At least in one respect, the turning of the calendar page from one year to the next is not as positive an experience as we would like it to be. For one thing, it gives us the emotional equivalent of acid reflux as we pause to look back on the past year with all its thrills and joys or disappointments and regrets. We tend to feel the impact of the negative more than the happiness of the positive. For many, it’s as if we have a scale before us with the bad invariably outweighing the good. With such a sour taste lingering in our mouths, it is no wonder that so many of us look forward to finally crossing over the watershed of what has been to what we hope will be.
The conspicuous proof that this is so is the cultural phenomena of making New Year’s resolutions. These promises that we make to ourselves for the New Year suggest an acute awareness of our inadequacies which were only too obvious to us in our failures of the previous year. We think to ourselves, “Life was not what it should have been and I have not done what I should have done. To correct this, I will just make a plan. like losing weight, being kinder to our neighbors, fixing what is wrong with my house, ironing out my relationship issues, or just being a better man, woman or Christian. I will do better.”
But then we do not do better. In fact, we hardly get out of the gate in our trying. According to U.S. News and World Report (“Why 80 Percent of New Year’s Resolutions Fail”, Joseph Luciani, 12/29/2015), 80 percent of our resolutions are routinely foiled by the second week of February. So much for human resolve! And what we do manage to get done does not result in what we had hoped for. It is not what we planned. It is not what we wanted. And when the end of the year eventually rolls around, we do it all over again, making New Year resolutions that we will once again not keep as matter of habit and tradition… like singing Christmas Carols, only a lot less fun and significantly less meaningful.
The secret is not in our will power. Will power cannot save us, change us, or carry us very far into the good intentions we have. In fact, we have already fumbled the ball of commitment in the moment we make the statement, “I will…!” I will? Will I? I may want to do this or that, but those good intentions are not strong enough to become the reality I wish for myself. Why? Because my problem is my will. I forget (or choose to ignore) my tendency for laziness, my natural bend to serve my selfish desires, and the corruption buried deeply within my soul, buried so deep that I do not realize that it is there.
And I will continue to suffer at the hands of my fallen and weak will until something fundamentally is altered within me. It is not my perspective, although my perspective is shaped by it. It is not the way that I think, although it is easy to think that it is. As unfathomable as it may seem, it is far deeper than either of these things. It is my heart. It is my soul. It is the true essence of my being that must be changed. And it must be radically transformed so that what flows from it may produce the changes in my thinking and conduct that ultimately produce the fruits that are worth possessing in the days to come. Without a change of heart, a change of mind is weak and pointless, and only sets one up for failure.
This is why the implication of following Jesus is much more than a mindset. It is a surrender. It is not our committing ourselves to Him that will carry us into spiritual victory and eternal harvests, but a submitting ourselves to Him that places us in the position of reaping spiritual life.
“Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it…. Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God…. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (Luke 9:24, John 3:3, 6 ESV). Lose my life to save it? Be born again? Be born of the spirit?
I fear that much of our Christianity today is cut from the same cloth as our New Year’s resolutions. We resolve to do good. We decide to abstain from evil. But we always fail. We set our will to be what we are supposed to be as if we can do it on our own and that it is all up to us. But then we are surprised and depressed by the fact that we cannot. Worse, in our shame of failing yet again, we deny our sin and hide our true selves from God and from others for fear of the pain of rejection.
But, my friend, this is not God’s plan. It is not His will that you, in your own finite strength walk the walk that Jesus did, Who was just like us yet without sin (see Hebrews 4:15). It is indeed God’s will that you break free from your sin and no longer walk in its power. “He (Jesus) appeared to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning…. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:5-6a, 8-9 ESV).
This means that when you and I are born of God, a supernatural event has taken place that changes the inclination of our hearts from that of sinning (serving self) towards serving God. As children of God (adopted into His family through faith in Jesus Christ), we are bequeathed a new nature that is shedding worldly and fleshly habits just as surely a caterpillar sheds its chrysalis when it finally breaks free into its new life as a butterfly!
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come…. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (2 Corinthians 5:17, Romans 12:1-2 ESV).
Real change in 2019 is possible, but it will take more than your resolve. Real life is attainable, but it takes more than a commitment. Real joy is yours… if you surrender your life to Jesus, trusting Him as Lord and Savior. And that means a daily surrender that you may sometimes stumble with, but will teach you the power of grace as you draw from Him the love and courage that will make a new you reality. Happy New Year!
(Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 23 ½ years, is the author of The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com”. Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org).