Monday, December 31, 2012

The Gospel is Better than your New Year's Resolution

I am going to lose weight...
I am going to quit smoking...
I am going to spend more time with the kids...
I am going to find Mr/Mrs Right...
I am going to get that promotion...

Almost without consciously thinking about it our minds switch into resolution mode at this time of year.  It's funny because it's just a date on a calendar... it's not like 01.01.13 is going to usher in a radically different regime of life compared to 31.12.12!  And yet it seems normal and natural at the end of year to reflect on the last 12 months of life and speculate on what lies ahead.  For many the thought of a New Year is the promise of a new start; the hope of a different life, a better life, a more fulfilling life.

And so we make our resolutions... And for a brief moment in time adrenaline surges through our veins and a sense of determination grips us... nothing is going to stop us this year!  The fact that we failed to keep last year's resolutions, if we can even remember them (HINT: They were probably the same as this year's), doesn't deter us in the slightest; we steadfastly set our face towards a new version of ourself and embrace the challenge with zeal.  2013 will bring a healthier, wealthier and more spiritual you!

I don't know if anybody really knows what percentage of resolutions made each New Year actually come to fruition, but I reckon it would be pretty low.  Every year once the holidays are over, the adrenaline subsides and the grind of daily life recommences... and all our resolutions seem to have given us is a crippling sense of disappointment, anger and guilt; the knowledge that we failed again!

See the problem is that our resolutions, no matter how honourable and well-intentioned, are actually powerless to address the real issues that we face in day to day life.  First and foremost resolutions are a decision of our will... thus they are fueled by our will-power alone.  The success of my resolution all hangs on whether I can steel my determination and summon the strength of character from within to confront the things that tempt me to abandon my resolution.  We think, "Either I have a strong enough will to defeat temptation or I will be defeated by it!"

But the problem with this is that our failures are not primarily matters of the will... but rather they are matters of the heart.  See we are not stupid, clueless idiots... we know that the thing that we want to change is bad for us and those around us... that is why we want to change it!  But it is not our knowledge of the problem or our desire to overcome it that is lacking... more often than not it is our hearts... our emotions... that pull us away from our goals!  Don't believe me?  Then why are most diets normally broken through "comfort eating"?  Because when our heart has been injured it tricks us into thinking that the only way it can be healed is with chocolate, ice-cream or a juicy steak... The reality is that most resolutions will be broken when our hearts are vulnerable; when we are hungry, lonely, angry or emotionally drained.

So you can make all the resolutions you want this year... you can steel up more courage than ever before... make promises to yourself, get others to keep you accountable or even be prepared to beat yourself into shape, but unless the fragility of your heart is dealt with you will only ever be adding more weight to the guilt that will eventually crush you.  The first time your heart feels lonely, angry or overwhelmed it will grab for anything and everything to cure its cravings.

The gospel is radically different from a New Year's resolution because the gospel actually deals with our hearts!  Jesus came not to strengthen your will-power but to completely change your heart!  But so many people view Jesus and the gospel as a kind of New Year... they think Jesus forgives our sins of the past and gives us  fresh start so we can steel our resolve and give life another crack... but the reality is that this is just a recipe for more failure and Jesus did not come to set us up for more disappointment and guilt.

Our response to the gospel begins with repentance... a concept that is the polar opposite to will-power... rather than a proud attempt to overcome our weakness it is the honest acknowledgement of our failings and our incapacity to save ourselves.  But this repentance is followed by belief... specifically the belief that Jesus Christ through His life, death and resurrection has fully paid the price for our sin.  The gift of God in the gospel is the complete regeneration of our heart... God removes the very cause of all of our problems and gives us a completely new heart that begins a process of daily renewal in our lives by the power of His Spirit.

The gospel is radically better than any New Year's resolution because it actually deals with the root cause of our problem... our sinful hearts.  What's more it doesn't load you up with the unrealistic expectation of perfection and weigh you down with the fear of failure... instead it tells the story of the One who came and lived the perfect life but died to pay the price for all of your failures!  Where there is only guilt, disappointment and failure in a resolution... there is only freedom and forgiveness in the gospel.  Only this Jesus is able to truly satisfy your troublesome heart!

This year perhaps you don't need a New Year's resolution but a New Year's repentance!
In 2013 perhaps you shouldn't crave a new start but a new heart!

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