Six habits, universal to people of all cultures and time periods, are often practiced as right and good when, in reality, they are to the human spirit what acid is to human tissue.
The cumulative effect is to render transformation into a powerful, loving spirit like Christ’s impossible; they’re the definition of spiritual death. And since these habits are so sneaky, a quick refresher might help before getting to the main points.
God’s primary goal for mankind, as Old and New Testament writers and Jesus himself present it, is to regain a sound disposition (spirit) that can love God, self, and all neighbors, including enemies. This is the “new life from above” that spontaneously and cheerfully obeys God’s Law of love, brings maximum glory to Him, and allows us to rule with Christ throughout the ages to come.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus extensively addresses these spirit-killers in a specific, intelligent sequence (Mat. 5 through Mat. 7). And with his own blood, he secured safe passage by abolishing spiritual death’s stranglehold on anyone who wants to learn how to live the new life he proclaims.
Yet so many today are taught a stagnant rather than dynamic view: that new life is primarily forgiveness for sin rather than ever-increasing freedom from its control. The ability to love enemies then becomes optional or downright impossible, despite biblical evidence to the contrary, and we practice exactly what prevents it. No wonder relationships fail, God seems to let us down, and we remain sick, weak, and trapped in the spirit of death!
Poison Number 1: Anger
Now for the main points. As I mentioned in my last post, the presence of anger in any relationship is a signal that we’re dealing with an “enemy”—anyone we don’t see eye to eye with. Like fear and pain, anger is simply an alert mechanism, so it’s no sin to get angry. The sin is to willfully stay angry. We’re not designed to function correctly in retained anger any more than in retained fear or pain.
So, according to Jesus, the #1 way to maintain a sick spirit is to maintain anger, especially “righteous” anger. (No one believes their anger is un-righteous!) It’s always seen as a precious entitlement, an ongoing right, which is what makes it so sneaky. It’s the foundation for what Scripture sums up as pride, the opposite of love.
Willful anger nearly always brings contempt with it—from mild disgust to full-blown hatred. This is why Jesus links anger and contempt immediately with a murderous spirit, which is an adulterous spirit contrary to God’s, ready to respond not-too-kindly at the slightest provocation.
The Constant Drip
Most of us probably see the obvious danger of rage while the little, everyday irritations and jeers go unnoticed. They’ve become invisible habits.
For example, the entertainment industry has turned contempt into an art form. The result is gossip, toxic jokes, or a merciless relish of celebrity downfall. (Charlie Sheen comes to mind.) Action heroes and “good guys” fire off mean-spirited retorts as they eradicate the bad guys.
The nightly news presents “experts” who call for outrage in particular social issues. Sports figures throw baseball bats and hissy fits. Fans break into fights. And political candidates are the unrivaled kings of sling who stir up collective anger and contempt to crush opponents.
Even Christians proudly display bumper stickers that say, “If You’re Not Angry, You’re Not Paying Attention.” But I think Jesus would say, “If You’re Not Paying Attention, You’re Angry.” Yes, he flipped over the money-changers’ tables in the temple because they had turned God’s house into a den of thieves, but Jesus wasn’t an irritated person. He didn’t live it as a life-style or teach anyone else to do so.
Millions live an entire lifetime of exasperation and never know why they’re so drained of the sense of well-being. Their spirits are perpetually offended, seldom missing an opportunity to make sure everyone knows it. They might use a withering look, the one-finger salute, a verbal assault, kick in the teeth, or the now-common shooting spree that supposedly comes out of nowhere.
The Spirit of Unbelief
Because we embrace willful anger and contempt, the love of most has grown cold in a huge shortfall of Christ-like grace and strength. Then we wonder why God doesn’t bless us. Rich, noble spirits like his are so uncommon that random acts of kindness are considered a big deal even in the Church. The mere suggestion of regular, routine acts of kindness or the Ten Commandments brings either chirping crickets, knee-slapping guffaws, or outright suspicion.
Belief in Christ is more than belief that he exists, or walked the earth, died on a cross, rose from the dead, and forgives sin. That’s his biography. But accepting that isn’t the same as accepting him, and shouldn’t be confused with faith. It has no transformative power. (The devil himself believes all that, but his spiritual condition can hardly be considered blessed, right, and good.)
Belief in Christ means learning from him how to live abundantly as he did. That kind of faith takes him seriously and actually implements his plan. It follows his strategies and tactics, acting as if it were all true, and puts his words into practice. But no one is forced to be alive and well, so next week, we’ll look at the # 2 way to poison your spirit.
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