“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”- Romans 8:1 (ESV)
I have a love/hate relationship with things that are new. New shoes. New toys for the kids. New cars (confession- I have never actually owned a new car, and don’t plan to anytime soon, but I can imagine it must be nice). And, of course, as we celebrate this week, the new year.
On one hand, there is something so refreshing, so hopeful about the idea of new, the concept of a “blank slate.” That hope, however, is often quickly accompanied and even replaced by the fear and anxiety of the new becoming old– and specifically, being tarnished for the very first time.
The first stain on a new pair of shoes. The first break of the new toy. The first dent in the new car. The first failure of the new year. It is incredible how much energy we can expend in seeking to avoid these blemishes, and how much angst we can experience when they inevitably happen. And if you have naturally perfectionist tendencies like I do, you know just how high the stakes can go in this foolish little “game” we play with ourselves.
For those of us honestly seeking to follow Jesus, the new year can be somewhat of a trap for us. As we approach the turn of the calendar, we think to ourselves, “This is gonna be my year. This is the year when I finally break those old, sinful habits. This is the year what’s broken in my family is restored. This is the year when I really allow God to use me to make an impact on others. This is the year…” And the conversation goes on in our heads from there.
Of course, in all our years of having this conversation with ourselves, rarely if ever do we actually experience the year that we envisioned in our heads and hoped for with our hearts. We too often face the same old problems in the same old ways with the same old results leading to the same old feeling of frustration and defeat. I’ve been there. You’ve been there. We’ve all been there. If you claim that you’ve haven’t, I’d counter you with the claim that you’re either a) wildly apathetic, or b) somewhat delusional.
The rest of us, though, are left to wonder what to do with this new year. What should we expect? What should we aim for? How should we account for the relatively poor track record of change most of us are carrying? Is our hope for change little more than a shot in the dark? Well, I’d say it depends on what- and more accurately, who– you’re placing that hope in.
Let me be straight up with you- If your hope for this year is more and better of you, then you can expect to end this year pretty much the same way you ended the last one, and probably the year(s) before that too. And if by chance you happen to perform better than you have up to this point in your own strength, then a strong case could be made that you’ll wind up even worse than you are now, drowning in a deceptive sea of self-righteousness and pride.
But on the flip side, if your hope for this year is anchored not in yourself, but in Christ…well, now you’re getting somewhere. As followers of Jesus, we experience this incredible exchange- our sinfulness for Christ’s righteousness, our mess for His masterpiece. That means that when God looks down on us, He doesn’t see us in light of all our failing and falling; He sees us in light of Christ’s sinless life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection on our behalf. His perfect performance on our behalf now becomes our benefit, our basis of standing before God, not just one day in heaven but right now as well.
As you consider what’s ahead in 2015, I encourage you to set some goals, make some resolutions, and be considerate and intentional about what God wants to accomplish in and through your life. I’m not against any of those things. What I am against, though- primarily because I’ve seen it wreck havoc in my own life too many times to count- is putting your ultimate hope in those goals, resolutions, and intentions. In short, I’m against you putting your hope in yourself and in your own ability to perform.
Instead, set your hope in far sturdier place- or more accurately, a Person named Jesus, the One who is our righteousness. The more you behold Him- His holiness, His power, His love, His grace, His forgiveness- the more you’ll find yourself moving freely and gladly in the direction of transformation. Sure, you’ll fail. Certainly, you’ll fall. But time and again, rather than being crushed under a weight of self-condemnation, you’ll find yourself secure in the righteousness of Christ, loved unconditionally by the Father who calls you His own- and as a result, motivated to persevere in pursuing Him.
As you embark on the journey of this new year, resolve now that failing and falling will be a part of it from time to time- but that giving up on hope won’t be. I assure you- There isn’t a more spiritually critical resolution you could make on this day. Happy New Year!