Let me know if this sounds familiar? As a Christian in the past, your sins have been forgiven. In the future when you die, you know you are going to heaven. But what about right now?
Connecting the riches of Christ to the realities of life.
Let’s take our example from the first and second article in this series: the scenario of leaving the church parking lot after Sunday’s service with that angry outburst directed at your wife playing out in front of your young children. Afterwards, you were even shocked because just 5 mins prior, you were smiling and saying your goodbyes before leaving church. How could you blank out so quickly to the sweet truths that are yours in the gospel?
What in the world is Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and all the blessings and benefits that we possess as a result of that have to do with this moment? What does the fact that we are a Christian have to do with us right now, in our everyday lives and struggles? How does the grace of the gospel intersect in the here and now? If the gospel doesn’t connect here, it may be a warning to us. We may need to ask ourselves the hard question: Why isn’t the gospel intersecting with my here and now?
You could call it blindness to the gospel: a temporary disconnect from the very real truths of being a Christian (For just one example, refer to the truths found in 2 Peter 1:3-9). In that moment of anger, we underestimated the presence and power of indwelling sin and forgot that our identities are in Christ. We were blind to God’s provision that we are given everything we need for life and godliness. And finally, God’s process: we are accepted into God’s family, but that doesn’t mean God’s work in us is finished. In fact, it has just begun. It will all be for His glory. And it will redeem people and situations back to Himself.
How do we connect the dots and understand what this change looks like?
The Hope – We are united to Christ as Christians.
Did you know, as Christians, we are united to Christ? Yes, but we forget and overlook the experience of that to help us in our daily lives and struggles. We move through our days unaware of the blessings and power that are held for us in our unification to Christ. Please refer to the following passages for direct reference to this beautiful truth: John 15:1-17, John 17:20-26, Ephesians 1:3-14 and Hebrews 9:11-29.
Back to leaving the church parking lot. Did you know there is hope? Because you are united to Christ, you’re not alone in this, nor left to power through under your own willpower. You have the Spirit of the living God within you! But how can I change course?
Note: An excellent resource to consult for further information is: How People Change, by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp. (This is an affiliate Amazon link.)
What does it mean to repent? The short answer is: To turn from.
Relying on this union with Christ and our new awareness of when we get angry for the wrong reasons and express it in the wrong ways, we are now able to turn from our sinful selves to Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Refer to what we learned in articles 1 and 2 of this series). One of the greatest things about identifying “ruling desires,” is that they are specific, and can therefore enable a more specific repentance, which leads to more specific change for the better.
Let’s use Scripture to light our way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Where was your heart? God-ward facing, or were you being selfish in that moment? This is what it looks like to be selfish –
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these…
And to contrast.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
So, when you’re leaving the church parking lot this time, just before the angry outburst comes, use the awareness technique from article 1 to practice the 4 steps to slow down and increase your awareness towards your anger. Then, use the 2nd article to help detect when we wrap our hand around a particular desire and demand it, even above God’s will for us (as we discussed further in article 3). During this process of slowing down, pray and acknowledge the main change agent here: the Holy Spirit wanting to redeem this situation back to loving God and loving your wife and children.This is the start of repentance.
Doing a 180.
What does this look like in the messiness of life? Let’s imagine: picture blowing through your local 4-way stop and realizing it, but late. You stop in the middle of the intersection, putting the car in reverse to get back into your proper place. Kinda messy, right? But it beats what you used to do when you blew the stop sign, saying, “the heck with it” and just kept driving like you stole it, as the bumper stickers say.
The goal is to stop blowing stop signs and to stop right on the solid white line, right? But in this life, it may never completely go away. However, there is another objective, and that is to decrease frequency and duration of acknowledging and stopping angry outbursts. You blow the stop sign 75% less now, for example. So what does this look like? A decrease in the duration of time it takes to detect the sinful pattern OR being quicker to notice the onset of sinful anger brewing in your heart (sinful anger: getting angry over the wrong reasons and expressing it in the wrong ways). You’re able to catch yourself in the intersection versus two miles down the road.
What do you think you look like when you stop in the middle of the intersection and then turn back? Like when you repent to your wife right after an outburst that was partially stunted because of your union with Christ and the conviction of your heart by the Holy Spirit? Yes, messy! You guessed right! BUT also something else, right? It looks redemptive. Redirecting the conversation, helping to heal the relationship instead of damaging it. It brings Jesus back into the situation. This is how situations change, this is how habits change!
Note: A great resource that discusses this change further and the theological term called “sanctification” is, How Does Sanctification Work? by David Powlison. (This is an affiliate Amazon link.)
Change – God is in the business of transformation. What is sanctification?
Remember, the result is not “Self-help” but for God’s glory. To conform His people into the image of His Son – Christ. To reconcile us (and the world) back to Himself through Christ and in His grace, He has chosen you and me, Christ-followers, to help in that.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
What is every Christian’s calling?
Brothers and sisters, let us now strive to be ambassadors for Christ–representing His message, His methods, and His character to those around us!
2 Corinthians 5:16-21:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
But God, I need help in this!… Praise be to God because…
God is in the business of creating new habitual desires to replace the desires of the flesh. Yes, God can change your desires. Pray and ask!
for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Also, pray to want this!
Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.
God refuses to serve our instinctive longings (James 1:13) but commands us to be ruled by other longings. As Christians, we are being conformed to the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16-17). What God commands, He provides the power to accomplish. God tells us to be ruled by other different desires (Galatians 5:22-24). This is radical! God promises to change what we really want (2 Corinthians 5:17). God is always reorienting our worship and our walks, our motives and our lifestyles.
So, this time when you are leaving church again, what would it look like to bring redemption and healing to a situation, instead of sinfully demanding your own objectives through an outburst of anger? How could you bring Jesus into the situation as His ambassador? Wow! Now that is constructive. Build bridges instead of dynamiting them.
Did you know there is a constructive alternative to our anger? In situations, when something matters, when it’s wrong, when it is offensive, and when we want to do something about it, there is another way. In article 5, our last in this series on anger, we will talk about the four elements of a constructive alternative to our anger.
And please remember brothers and sisters, if you need more personalized help with this struggle, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for counseling from a biblical perspective at https://www.providencebiblicalcounseling.org/.