When you think about it, New Year’s Day is just another day – yet by an artifice of the mind we decide that it is the advent of a New Year, as the ball descends in Time Square, as the fireworks explode in our neighborhoods, and elsewhere. It is a traditional time for celebration. Bendigo Shafter, a character in a great Louis Lamour novel of the westward migration in America, once wondered how we would do without marking time, living in a constant “present,” and not “aging”.
Today, I ask you why you put so much on the newness of a new year – and you do it every year? Mr. Lamour had a point: people spend an awful lot of time remembering the past and working on the future, and often not near enough time living in the “present”. We cannot worship God in the past or the future, we give him glory in the present! So, we need to change our focus from so much past and future, and start being aware of our present and focusing on its living for the glory of God!
This “newness” thing we associate with a new year does get us away from the past and focused on a new future, in which we sin less, get in better shape, manage our finances and relationships better, etc.. Planning for change is, or can be, a component of repentance, when we set our foreheads like flint (Ezekiel 3:8-9), to listen to sin no more. In that context “newness” is good, and it is good because it plans for a new “newness” that would have us more and more giving God the glory in the new days and hours to come, in our lives.
Now, let’s examine this thing of “newness” or “new” for a moment: “New” = different, it implies change – and we have heard a lot of political hype about change, and it has been spun in a positive way, politically, because it is explained that change will bring us hope, hope for a better future. Some politicians have made history on the hype of “hope” and “change”. But what have they accomplished in the Kingdom of God?
God likes these concepts of hope and change, and He intends that these concepts accomplish much in His Kingdom: He hopes that we do change, and that we change for the better, all as He defines it. When, through repentance, we do change like God wants us to change, something very important happens – hope turns into a new, personal history, as we build Christian Character. That is the kind of change God hopes we make in our lives. The living of our lives is the making of history. God knows our lives will be better, and better eternally, if, through repentance, we make personal history, for ourselves and those we serve, by turning God’s hope into our hope, and their hope, in the form of Christian Character.
You see, no matter how you are living your life, no matter what happens to your New Year’s Resolutions – and no matter whether you made any New Year’s Resolutions are not – you are making your own history, your personal story. And there will be a time when the Book of Life will be opened – it will already have been written – (Rev. 20:12) and the history of your life will be clear, but it will be published after your death, your first death, and you can no longer edit the Book of Life. The words in that Book, accurately recording the things you said, did, thought, felt, and those you didn’t, are down in black and white and you’re stuck with them. And so is God.
But you have two bases to change today, in this New Year 2010, this new decade (you only get a few decades in your life here) the way the rest of your personal history, your Book of Life, is written, not just this year but henceforth and forever: The first basis of change for you is the atonement of the Blood of Christ, shed for you and for many, who believe He is Who He says He is. The second basis for change is the construction in your life of Christian Character on the foundation of your Redemption in the Blood of Christ.
Now, you say, I understand at least the theory of the first one, the Divine Exchange at the foot of the Cross, of His suffering for my sins. Indeed, you say, I have received Jesus as my personal Savior, I believe in His Name (John 3:16, and all of that), so what is the big deal? Isn’t that it? No, that is not all there is to it, but you can’t go any further without it. It is first base, and you have to tag it to go on to the other bases.
Now, this second base is often more difficult for us. Salvation is by grace (Ephesians 2:8), unmerited favor, and that by the gift of God. We can all receive a gift, so we can receive the tagging of first base, if you will, but on this second basis of change and hope, it is not such a gift, it is a bit of work and therefore of discipline, self-discipline (Galations 5:22-23) – how do I build the Christian Character on that foundation of redemption?
This really is the central issue for the true Christian. In that same sense, the central issue for the unsaved, is salvation and redemption. Salvation and redemption, and its heart of repentance, open the door to forgiveness, and the construction of Christian Character in your life means that you have to open that door to forgiveness less and less often and that pleases God!
Building Christian Character is life in the “present”; it is building skill in the word of righteousness! It is where, from moment to moment, we choose good over evil in our lives, manifesting our maturity, or maturing, as we live and write our Book of Life. Hebrews 5:12-14 is foundational guidance in the philosophy of Christian Character: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
This passage from Hebrews speaks to us of teaching, which is what God is doing with us today, as He teaches us the word of righteousness, and this passage teaches us that we are all to be teachers, and that the way we do that, the way we become mature enough to teach others the word of righteousness is by our our own “constant use” of the “word of righteousness”, applying it to every feeling, thought, and decision in our lives. Now, you notice that I did not say every action in our lives, every deed. That is because the actions and deeds of our bodies – even of our tongues and words – are directed or permitted by the decisions we make based on our thoughts and feelings. The construction of Christian Character requires the application and constant use of the word of righteousness to our thoughts and feelings. If we do that, then we are disciplining ourselves to require, in each one of us, that God’s word of righteousness control our feelings and thoughts and therefore our words and deeds.
In order to appropriate fully the word of righteousness into our lives, we have to do something, and that something is called “choice”: to do this we have to make a choice, actually a lifetime series of choices, for God and His word of righteousness to come into our hearts, like we asked Jesus to come into our hearts and save us by the redemptive power of His Blood.
As we appropriate the word of righteousness fully into our lives, we undergo an amazing metamorphosis, A DIVINE HEART TRANSPLANT: our hearts of stone are softened and changed into hearts of flesh, (Ezekiel 36:26-27), which with the Holy Spirit brings us into obedience of God. God even described David as a man after my own heart (I Samuel 13:14), And Job said, (Job 23:16, NKJV), “For God made my heart weak (‘soft’ in King James Version, and the Almighty terrifies me . . . .”). And we know (I Samuel 10:9) that at the anointing by Samuel, God gave King Saul a new heart, but something happened to it as he lived out his days as king: Saul do not hold onto what the Lord had commanded him (I Samuel 13:14). And we know of the people of Israel, in Jerusalem, right after the Ascension of Jesus, about David and His relationship with Jesus (Acts 2:22-39), that they were cut (NKJV) or pricked (KJV) to the heart.
So, even from the Old Testament, it is very clear (Jesus is very clear, Matthew 12:34, that out of the fullness of the heart doth the mouth speak. In other words it is what our hearts love that controls our words and actions, because, like with all issues of love, our hearts wrestle with our commitment to the beloved. As the Bride of Christ, we in the church often think we resolved this issue of commitment at the point of public confession of faith in Jesus Christ, or when we asked Him into our hearts, or when we were baptized. But, that was only the starting point, that was the beginning of the real war, the war of commitment in each of our hearts. Jesus knew, and knows, and we should know, Matthew 15:19, that out of the heart – due to original sin – proceed evil thoughts, and if we nurture those evil thoughts, we will speak and do evil. On the other hand, Jesus wanted to, and wants to, bless the pure in heart (Matthew 5:8, from the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes).
In the Parable of the Sower, in Matthew 13, Jesus makes it clear that when the Word of God is spoken it is sown as a seed not in our minds, and not in our feelings, but in our hearts, and it can be stolen away from our hearts by misunderstanding (verse 19), or because he has no root in himself to overcome tribulation or persecution (verse 20), or because the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word and it is unfruitful in his life (verse 22). But, majestically, Jesus makes it clear (verse 23), that the Word of God, the word of righteousness, bears fruit and multiplies greatly, when it is heard and understood, without being choked out and stolen away by tribulation or persecution or the cares of this world or by the deceitfulness of riches, then it will bear fruit all around us, in our marriages, in our children, in our extended family, in our church, in the unsaved world!
Given that we mark time with the new year, the new decade, we know that we are living out our days on this earth. Regardless of whether we have made resolutions to change, because we hope to live our lives better to the greater glory of God, or even not so, the future is today, it is upon us like a wind chill!
As Paul noted in the letter to the Romans, will your hard and impenitent (‘unrepentant’ ) heart treasure up for you wrath at the day of wrath, revelation and judgment by the righteous God (Romans 2:5), that being the day when the Book of Life is read (Rev. 20:12-15)? Will you be allow the Word of God, and of His Righteousness, to be choked out, and stolen away, by misunderstanding? If so, you need to be a student and have a teacher and get thee understanding!. Will you allow the Word of God, and of His Righteousness, to be choked out and stolen away by not maturing a root to withstand tribulation or persecution? If so, then you need to pray to God to so fill your heart that you have the eagerness, the passion, to use, constantly, the word of righteousness, and so to discern good and evil, in your life. Will you allow the Word of God, and of His Righteousness, to be choked out and stolen away by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches? If so, then you need to confront the weakness of your flesh and the deceitfulness of Satan, and you need to mortify your flesh and its weaknesses, and you need to act in faith to command Satan to leave you!
It’s up to you. If you are not saved, today could be the day for your New Beginnings in Christ, for life eternal in love and power, by His Grace. If you are saved, the question remains for you as to what you will do with the word implanted by the Sower in your heart: will you be repentant unto true life changes, in the Hope that is in Christ Jesus, which does not disappoint, like King David, or will you give yourself over without apology to the weakness of the flesh, and the temptations and deceits of Satan, like King Saul?
Every day, David and Saul made choices. Neither was perfect. David’s heart was after God; Saul – even with his new heart – chose not to fill it up with obedience and repentance and the constant use of the word of righteousness, to be mature and a teacher, by word and example, of others.
Every day, you make choices. Will you follow the paths of righteousness for His Name Sake (Psalm 23:3), or like Saul, Romans 10:3, will you seek to justify yourself by your own righteousness?
Ask your self this question – II Corinthians 6:14 KJV, “What fellowship has righteousness to do with unrighteousness”? Then, you decide, for after all, it is a new year, a time of New Beginnings, and it is your life . . . . or is it your life?