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Regeneration does not dominate and vanquish this collection of temptations. Paul was clear that we bring “our former manner of life” into our salvation and sanctification experiences (Ephesians 4:22). Though you need God’s redemption to get a leg up on your fear, it does not mean you will have total victory over it—at least not at salvation.
You see the dynamics of this interplay early in a person’s life. For example, a child who cannot get what he wants may become afraid that his desired outcome is not going to happen, so he resorts to a tantrum.
(Every angry outburst is not because of fear, though many are. There are several reasons for anger, and a fearful heart is only one of them.)
The discerning parent understands this possibility and begins to help the child learn better responses when things aren’t going his way. If the parent does not discern and help the child, he will create a habit of angrily responding when he can’t get what he wants. At that point, there will be the introduction of another habit into his life; it’s self-reliance. Self-sufficiency is a human-centered reaction to get what he wants.
In addition to being born in Adam, there are other ways that a person’s fear causes sinful habituations that tempt the person to anger and self-reliance. For example, a person who experiences abuse from an authority figure like a dad, mentor, or employer. This kind of person can feel as though they have no help or recourse but to respond in anger as a way to keep the person from hurting them again and again. While the anger may be right in those situations, it’s likely that they become characterized as an angry person, long after the abuse is over. It becomes their habit whenever they feel criticized, put down, hurt, unheard, not understood, or dismissed. This reaction is the “carryover effect” of old habits.
The “theme” that I’m talking about is the interplay between fear, anger, and self-reliance. Self-sufficient anger is a manipulative tactic to mask fear, as the frustrated person “fights back” to get what they want or push others away from them—if they fear the person is going to hurt them. There are times when righteous anger is the right response because it keeps you from being hurt again. But because of our fallenness, we quickly pick up the wrong habits that enslave us. In short, we become angry people.
The “human response to fear” is self-reliance, as opposed to God-reliance. And the way it becomes a habit is when a child—who is not mature enough to understand these deeper truths—does the only thing an “Adam person” could do: it’s survival of the fittest. (An immature believer would resort to similar tactics.)
The proper response to fear is humility, which opens you up to God’s favor (James 4:6), which empowers you to overcome. In most cases, these adults need someone to come alongside them to help them see how they became the way they are and then carefully walk with them through the long-term and necessary mind renewal and putting on Christ (Ephesians 4:23-24).
The first step is understanding the interplay between fear, anger, and self-reliance while slowly, carefully, and patiently teaching the child—in terms and ways that they can understand—how to work through this problem. If it’s an adult with the habituation, you will be able to help them more effectively if they are teachable.
It’s vital to remember that this is a “mortification issue” more than an “amputation issue.” Meaning, though there are some things to “cut off” (amputate), the hard work will be the long process of “mortifying” (draining the life out of) the inner heart motivations that tempt the person to anger.
The three critical areas to focus on are fear that leads to anger, and then self-reliance, which is the empowering agent that causes the anger to manifest. To learn more about self-sufficiency, please read this article, listen to the podcast, watch the video, and study the mind map that is in this article. I have also included several articles on anger in these show notes
One of the things to factor in is that you will never entirely vanquish fear out of your life. There is a lot of mystery at this point, but you know that all of your problems will not go away entirely because you can’t be perfect in this life.
The two ditches that you want to live between are giving up or resignation on the one side while expecting that you can remove all of your problems on the other side. Thus, you fight the good fight while trusting the Lord to give you what you need in your time of need.
There is another angle attached to this idea of permanent imperfection in this life, and that is how the Lord permits some things in our lives to train us in righteousness. I realize this is a highly subjective perspective, but you do know the Lord does allow challenges to instruct us to depend on Him.
The key is never to give up while living with reasonable expectations. And usually, it’s our life-dominating sins like fear that stay with us all our lives. I do not find this discouraging at all. These ideas give me self-awareness, as well as many opportunities to trust God, which, in time, builds habituations (i.e., perseverance, discipline, hope, faith, and charity) toward godliness.
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