For all life’s difficulties, there’s something about January 1 that renews people’s hope. It symbolizes a fresh start, a new beginning. In the time it takes for the ball to drop, people have already formed in their mind that this day and the new year represents a clean slate. Whether a learned response or some aspect of our nature, we all grab hold of this in some way.
I’m not one for resolutions but I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t already think about the weight I’m going to lose, the reading I’m going to do, or the other things about my life I’m going to change. These are all good things and God’s word encourages us to strive to be better, to sin less, to be conformed to the image of Christ, and we know we have the Holy Spirit to guide us along that way, being our strength when we need it. Along with all the normal things were going to do differently in the new year, followers of Christ ultimately resolve to be better followers. I have that same desire. I want to be better. I want the change I know I have inside of me to manifest itself in such a way that my outward life is attuned more closely to my inward desire to be better. That’s my hope and prayer for you all as well!
One caveat if you’d allow.
This is a worry for me and I admit I may be overly conscious of it sometimes. It’s making sure our desire to be better does not become a bondage to us. The hardest thing about striving to be better is being careful not to cast our whole worth on the “better.” We can make the “better” an idol to follow and for the non-Christian who has nothing else, that’s what can happen. So much emphasis goes into those resolutions that a person’s entire worth is poured into following it through to the end. So much so that when a person fails, they usually fail hard. You go from two weeks of cottage cheese to two hours of bacon cheeseburgers. A month of gym turns into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Rocky Road a day. I’m as guilty as the next guy. I’ve been at either end of those resolutions. Christians are just as guilty of this. We pour our whole worth into doing everything we resolved to do.
I think the problem is that we love rules and laws. We love them so much that we tend to treat those resolutions with a “must-do-or-I-failed” attitude. Christians, myself included, can have this same attitude about keeping God’s rules. This leads to feeling dejected over the inability to do right or what’s good in God’s eyes. We erroneously find our worth is in the fulfillment of these resolutions and too many times, we as Christians, find our worth tied up in keeping God’s laws. I still struggle with this myself. I have to be reminded that my worth is not in the keeping of the law but in the one true keeper of the law.
At best, the unbelievers can balance their New Year’s journey by remembering it’s not just the end result but the ability to get through difficult times and keep moving forward. For the Christian, our worth is found outside of ourselves completely. It does not rely on our being a better parent or spouse. It doesn’t rely on making sure you read the Bible everyday or remembering to pray for everyone in your circle. I’ll be the first to admit my shortcomings in all those areas. Christ is our hope and our salvation and every single bit of our worth is bound up in him and him alone.
By faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone! There is no “by works alongside.” Despite that, we, in our dual nature of sinner and saint, wrestle with this feeling of not measuring up to God. We get caught up measuring our “save-ability” by how much work we are doing for the Kingdom. As such, when there’s a lull in our “actions” (our church work), the old man that loves to judge all things by the law creeps in and condemns us for not doing our part. If you are wrestling with the possibility that you are not measuring up to God’s standard, then whether you are doing it consciously or not, you are judging yourself and your relationship to God by your works. I urge you to return to the Gospel and remember that we have the highest standard already put upon us by Christ’s life lived. We wear all Christ’s perfect law keeping.
My encouragement to you is to strive. Strive to live holy. Strive to be better spouses, parents and workers. Strive to be good friends and neighbors. Serve in all your vocations. But please remember, that just as so many will fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions, we will eventually drop the ball. We will blow it as spouses and parents, workers and neighbors and everything in-between. Maybe, even right out of the gate at 12:01 AM. But despite that, because of the righteousness of Christ that is ours, God is still pleased with us. He is still looking at us with favor. Most of all, we are still his children grafted into the vine. This is my hope moment by moment because I sin daily. It is my hope for you as well in the new year.
Our God is perpetually the prodigal son’s father, always waiting to run when his wayward child returns. To run and fall on his neck and kiss him. Waiting to put his robe on his back and a ring on his finger. Waiting to hold a feast in his child’s name. Forgiveness is already there waiting for his son. It was already his and he had it before he spoke a word.
Remarkably, despite all our sins and failures, our God will still say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” because of faith alone, by grace alone, and through Christ alone.
Happy New Year!