For the last few months God has been working in me on a very specific area. As I write this I am hesitant to share it with you. Not because I am ashamed, but rather because I feel that this has been a very special and private time between my God and me. To be sure when God works in us He does expose things that make us ashamed (our sin) and yet He never does anything just to shame us. But more than shame these last few months have been about an awesome truth. If you have been reading this blog you know that I have been studying the Fruit of the Spirit and that ties directly in to what God has been doing in me.
Let me go back a little ways and see if I can put into words what God has been doing in me. About a year ago I began to see that I had a problem, a very serious problem -bitterness. I kept telling myself that it was righteous indignation, or holy anger, but deep inside I knew that I was bitter. I kept trying to justify what I felt and shift the blame. I blamed my job, my studies, my church, and anything I could think of. What I did not do was confess to God that I was bitter. So in typical Peter fashion I quit my job, quit school and became nothing but a spectator at my church.
Looking back now I can see that not all of those things were bad. It was time for a new job! But even a new job did not change what I was inside; angry and bitter. The oddest thing about bitterness is that it is as sneaky as it is insidious. I did not know that I was bitter. I knew that I was angry. I even knew that I was unhappy but I never dreamt that I was bitter.
It was around this time that I came across a series of sermons and websites from different Christian organizations. These men of God were preaching through a variety of topics but they all had one overarching theme, the sovereignty of God. Now, if you know me you would know that I believe in the sovereignty of God. The problem was that I had never given any thought to what the sovereignty of God meant when it came to my life. I mean, I knew that HE was in control of my life, but what I missed was that He demanded control over my ENTIRE life. Including my anger and bitterness.
God began to use the word as it was preached by faithful, honest, men to show me that I was in sin, enslaved by anger and bitterness. What hit me the hardest was to realize that bitterness was not an impersonal sin. I was not just bitter at a concept or nebulous idea. I was bitter at people. As God began to show me that I was in sin against Him, He also began to show me that I had a quandary in my belief system. If I was bitter toward an individual it meant that I did not truly believe God was sovereign. By holding a grudge and letting it fester I had in effect assumed that I had the right to be in control of the situation. I could be the judge! I could set the standard by which I determined who was in the right and who was in the wrong. In effect I had usurped God’s place. The individuals in question had not sinned against God, they had sinned against me, and that I could not let go!
Oh! I know! The sheer folly of my arrogance is now astounding to me as well. But such is the nature of sin. So, how did God finally show me that I was bitter? The answer may sound trite, and cliché but I can assure you that, having gone through the personal experience, it is unmitigated truth. The means God used to confront me with my sin was the cross. That’s right! The Cross.
God showed me that He sent Jesus to die on the cross, not only for my sins, but for the sins of all – including those I was bitter at. God loved them in the same way that He loved me. He loved them enough to send Jesus to die so that they might live. What gave me the right to hold anything against them? They were the object of the cross as much as I was. What arrogance to think that God loved me more than them. What pride to think that anything they could ever do to me (whether real or imagined) could ever be more than what God had already paid for!
You might be thinking, “Duh! Peter, that is basic!” And you would be right. But that is what sin does. It makes even the simple things seem obscure and complicated. This is stuff I have known most of my life, but that is the second thing God has taught me lately -it is not what you know; it is what you apply that matters! Again, “Duh!”
This is why I have been studying the Fruit of the Spirit. I needed to be reminded of what I must do. God must work in me to make me as I should be. This is possible because He has redeemed me and forgiven me. And this means that I must act as He would have me to act. In short I am to love, be Joyful, know peace, show patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and exhibit self-control. This is the way I must go, and the path I must follow.
Today I can honestly say that I am free from anger and bitterness. Now this does not mean that I don’t get angry or that I am not tempted to get bitter. It does mean that I instead keep reminding myself of the truth of the Cross. God has forgiven me, and that is no small thing. In light of His forgiveness I have no right to be angry or bitter toward anyone. As Jesus prayed so should we do, “forgive us our sins, as we forgive our debtors.”