Sanctification and the Problem of My Inner Jerk

I could be wrong, (and if I am, then clearly I lack sufficient self-awareness) but I think I appear to most people as a nice guy.

But appearances can be deceiving. Or at least only part of the story.

So here’s at least one grand revelation: I’m not always patient. And, more specifically, recently I have often felt impatient. I have felt irritable. Felt frustrated. Annoyed. Our last month of COVID lockdown has not done wonders for my character.

Thankfully, these feelings don’t always spill out through my words and actions. But sometimes they do. Usually in the direction of those closest to me. Often with my kids. I end up raising my voice or growling under it, not because they’ve done something wrong (though that does happen) but because I am simply that much more on edge. It says more about me than it says about them.

Or in other words, I’m not always a nice guy. At least in my thoughts and attitudes, there are definitely moments when I am a jerk. Or as I occasionally joke with my wife, “I’m an insensitive schmuck.”

Thankfully, Christianity is not about niceness. It’s not about being someone who is never again self-absorbed, unkind, or grumpy. Each of us will always struggle with personal shortcomings and character defects. Our personal sinfulness will never be in short supply.

Being a Christian, however, does involve what theologians call sanctification. If we are followers of Jesus indwelt by the Holy Spirit, then we ought to be on the path to, as Paul says in Ephesians 4:13, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. That is, we ought to be growing in the fruit of the Spirit, and our lives ought to demonstrate an increasing degree of Christlikeness.

Or as John, Jesus’ cousin, says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

I think part of the process of becoming more spiritually mature, more like Jesus, is becoming more self-aware. In other words, being aware that the way I just spoke or acted is not in sync with the character of Christ. There are believers who seem to lack this. But growing in our knowledge of God includes growing in the knowledge of ourselves. In what ways do I need to grow to be more like Jesus?

And it also means wanting my inner jerk to decrease and the character of Christ to increase in me. A Christian can never use the excuse, “Well, that’s just way I’ve always been.” Sorry. Jesus isn’t content to leave you the same as you were before coming to faith in him. But not only does he seek to transform our behaviour, but our desires, motivations, and character. And there is no end to this process in this lifetime. God continues wanting to knock the sin out of us.

It’s also about fessing up to our inner jerk when necessary. When we do this while praying, Christians call this confession. We need to do this often. And if our inner jerk finds its way into how we treat others, then we need to say sorry and ask for forgiveness. And family life gives us, thankfully, plenty of opportunities for this!

This is why prayers like the one below from The Book of Common Prayer are a good antidote for the inner jerk we all have inside of us:

Almighty God and Father, we confess to you, to one another, and to the whole company of heaven, that we have sinned, through our own fault, in thought, and word, and deed, and in what we have left undone. For the sake of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon us, forgive us our sins, and by the power of your Holy Spirit, raise us up to serve you in newness of life, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Now, I know there are evangelical Christians out there–good, lifelong Baptist folks–who would never use The Book of Common Prayer. Too formalized. Too stodgy. Yet I appreciate prayers like the one above if for no other reason it reminds me–because I am prone to forget and wander in more ways than one–that I am a sinner, that I do need God’s grace and forgiveness, and that he seeks to transform me into the image of his Son by the power of the Spirit. This is not incidental but primary. This is the Christian life.

Or to put it another way: God wants to rid me of my inner jerk, no matter how long it takes.