Tis the season for New Year’s resolutions. Self-improvement is in the air; weight-loss and exercise equipment commercials on the air waves. Many realize the need and long for the possibility of becoming better than they are right now in some form or fashion. Some out of concerns for personal well-being, others out of concern for deeper and healthier relationships. There’s a general sense that we can be and should be better than we are.
There’s a wonderful promise in the Gospel of John. It comes right in the middle of the opening prologue which extols the greatness of the divine Word Who became flesh bringing grace and truth and revealing God.
John 1:12 “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” (ESV)
In our own power we only have the power to be, through faith and trust we have the right and, with it, the power to become something else, something far greater. In ourselves we can only be who and what we are, but through the power of God in Christ we can become not just better, but new – a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). In ourselves we can only be sinners, as John would put it, “children of the devil” (see 1 John 3); in Christ we become saints, children of God. Thank God for the power to become!
Some don’t see the needed change as being this drastic. It’s easy for us to admit that we are weak, but very hard to admit that we, in ourselves, are wicked. We are weak, but the Bible says we are weak because we, in ourselves, are wicked. Sin is nothing to be taken lightly. We need more than just another self-help guru; we need a Savior. In Jesus Christ we have one.
Once when leading a small group discussion I asked whether the concept of sin was obsolete in modern society. Many said, yes, but only because they had a very superficial theoretical understanding of the concept. Sin isn’t the breaking of arbitrary, insignificant rules, but living in such a way as to put us in conflict with the will and designed purposes of our Creator and our fellow human beings. Moreover, sin isn’t just the breaking of rules, but the power that renders us broken, even dead spiritually, incapable of even acknowledging God much less obeying Him. Sin is the evil force within us that keeps us focused only on ourselves. And it’s not just the bad things that we do to ourselves and others, but also the failure to do good for ourselves and others. Sin puts us at odds with God and each other, but by the grace of God faith in Jesus reconciles us to God and each other.
So that feeling that we should be better than we are is on the right track, but it even greater than some might imagine. In ourselves we are powerless to become anything other than what we are. Of course, by the general grace of God we can be better sinners, better in the sense of mitigating the immediate harmful effects of sin, but only by the special grace of God in Christ can we become saints, children of God.
It is the gift of forgiveness and new birth, available to all, but even a gift still has to be received. We receive it by faith, by believing that we really need it and by trusting in what God has done for us in Christ, by placing our lives in His hands to be transformed. As the Charles Wesley hymn, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” says, “He breaks the power of canceled sin, he sets the prisoner free …” The grace of God, which is what God has done for us in Christ, cancels the penalty and debt of sin that hangs over us, and it also breaks the power of our brokenness, the power of sin within, freeing us for joyful obedience to God. This blessing we receive by faith, which changes our status from sinner to saint, child of the devil to child of God, and it changes our hearts from lovers of sin and self to lovers of God and neighbor, including our enemies. The grace of God received changes us from the inside out, and it’s not just a spiritual change, it is a change that will affect our whole being, spirit, soul, and body in a positive way (see 1 Thessalonians 5:23).
Sin leaves us plagued with fears, anxieties, jealousies, anger and bitterness, as well as self-destructive compulsions and addictions. These addictions are often to substances from without, sometimes to pleasures from within. Sin renders us prisoners of our own wayward and corrupt desires and corrosive emotions, spiritually cut off from God. From this state only God can set us free.
Early in life Jerry found himself addicted to booze and bets. It wasn’t long before he himself became a bookie, not long after that a pimp. One day his life was threatened by someone whom he owed money. In a rage he went home to get his gun, with which he was determined to kill the man who had made the threat. As he pulled the gun from the metal box he kept it in, he became terribly frightened by the darkness of evil that had engulfed him and then incredibly ashamed of the depths to which he had sunk. Then he remembered his grandmother praying over him when he was a boy, and he called out to the one she had taught him about, Jesus Christ, to save him. Then and there he was forgiven for all that he had done, and he was set free from the evil that had a death grip on his heart. He was filled with an overwhelming sense of peace and joy. He ran out into the front yard shouting for joy and praising God to the top of his lungs. Neighbors and bystanders looked at him as if he had lost his mind. He had. He lost his mind, but he received the mind of Christ!
There are no depths of darkness which are too deep, no sin too bad, no fear, anxiety, resentment, or addiction too strong for the grace of God in Jesus Christ or for those who receive him and believe in his name. “… his blood can make the foulest clean; his blood availed for me.” Thank God for the power to become! Happy New Year!