Respectable Sins 8: Anxiety and Frustration

Anxiety and frustration are certainly two key elements of our contemporary season. But we also experience such things in more mundane ways. Medical bills induce anxiety. A broken bicycle produces frustration. Slick roads make us anxious. Paper cuts are frustrating. How do we handle anxiety and frustration as Christians? With this chapter, I find myself for the first time in some disagreement with Jerry Bridges. He deals with anxiety and frustration as respectable sins. We should learn from him on these matters. At the same time, we should recognize that anxiety and frustration are a part of life in a fallen world and are sometimes outside of the category of moral brokenness. Anxiety can have psychological and physiological causes. Frustration is as old as the curse of Genesis 3. In a world which doesn’t function as it was created to do, we will find all things unsatisfactory and incomplete to some extent.

A key text concerning anxiety comes from Jesus in Matthew 6: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?…But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Have faith. The birds of the air and the lillies of the field do not worry, and we are far more valuable to God than such things. For Bridges, anxiety is sin because it is the opposite of the kind of deep trust in God which should mark the Christian life. To engage in anxiety about situations in our lives is to disbelieve that God is providentially in control of our lives: “…we tend to focus on the immediate causes of anxiety rather than remembering that those immediate causes are under the sovereign control of God.”

Frustration varies from anxiety because it “usually involves being upset or even angry at whatever or whoever is blocking our plans.” To battle this sin, Bridges turns to Psalm 139:16: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” To say that our days are ordained is also to say that none of the occurrences of our days is a surprise to God; he is working out his purposes for our lives through all of the things we experience on a day-to-day basis. Living with faith means, in part, asking God “if there is something I need to learn, or if there is something I need to be attentive to. Sometimes God uses events that tempt us toward frustration to get our attention, or even to push us further in an area we need to grow in.”

I think that we need to exhibit balance in this teaching. On the one hand, we should be vigilant against sinful varieties of anxiety and frustration. If these things lead us to anger towards God or a failure of love towards neighbor, then we know that we have crossed the boundary. On the other hand, anxiety and frustration will follow us all to some extent through life in a fallen world. And for this kind of anxiety, the answer is not so much forgiveness from God as it is healing from God. The good news is that God can bring this healing into our lives, even as he can forgive us for our sinful anxiety and frustration.

Does it challenge you personally to conceive of anxiety and frustration as sin? Why or why not? Have you clearly experienced sinful forms of these common things? What helpful tips have you developed to help you when you are experiencing anxiety?

Respectable Sins 7: Ungodliness

The events of the last two weeks have made it more challenging to regularly post on my interactions with Jerry Bridges’s fine book Respectable Sins. But I will continue to do so, even as we move out of the Lenten season. In fact, we are just getting to the most practical chapters!

Is there a sin that lies at the root of all other sins? One of the classic answers to that question is pride. But Bridges wants us to consider another option: ungodliness. And what exactly is ungodliness? Bridges kicks things off with two important claims. First, all Christians are ungodly to some extent. Second, ungodliness is different than wickedness. Perfectly respectable people who do not engage in obviously vile things can still be ungodly in some ways. If this is true, then how is this ungodliness (present in all of us) manifested in our lives?

The first mark of ungodliness is to “live our daily lives with little or no thought of God.” We can wake up and have a “quiet time”, go to church on Sunday mornings, and tick a box that says we are practicing Christians and still basically move throughout life without thinking about God’s will or God’s glory. We do our jobs and raise our families and worry about our money in the exact same way as everyone else, with little specific thought about how our faith changes every element of our lives. The second mark of ungodliness is a “meager desire to develop an intimate relationship with God.” One cannot read the Psalms or the letters of Paul without a sense that the authors are passionate about being on intimate terms with God. Again, it is perfectly possible to live our Christian lives with little of the longing exhibited by someone like David: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalm 42:1-2).

It is with this understanding that Bridges builds his case that ungodliness is the sin before other sins. “To use a tree as an illustration, we can think of all our sins, big and small, growing out of the trunk of pride. But that which sustains the life of the tree is the root system, in this case the root of ungodliness. It is ungodliness that ultimately gives life to our more visible sins.”

How do we battle this sin? First, we must intentionally train ourselves to take it on (in the power of the Holy Spirit, of course). Second, “…it will help to identify specific areas of life where [we] tend to live without regard to God.” Finally, we must fill our minds up with Scripture verses which teaches us about godliness. For example, we could meditate on Colossians 3:23 (“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…”) or Psalm 27:4 (“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple”). Such texts ground us in the abiding presence of God and in the intimate pursuit of God.

What areas in your life demonstrate this basic sin of ungodliness? In what situations do you repeatedly fail to consider the Lord’s presence or will? Are you comfortable with the language of intimacy with God? Why or why not?

Respectable Sins 6: Directions for Dealing with Sins

God, in his all-wise providence and love, has given us what is certainly an unforgettable Lenten season. The ideas and actions of wilderness, hunger, prayer, repentance, and longing have been brought into sharp focus. In our journey through Jerry Bridges’ Respectable Sins we have come to a very practical chapter laying out a general plan for dealing with all instances of sin in our lives. I will simply reproduce Bridges’ list with minimal commentary.

1. Address your sin in the context of the gospel. “As we struggle to put to death our subtle sins, we must keep in mind this twofold truth: Our sins are forgiven and we are accepted as righteous by God because of both the sinless life and sin-bearing death of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no greater motivation for dealing with sin in our lives than the realization of these two glorious truths of the gospel.”

2. Learn to rely on the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. The promise of the New Testament is that the Spirit is working within his people. So we must constantly seek to rely on him, even if we don’t always understand the way that the Spirit is working.

3. Recognize responsibility to take practical steps. To fight sin you must be prepared to engage in practical actions, while you trust in the power of the Spirit to change you.

4. Identify specific areas of “acceptable” sin. Humbly ask God to show you patterns and triggers.

5. Memorize verses of Scripture that address your specific sins. Memorizing the Bible is like storing up resources for an emergency.

6. Cultivate the practice of prayer over the sins you tolerate. Pray both in a disciplined and in a spontaneous manner.

7. Involve other, trusted people in your struggle. “We need the mutual vulnerability with and accountability to one another, as well as the praying for one another and encouraging one another, if we want to make progress in dealing with sin.”

What kinds of teaching have you received in the past concerning your battle with sin? Did you find it helpful? Do you believe that it is possible to grow in these areas of “respectable” sin? Why or why not?