In last week’s Next Step, we talked about combating an attitude of entitlement that, at its most basic level, believes that God owes us.
This week’s Next Step deals with another common attitude, excusing our negative attitudes and behavior by claiming “that’s just the way I am,” which translates to elevating ourselves beyond the realm of God’s ability to shape us to be like Christ, in essence, blaming God for our sinful attitudes and behavior.
Are we powerless to change our attitudes and behavior?
Thinking that we are powerless to change might hold up if Jesus simply died on the cross to forgive our sin, and then stayed dead. Then we would have forgiveness, but no hope of ever breaking free of sinful patterns that bind us.
That isn’t how the story ends in my Bible. How about yours?
In my Bible, Jesus refuses to stay in the tomb. Three days later, He actually rises from the dead to new life. Then He offers His life to us in exchange for our sin. Just as death could not hold Him in its power, sinful patterns of death have no power over us.
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.—Paul, writing in 2 Corinthians 5:21
Paul says that we are not simply forgiven; we are given the righteousness of God in exchange for our sin. Christ took on our sin, accepting God’s punishment for sin on our behalf. At the same time, Jesus made His righteousness available to those who received His sacrifice on their behalf, and clothes them in God’s perfect righteousness.
Our power to live lives that reflect God’s righteousness flows from His Spirit. Writing to the Galatian believers, Paul reveals the secret to breaking sin’s hold in our lives—
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.—Galatians 5:16
To the Ephesian believers, Paul put it this way—
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.—Ephesians 4:22-24
It is possible, Paul says, to break free from the power of sin and to live changed lives that reflect new life in Christ. When we do sin, John shows us the way to move forward, reminding us that God’s response when we own up to our sin goes beyond forgiveness to include cleansing and renewal:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.—1 John 1:9
“Wait a minute,” you might say, “that’s all fine and good, but my negativity isn’t a sin. It is simply part of who I am. I see the world as it really is. I see the obstacles that other people choose to overlook. It’s my God-given nature and responsibility to point out the problems I see. My negative attitude is simply part of the discernment God gave me.”
Do you see negativity as sin? If not, what evidence can you point to in the life of Christ that negativity honors God?
As you consider the attitude you bring to life, reflect on Philippians 2:1-5 and ask yourself how your daily attitude reflects the presence of Christ in your life.
How do we overcome negativity?
The first step in overcoming negativity is to recognize it in our lives. Let’s take a look at the dictionary to help us get a clear picture of what negative attitudes and behavior looks like.
“Characterized by habitual skepticism and a disagreeable tendency to deny or oppose or resist suggestions or commands”
—"negativity." WordNet® 3.0. Princeton University. 22 Oct. 2008.
“Lacking positive or constructive features: unpleasant, disagreeable; gloomy, pessimistic; hostile or disparaging; malicious”
—"negativity." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 22 Oct. 2008.
Where do you tend to resist God’s power to remake you, claiming that it’s impossible for you to change?
Which of the words from the dictionary definitions of negativity could be used to describe you?
How does this negativity manifest itself in your life? Has it become habitual? In what specific situations or toward which specific people do you tend to become negative?
How is your negative attitude getting in the way of God’s ability to you us to touch and change the world for Christ?
Where does your negative attitude reveal a need for you to humble yourself before God, confess your sins, and allow Him to purify your thoughts, attitudes, and actions? Are you ready to do that?
Who do you need to confess your negativity to and ask for their forgiveness?
God will forgive our negativity, and He stands ready to remake us in the image of Jesus. However, we don’t combat a negative attitude by simply focusing on removing it from your life.
The next step in overcoming negativity is to refocus on living by His Spirit, to be made new in the attitude of our minds, allowing God’s thoughts to reshape our thoughts and the patterns of our lives. This positive focus will fill the void left by asking God to remove our negative tendencies.
Romans 12:2 echoes Paul’s thoughts in Ephesians 4:23-24, telling us that it is possible to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that our lives reveal God’s design for how life is to be lived.
Which of the following character qualities will you begin to develop in place of the negative qualities that have taken hold in you? Pick one to start with.
Trust in God
You can use www.biblegateway.com to find verses in the Bible that focus on the quality that you want to develop, and meditate on those verses. Pick one and memorize it over the next week to help you focus your mind on a God-shaped positive attitude.
Finally, personal change is either enhanced or undermined by relationships.
Who encourages your tendency toward negativity? Who encourages your desire to live a life that reflects God?
How can you build more time into your life to be with people who encourage you to focus on God’s life-changing power?
Who will you encourage by your positive, God-focused attitude this week?