I am currently reading a book by Jim & Bessie Wilson called, How to Be Free. The book is a practical source of scriptural admonition and advice from Pastor Jim and his wife on overcoming common sins. The chapter I’m working through right now is called, “How to Be Free from Anger and Fits of Rage”. A passage that stood out to me writes, “We always have an excuse for losing our temper, but what is the reality? Evil lies at the door. There is evil in you before you lose your temper. If your heart is filled with righteousness and light, that comes out. When anger comes out, it tells you that that is what was in your heart before you got angry. You had it in reserve in case you needed it in the future. The solution is to keep your heart filled up with good things, all the time. If something catches you by surprise, it should make good things pop out” (How to Be Free, Wilson, 130).
Now, I think it's fair to say that we live in a day that minimizes sin and emphasizes one’s victimhood to their problems. “I have always struggled with anger, it's just the way I am!” I know I’ve thought things like this before (maybe even just a couple of days ago). When we feel like we have victory over a certain sin, it’s easy to build up with pride, patting ourselves on the back for being so good. However, those are often the times when we are faced with similar temptation, and fall right back into our same sin, only asking this time, “How come I struggled again with this? I thought I mastered it!”
Now, this book seems to simplify becoming free from sin. However, what the quoted passage above indicates, is that when we sin, it does not come from nowhere, and we are a lot more involved in it than we think! “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” Luke 6:45. Wilson advises the reader to fight sin by filling their heart and mind with good things: the things of God. When reading this at first, I felt as if this would be an impossible feat. How can overcoming anger seem so simple? However, in reading scripture, the commands to “put off” different sins are prevalent and unavoidable. How many times a day to we allow evil thoughts, images, words, songs, or ideas into our heads? And without fighting these things, how can we expect to have Christ's nature pour out of us?
Later on in the chapter, Wilson lists the primary reasons that we tend to get angry, and writes that, "The common denominator in nearly all of these is 'me'" (127). On the next page, he notes also that, "People are quick to anger because they love themselves too much... they keep a reserve of anger down in their hearts as a defense mechanism"(128).
When we reserve anger in our hearts, and any other sins for that matter, we are doing much more damage that we would like to admit. Instead of seeking mastery over our emotions, we allow our emotions to master us. While we might ask for forgiveness occasionally, or recognize something as an issue, we still grasp onto that sin with white knuckles, we don't actually want to give it up. When the King of your heart is indeed yourself, you will be ruled over by every whim and emotional trigger you keep locked away inside. Pride is indeed a powerful force which leads us all to justify our sins. Instead of renouncing sin such as anger, bitterness, gossip, pride, and anxiety, we actually allow them to become a part of who we are. You are not separate from your sin in the sense that it just happens to you. The more you think and act on these things, the more they become justified as being just the way you are.
Now, back to How to Be Free. If I claim that anger (or any other sin) is indeed a part of my identity, and refuse to take responsibility for it as sin- and therefore refuse to confess and repent of it as such, how do I expect to have victory? Wilson encourages scripture memory as a significant way to combat the occurrence of sin- something that I have not prioritized in my own life. He also advocates praying for our enemies, actually repenting (turning away from) and recognizing sin as disobedience to our Holy Father. He emphasizes the importance of humility, and realizing that in the Christian view, I really am owed nothing, but everything is in fact a gracious gift from God. If I constantly have God’s word flowing through my mind, it will begin to set as concrete in my heart. If God’s word tells us to put off sins, do we want to immediately obey that command? Or do we want to qualify our own circumstances and come up with reasons as to why we can’t? This reality convicted my heart in many ways.
Galatians 5:19-21 says, “19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Here’s the question I ask myself. Do I actually believe this? Do I actually believe that I can put off whatever sins God calls me to? Here’s the good news. You can’t. Well, not on your own. When you became a Christian, the old person DIED. The old man is not lurking in the shadows… he is dead. What have you received instead? The New Man, through Christ, emboldened by the Holy Spirit, who works in you and enables you to actually turn from your old ways and walk in new life and in the fruits of the Spirit. What if we, together, challenged ourselves to fill our hearts and minds with God’s word, not just for the sake of memory, but for the sake of putting off, getting rid, of the old self, and to put on the fruits of the Spirit which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. These aren’t just lofty ideals floating around in the theological sky, tempting us with the possibility of having for only a passing moment if we try really hard. These ARE your identity if you are in Christ.
We must stop suppressing the Truth and trying to resurrect our old selves through choosing to sin. You are FREE, in Christ, and these fruits are yours because of Him. We must humble ourselves daily, asking for the grace to resist sin and for the grace to confess all of our sin daily. Whether that be confessing to God, to a spouse, a family member, or a friend. Do it. Our sin is very real, and we must seek to find the roots, cut them off, and fill that gap in our hearts and minds with the things of God- they have true power to set the captives free!