This is the time of year when we all say “Happy new year!”. That has always had the connotation to me that people are eager to get this last year behind them and get a new start. It is as if we can, in a way, erase the past mistakes, and get on with a better life somehow. It seems to me that we need to put the last decade behind us. I heard a newscaster call it “The Lost Decade”, as he went through all the terrorist attacks, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the economic debacle we are still going through. One article in Business Week entitled “The Lost Decade”, said “we are not having a boom followed by a bust—we’re having a bad decade followed by a digging out process.”
Most people look at the new year as a new beginning, and a time for New Year’s resolutions. They are going to lose weight, stop drinking or smoking, and just generally get rid of all their bad habits. Some denominations practice Lent which is the 40 day period before Easter. Because it usually falls early in the year, many link it with new year’s resolutions. It is a time of soul searching and repentance, reflection, and taking stock. It is supposed to prepare you for Easter. The 40 day period commemorates Jesus’40 days in the wilderness before His temptation by the devil. Almost everybody celebrates the New Year as if it is a new lease on life or a second chance.
New Beginnings in Christ
When Christ was born into the world it meant a new deal from God, or as the Bible calls it a New Covenant. The Old Covenant of Law was good, but it was meant to be only temporary, and could never produce forgiveness or salvation for a sinner. The Old Testament prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel had predicted and promised that the Messiah would bring something new and better in the way of salvation. Jeremiah quoted God saying, “Behold, days are coming…when I will make a new covenant…not like the (old) covenant…which they broke…I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it…I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Ezekiel wrote, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you…and I will put My Spirit within you.” The idea here is that in the Old Testament, the people had no heart for keeping the law. The law was good and right, but they could not keep it because it was external only, and they had no heartfelt desire to keep it. We should definitely relate to this as we also constantly break rules we disagree with, and laws that we don’t think will be enforced (meaning what we think we can get away with). Why do you occasionally break the speed limit, coast through stop signs, or walk across the grass? You have no heartfelt desire to keep these laws. Thus, the Old Testament is a history lesson of man failing to live up to God’s perfect standard.
Jesus brought us a new beginning. In His Last Supper in Luke 22:20, Jesus took the cup of wine that they normally passed around for the old Passover ceremony, and announced that something new was coming. Jesus was saying that He was inaugurating the New Covenant when He would voluntarily be crucified as their substitutionary sacrifice for their sins when He said, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Jesus’ blood was shed for them in order to bring in the new and better deal. At that same supper Jesus promised them a new Helper (Jn.14:16) which He identified as the Spirit of God who would indwell them just as Jeremiah and Ezekiel had said. Jesus had been planning this from the beginning as He had taught early in His ministry the parable of the new wine in the old wineskin in Matt.9:17. They had asked Him why He did not follow the old traditions like fasting, and Jesus explained, “No one puts new wine in old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins will burst, but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” The idea is that the old traditions are incompatible with the new deal that Jesus made possible—thus new beginnings.
New Spiritual Birth
In John 3, a Pharisee (the sect steeped in the old traditions of religion) named Nicodemus slipped in under cover of darkness to interview Jesus. He had seen the miracles that Jesus did, and heard Jesus teach the Word of God in an authoritative way. He came looking for answers from the one man that had them. Jesus told him that he must be born again, meaning spiritually born. This was in keeping with the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel that God would give them a new heart, and He would give them His Spirit. Jesus said that he was born physically, but now he must be born spiritually through belief in Jesus as his Savior. When a person believes in Jesus and commits their life to Him, then God will cause this new birth to happen. It is a work of God as Jesus taught Nicodemus when he asked “How can a man be born when he is old?” John 3:8 says that you can’t understand what God does anymore than you can know where the wind comes from or where it is going—it just happens to you. You get a new beginning.
Other passages like 1 Peter 1:3,23, Titus 3:5, 2 Cor.5:17 confirm and expand on this new beginning. In 2 Cor.5:17, Paul wrote that any person who was now joined to Christ was a new creature. The old life had passed away, and the person now had a new life. He went on to say that that new life would no longer consist of living for himself. The new person is an ambassador for Christ, an instrument of God who lived to serve God, and as such God would use him to entreat people to be reconciled to God. Hopefully people will see the change in you and be drawn to Christ, and we are to tell people that, “God made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” In this new relationship with Jesus we actually are righteous in God’s eyes—now that’s a new beginning.
At a Point in Time
What all actually happened to you at the point in time that you believed? Keep in mind that it doesn’t matter if you don’t know exactly when that exact time was, God knows and God began the process. Positionally, you were justified, forgiven, redeemed, reconciled to God, and God’s wrath against sin was propitiated (appeased)—see Romans 3:21-26. You also were inducted into the citizenship of heaven (Phil.3:20).
Unfortunately, we still have to live here for a while even though our citizenship in heaven is a done deal. That is why we are now in the world, but not of the world. Nevertheless, true to Christ’s word, the Holy Spirit now indwells us. Don’t worry if you can’t feel any of this, remember it is the work of God that is beyond your understanding. Just know that the Spirit of God is trying to very quietly lead you, guide you, teach you, and convict you. In time He will change your desires and the direction of your life. It will seem natural, but when you start enjoying Bible study, serving others, and a host of other matters of the heart, you will realize what Paul said in Romans 8:16, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”.
Do we have it made now? Can we now live a perfect life free of problems? Get real, because Paul wrote of the difficult battle we will have with the physical desires of our flesh throughout his letters. In Romans 6, he wrote about why we should live a new sinless life since we are new people in Christ, but in Romans 7 he presents us with a major problem. We still inhabit these sinful fleshly bodies with all their sinful desires like greed, sexual lust, envy, and the love of stuff. Paul said that he knows what he wants to do, but the doing of the good is very hard. Paul also wrote in Galatians 5:17 the nature of this battle, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” So what’s the answer to this dilemma?
Romans 8 answers the questions that Paul asked in ch.7. What just having the law could not do (enabling you to keep it), God did. God not only sent His Son to save us from the penalty of sin, but God sent His Spirit to save us from the power of sin in our flesh. If we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, we will not carry out the desire of the flesh. Romans 8:5 says, “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit…because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not able to do so.” Therefore we need a spiritual mindset, a focus on the things of the Spirit. Paul returns to this concept in Rom.12:1-2. He urges us to present our physical bodies as a living sacrifice acceptable to God. The image here is of the O.T. animal sacrifices. We put these physical lustful materialistic bodies on the altar metaphorically, because of the grace of God that we have received. We give up our desires and ambitions for His, and become His ambassadors. Romans 12:2 gives us that first step toward that by saying, “And do not be (any longer) conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is.”
The rule of life of this New Covenant, this life in Christ is called by Paul “being filled by the Spirit” in Ephesians 5:18, and walking in the Spirit in Gal.5:16. It is a life of faith in being controlled by the Holy Spirit as we develop a spiritual mindset by reprogramming our minds with the things of God, and allowing Christ to live His life through us. I like the way Gal.2:20 says it, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” or Rom.13 “put on the Lord Jesus and make no provision for the flesh”
Happy New Year, CHARLIE TAYLOR