The Final Four has been determined.  For the next week, it’ll be non-stop news.  Everyone will be asking: “Can someone beat Kentucky?  Might they be the greatest team of all time?  Since Notre Dame came really close, could someone possibly upset them?”

We won’t know the answers to these questions until next Monday night around 11:30 pm (unless there’s overtime!).

But here’s one question I’d like to answer, one that’s regularly asked me by sports enthusiasts who are also people of faith: "Can a Christian be ambitious and competitive?”

It’s a great and difficult question.  It’s a great question because a lot of people struggle with it.  It’s a difficult one because it’s terribly nuanced.

Here’s what I would say.  Yes, a Christian can be competitive and ambitious. There’s a good side to competition.  It allows you to see how good you really are.  It allows you to notice areas where you can get better.  It allows you to learn from losing.  Similarly, ambition allows you to press through trials.  It can teach perseverance like nothing else.

But here’s the nuanced downside of competition and ambition.  They can create pride.  Pride is naturally comparative.  When you win, you feel superior.  You think you’re better than another.  You find your identity in not just competing, but beating the competition.  This feeling of superiority is the source of Satan’s rebellion.  He wasn’t content being a great archangel.  He had to be God.  Selfish ambition then becomes the desire to spend your life competing and being better than another.

James 3:16 says that where there is selfish ambition, there is every evil thing.  Selfish ambition invites practically every demonic agency into a situation.  

Did you note that the term James uses is not mere ambition but “selfish ambition.”  Ambition isn’t wrong.  I’m personally ambitious to be the best minister/preacher/person I can be.  I am ambitious to take the gospel to as many places as possible in the world before I die. 

But here’s the key: I’m not doing it to be selfishly uplifted in the eyes of others. I’m not doing it to find my identity for living.   I’m not doing it for my own personal glory.

Ambition to be the best you can be is not wrong.  But to be ambitious solely to be better than others and/or for your own personal glory is destructive.

Therefore, Christians, compete!  Do your best.  Learn from competition.  That’s all good.  Just don’t compete so you can feel superior to other people.  That’s poison to your eternal soul.

Similarly, be ambitious.  Work hard to use all of God’s gifts he’s given you.  Just don’t make it selfish ambition.  You’ll never give God the glory for anything.  That’s also destructive to your eternal soul.  

And enjoy the Final Four!  Can Kentucky really do it?

AuthorStacey Martin

Romans 4:1

“What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?”

In the previous chapters, Paul has been arguing that justification before God can only happen by faith, not works.  No one is able to obey perfectly all the righteous requirements of the law.  It’s impossible.  The only other option is that God has done for us what we can’t do for ourselves.  He has made us righteous by the cross of Jesus.  Therefore, that righteousness is received by grace through faith.

In chapter 4, Paul now appeals to Abraham as a test case for justification by faith.  The father of the Jews is therefore crucial to Paul’s argument. 

Throughout this chapter, Abraham’s life will be examined.  It will be clearly seen that his justification before God will be merited by faith, as the greatest miracle and promise ever given to him: his son, Isaac. 

Examine your faith today.  How strong is it?  Is it sufficient for your salvation.  Is it a large enough faith to believe in God’s miraculous power for you today?


Romans 3:31

“Do we then overthrow the law by this faith?  By no means!  On the contrary, we uphold the law.”

Paul argues that the law’s inability to save does not nullify its significance by actually establishes it.  The law points to the human reality that no one can keep it.  No one can ever do enough to be saved in the presence of a holy God. 

If someone really knows Jesus’ salvation through grace, he will desire to obey the law even more.  The demands of the moral, holy law will become a want to, by grace, and not a have to, by law.  That’s why Jesus said that a Christian’s righteousness should exceed the righteousness of Pharisees.  The Christian’s motivation is a response to grace.  That’s the greatest motivator of all, Paul argues. 

Do you know the extraordinary grace of God today?  If so, your life should be the most moral and holy of anyone around you who is not a follower of Jesus.


Romans 3:30 

“…since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.”

Since God is one, all humanity created by him is one.  No one is superior to him.  And since all are sinners, the way of salvation can only be one way.  It’s either do or done. 

Either we can do enough to earn God’s favor or it needs to be done for us.  Either we can work for our salvation or it has to be a free gift by grace.

If it’s by grace, as Paul argues, it must then be for everyone in the world.  Since God is one.  Both Jew and Gentile now have the opportunity of eternal life! 

It’s reason to praise God forever!


Romans 3:29 

“Or is God the God of Jews only?  Is he not the God of Gentiles also?  Yes, of Gentiles also…”

God is the God of all.  Every person in creation is created by him.  Therefore,  salvation must be by grace.  If it’s by works of the law, then only the Jews can be saved!

But Jesus died for the entire world.  For all those who believe in him, there is the gracious gift of eternal life freely offered to anyone who believes.

Believe it’s true.  Receive this great gift.  And God’s eternal peace will flood your heart.


Romans 3:28

“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” 

To be justified before God can only happen in two possible ways.  Either we are justified by works of the law or by grace through faith. 

Paul vehemently argued that if one is justified by faith he cannot be justified by the law.  They are contrary.  They are opposites.

The Christian must believe salvation can only come by grace through faith, not of the law.  The resultant life should be filled with praise, worship and obedience to the God who paid it all on the cross of Calvary.


Romans 3:27 

“Then what becomes of our boasting?  It is excluded.  By what kind of law?  By a law of works?  No, but by the law of faith.” 

Since eternal salvation only comes to humanity by grace through faith and not works of the law, how can any human boast?  It’s tacitly impossible.  All boasting about eternal salvation must cease. 

If salvation came through works, humanity could boast about it forever.  But since it belongs to God and God alone, humans can only approach God with humility, praise and adoration.

Let those of us who love Jesus only boast in the name of the Lord.  Only he is worthy of all boasting.


Romans 3:26

“It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

God gave his righteous response to human sin at the right time the the history of salvation, when Jesus died on the cross.  It was the perfect time in God’s plan. 

The justifier, God, has declared the one who has faith in Jesus as justified.  It must be by faith if it can’t be by works.  An no one is righteous in God’s sight, not one. 

If you believe in Jesus you are justified in God’s sight.  Your sins are forgiven.  Does this describe you?


Romans 3:25

“…whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” 

The word “propitiated” means “satisfied.”  Therefore, Jesus’ shed blood satisfied God’s wrath against sin.  His holiness is not compromised.  God’s righteous anger needed to be appeased for sin to be forgiven.  That’s why Jesus came.

Many through the ages question God’s justice because of his forbearance against sin.  God looked forward to the day of the cross.  There he knew God would satisfy his justice through his Son.

God’s delay does not mean his denial.  Continue to trust him, even as you wait for justice.  The cross proves his justice is a part of his nature.


Romans 3:24

“…and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.” 

Those who realize they fall far short of God’s moral standard, as revealed in his law, and ask for forgiveness through Jesus’ death and resurrection, receive his grace as a gift from God.  They are now “justified” in God’s sight. When God looks at their hearts, it’s just as if they’d never sinned.  Legally, they have been pronounced “not guilty” by the Judge of the universe.  They have Jesus’ righteousness. 

They have received redemption.  Their broken image has been redeemed, made new, made whole and restored.  They are new creations.  The old is destroyed.  The new has come.  A new identity has been implanted in his soul.

Is this your reality today? 

If not, why not?


Romans 3:23

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

No one, not one person, can say they are righteous in God’s sight because of attempts at being righteous.  All people have fallen far short of what God desires.  There can be no human pride.  We have an inward disease called sin that causes our sin.  When we act on that sin, we are sinners.  We are therefore deserving of God’s severest condemnation.

That’s why Jesus came: to save sinners like you and me.  His grace is stronger than our sin.  It’s an unimaginable gift. 

Have you received this free gift?


Romans 3:22

“—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction.”

Paul says that God’s righteousness (forgiveness) can be received by anyone by simply believing by faith in Jesus Christ.  He lived the perfect life we cannot live.  He took God’s wrath upon himself for our sins.  If we believe it, God plants his righteousness in our hearts.  We are forgiven and accepted by God. 

There is no distinction in this gift.  It’s for all humanity, Jew and Gentile alike.  The ground at the foot of the cross is level.  All need salvation.  

But God loves the entire world.  Therefore, the free gift of eternal life is for all.  All have fallen short of God’s perfect standard, revealed in his perfect law. 

Have you received this free gift?


Romans 3:21 

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—“ 

God’s righteousness through Jesus has been manifested to the world.  You see God’s moral character in Jesus, total perfection and obedience to God’s moral law.  

This manifestation is apart from the Law and the Prophets.  It has nothing to do with our works.  It has everything to do with God’s gift of grace and forgiveness to us.  It can’t be earned.  It can only be received. 

The Law and the Prophets all point to Jesus.  This way of salvation through Jesus and grace is in these verses.  You see him everywhere throughout the Hebrew Testament if you’re willing to look. 

Do you know Jesus?  Is he your personal Savior?  Are you assured of the forgiveness of your sins?

If not, why not?


Romans 3:20

“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”

The law requires perfect obedience to God.  Any honest person, who places all their attempts to obey the law next to how well he has actually done, will realize how woefully short he falls short of its perfect standard.

Through the perfection of the moral law, every person should realize how badly they are sinners.  When we mirror ourselves against God’s perfect standard, we realize one complete truth: we are gross sinners and need a great Savior.  We need to be “justified,” a legal term that means our offenses have been exonerated.

Have you been justified from your sins?  Do you know that your sins have all been forgiven by Jesus?

Do you personally know His saving love today?


Romans 3:19

“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.”

Paul concludes his previous argument made in verses 9-18.  His point was to use the Hebrew Scriptures to show that no one keeps the law.  For whatever the law says we are to do, we don’t do!  This should stop the mouths of all objectors.  We all need to be held accountable to God in the way we disobey his moral law.

And we will be.  That’s why we all need a Savior to forgive us our multitude of sins before a holy God. 

That Savior has come.  He has paid the price for our sins.  His name is Jesus.  

Do you believe in him today for the total, complete, forever forgiveness of your sins?


Romans 3:18

“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” 

Paul cites Psalm 36:1.  It’s yet another attempt on his part to point out to his Jewish readers that their own Hebrew Testament suggests all have sinned and need a Savior.

No one has the fear of God in them.  No one seems to believe that one day they will be held accountable for how they have broken his moral law.  No one seems to believe that God sees everything we do.  God is therefore offended by our obstinate behavior and refusal to admit his presence. 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  To fear God means we want to please God.  To please God we need to admit our sin and repent.

That’s Paul’s point.  We all need a Savior.  The Hebrew Scriptures say so.

His name is Jesus.


Romans 3:17

“For the way of peace they have not known.”

Paul continues his Hebrew Testament proof that all people are sinners and need God’s grace.  In previous verses from the Hebrew Testament, Paul has shown how the writers admitted there were none righteous, not one.  He showed how violent, warring behavior has engulfed human history.

In this verse, Paul gives another example.  There has been little time in human history when there has been perfect peace.  Most of the time, human history is thoroughly littered with war and violence.

The human heart is decadent, sinful, arrogant in rebellion against a God who revealed himself in Jesus, aka, “the prince of peace.”  War and violence prove it.

Therefore, we all need a Savior who is this prince of peace.

His name is Jesus.


Romans 3:16 

“…in their paths are ruin and misery.”

Humans have sown seeds of destruction all over the world.  Because of a lust for power, humans have killed, stolen and maimed others.  They’ve caused ruin and misery. 

It’s yet another example of the power of sin that lurks in the human heart.  It proves the need for a Savior.  It shows the need for love to fill others, not hatred and warfare.

Jesus is the Savior’s name.  He soothes the savage heart.  He gives life to broken people. 

Do you need a Savior today from your broken, selfish heart?

His name is Jesus.  His name means Savior.  He’s ready to touch and change your heart today.


Romans 3:15

“Their feet are swift to shed blood…”

Here Paul modifies Isaiah 59:7,8.  He shows how human history is filled with examples of violence, murder, ruin, destruction and bloodshed.  Their sin leaves a destruction of heartache and desolation.

These horrific acts of violence only show the true condition of the human heart.  It shows the human rebellion against a Creator of love. 

Humans desperately need a Savior.  That’s Paul’s point in quoting these Hebrew Scriptures in verses 10-18. 

Do you believe you need a Savior?  It’s the necessary first step in forgiveness.


Romans 3:14 

“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 

Paul uses this quote from Psalm 10:7.  It shows how all our hearts through our words, for both Jew and Greek, are full of curses, not blessings.  They speak bitterness, not grace. 

Our words just show our hearts.  Out of our mouths proves the abundance of the heart.  Our hearts are bitter and cursed. 

The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart.  They need to be changed.

We need a Savior.