop abusing. But much more than that we also need to sanctify our hearts, and sanctify our minds, the seat of our imaginations and ambitions and our memories.
Last week we spoke about having a sanctified imagination. Next week we’re going to look at having a sanctified memory. Tonight though, we’re going to be speaking about having sanctified ambition.
POINT 2 – WHAT IS AMBITION?
Ambition – a strong desire to do or achieve something, and the willingness to strive to attain it.
We all have ambition. God has created us to look forward, to dream, or imagine a future, and then to strive to attain it. Our ambitions might be, ‘One day I want to drive a Porsche,’ or ‘One day I want to have a family of 6,’ or ‘One day I want to meet Jim Parsons, or Ban Ki-moon, or Elon Musk…,’ or ‘One day I want to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.’
We all have ambitions. In order to get anywhere, we need to picture where we want to go, and then we work towards it.
I have a very ambitious brother, and his dream is to be flown to work on a helicopter. That’s one of his ambitions, and he’s working to achieve it, he studied five years to get his B.Ac, and at the end of this year he’ll be a fully qualified CA. He’s working for one of the largest accounting firms in the world, and he plans to work his way up the ranks. That’s just one of his ambitions – he also loves the Lord and wants to go where God leads him and bless the Lord with his life and one day with his family. But one of his ambitions is to be flown to work on a helicopter.
We all have ambitions. You have an ambition, what is your ambition?
There’s a space there in the notes. Without anyone looking at your neighbour, please fill in what your ambition is. I’ll give you a few seconds to do that. Try and be as specific as possible. Don’t copy your neighbour’s ambition.
The Bible is full of stories of people who had ambitions. Some were bad, some were good.
The nation of Israel had a string of men who had ambitions for power, and seized the power of the throne by assassinating the king that came before them – Baasha, Zimri, Omri, and others Before them, you’ll remember the people of Babel who had the ambition of making a great name for themselves by building a tower to heaven, making themselves equal to God Before them, you’ll remember Eve’s ambition – to be like God through disobedience. The serpent tempted her by saying, “You will not certainly die. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Some were good:
Joseph was an ambitious young man who was determined to honour the LORD no matter where he was or what he was asked to do. David was an ambitious young man who was determined to obey the LORD, even if the LORD called him to fight a giant. Mary was an amazingly ambitious young lady – her ambition was to be available to the LORD, no matter what He called her to do. In fact, when the angel Gabriel prophesied about the coming of Jesus, she humbly said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” So you see, ambitions can be God-honouring, or they can be self-honouring. I hope this will be an encouragement to you: it’s good to have ambitions. God has created you with a heart that dreams and plans and wills to achieve. Be ambitious – don’t set your sights low – go ahead and aim for what should be impossible!
The most important question you need to ask regarding your ambitions is: where does the focus of my ambitions lie? Because your ambitions can be focused in one of two places, either: self-focussed; or God-focused.
Look around you; most of the world is full of people with self-focussed ambitions. Their ambitions are driven by the simple desire to one-up their neighbour. A bigger house, a fancier car, a newer cell-phone, a larger pay-check, better clothes, juicier gossip, kids in a better school.
In fact, those are the same ambitions that we have before we come to Christ. Before I came to Christ, my life was all about me. When I looked ahead, I wasn’t too interested in where God wanted me to go, or what God wanted me to do. My sole ambition was to do whatever would make me happy.
Before I came to Christ, my great ambition was to become one of the ‘cool kids’. That was my goal, my driving force. And because I was so focused on attaining that for myself, I was quite willing to do all kinds of sinful things in order to reach it. I would lie, gossip, swear, bully, insult, whatever it would take. Because my ambitions were self-focused.
But that’s so vastly different from the new life that I have in Christ. He’s given me new life, and He’s also called me to turn my eyes off of myself, in a sense to step down from the throne of my heart, and to have God-focused, God-honouring ambitions.
What does the Bible tell us about ambitions?
When I started preparing this message, I searched my mental Bible library to find passages that talk about ambition. And I couldn’t find any! I even looked up the word in Bible dictionaries, and found a handful of verses. I thought, ‘Oh no, does God not deal with our ambitions?’ I’d already given the sermon title, and thought, ‘Now what? How am I going to preach on something God doesn’t talk about in His Word?’
But as I started preparing, I was blown away with how much God cares about and talks about our ambitions, about what drives us in life; and He gives some very clear guidance on what our ambitions should be.
And the point is that they are focused on Him rather than me.
God wants us to take our eyes off of our little lives, and to turn them onto the glory of who He is and all that He’s accomplished and is accomplishing for us.
It’s always been that way.
When Adam and Eve sinned and discovered their nakedness, they tried to cover themselves with leaves, but God gave them much better clothes. In Noah’s time when the world was so sinful, God saved humankind by warning Noah and guiding him in the building of a boat, and then shutting Noah and his family in. When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, God delivered them by pouring out plagues and showing wonderful signs of His power He gave the Israelites the Law, and though they tried for hundreds of years to gain their salvation, they failed miserably, and God stepped in to do the work that we could not. As people we tend towards focusing on ourselves, depending on ourselves, worshipping our own desires, and feeling like everyone else should focus on us too. And God has always been calling us to stop looking inward, and, like a child, look upward and say, ‘Daddy, I know You always take care of me; what can I do for You?’
The world around us tries to teach us to turn back on ourselves. Look at the billboards on your way home and you’ll see that they are designed for you to look inward, rather than upward. But God’s Word teaches us and calls out to us not to focus on what the world offers, but to focus on what God offers. When we’re tempted to think that the most important thing is to build up an empire for ourselves in this world; Jesus says, “what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25).
When we’re tempted to think that we need to push ourselves ahead to gain respect from others; Jesus says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).
When we’re tempted to think that we are the sole providers for ourselves and our family; Jesus says, “Don’t worry about having enough food or drink or clothing. Why be like the pagans who are so deeply concerned about these things? Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and he will give you all you need for day to day. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33)
For those who don’t follow Christ, life’s ambition is all about becoming something in this world. It’s all about making my mark, gaining respect and a name for myself; looking out for Number One. And when we come to Christ we follow those same thought patterns without even realising it.
But Godly ambitions call for something different – not to focus on this world, but to focus instead on the world that Jesus has gone ahead to prepare for us. After all, this world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:17).
Look at what else the Bible tells us about this world that we sometimes lay all our ambitions in:
We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world (1 Timothy 6:6), So don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21) What does this mean for us? Does this mean that the ambition of becoming a partner in the company is a bad ambition? Is the ambition of being most popular in the whole school a bad ambition? Is the ambition of being flown to work in a helicopter a bad ambition?
No, not at all! If those are your ambitions then strive to attain it. But with all of your ambitions, hopes and plans, the question that we need to filter it through is this: Am I being self-focussed in this ambition, or am I being God-focussed?
POINT 3 - CHALLENGE
My challenge for you is to go home tonight, and think through what your ambitions and driving forces are. Lay your ambitions before the Lord and ask Him to show you where your heart lies – in the things of this world, or in Him. Turn your ambitions over to Him, and allow Him to guide your life. Jesus tells us that only then will you find what really matters, what’s really of value.