Quelling Our Anger

“Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Eph 4:26-27).  The next step in our new nature living is handling anger.  And right off the bat, these first two words, “Be angry”, can be confusing.  Is Paul saying, “Go ahead and get angry, just not to the point of sinning?”

No, a better translation would be, “When anger comes upon you, do not sin.”  The idea is that anger will come upon you; it’s inevitable to have angry feelings.  So the point here is that anger is a temptation, not a sin in and of itself.  When you feel your anger rising, you are being tempted.  The sin or not sin is related to what you do with your anger.

If you respond to the anger you feel with calm, with a measured response, with taking a step back to evaluate, you are overcoming the temptation.  But if we blow up, verbally attack, or strike our neighbor, our anger has pushed us into sin.  Even if we fail to attack, but are seething with hatred inside, we have fallen into sin.

Now an interesting point in verse 27 is that when we fall into sin with our anger, we give the devil an opportunity.  What opportunity have we given the devil?  The opportunity to do what he does best.  Satan is the accuser and our angry sin allows him to accuse away, “Is this really what a believer looks like?” becomes his mantra in our head.  When we fall into sin with our anger, we hear Satan’s accusing voice.  And we cower in shame.  And we lose faith that the new nature really has any power.

But resurrection power is just what the new nature has.  And by virtue of this power, your anger does not have to lead to sin.  Remember, anger comes about because of a blocked goal.  When our goals are blocked, we look for the “blocker”, the culprit who is thwarting our plans, our self-respect, our hopes and dreams.  And we are tempted to lash out at this person or situation that is causing our anger.

Faced with a blocked goal, we look for someone to blame.  Before Rhonda and I had a unified understanding of our radically different giftings and personalities, we often saw each other as goal blockers.  And it caused us to demonstrate angry reactions toward each other.  When we started to celebrate our differences and embrace the best of what we both brought to the table, not only did our anger lower, but our goals themselves came more into alignment.

Remember, feelings of anger are just a temptation.  Of course, Satan would like us to give into this temptation.  Because anger is one of the processes whereby Satan’s will, rather than God’s is accomplished.  Look at this powerful passage in the book of James, “But let every one be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jam 1:19-20).

The Bible again appeals to a motivation to do the right thing, and quell your anger.  Why?  First, “it does not accomplish the righteousness [the will] of God.”  And second, “It gives the devil an opportunity” to continue his effort to bury you under guilt and shame.  We defeat the enemy’s plans when we process our anger temptations properly.

And by the power of the new nature, we have the spiritual energy required to do just that.  To return a blessing for an insult; to dial down the angry response; to evaluate what goal exactly is being blocked, and what is God telling me in this.  It is all in front of us and just another snapshot of what living into the new nature looks like.

Truth-telling and the New Nature

Now that we are back in the saddle, let’s return to our series on “Ephesians and Your New Reality” in which we are examining how the new spiritual reality of our identity in Christ (Ephesians chapters 1-3) can become our physical reality; i.e. how can it become our daily experience (Ephesians chapters 4-6).  When we left the topic a few posts ago, the apostle Paul was just explaining how to leave our old self behind and put on the “new self, which in the likeness of God, has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:24).

The rest of the book of Ephesians is focused on the specifics of living into our new selves.  Paul lays this out by reviewing what righteous behavior looks like informed by our new nature.  He starts in the very next verse with honesty.

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (Eph 4:25).  While life will send us plenty of twists, turns, in-your-face complications, as well as subtle temptations, let’s start with this straightforward admonition.

When you face a fork in the road, a decision between lying and telling the truth, choose truth.  When a lie may be useful to smooth out a challenging situation, choose truth.  When your sales numbers are down and your boss is calling you for an update, choose truth.

Is it that simple?  Just choose truth?  No and yes.  No, we have enemies within (the flesh) and without (Satan and the world system) that can make “laying falsehood aside” a difficult path.  But there is also a yes; our new nature – empowered by the Christ within – that energizes our obedience.  Remember, our goal here is not to win a theological argument.  It is to find the power – not our willpower, but God’s resurrection power displayed in our new self – to make a thousand righteous choices.

And a beautiful piece of these New Testament admonitions is that they almost always come with a motivation.  We are to tell the truth, not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because of lying’s detrimental effect on ourself and others.

First, Paul uses the motive of “lay aside the bad stuff and put on the good stuff” over and over in his letters to describe how we live into our new nature.  And he does that here with the instruction to “lay falsehood aside”.  We are to tell the truth because it is in our new nature to do so.  Lying does not fit your new identity, your new self, and needs to be laid aside.

Second, telling the truth builds up the body of Christ.  “We are members of each other” (Eph 4:25).  We are not islands where our personal sin and righteousness have no effect on those around us.  Truth telling and lying have tremendous consequence for how we connect as a body of believers.

If you cannot be trusted to tell the truth, you are going down a path of cutting off your chance to connect deeply with the body.  If you cry “wolf” too many times, you will not be believed.  If you lie about your accomplishments, any success of yours will be second-guessed.  If you are found to be a liar, your chance to influence others will disappear.  In short, you have burned the bridge of opportunity to connect and love and be loved in the body.  Truth telling is critical to maintaining a healthy and united community of faith.

Jesus is changing you from the inside out.  Lying is feeling more foreign to you as you mature in Him.  It is starting to feel as uncomfortable as that high school shirt that used to be your favorite, but that you have long since outgrown.  Lying gives you an uneasy, convicted feeling that something is not right, because it is foreign to your new identity in Christ.

Clothe yourself in honesty; in telling the truth.  It is not just for your own reputation, but a boost to your community of believers as well.  And by the Christ’s power, presence, and authority, you can do it; you can honor the Lord with your honesty.

Perú

Greetings again.  I have been out of touch – and out of town – for a bit this summer.  I recently had the joy of joining a trip with our church to visit our friends at Iglesia Alianza Cristiana y Misionera in Rimac (a district just outside of Lima), Perú.  If you recall your 6th grade world geography, July is winter in the Southern Hemisphere and smack dab in the middle of their school year.

Our team participated in art, drama, and music classes as well as chapel services at the affiliated Christian school during the day.  In the evenings, we joined and shared in workshops for the church and school parents on family and parenting topics.  We also enjoyed the energy of Peruvian style worship.

The connection in Rimac was almost immediate as we were warmly and generously embraced by our new friends.  Our brotherhood in Christ crosses all language and cultural barriers.  I was struck in our seminars with how family challenges are universal; and how God’s grace, God’s ways, and God’s love is the timeless answer to our family issues.

In every culture, the need to love our children, lead our children, and affirm our children are critical building blocks to family living.  Learning to communicate in ways that seek to understand, bring honor rather than shame, and resolve conflict are valuable lessons for all who seek to follow after Christ in their family dynamics.

Here are a few photos of what has been happening across the equator while our blog has been silent.  We will be back soon to continue our journey to “walking in the new self” and the 500 things that that entails.

What’s Behind My “New Identity” Obsession?

Writing about the accelerants of Christ in you, the Spirit inside, the new self with its new nature, and the Word implanted takes me back to my roots in starting this blog seven years ago.  My starting point and recurring topic has always been who we are in Christ as new creations and how that fuels living the Christian life.  You could say it is an obsession of mine.

So the other night over dinner, Rhonda asked me to explain and clarify for her (and as it turned out, for myself) this passion for the new identity.  “So what is the end goal, Jay, in this enthusiastic focus of yours on the end of sin’s power in us and our predominant righteous nature?  What do you hope to accomplish with your persistent writing on this topic?  Do you want to win a theological argument with [our pastor]?  Do you want folks to leap up and agree with you and think you are a smart fellow?  Are you feeding an approval idol that needs buy in and accolades from friends both near and far?”  It was a great question.

(Just to be clear, given her line of questions, Rhonda has celebrated and embraced the beauty of the “new life” as we have looked into the Word together.  She also edits and improves every post, including this one.)

I didn’t answer right away.  These were probing questions that caused me to evaluate -as I seriously needed to do -my underlying motivation for my writing and teaching.  I paused over my Pei Wei Honey Seared Chicken with White Rice and thought to myself.  Then the answer came to me.

“Rhonda, if I have communicated anything competitive or combative in my approach to these topics, that has been a miscommunication on my part.  My goal in all of my writing is actually quite simple when I boil it down.”

“My goal is to encourage a community of Christ followers to lock arms with the Holy Spirit within and make a thousand righteous choices every day.  I want to see fathers come home from work and pitch in, even if they are tired, rather than emotionally  checking out.  I want to see parents engaging their children in life-affirming ways rather than through criticism and shame.  I want to see husbands making choices to serve their wives with love that emulates how Christ loves the church.  I want to see moms dialing down the anger and dialing up the peace.  I want to see kids honor their parents, be loyal friends, tell the truth, and look out for the best interests of their siblings.  I want to see believers walking in the Spirit in the big issues of life and in the tiniest pieces of their day.  I want us – all of us – to experience the power and the joy that the Lord has promised.”

All of these goals are what the rest of the book of Ephesians addresses.  Our last stop in Ephesians about putting on the new self (Eph 4:24) took us on an appropriate detour through renewing our mind and a lifestyle of repentance.  But now, returning to Ephesians chapters 4 through 6, we will see Paul’s descriptions and encouragements regarding what a community of Christ followers – making a thousand righteous choices – looks like.  If you want to see what that looks like, or better yet experience and live it for yourself, join us on the journey ahead.

Accelerants to the Rescue

If you love fires like me, than you love accelerants; “any substance used to accelerate a process (such as the spreading of a fire)” [Merriam-Webster 2018].  In fact, I love fanning a fire so much that it is the ongoing title of this weblog.  I am seeking through my writing and our interaction to fan the flames of all the new that is inside you to live the supernatural Christian life.  But let’s get back to accelerants.

Everything I have written lately about renewing our minds is standard theology that you may have heard before.  What I think is surprising and revolutionary and not talked about enough is that this lifestyle of repentance is not something you have to slog through, buck up, try harder, and tough it out.  The beauty of all the new of who we are in Christ is that you have the power to live this lifestyle of repentance inside you right now!

The New Testament makes clear that there are at least four accelerants inside you that rapidly speed up the process of renewing our minds.  Lighter fluid, gasoline, a hair dryer, or the big lid of a camping box to fan the flames are all pictures of a spiritual reality happening inside you.  Let’s list the top four accelerants at your disposal.

First, you have “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27).  You literally have Christ living His life through you (Gal 2:20) to heal and renew and change your mind to thinking and acting His way.  This is accelerant number one.

A second and related accelerant is the Holy Spirit dwelling inside you.  As you “walk in the Spirit, you will not satisfy the deeds of the flesh” (Gal 5:16).  Instead, obedience will be your forward path and you will be redirected to begin to think and walk God’s way.

Third, the new self or new nature is now your motivating DNA.  Acting in accordance with your new nature – laying aside the old man and putting on the new – will accelerate the growth process.  As a believer, you have the power to choose every day.  You have a choice to put on the new self every morning, just like putting on your favorite pair of jeans.  I have a pair of worn jeans that really need to go to the trash.  But they are so comfortable and fit so naturally that I continue to wear them to work in my home office when I know no one is going to be around.

Do you know that you can be just as comfortable in your new nature, in your new self?  The instruction to “put on the new self” (Eph 4:24) or “clothe yourselves” (Col 3:12) with righteous qualities suggests to me that obedience can become just as natural to you as the most comfortable clothes in your closet.

Finally, the fourth accelerant is the Word of God implanted in you.  This isn’t just the Word around you or near you or available to you.  According to James’ letter, we can “receive the word implanted that is able to save [deliver in the present tense] your souls” (James 1:22).  The Word planted deep inside us delivers us from the power of sin.

These are four I can think of off the top of my head.  There may be more.  But we will stop here with Christ in you the hope of glory, the Holy Spirit inside, the new self with its new nature, and the Word implanted in you; all ways the New Testament describes the incredible power inside you to live this life.  Don’t ignore His gifts, fully given to you!