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 4:22-23)
In 1962, while stationed in Alaska with the Army, Lance Nesta received a gift from his aunts: a fruitcake in a blue tin. Like many people who receive a fruitcake, Lance didn’t know what to do with it. He certainly didn’t want to eat it, and he says he "liked [his] fellow soldiers too much to share it with them." So he just put it away. When he left the Army a few years later, he packed it up with the rest of his belongings to ship to his mother’s home in Waukesha, Wisconsin. In all probability, Lance would never have thought about the fruitcake again.
Except that he was going through some boxes in his mom’s attic this week and pulled out a blue tin labeled "Old Fashioned Fruitcake."
Turns out that his mother hadn’t just saved the tin the fruitcake came in. The fruitcake itself was in there, still wrapped in paper. "I was amazed that it hadn’t changed at all," Nesta said. In case you’re curious, no, he has no plans to eat the fruitcake, although looking over the ingredients on the tin, Lance noticed something for the first time.
"If I had known back then it had rum and brandy in it, I would have eaten it."
Know what I can’t quite figure out? Why didn’t Lance just throw the fruitcake away? He didn’t want it. Says he wasn’t going to eat it. Wouldn’t have given it away. So why keep it? When he’s packing up his stuff to send back to Wisconsin, why not throw it out then? Seems to me to be the perfect opportunity; I imagine he threw out some other stuff at that time. But instead of just getting rid of it, he actually pays to ship it back home! Now the fruitcake’s costing him money, and still he keeps it! Why?
Actually, I think I might know why. Lance was in the habit of having a fruitcake. That blue tin had become a fixture in his life, just one more thing that he had, one more thing that had a place in his life. It took less thought for him to keep it than it took for him to get rid of it, and whenever that’s the case you’ll never get rid of whatever it is. You’ll carry it with you from place to place, and even if it exacts a cost you’ll hang onto it. Not because you need it or like it or even necessarily want it, but because it’s just there and getting rid of it just wouldn’t occur to you.
I think I know what it’s like to have stuff like that, stuff that I don’t need or want but that I continue to hang onto. It isn’t necessarily stuff that would fit in a box in an attic somewhere, and that’s sort of the problem. Lance didn’t see that fruitcake for forty years. Some of the stuff I’m talking about makes itself known a little more regularly than that. I’m talking about impatience. I’m talking about self-centeredness. I’m talking about pride, and anger, and greed – stuff like that. Stuff that clutters up not my attic, but my heart. Stuff that I wish wasn’t there and that I know I should be rid of, but that I seem to hang onto.
Sins, the Bible calls them. I prefer other terms, if you want to know the truth. More polite terms: failings, weaknesses, quirks, but call them what you will they clutter my life and are about as attractive and useful and healthy as a forty-year-old fruitcake. I should give them up, and if I take the gospel seriously then I have to believe I have the power to dispose of them. Because of Jesus, it’s within my reach to take those sins that clutter my life and pitch them.
And, let me quickly say, in many cases I have. By the grace of God, some values and thoughts and behaviors that used to have a place in my life no longer do. At some point or another, the Holy Spirit has called those things to my attention and given me the clarity to see that they don’t fit the new life I have in Christ. And along with that clarity, he’s infused me with the strength to let them go.
But then there are some things that have hung on in my life for much longer than they ever should have. I’m not talking occasional slips, here; I’m talking weaknesses of character. I’m talking patterns of thinking and acting that look more like the world around me than like Jesus. Values that issue more from the spirit of the age than the Spirit of God. I don’t need them. Often I don’t like them. Sometimes I don’t necessarily even want them. But there they are, just the same.
Maybe you can relate. Maybe there’s some stuff cluttering the attic of your mind that you should have gotten rid of a long time ago. Maybe it’s not so much in the attic as in the living room, forcing to live your whole life around it. Maybe it’s an attitude or pattern of thinking: bitterness, or envy, or lust, or something like that. Maybe it’s a behavior: lying, or cursing, or sexual immorality. You know there’s no longer any reason for it to have a place in your life. It doesn’t add anything to your new life in Christ. You don’t like it, most of the time. You don’t want it, not really. And yet, there it is.
So let’s pray that the Holy Spirit will call our attention to the habits of mind and body that no longer need to have a place in the new life God has created for us in Jesus. In Christ, God has given you a new life that isn’t under the tyranny of sin and death. And through the Holy Spirit, he’ll help you to work out what that life should look like when lived out in the place where you are, among the people that you’re with.
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)
However long you may have held onto something, it’s not too late to let it go.