2. Acceptance of Your Condition
It is easy and common to find a reason outside of yourself that keeps you from loving your neighbor as yourself. It seems reasonable that missing an elevator, getting a toe stepped on, handling wet diapers, doing messy tasks with small children, living with a mother who can’t understand, associating with people who have undesirable habits, living with an uncooperative wife, are justifiable reasons for being disturbed. Under such circumstances anger, wrath, malice, bitterness, resentment, and the like seem normal.
This reasoning seems to be sound. However, the Bible calls such reactions sinful. In other words, these circumstances are not putting these reactions into you; they are bringing these reactions out of you. Note Mark 7:20-23.
Many people find this to be a shocking idea. It seems so clear that the circumstance or the other person is the cause of their distress. It is hard to realize that their distress is a response to the circumstance or person. Many say: “Do you mean that you would react differently? Anyone would be annoyed under these circumstances!”
The answer is that you can find peace and serenity without changing your circumstances or the people in your life. To do so involves recognizing that the situation you are in is not causing your distress. You must accept or acknowledge personal responsibility for your distress–for your sin. Note Romans 6:23; Isaiah 57:21; 59:1-2. You need a power outside yourself if you are to respond differently the next time you find yourself in your trying circumstance. You must accept personal responsibility without reservation. Dependence and faith in willpower, resolutions, insight, or determination are not the answer. A lingering thought that another person must be at least a little bit to blame is not the answer.
It is amazing how many people prefer to find a reason for justifying anger, wrath, malice, envy, and similar emotions rather than finding freedom from them. People prefer to change the circumstance or the person rather than to seek a source of peace, joy, and comfort in the circumstance or with the person.
For example, consider a young woman who had habits that her mother believed were bad. The mother kept insisting that her misery was caused by her daughter’s behavior. Accordingly, this mother felt quite clear in her own mind that the solution to her problem was to see a change in her daughter. Further, this woman believed that, being a Christian, she should not be agreeable toward her daughter lest she seem to be giving her blessing upon her daughter’s unacceptable habits. She was being a good Christian, she thought, by being angry and impatient with her daughter. The daughter in turn felt quite justified in being bitter, rebellious, hostile, and stubborn. She wouldn’t give in if it killed her. If there was a source of strength that would enable this girl to have a spirit of love, tenderness, gentleness, compassion toward her mother, she would turn away from it. She insisted that her mother was the cause of these reactions.
The woman who had the task of handling wet diapers and teaching two small children how to eat preferred to be annoyed. According to her, you should be annoyed at such tasks. There is nothing wrong with being impatient with such a task. It is quite normal to be disgusted, tense, and dissatisfied at the end of the day. The children are the cause of these reactions. In her opinion, being a Christian has no bearing on the matter.
Many Christians find comfort in speaking of nerves, tension, anxiety, distress–any term but sin. Many Christians feel that they have long ago settled the matter of living in sin. They are saved. They are sanctified. But remember our definition of sin! “Sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). If it applies, then it applies. It matters not who you are, how much responsibility you have, what your status is, or who your family is.
You may have been trained to believe that to grin and bear it, even though you are seething inside, is evidence of piety; to speak in a well-modulated voice, even though you feel like screaming, is a mark of culture; to perform the task assigned, even though you rebel inwardly, is evidence of determination.
Such behavior is surely to be expected from a social standpoint. However, from a personal standpoint you benefit nothing. Your inward reaction is evidence of sinfulness. Jesus warned the Pharisees:
“Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness. You foolish ones, did not He who made the outside make the inside also?” (Luke 11:39-40).
You have seen that acceptance of your condition implies accepting personal responsibility without reservation. If you feel that you can and will conquer your circumstances, then you are not yet ready to accept the tendency to sin. It is best for you to try yourself out. Expose yourself to your circumstances and pay attention to your inner reactions and your outward actions. Acceptance means that you are convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that you are subject to your tendency to sin, and that this causes you to react the way you do not want to react–and prevents you from reacting in a way that you would like to react. This applies to thoughts, feelings, desires, actions, speech. These must be identified in detail and dealt with separately. Acceptance or acknowledgment of the presence of sin in your life opens the way for you to avail yourself of a better way of life as defined by Paul: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Romans 8:2).
3. Forgiveness Received from God
Christ died to make forgiveness available to us: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
Thus far you have seen that acceptance of your tendency to sin is often a difficult step to take. Seeking forgiveness is a more difficult step to take. At first glance this step seems easy. In practice, the arm of the flesh is a useful tool and not easily laid down. To illustrate, one wife is fearful that if she does not display jealousy, she will lose control over her husband’s affection. A mother is fearful that if she does not threaten to be angry with her children, she will lose control over their behavior. A young man does not want to give up the pleasure of lusting after women. A girl feels that to cease her rebellion against her parents is evidence of weakness. To acknowledge these reactions as sin is a step very difficult for many people to take. To seek forgiveness for sins is harder yet. To ask for forgiveness implies repentance and a willingness to forsake sins. Read 1 John 2:1-6; Isaiah 55:7; Proverbs 28:13.
Many people insist that a period of depression, self-condemnation, sadness, remorse, or weeping is evidence of repentance. In Quebec, one can see people climb five hundred cathedral steps on their knees as evidence of repentance. In India, a man may be lying on a bed of spikes. It is true that conviction of sin causes some people to react emotionally or to show evidence of repentance. However, repentance is not the emotion or the action. It is rather being sorry for sin enough to hate and forsake it. Repentance involves following God’s plan and believing His Word: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
The simplicity of receiving forgiveness is hard to accept. It does seem that we ought to help God out somehow. Nothing is required of you apart from acceptance of your sinfulness and of God’s forgiveness on His terms, not yours. To repeat, this must be done from the heart. There is no other way. You must be completely sincere. You will not find forgiveness until you are convinced that you need it, that you are undone, that there is no other way.
Yes, acceptance of your tendency to sin, confession of specific sins, and seeking forgiveness are contrary to our normal way of doing things. But the next step–surrender to the power of God–is hardest of all to accept.