This month we are going to be talking about Transformation: Becoming Like Christ. In this particular teaching on “transformation,” I am going to have two subtitles. One would be Dealing with Anger and Bitterness. I believe that those are two things, the hurt and pain that we feel that results in anger and bitterness, which really keep people from becoming like Christ. The other will be Participating in the Suffering of Christ.
Ephesians 5:1 and 2
(1) Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children
(2) and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
This is God’s command to us, the goal if you will, that has been set in front of us. We are to be an imitator of God. Not just be an imitator of God, but also to be an imitator of Christ because we are to “live a life of love, just as Christ loved.” We are supposed to imitate God and we are supposed to imitate Christ. These are lofty goals. Often times what happens is that in the process of trying to transform ourselves to become like Christ, we run into roadblocks. We often hold these roadblocks in our hearts in the form of hurt, pain, bitterness, and anger. These are a result of what happened to us over the course of our lives. We need to think very carefully about how to become transformed into the image of God and the image of Christ. How do we do that? What is the process we have to go through? We need to get some definitions in place because as we begin to discuss this, one of the things that is going to come up is the difference between our mind and our heart.
The Bible uses heart all the time, such as: “Guard your heart with all diligence. It is the wellspring of life.” The Bible uses the heart in a way that actually refers to the deep part of the mind, the seat, or the center of a man’s personal life, the starting point of the manifestations that occur in a person’s personal life. The heart is thus the core of your mind and the core of your personal life. Meanwhile, the mind itself is the place where you think, the place where you hold knowledge; it is the faculty of intellect. It is very important for us to understand that a very good distinction can be found between the heart and mind. If we are ever going to be like Christ as people, we have got to purify our heart. We have to. It is not good enough to just know what the Bible says. If we are going to be like Christ, we have to purify our heart.
At this point, I would expect you to say, “Why is that? Why do we have to purify our heart?” The answer actually is pretty simple. The answer is because what is in your heart is what will actually manifest itself in your life. In a battle between your mind and your heart, your heart will always win. Let me see if we can get some examples of that.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
In my journey to become like God and to become like Christ, I want to get to the point that I can do this. I am not going to let any unwholesome talk come out of my mouth, none. “Okay, John, got it. This is the Word. I am only going to speak what is helpful for building others up according to their needs so that it blesses and benefits them.”
Ephesians 5:3 and 4
(3) But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.
(4) Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.
We see a stark contrast between the heart and the mind. Now, I have got the Word in my mind. I know what the Bible says. It says, “No obscenity.” It says it right here in front of me. Also verse four says, “Nor should there be obscenity.” This is a good translation of the contextual meaning of the Greek word. God does not want His children going around using obscenity. God wants His children speaking wholesome talk that is “helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” I am now holding the Word in my mind. I can give myself a pep-talk and say, “That’s it, John. You are going to obey the Word here. You are going to only speak things that are a blessing. No more obscenity, no more cursing—none of that stuff.”
How long does that last? Well, when I first stumbled across this, it did not last very long at all. I had a habit pattern of using foul language in my life because of my background and training. The fact that I knew the Word in my mind did not keep me from using bad language. I get in a traffic jam, or something else, and out comes this string of expletives. It is like “Whoa, from where did that come?” I thought that I knew what to do. I thought that I knew what the Word said. I thought that I knew better than this. I thought that I knew what right behavior was. You see, you can know what to do, but in the contest between your heart and your mind, the heart will win. That is why James 4:8 says:
…Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts…
Why is it so important to purify our heart? It is important because what is in our heart is going to come out in our actions.
By the way, this is why the Old Testament was uneffective in making people righteous.
For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature (The Greek word for sinful nature is sarx, which is flesh.), God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.
Now, what was it here where it says, “for what the law was powerless to do”? What did the law attempt to do? Deuteronomy 6:25 says this:
And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”
God wanted people to be righteous before Him. He gave them a law and said, “Look here it is. Read it. Understand it. Do it.” Reading it they could do. Understanding it they could do. Acting it out—they would not do. Why? Scripture says because we are “weakened by the sinful nature (our flesh).” Thankfully, God did what the law could not do because He sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.
Can we have righteousness today? Sure we can. How do we get it? We get it through Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:8 says that we are not saved by works. We do not gain our righteousness by works, but we gain our righteousness through Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 2:8 and 9
(8) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—
(9) not by works, so that no one can boast.
The reason that people could not do the law is because what was in their heart and the demands of their flesh overrode what they knew to do in their mind. This is a very important concept when it comes to becoming like Christ. If you want to become like Christ and you think that the answer is, “I am simply going to study the Word, find out what it says and then go out and do it.” Well, you have got a bit of an education coming. Like I said, we just read a verse that says, “No obscenity.” By the way, I am an advocate of that. I believe that we should clean up our mouths and the way that we speak. It is only going to happen as we clean our hearts.
That is where we are going to go now.
(33) “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.
(34) You brood of vipers, [This is referring to the religious leaders and Pharisees.] how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.
(35) The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.
That is exactly right. Whatever is stored up in us; whatever is in our heart is what is going to come out of us— “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”
I like how the New American Standard Bible translates Luke 6:45.
Luke 6:45 (NASB)
The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good. The evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.
If we are ever going to be like Christ we have to cleanse our heart. In the battle between the heart and the mind, the heart will win. If we have anger, bitterness, hurt, and pain in our heart, that is what is going to come out of us. We have to work hard to get that out.
Cleansing the heart is not just a mental exercise. It is not as easy as cleaning a pan, where you just get some soap and a scrub brush and clean it out. We have to change the way that we live, and we are also going to have to, in many cases, come up with an explanation that satisfies our minds so that we can release the anger and bitterness that we have in our heart. If you have any anger or bitterness in your heart, sometimes you need to come up with something that is mentally satisfying where you can release that. I know that a lot of people have released a lot of anger and bitterness just because they understand that it hurts them to hold it, which is part of why the Bible says to forgive.
What I want to do now is talk about the process of cleansing the heart. It takes time and some mental and physical effort to cleanse the heart. We need to learn how to cleanse the heart. The first step would be to be confident that the change can occur. You can do it. I cannot tell you how many people I have talked to in my life, and I have even felt this way on many occasions, that say, “I will just never change. I have been fighting this, fighting this, and fighting this.” One of the keys to success in cleansing your heart is to have confidence that change can occur.
In Matthew 13:15, Jesus Christ is talking about the people and how they fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah.
For this people’s heart has become calloused…
(17) So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.
(18) They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.
(19) Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality…
I think that you and I know that many situations in life occur where people go from bad to worse. It is interesting that a lot of times we try to be good so often, and we try to cleanse our hearts, and it is like swimming up-stream. This is because our sin nature is going in the opposite direction, yet it is so clear that people can get worse and worse in their life. Somebody who is a liar can become an addicted liar. Somebody who likes possessions can become a thief and an embezzler. We understand that people can go from bad to worse in their hearts, but the good news is that also means that we can go from bad to good. Of course, Romans 12:2 is one of the great verses.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world,
Peterson’s translation uses the word culture there.
Romans 12:2 (The Message)
Do not conform any longer to the culture of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
This is a verse that has great hope because it says that a person can be transformed. That is what we want to do. We want to be transformed into the image of Christ.
If we are going to change, the first step is to have confidence that change can occur. Do not give up on yourself.
The second thing that I would say is that I would get God involved in your change. Pray for God’s help. 2 Corinthians 13:7 is just a really cute verse on this. I say that in all seriousness. I just read it, and I laughed because so many verses exist on prayer. This is not a teaching on prayer so I am not going to spend a lot of time on it; however, when we are talking about doing right and cleansing our heart, look how great this verse is. The Apostle Paul is writing to the Corinthian Church, and what a mess they had been. They had messed up the manifestations. They had messed up the Lord’s Supper. They had all sorts of differences (fights) among them. They had messed up the financial situation. They had all kinds of weird questions about their sexual behavior. The Church was just really having problems. This is the close of the last chapter of the second epistle. The Apostle Paul writes this to this Church.
2 Corinthians 13:7
Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong.
That is what we want to do. We want to pray in support of ourselves. We want to pray for God’s help.
The first step in transformation is to have confidence that you can change, and second pray for God’s help. Get God involved. Ask for His insight and wisdom. The third step is to realize the seriousness of the situation and prepare to do the hard work and take drastic action.
A lot of places are there that we could go to about the battle between the flesh and the will, such as Ephesians 5:3. I am holding in my mind that God does not want me to use four letter words (foul language). I am holding that in my mind, then I have my flesh which has anger come up or hurt come up or pain come up or disappointment come up. My flesh wants to just vent that into a string of expletives. The casting vote here is going to be my will because with my will, I rule my body and my mind. This is certainly where the Apostle Paul goes in 1 Corinthians 9 when he says, “I beat my body and make it my slave.” How do you make your body your slave? How can you do that? You do this because your body is subject to your will, what you want to do. You have your will which is your ability to run your life and your mind which holds the information of what you should do and your heart which is the core of the mind, and you have your flesh which is battling hard against you. Watch what Christ says here.
Matthew 5:27 and 28
(27) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’
(28) But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
When I read this verse for my first years in ministry work, I had such a problem with that. I did not understand it; in fact, it was not until the 90’s that I understood it and I had been born again in the early 70’s. I wanted to say, “Now wait a minute. A difference is there between thinking about adultery” —well it is more than actually thinking about adultery. When Scripture here uses the words “looks at a woman lustfully,” it is that you are doing it in your mind. That is basically what is going on. It is that you are committing adultery in your mind. The Bible is making no distinction between committing adultery in your mind and committing adultery in the flesh. I did make a distinction between those two in my life. I was like, “Wait a minute God. Some credit has to be given here.”
The same truth doesn’t just apply to adultery. It applies to doing any kind of sin. Whether it is stealing, lying, cheating, or whatever. You toy around with that stuff in your mind, but you do not do it. You want to get credit for not doing it. The Lord is saying, “Look, that is not what I want.” We have to go deeper here to what the Lord is saying. Why is it that it is not good enough to just simply be considering it in your heart? The answer is because the Lord looks on the heart. If you remember from the New Testament, it says, “The Lord will judge men’s hearts.” It is our hearts that are judged; furthermore, if people have something in their heart, and they do not do it; what is the reason? Let us take this example right here, adultery. Somebody has adultery in his heart, but he does not commit it. Why not? I am going to tell you that the two primary reasons are:
- he is afraid of consequences
- no opportunities are there for him
Concerning the opportunity part, Mark Twain said, “Morality for most people is simply a lack of opportunity.” We do not want that to be true of you and me. It is obvious here from this verse that Christ is interested in us having pure hearts. If we have a pure heart then the action that comes out of the heart will be pure, just like we read in Matthew 12. “A good man brings good things out of his heart. An evil person brings evil out of his heart.”
Matthew 5:29 and 30
(29) If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell [Gehenna].
(30) And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell [Gehenna].
Remember, this is in the Gospels and it is prior to the Day of Pentecost. This was spoken in a dispensation, in an administration, in which people could lose their eternal life. Everlasting life was not guaranteed until the Church (which started on the Day of Pentecost), the Administration of Grace. Christ here is being very accurate when he says that you could lose your righteous standing before God by your works. Remember, he is not talking to Christians. He is talking to people before the Christian Church.
What I want to focus upon in this verse is for you to notice the action that Christ is saying to take, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” Now, he is using exaggeration to make a point. The point that he is trying to make is that we need to be prepared to take drastic action to cleanse our hearts. If one area exists where I think that most people fall down when it comes to cleaning their hearts, I would say that this is it. Especially in the United States of America, which is an everything comes quick, everything comes easy culture, and we seem to want everything handed to us. It has got to be in a pill or it has got to be in a lotion or it has to be fast and easy. Beating the sin nature is neither fast nor easy; for example, you take a man wrestling with alcohol. What is it going to take for him to beat that addiction? It is probably going to take going to AA or something like that for a while. It is probably going to take a change of friends, depending on who you hang out with. It is going to take a change in behavior such as: you cannot go to this bar after work, no not to even just eat the pretzels. Drastic action needs to be taken. It is like giving up cigarettes. If you are addicted to cigarettes and you are going to give them up you cannot have one every once and a while.
There is a joke I have heard from those who try to quit smoking. “Oh, it is easy to quit smoking. I should know. I have quit 20 times.” Why is that even in our culture as a joke? It is because people realize that it is so hard to quit smoking. The point is that if we are going to beat the sin that is beating us, if we are going to cleanse our heart, we need to be prepared to take drastic action. This is important. I think that most people short circuit in this area that once the battle gets really difficult then they do not follow through with it.
Another thing that I would like to say is that in the fight, do not try to fight every aspect of you that you do not like or are unsatisfied with or that you think is keeping you back from being like Christ. You do not have to fight the entire battle at once. Make sure that you pick your battle and train yourself to be godly. Some people want to give up both drinking and smoking. What do you tell them? “Look, do not try to give them both up at the same time. Now, some people can, but for most people that is very difficult. You pick what you can conquer and beat it and get it beaten. You then move on.”
You see that reflected more or less in 1 Timothy 4:7.
1 Timothy 4:7
Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.
The word “train” relates to the fact, like in Matthew, that we have to be hard on ourselves. Have you ever seen genuine athletes train? They are hard on themselves. I belong to the YMCA. We have professional ball teams (hockey and football) here in Charlotte, NC [the author has since moved to our Camp Vision in Bloomington, IN]. Every once in a while you will see a professional athlete at the YMCA, they are hard on themselves when it comes to their training. They do not work until they just do not feel comfortable and then quit. They bring people along with them, and they push like crazy. If we are going to be godly, we have got to make up our minds to do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal. Godliness comes at a price. We have got to be willing to pay it.
The other thing that I like about the word train here is that the Greek word is gumnazo. We get our word gymnasium from it. If you think of somebody in a gym that is working on a floor exercise routine, they are practically fluidity in motion. They jump and bounce and hop around and do splits and summersaults. You know that when they were putting that routine together that they worked on one thing and then another thing and then another thing. They did not take the entire routine and try to work on the whole thing at once. They worked on bits and pieces. That is something that we need to do in our striving to be godly.
First of all, we want to become like Christ. We set that up as our goal. We need to have confidence that change can occur—this is important. We need to then pray for God to help. We need to next realize the seriousness of the situation and prepare to work hard and even take drastic action if necessary. Last, we need to not fight the whole battle at one time. Remember, it is really important to rejoice in the small victories.
We then really have to know what we are dealing with, so we have to pay attention to what is coming out of our heart. We will then know what we are dealing with. As we learned from Matthew 12, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” When I get in traffic jams, and all of a sudden I am using obscenity, then I know what is in my heart. Anger is going to be there, certainly some arrogance, some self-righteousness; otherwise, I would ask you, “What is triggering the reaction?”
Christianity has a teaching that no man can know the heart of man or something like that. The fact is that we can know our own hearts. I might not be able to know your heart, but I can know my own heart because I live with myself 24/7. If I will take my hands and take my thumb and forefinger, and I will put them on my ears and bend my ears around toward the front of my face and pay attention to what I am saying, I will get a pretty good idea of what is in my heart. We have to fight off the internal defense attorney. Let us take the traffic jam example. Let’s say that I am going some place, and I am pushed for time. I might not even have been late. I might have just been simply squeezed by my schedule, and I am doing my best to keep my schedule in order. I get in a traffic jam, and the next thing I know somebody cuts me off; out comes this string of expletives. What I want to do at that point is realize that I am outside the will of God. What is the will of God?
Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place…
That obscenity in my car is out of place. At that time, a little internal defense attorney comes out with two briefcases. He says, “Well, but, you see in this situation, I mean the thing that did it was this other car. Did you see how that driver…” and etc, and etc. It is so interesting that we have inside of us this little defense attorney that wants to defend our sin. We are never going to beat it if we do that. We are never going to purify our heart. Because instead of purifying our heart, we are defending what is in our heart.
Jesus Christ went through hour upon hour upon hour of the worst humiliation that anybody on the planet has ever gone through. He was tortured and beaten and ridiculed and criticized beyond belief, yet he never cussed, never got angry, and never raised his voice. Why? He did none of this because his heart was pure. Nothing was there in his heart to stir-up. You know what? Let me give you this example. If Jesus Christ and you were in the same traffic jam, would Jesus Christ cuss? I have to ask myself that. No, he would not because he does not have the self-righteousness and the arrogance in his heart. He does not have the pain that is already there to be stirred up. If your heart is pure, nothing is there to stir-up. We have this saying in American culture when we get mad, “Well, they pushed my buttons.” The goal in life is not to not be around people that push our buttons. The goal in life is to have no buttons. Sure, if our hearts are totally pure, then no buttons are there to push because we have nothing to defend. We have no pain in our heart, no hurt in our heart, no bitterness in our heart, no feeling of injustice or being treated unfairly.
I am not saying that you are not going to be treated badly. The world makes sure that everybody is a victim. I am not kidding! You cannot find anybody out there who is not a victim. Most people are victims already by the time that they are even 10 years old through mental abuse, verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, abandonment, lack of love, and it goes on and on and on. As we grow older we might not be treated right by our boss, our spouse, and then we just have plain bad circumstances that can beat up on us. Like a guy whose house gets struck by lightning and it burns down, and then the insurance company loses your records or something like that. This would just be bad circumstances. All of this translates to the same thing—life just beats up on people very effectively.
As life beats up on us, the fleshly tendency or the tendency of the sin nature, is to put that in your heart as pain, anger, bitterness, and a general sense that you have been treated unjustly. What then comes out of the heart is suspicion, self protection, and anger—when you should not be angry. The question is, “What do we do to cleanse our heart? What do we do to get that out of our heart?” That is where we have to work hard; however, we are not going to work hard if our little defense attorneys are coming out and defending our sin. We have to know what God says to do, and when we do it, we have to be so humble and so repentant before God.
When I am in a traffic jam and I cuss, I am working on myself probably just like you are working on yourself, I have two options at that point; I can let my little defense attorneys rule the day and get upset with God for giving me the Word and telling Him that I have a right to do this for I have been treated so badly, or I can just absolutely repent before God. I can say, “God, I am so sorry. You have done nothing to hurt me. You have always been in my corner. You have always tried to bless me. You have always been working in my behalf, and I have no reason to break Your Word because of the circumstance in which I find myself.” It’s a tough decision, but we have got to make it. We just have to be humble to the Word of God and desire more than anything else to be like Christ. Just tell the defense attorney with the two little briefcases “to go home, pack it in, go back to your office, he is not welcome.” The defense attorney does not do anything but hurt us.
It is very important for us if we are going to learn what is in our heart to pay attention to what we are thinking, saying, and doing. A circumstance does exist where you cannot hear what you are thinking, saying, and doing. The Bible calls that blindness. Jesus Christ talked about blindness quite a bit. In fact in Matthew 23, he called the Pharisees blind guides and blind men. He also called other people blind. What makes blindness? Blindness is when you are a certain way but you do not even see it. You and I have probably both known people who are arrogant and full of themselves and do not have a clue, literally, for it is not that they even mean to be. They just do not have a clue; they are blind. I am going to say it is worse, because it pains me and hurts me, when people cannot see how good they are. Their heart has been so crushed and so beaten down and their self esteem is so low that they do not see how good they are. The Bible says, “Out of the heart come the issues of life.” I know people personally who are giving and are generous and kind and tender toward other people. They are so humble and just really wonderful people to be around and looking for ways to help and serve, but their opinion of themselves is so low. What is going on there? They should be able to say, “Well, what is coming out of my heart? Gee, I am being generous. I am being loving. I am being kind and gentle. Wow, I must really be a good person. I must have all these things in my heart because they keep coming up.” It is interesting that when you have low self esteem, you become blind to your own goodness. Then there are others who are blind to their own evil, like the Pharisees being blind to their own evil, we can also be blind to our own goodness. What you do in that situation—this is an entire teaching of itself, and I do not have the time to go there, but what do you do for a blind person? Well, it takes others in the Body of Christ to speak to them. It takes other people in the Body of Christ to give them the information that they need. Blind people need others to speak to them. Now, Christ certainly did. The Apostle Paul also tried to talk to people who were evil. Talking to good people can also happen, when you are trying to get them to see what is happening in their life. It is up to us to change our internal conversation.
As I have said, we have to realize the seriousness of the situation, prepare to work hard, take drastic action if necessary, and pay attention to what is coming out of our heart. Once we get a bead on what is in our heart, if it is anger, pain, hurt, self-righteousness, or whatever, what do we do about it? I think a lot of people have gotten to this part. A lot of people have gotten to the point in life where they recognize that they have problems with what is in their heart, but what do you do about it? As I said earlier, “Your heart is not like a pot that you can just dump in some dishwashing liquid and stick your hand in there with a scrubbing pad and scrub it out.” In the same way that their heart became calloused in Matthew or in Ephesians, that their heart had lost sensitivity, how do you take someone and callous their heart? You and I know the answer to that. Let us take, for example, a child raised in a good Christian home that was never exposed to obscenity. They then go to a PG-13 movie and hear a string of expletives and obscenities. How do you think they feel? Do they not feel terribly uncomfortable and not know what to do with themselves? They shift in their seat—that is their first exposure. What happens is that they see their second movie and then their third movie and then their tenth movie and then their twentieth movie. You see, the heart losses its sensitivity and through exposure to disobedience, people become insensitive. People that pose for adult magazines have become insensitive. I cannot believe that if you raise a girl in a good Christian home that she feels perfectly comfortable just popping her top off for the first guy that comes around with a camera. An exposure has to occur from either seeing it in movies, or seeing it on the T.V., or hearing about all the other girls that are doing it. There is a desensitization going on here. What is happening? A change in the heart or a hardening of the heart has been happening. In the same way that your heart is hardened by exposure to and action on disobedience—as you were exposed to disobedience in your life and as you act disobedient in your life, your heart hardens, well that is the same way that your heart gets pure.
Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life;
No quick and easy way exists to change the heart. I want to assure you that it is not a mental exercise. You can tell yourself that obscenity is wrong a million times a day, but if you still use obscenity regularly throughout your life, you are not going to cleanse your heart. You can tell yourself that stealing is wrong, but if every time you go to the store and you steal something, you are not going to cleanse your heart. The way to cleanse your heart is by action on the Word over time. That is the essence of why the battle is so difficult.
Titus 2:11 and 12
(11) For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.
(12) It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,
For example, if you talk to somebody who is giving up alcohol, you cannot just say, “No,” except on Friday nights, and then on Friday nights you get drunk. We have to really tow the line for God. You cannot make a bargain with God and say, “Well, God, I will tell you what. I won’t cuss most of the time, but in traffic I always do.” You will not ever cleanse your heart because there is a battle going on here, and we have to be willing to enter into it. A physical side is very much there to cleaning out our heart—we have to obey God. That may mean that we have to not conform to our culture. All your friends may be saying, “We are going to see this movie.” You might happen to know that it has filthy language all the way through it. You just have to say, “Guys, sorry but I am not going to do that and expose myself. I am trying to get over that.” Unfortunately, our culture today has become so bad that things will come up that we will have to miss, so be it.
A mental side is present to this also. I think that we are familiar with 2 Corinthians 10 that says, “Bring every thought captive,” and Colossians 3:2 that says, “Set your mind on things above.” I would like to focus on Philippians 4:8.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable– if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
We are supposed to think of what is true, noble, right, and pure. We are supposed to think about those things; thus, when our minds are getting off into the gutter, we have to do what Titus says. We say, “No,” to ungodly passions. “I am not going to go there, no!”
I want to turn verse eight around. Whatever is true, noble, and right, you think on these things. If what you are doing is noble and right, for people with low self-esteem, you have to say “no” to your conversation that says, “You are not worth anything.” If you are being loving and gentle and kind and Christ like, but you are so crushed in your heart that you have a little tape recorder on a loop in there saying, “I am not worth anything; I am not really any good.” A lot of times I talk to people who have low self-esteem and say, “Well, you do this and this and this,” but they say, “Yeah, but that does not count.” Well, it does count. We have got to be just as hard on ourselves as the person who is trying to walk away from drug addiction, alcohol addiction, sexual addiction, kleptomania, or whatever it is. They have to be hard on themselves and say, “I am not going to do this anymore. I am not going to the bar anymore. I am not going to do drugs anymore.” The people that are allowing the loop to play in their mind that says, “I am not worth anything and this does not count,” have to be hard on themselves too. That is difficult because my experience is that those people are already hard on themselves. Now it seems like I am adding one more thing for them to be hard on themselves about. The fact is that I know a lot of those people who let that loop play need to take control of it and break it off. The question is there of what do I do about what I have experienced? I have experienced so much hurt and evil things in my life that I have this anger and bitterness inside of me. It just sits there. Ephesians 4:31 talks about getting rid of anger and bitterness in a way that is almost cavalier. It almost makes you laugh.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling…
In our American culture we think of “fight” when we think of “a brawl.” In the dictionary, the first definition is a “screaming match.”
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger [screaming matches], and slander, along with every form of malice.
This is like, “Oh yeah, that is a piece of cake. I will have that done by noon!” Yeah right. But this is Scripture here, and God does not tell us how to do it. He just says, “Do it.”
Ephesians 4:31 and 32
(31) Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger [screaming matches], and slander, along with every form of malice.
(32) Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other…
So now it is a matter of “Okay God, I really, really, want to do that. I want to get rid of the anger. I want to get rid of the bitterness. I want to get rid of the rage. I am not trying to be recalcitrant here; I want to, but how do I do it?” The answer is first of all be prepared for a hard battle and be prepared to take drastic action and change your actions and break off anything that you are doing that is not according to Philippians 4:8.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable– if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Break it off when you are not bringing your thoughts captive. It also helps, and I know this, to cleanse your heart if you have a good reason to believe what you are thinking and feeling. For example; let’s say that you are in a lot of pain after somebody cuts you with a knife. Well, if the cut occurred during a mugging, then you are going to have to work with anger and hurt and confusion and bitterness. If the pain occurred when a surgeon removed a cancerous lump from you, it is the same pain; however, the feeling is different. Why? The feeling is different because the reality is different. The reality in your mind is different. One of the things that we have to get really early on in our life is that we live in a fallen world, and the Devil is going to make everybody a victim. He is going to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10) from every person on the planet. It is really his goal to destroy everyone’s life and to take away their eternal life if at all possible—and to make sure that they do not come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
It is fascinating that God has put in the heart of all people a yearning to be treated well, a yearning to be loved, a yearning for justice, and a yearning for there to be fairness on earth. One of the first things that you see in children is that they are very acutely attuned to when they are not being treated fairly. I grew up as one of four children, and I know that “it is not fair” was something that we heard in our household a lot. Somebody gets a little bigger Christmas present than the next guy, somebody gets a little more ice-cream than the next guy, or somebody gets to ride in the front seat more than the other then of course here comes all the echoes, “It’s not fair. He got the front seat last time.” This heart’s understanding of what is and what is not fair and what it is and what it is not to be loved resonates so deeply in our soul that when life beats up on us what happens is that we place this hurt and pain in our heart, and it sits there. Then add to that the abuses and the abandonment that people have experienced in their life and the tragedy. If they have ever been stolen from or had a burglary occur or if they had been fired or abused, oh my gosh, all that stuff just goes right to the heart. What do you do with those feelings? It helps if you have something in your mind that allows you to deal with what do I do with this pain.
I want to bring forward a truth now that I have not heard taught publicly. I have listened to Christian radio and Christian T.V. for a long time and read Christian books. This is a truth that I have not really heard taught, maybe to some degree in bits and pieces. If this is new to you, please just kind of follow along with me as I talk about this. We are going to look at Colossians 1:24. The background here is that the book of Colossians was written when the Apostle Paul was in prison at Rome. He was still running the Gentile Church, what we now know as Turkey, Greece, and Rome. Even though he was in prison, he was still recognized as being the founder of a lot of those churches. From prison, he wrote letters to Ephesus, letters to Philippi, letters to Colossi, letters to Timothy, letters to Titus, and letters to Philemon. Those letters then went out to those churches and were copied and given to other churches. Paul, even though in prison, was quite an influence on the Christian world. He was in prison, and you certainly know that he had been whipped. He had been beaten. He had been thrown in jail. He had been very, very poorly treated for the cause of Christ.
Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you,
That is a tough thing. He is not bitter about it. He is not angry about it. He is not saying that I am rejoicing in being beaten. Do not hear that. He is not saying, “I am glad that I was beaten.” He is simply saying that under the circumstances that I was beaten I can rejoice in what I suffered for you. Now watch this.
and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.
I can tell you that I did not have a clue what that verse meant for years; in fact, I actually was on a translating committee that translated that verse from the Greek and could bring the words over into English, but I still did not know what it meant. It has been a difficult verse because of what it is saying, “I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” What is this saying here? What could possibly be lacking in Christ’s afflictions? We have all heard the song, “It is not by works of righteousness but by his faith alone…Jesus paid it all.” We have been led to believe that Jesus Christ paid the price for all sin. I want to tell you that he paid the price for all sin as far as the redemption and the salvation of mankind is concerned. Nobody can commit any sin where they are not able to go to Jesus Christ and get forgiven and get saved. As I am sitting making this teaching, I can look out a window at a fallen world. Just take a look at the world around you, and you will understand that the redemptive process is still occurring. We are not redeemed yet. A day of redemption is coming when this world will come to an end, and justice will prevail, and the knowledge of God will cover the earth as the waters covers the sea. That is the prophecy in Isaiah 11:9. A day is coming when righteousness will reign. Right now, the redemption is not yet complete, for sin is still occurring.
I can guarantee you that today somebody will be raped or killed or beaten to a pulp or whatever. Evil is still happening, and when evil happens in the world someone pays for it. When the Apostle Paul was beaten, he paid for that. His back hurt. He paid for that. What does he say about that?
and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions…
I will venture to say that you are filling up in your flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s affliction. This has been a difficult verse for orthodox theologians because of the idea that Jesus Christ paid for every sin for all time and for every circumstance. In fact, I have a commentary here where the author writes, “For interpreters this verse is a puzzle.” That is right. If you believe that you are not paying for any sin or that you do not in some way have the ability to participate in the redemptive process, then you will not understand this verse. It is pretty clear. Paul is saying that he is “filling up in his body.” How is he filling it up in his body? Take a look at his back, his wrists where he was chained to a Roman soldier, his legs where they had been in the stocks, for example, in Philippi, or where he was and what he had to eat. He said, “Do you know what I am doing right now? I am filling up in my flesh what is lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions.”
This is what John Whitefoot, who is long dead, but a wonderful commentator said in his translation of this section of Colossians verses 24-27:
“Now when I see the full extent of God’s mercy, now when I ponder over His mighty work of reconciliation, I cannot choose but to rejoice in my sufferings. Yes, I Paul the persecutor. I Paul the feeble and sinful am permitted to supplement. I do not shrink from the word to supplement the afflictions of Christ despite all that he underwent. He, the master, has left something still for me the servant to undergo, and so my flesh is privileged to suffer for his body, his spiritual body, the Church.”
I want to tell you that as I was studying this verse and praying about this verse and asking the Lord to show me what this verse meant, I got this picture. I am not saying that this picture is God breathed; it is just what I believe the Lord gave me to help understand this verse. Maybe it will help you, too. I played racquetball and squash in college and occasionally played handball. The Lord showed me a cement wall like you would see at the end of a racquetball or squash court. It had a super ball thrown against it. That super ball bounced off that cement wall and bounced all over the room. The Lord showed me that if we refuse to accept the sin that has been dealt to us, the unfairness, the abandonment, the lack of love, or the abuses, and they pile up as bitterness and hurt in our heart, then those hurts bounce off and go around hurting other people. That is pretty commonly known in our society in what we call hurting people, hurt people. One picture that the Lord gave to me was a cement wall and the super ball was thrown against it. The super ball bounced all over the place. He then showed me the same wall again with a lump of modeling clay that was thrown against it. It went “thud,” and it stuck right on the wall. That was as far as it went. The Lord just gave me the understanding that “John, you can get hit with sin and become angry, bitter, hurt, and all that will bounce out and hurt others, or you can simply take it and between you and me, deal with it.” Ladies and gentlemen, you can learn like Paul to rejoice in the midst of the sufferings, and you can be proud to participate in the redemptive process. Like Paul, you can fill up in your flesh what is lacking in regard to Christ’s affliction because sin is still out there. The world’s redemption is not complete. Sin is still there. Hurt is still there. Pain is still there. You have a choice. You are going to experience it, so you have a choice. You can stop it in you and learn to work it out with you and the Lord and just realize that it is part of the redemptive process, and the Lord will heal you. The other choice is to be all angry and bitter about the hurt, the pain, and the injustice of life and build that up in your heart. Eventually, it will bounce off and start hurting other people.
This verse in Colossians is not really a unique concept in the New Testament. Let’s look at a couple of other verses that are along the same vein.
Philippians 3:10 is another verse that I helped to translate but did not understand. I understood part of it. The Apostle Paul is writing about his relationship to Christ.
I want to know Christ…
The word “know” is ginosko in Greek and is “to know in a concrete way.” I was like, “Yes, yes, yes, I want to know Christ; I get that.”
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings,
The Greek is just simply the fellowship of his sufferings, koinonia. It is a full sharing. Paul says that he wants to have “a full sharing in his sufferings.” I am like, “I do not get that.” You can go to a Bible bookstore and read the commentaries and see that the commentators do not get it either. How do we share in the sufferings of Christ? If your theology is that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was a one time payment for every single sin that has ever been committed in the entire world, and no more sin occurs and no more payment at all, period, you then cannot figure this out. You cannot share in Christ’s sufferings if it is already done, completed and in the past.
However, if Christ is suffering now, and he is, then you can participate in that suffering. The Apostle Paul went around killing Christians, throwing them into jail, breaking up their families. When Paul (then Saul) met Christ on the road to Emmaus in a blinding light, Jesus did not say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting my people?”
What did the Lord Jesus Christ say?
He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
You see, you are part of the Body of Christ, and the redemptive process of Christ because the redemption of the world is still occurring. That is why the world around us is still fallen, and that is why people are still getting saved.
Back in Philippians 3:10, Paul is saying that he wants to “know Christ,” I get that. He wants to “experience the power of his resurrection;” I get that, but then Paul says, “Boy, I want to be a part of the full sharing in Christ’s sufferings.” What does that mean, and how do I do that? My contention would be that in one sense we are going to share in Christ’s sufferings whether we like it or not. As part of the Body of Christ, the Devil hates us, and we are going to be persecuted if we decide to live godly in Christ. Even if we do not decide to live godly in Christ, the Devil is so successful in making everybody on the planet a victim and destroying everybody’s life on the face of the earth. The Devil has a hundred million different ways to do it. Everyone on the planet has a story of suffering. As a part of the Body of Christ, we can understand that we have the privilege to take on the sufferings of Christ; instead of taking that suffering and being angry about it, being bitter, hurt, and holding it up in our hearts and using it as a reason to be guarded, suspicious, angry, and bitter, and using it as a reason to treat people around us with less than the love of Christ. Sadly, what happens to those things is that they become our buttons and “the world” can then push them by way of traffic jams, or push them if our boss comes in and makes unreasonable demands, or push them when our taxes go up. All of a sudden, we find ourselves awash with anger and bitterness and in a place that we did not even want to be, but we are stuck because we have these buttons.
We can get rid of those buttons, and we can learn to rejoice in what we suffer because it is part of the fallen world and the redemptive process. And, we know that we are going to get rewarded.
As I said, this concept of participating in the sufferings of Christ and filling up in our flesh what was lacking when Christ suffered on earth, this is in a number of places in the New Testament.
2 Corinthians 1:3 and 4
(3) Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,
(4) who comforts us in all our troubles,
Do you want to know what to do with your pain and hurt? You can develop a relationship with the Lord Jesus where he will speak to you and work with you and comfort you in your pain and in your trouble so that it does not have to sit in your heart like a knot and be the cause of buttons. Which will then just bounce off onto other people and may even develop into a root of bitterness.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5
(3) Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,
(4) who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
(5) For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
It is not that we just stop in Colossians that “I fill up in my flesh what was lacking in regard to Christ’s sufferings.” It is not just that I have to suffer, and that is the end of it. In verse five it says, “The sufferings of Christ are going to overflow into our lives.” That is because the world is not fully redeemed yet, and Christ is still suffering, personally and through his Body. You and I as members of the Body of Christ are part of that suffering, and we are part of that redemptive process. You and I are filling up in our flesh what was lacking in Christ’s affliction.
Do you know what? That is not the end of the story. It is not that I am being beaten up and beaten up and beaten up. The end of the story is in verse five.
2 Corinthians 1:5
For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
That is beautiful, is it not? It is beautiful that God comforts us in our tribulation. It says in Peter to cast all our care upon him. You see all of these things we can give to God, and He will take them and deal with them. It helps us to know that we can give these things to God.
1 Corinthians 15:58
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
If you are a Christian, you have eternal life. You are going to live forever, and you are going to live forever in an out-of-this-world wonderful place. Righteousness is going to exist, and we are going to know the Lord. We are all going to have perfect bodies. More food will be there than we can eat. All of the prophecies and promises of what the future life is going to be like are all going to be fulfilled. If we are willing to obey God now and walk in the revelation that He has given to us, we will be rewarded for that. Every bit of our labor is going to be rewarded.
I love what it says in this verse:
1 Corinthians 15:58
…you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
We have to know that. We have to know, for example, that if we go out and witness and somebody screams at us that it is not in vain. If we are mistreated in our job, that is not in vain. If we are experiencing pain because of the fallen nature of the world, whether it is or is not related to our Christian walk, that pain is a result of the unredeemed world, and you and I are privileged to get to be a part of the redemption process.
I would like to read Colossians 1:24 again, mainly because it has meant so much to me in my life, so I am going to read it again! This verse has helped me deal with the pain that I have had to deal with in my life on a personal level and within ministry work. People have said all kinds of horrible things about our ministry over the years. Do not think that does not hurt. Sure it hurts, but what do you do with the pain? What do you do with it when somebody hurts you? What you do not do with it is that you are not like that cement wall with the super ball that bounces all over the place hitting other people. You take it in yourself, and you hold it there, and then give it to the Lord.
Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you,
The Apostle Paul wrote that. We want to be able to rejoice in what we suffer for others in this life even though we are suffering from them. We do this because it is part of the redemptive process that we are suffering for them also.
Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.
It will help us to get over anger and bitterness if we realize that taking it and giving it to the Lord, not harboring it and being upset about it, that we are actually participating in the redemptive process.
Let me recap just a little bit.
Our goal is to become like Christ. What stands in the way are things that are in our heart that keep us from being like Christ. Those things will try to work their way out of our heart. Those things that are in our heart will come out of our heart even if we do not like what we see, such as anger and bitterness. We want to change our heart. We want to purify it so that we can be like Christ. We are going to have to have confidence that the change will occur. We want to pray for God’s help and get God involved. We want to realize how serious the situation is, and we have to prepare to work hard, and even take drastic action if it is necessary to change our hearts.
Do not try and fight the whole battle at one time, rejoice in a small victory. Pay attention to what is coming out of your heart so that you know what you are dealing with, and get others to help you see it if you think that you might be blind to what is in your heart, if it is bad or good. Start obeying God. Remember, this is not a scrub brush. It is a process. We start obeying God. We will get closer and closer to being like Christ by continued obedience over time, physically and mentally, by thinking about what is true, honest, and just and capturing our thoughts, ruling our body, and our mind with our will. Let’s not let our flesh run our life.
About the hurt and pain and abandonment and abuse that you have already suffered that has produced anger and bitterness, Ephesians 4:31 says to get rid of it. It is going to help you get rid of it if you understand it. You will understand it better if you understand that you are part of the redemptive process. You and I have the privilege of helping to redeem this world from its sin. An awesome privilege, is it not?
God bless you!