Let us see from a Scriptural and psychological (the Bible has more psychology in it than it does “theology”) how our representation of a Christian – or really, the Christian himself – “works” when it comes to “working out what God has worked in”, for “it is God who is at work within us, both to will and to do.” Many forms of temptation or trial could be used for this example, but let us choose anger which has many forms, such as wrath, envy, jealousy, fighting, quarreling, bitterness, resentment, and is the opposite of love (the complete Christian virtue), and is the sin against which so many believers battle. What is said here about anger would apply to any other sin, such as lust, lying, etc.
Beginning at “one o’clock” on our sketch (see previous blog entry for diagram), an occasion or provocation to anger (or stealing) enters our consciousness through our eyes, ears, or another sense. Somebody ways something mean or even strikes us, or our automobile. Immediately our mind (3 o’clock) begins to formulate our response (if any) by interpreting, analyzing the incident, the experience. It makes a world of difference as to WHO said (did) it, WHY (accident, intentionally, reason?), WHEN (right after similar experience), WHERE (in church, grocery line), etc. This is the point at which wrong reaction is prevented, never allowed to happen. (This is equivalent to “counting to 10” before we react.) Right here is where one’s perfect spirit (Christ in him) goes into action, influencing our thinking. “Be not conformed to world” – reacting as unbelievers – “by renewing of mind”, “taking every thought captive”. Here, as at every successive point, DO NOT ASK, “Lord, give me wisdom.” You got it, the very mind of Christ! Use it, God is able to do beyond what we even think, BY THE POWER RIGHT NOW WORKING WITHIN US. So, ask, “Be my wisdom.” If we think rightly, the problem, the trial, the temptation is all over, right here.
But let’s suppose we become justly angry (in whatever degree – irritation, etc.) because the person has broken a law and should be “punished”, or you become angry unjustly. (We are now at 6 o’clock on our sketch.) A “righteous” anger is produced by Christ himself, our new spirit, just as he was angry more than once, with reason, while here upon earth. Examples of this in our own experience would be parents vs. children (when warranted), teachers vs. students, a judge vs criminals. (A society that is not “angry” enough with murderers to execute them is not “Christian”, as they claim with their “mercy”.)
In case our anger is unwarranted, the Spirit of Christ in us “goes to war” against the flesh by urging forgiveness. (Arrows emanating at this point represent the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, etc. which crowd out the “works of the flesh” as flowers do weeds.) The supreme response of the Spirit at this point is “joy”, no matter what the temptation or trial. “Rejoice always”, “Let my joy be in you”. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into any kind of problem, trial, temptation.” (The arrow at 2 o’clock might represent the gifts of the Spirit, such as discernment, wisdom. Jesus did not get mad at the loose woman of Samaria, nor even with his murderers, because of those gifts; “they don’t know what they are doing”. So we with children, “deprived”, spiritual weaklings.)
A striking example of conflicting emotions is that of “love”, to use that ambiguous and misused word. From wrong thinking about an object of temptation (eg. “seeing” in every woman a sex object) can come the wrong kind of “love”. The response of the Spirit, however, is also love, but the real thing, loving one’s woman-neighbor so well that adultery does not enter his mind.
The results of our emotions are decisions to act; the angry man (rightly or wrongly) resolves what he will do; “forget it” (because there’s nothing he CAN do); get revenge, “punish” (possibly deserved), or take it out on somebody else (the next person that happens along, or whatever he can get away with doing it to). Righteous anger decides what response is most appropriate (again, cf. Christ). Re revenge, etc., Christ in us persuades us to turn the other cheek, to do good instead (agape love), or turn it over to God. All this is meant by – “Be angry, but don’t sin”; “let not the sun go down on your wrath”; “vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” In none of these decisions have you repressed anger (which is bad, resulting in ulcers, etc.). You have handled it, dealt with it. This is “counting to 10” at the remedy or curative, corrective point. Notice the various points at which we can head off, abort, short circuit temptation. (Many example in the Bible.)
If (11 o’clock!) we decide to act to temptation wrongly (by anger, theft, adultery, lying, swearing) we express or perform this response with our bodies, and the process of temptation/sin has come full circle, starting the whole process over by our action becoming an “event” in somebody else’s life, or our own! If, on the other hand, Christ in us persuades and actually enables us to a Christ-like response, we not only break a potential vicious circle, but set up a new chain of event-thought-feeling-will-act; enemies become loving, thieves become generous, cursing people praise God.