(Part 4 in a 4-part series on handling anger.)
We cannot manage anger in isolation. We must deal with the entire package. I’m not saying we won’t need to be intentional about getting rid of anger. We will – but that is not where we start. We start by upgrading to the “new self” package.
To do that, we’re going to need (verse 22) “to put off the old self.” This is not a piecemeal improvement program. The aorist tense verb Paul uses suggests a clear and decisive act. He’s not talking about slow progress in the right direction but a radical choice to change. This is only possible if we have faith in Jesus.
We cannot take off the old self without something taking its place, which is why we need, verse 24, to “put on the new self.” This new self is the real you, the one God had in mind when he made you. That fretful, whining, angry self that pretends to be god is not you – not the real you. The real you is patterned on God himself (created to be like God, verse 24) and is the you you’ve always longed to be: free, easy, fulfilled, loving.
Again St. Paul uses an aorist tense verb. Putting on the new self is also a decisive action. I choose to be the person God made me to be, to stay connected to the Programmer so I can continually receive his critical updates. With this new self we are capable of doing things we couldn’t do before (verse 32): to be kind (to our kids, for example); to be compassionate (to those in need); to forgive (those who injure us).
Think of Corrie Ten Boom forgiving the Nazi guard who tormented her in the concentration camp, or Mrs. Calata, the South African woman who forgave the policeman who burned her husband alive and murdered her son in a drunken, bigoted rage. Where does forgiveness like that come from? It comes from God and it is in you too if you belong to Jesus and have been given his Spirit. (However, if you have not come to God through Jesus, you don’t qualify for the new self package and will not have access to it.)
It is true that putting off the old self is not a matter of slow progress and neither is putting on the new self. These are decisive actions. We don’t drift into them. But once we have decided and acted, the slow (sometimes painfully so) progress begins, as we learn how to actually use what God has given us.
Most of us haven’t learned to use a tenth of the potential embedded in our Office 365 software or our phones. There is so much more that could be done with them than we are doing. But that’s nothing compared to the mind-boggling potential God has placed in the new self.
I mentioned that an early step is to put off the old self – decisively choosing not to live out of that old programming. A later step is to put on the new self – another decisive act. But there is a critical step in between that mustn’t be missed: we must, verse 23, be renewed in the attitude of our minds.
“Renewed” is a passive mood verb. That means we cannot renew our own minds. They must be renewed from outside – rather like the critical updates renew our computer’s operating system. But if we can’t do it, why command it? Because the renewal of the mind only happens as we connect and cooperate with God. How do we do that?
There are many ways to do that. I will concentrate on those that make use of the Scriptures. Join a small group that studies the Bible. This has been shown to make Bible study more effective. Join a Sunday School class at church or take a course online or from a good school. But the single best thing you can do is read the Bible prayerfully which is to say, read it while connected to God. If you don’t know how to connect to God while reading the Scripture, ask someone whose spiritual life not only impresses you but also encourages you if they have any suggestions.
If you have been controlled by anger, confession will be an important help in putting off the old self and putting on the new. When we admit to a spouse (or former spouse), to children, or friends that our anger has hurt them and that we have sinned against them, change can happen. Maybe not in the relationship – this is not a manipulative tactic (and don’t make it one) – but certainly in us.
This is biblically sound and powerfully transformative. We should humbly ask for forgiveness (not merely say we are sorry); but we cannot demand or even expect forgiveness. The person may withhold it – that’s up to them.
Even if they do withhold it, God will not – that’s up to him. He will be with us. He will change us. Failure cannot stop us. Only staying away from God can do that. Don’t stay away.