I recall a time I had an occasion to review an old exam that I took several years ago. When I originally got this test back, I was disappointed in some of the comments I received from the grader on a few of my answers. I was angry at him. I thought his grading was biased because I was a woman. He made what I thought were nitpicky comments about various things and required that I rewrite several of my answers. I did as he asked, and his responses were again- nitpicky. I recall being very angry by the third rewrite on some of these questions. I never met the grader in person, and he was someone I had only heard in recorded lectures. I had formed a negative opinion of him from the lectures, and the exam commentary only furthered my dislike of him.
Years went by from the time I took that exam and when I dug it out for the purpose of teaching something. When I re-read the comments (now many years old), I was shocked to experience the level of anger and bitterness I felt rise up in me, and I heard come out of my mouth.
I don’t know why I was shocked- I clearly recall being very angry at the time. What I didn’t understand was how I could experience that same level of anger and bitterness all those years later, and I wondered, “Where on earth did this come from?”
The truthful and straightforward answer is that it was stored up in my heart for all those years because I never dealt with it biblically. I had decided at the time to file away my thoughts, beliefs and feelings about his comments along with those exams, and when I reread my work and his comments, they have come back to defile many. Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.”
One evening, I shared my thoughts with a small group of people, about this person and his grading of my test, and the bitterness in my heart was utterly apparent. My grumbling and complaining were contagious as a few other people began to talk about “unfair” grades they received on papers in the past. It was amazing to see the level of emotion rising in the room as several of us talked unkindly about those situations. My bitterness was the catalyst to their self-disclosure. I rejoiced as I listened to them because I felt vindicated and righteous for being angry. However, it didn’t take long for the gentle conviction of the Holy Spirit to affect my heart.
As I left that night, I realized that I had been holding this bitterness and anger in my heart, and I replayed in my mind what that had done to the group. As I thought about it on the drive home, I realized that I was bitter toward this man for doing his job! First, I had to ask myself what his goal was in making the comments. His task was to ensure that I was proficient in the skills I was being tested on. Second, I had to ask myself if it was personal — were his comments and corrections aimed at my character or person? No, they were not. This man had never laid eyes on me; all he knew of me was my test and the brief disclosures I was to make on the introductory cover sheet. Finally, I had to ask myself if I was judging him unjustly, and my only conclusion was yes. I did not like his opinions on my test answers, and I took them personally. My pride was wounded years ago, and I never dealt with it biblically.
Obviously, I had to deal with this right away! Unfortunately, it was too late that night to speak with those I had affected in the group, so I had a week to contemplate and think on this whole thing. I know and teach that the scope of confession is as great as the scope of offense, so I knew I needed to confess my bitterness to them and ask their forgiveness for venting my sinful heart to them and leading a few of them to sin my poor example. But first, I had to confess my bitterness and anger to God. It was not as though God didn’t already know about this, He has been aware of my heart all this time and what is contained within. I do not have the answer to why God allowed it to go on this long, but I am thankful that I am seeing it now and dealing with it once for all.
As I examined my heart, I realized that not only have I harbored bitterness toward this man for his criticism of my answers, I was judging him in my heart as well. I was assigning malicious intent to his actions and judging his motives. I was grieved to the core at my sin. Finally, I admitted to God that I had been carrying around this bitterness for a long time, that I had judged this man unjustly, that my pride had been affected, and that I was totally self-righteous in my thinking. The next step was to confess what the Holy Spirit has shown me (bitterness, pride, self-righteousness) to the group of people and ask their forgiveness for encouraging them to sin due to my displayed anger and resentment.
God is incredible. He is so gracious and so gentle in His dealings with me! I did not arrive at these conclusions through fear or intimidation, threats, or verbal or spiritual clubbing. Instead, I came to understand and believe the truth about this sin in my heart in a gentle and convicting way. I simply held my words, thoughts, reactions, feelings, and desires up against the Word of God and the character of the Lord Jesus Christ and realized I was not bringing Him glory by any of it.
You may want to believe that you can “gloss over” sin and leave it in the past without dealing with it biblically through confession and repentance, but that is not so! Sin is insidious and hates exposure. My sin was content to stay buried in my heart and eat away at me directly and indirectly. The more you pursue holiness and desire to glorify God, the more you can be confident God will clean out those little locked boxes in your heart. His desire is that you and I be holy as He is holy, and He will use all the means at His disposal to complete the work that He has started (Phil.2:13). God is entirely faithful, and He will not leave you or me mid-stream. He is intent on our being conformed to the image and likeness of Christ in total. Rejoice in this and be glad!