The difficulties that we experience during our life can cause all kinds of unwanted emotions. If not handled well, this could lead to abnormal behavior which could cause a vicious cycle and a downward spiral into emotions and behaviors that would normally be avoided, or at least would be at a minimum. Since all of us experience this to a certain degree, how do we get back to a place of peace and normal behavior?
There are several ways that might help with this. There is counseling which might include mindfulness meditation, there is yoga; there is going to church, or talking to a good friend. Perhaps each of these practices would be helpful, but for the Christian, I think remembering and embracing our identity in Christ is most important.
We all miss the mark at times. The bible says: “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). One of my favorite stories in the bible told by Jesus is the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). In this story, there were two sons of a humble father. One of the sons became overwhelmed by powerful negative emotions that eventually caused him to act out with behaviors that were not appropriate in his father’s household. He left so that he could be free to act out his behavior. But when his behavior led him to a place of misery, he remembered that he had a kind father who may not accept him back as a son, but at least as a servant. As the story goes, he was accepted back into the household as a son, because this was his identity.
There is a bit of controversy of whether we are sons and daughters of God (saints who sometimes sin) once we become born again Christians or are we sinners saved by grace. The difference may not seem very important, since both sides believe to be born again. However, what we believe about ourselves may make a huge difference in how we handle the difficulties that rise in our lives, some caused by circumstances, and some caused by poor decisions as with the prodigal son.
We tend to behave according to how we see our true selves. In ACT (acceptance commitment therapy) there is the daily option of moving away from our values and goals, and there is the option of moving towards our values and goals. The key is remembering what our values and goals are, and how we identify ourselves when all is well. If we think of ourselves as sinners, at best we may try to avoid moving away from desired behavior, but the desired values and goals may be considered unachievable by those who have declared themselves a sinner, instead of a sinner who has become a saint through the work of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection (1John 3:1, Rom 8:1, Ephesians 2:19). On the other hand, a person who has accepted the new identity of being a saint, will not only work to avoid moving away from desired values and goals, but such persons would work towards those values and goals with more confidence because they are a part of the new identity given by God.
Even so, there will be occasions of sin, especially in the early stages of this transformation from sinner to saint, or the process of sanctification. I like how Paul express this in Philippians 3:14: “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” This lends a good illustration of a person who has been caught up in painful emotions and unwanted behavior, continuing to move towards core values and goals, rather than continuing in the same behavior or thought patterns that may be consistent with poor beliefs of oneself.
The prodigal son remembered that he had a personal relationship with a good father. Even though he could no longer think of himself as a son, he went back home with confidence believing that his father would at least give him a place among the servants. But you know the rest of the story, the father reminded him of his identity despite what he had done, and how far he had fallen away. The father still declared him a son and celebrated his return.
There are many scriptures in the New Testament of the Bible that talk about our new identity in Christ once we ask Him into our heart. I believe the reason behind it is to give us more confidence in pursuing a relationship with Him. Otherwise, he may always seem distant and unreachable. Fortunately, the prodigal son decided to return home despite his condemning thoughts and feelings.
This is not to say that a person who believes he is a sinner saved by grace is not saved, nor a person who believes she is a saint who sometimes sin is closer to God, but it makes sense to accept what God says about us rather than struggling against it because of past failures. God is the final authority, so why not believe what He says about us and be restored to a sense of peace because of it; then we can humbly press forward toward the values and goals He has placed in us.