[Note: I was asked to speak at a church gathering earlier today on the topic of “New Beginnings.” What follows is a slightly modified version of that talk.]
It’s a new year – a natural time for us to think about new beginnings, a time to say goodbye to some things and to initiate positive change.
We hear a lot this time of year about resolutions. Some people make them – some don’t. Some set goals – some don’t. The kinds of resolutions or goals we most often hear people make each New Years includes exercising more, losing weight, eating healthier, quitting smoking, etc. Some of you may have made those very resolutions or set specific goals in these areas. I certainly have. It’s good to be intentional about positive change.
So today I want to share with you 3 thoughts on new beginnings – 2 kinds of new beginnings available to us plus one additional focus we need. These apply anytime during the year.
The first kind of new beginning is the one you initiate yourself.
I’m a goal-setting type. Last year and this year I organized my goals into categories of body, mind and spirit. That helps me feel like I’m being fairly well-rounded in my focus. This past week I finalized my goals for 2014 which you can read here. These are examples of goals that fall into the category of initiating our own new beginning.
Each of us knows ways in which we can improve. We have a God-given brain and body that God expects us to use for his glory, and initiating positive change regularly is one way to do that.
To encourage us in such efforts, we have the assurance that Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7-8: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.” Paul’s admonition was in the context of proclaiming the faith, but the assurances are true regardless of the application. We need to claim and practice the self-discipline God grants to his children to carry out self-initiated new beginnings.
Your new beginnings will look different than mine. You may have fewer goals or more – the quantity doesn’t matter. You can organize them differently or not at all, but it seems like we have the responsibility to do and to be our best and to work hard on making the most of this life God has granted.
So the first kind of new beginning is that which you initiate yourself.
The second kind of new beginning is that which God wants to initiate in you.
2 Corinthians 5:17 tell us that “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone; the new has come.” It is one of the great assurances of Scripture – a promise that, behold, he makes all things new.
God accepted us as we were in our sin, but he does not want us to remain there. He told the woman caught in the act of adultery, “Go, and sin no more.” Knowing Christ ought to make a difference in our lives from one year to the next as we grow in holiness. What our lives looked like before Christ ought not be what our lives look like in Christ, and what we look like today ought not be the same as a year from now.
We’re familiar with the “fruit of the spirit” passage from Galatians, but I wish we also quoted the verses before and after the fruity verses. Galatians 5:19-21 says: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies and the like. I warn you as I did before that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Then we have the well-known verses 22-23: “But, the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; against such things there is no law.” And then Gal. 5:24 concludes with “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”
The whole passage from Gal. 5:19-24 shows what life is like without Christ contrasted to what it can be with him. It is a challenge to grow in holiness that ends with a reminder that we must cast aside the old if we are to put on the new. We can only do so as we remain in the vine of Christ. We cannot do it of our own strength, wisdom and effort.
Like the Galatians passage, Paul wrote to the Corinthian church in 1 Cor. 6:9-10 another long list of patterns of sin. But Paul follows that list of sins in verse 11 with: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
This is the kind of new beginning God wants to bring about in you and me. He wants to move us from who we used to be and from who we are to who we can become in him. It’s my guess that God has some aspect of our character or behavior in mind that he wants to change this year to make us more like him.
If only we could grasp our state of forgiveness and what the Lord has done on our behalf in rescuing us from an eternity in Hell, we would never ever choose to remain where we are in life. Rather, we would eagerly desire to grow in holiness.
Let me share with you an idea that has gotten me into trouble before because it’s not what most of us were raised to think. It isn’t what has been modeled by the pillars of the church we’ve heard praying all our lives. It’s a statement some of you make take issue with, but I believe it is soundly scriptural and necessary for us to understand in order to cast aside the old and take on the new. Here’s the statement:
Once you become a child of God, you never again need to ask God’s forgiveness for anything. Read that again to make sure you read it correctly. The book I read a couple of years ago which finally helped me grasp this was The Naked Gospel by Andrew Farley. I recommend it to you.
As good little Baptists, we have this tendency to always group confession and asking for forgiveness together. It is as though we think we can’t confess our sin to God without also asking for forgiveness for that sin. While that is appropriate and necessary for someone coming to Christ in repentance and faith for the first time, it is not what should characterize the relationship between God with those who are already his children. Confession and asking for forgiveness are two very different things. Here’s why…
When we initially repent of our sin and place our trust in Christ, he forgives us at that moment of conversion for every sin we have ever committed as well as every sin we will ever commit. From that moment, Romans 8:1 is true for the believer, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Is that a license to keep on sinning? Of course not. Paul says “God forbid” at the thought of sinning more so that grace may abound more. Nobody who loves God would disrespect God in that way. We want to please those we love, not hurt them. We want to live in gratitude to those who have shown us kindness and mercy – especially God. True believers don’t use the knowledge of their forgiveness as a flippant “Get Out of Hell Free” card to be used after self-indulgent sinning sprees. Anyone who tries to play that card doesn’t really know or love Christ.
If we are in Christ, though, we are forgiven, and there is no need to ever ask his forgiveness again. Now, it doesn’t work that way in human to human relationships because we’re fickle and if someone we’ve forgiven in the past ticks us off, we may or may not forgive them in the future. But God isn’t like that. He has forgiven his children completely forever.
If we are to be open to God doing a new thing in us, then we need to understand that forgiveness is different than confession of sin. We still sin, of course. God knows that. He sees that, and it is right and proper to humble ourselves before him and acknowledge what he already knows. It is good to humble ourselves before our brothers and sisters in Christ and confess our sins one to another. The scriptures tell us to do that. It helps hold us accountable. It keeps us from getting puffed up and thinking too highly of ourselves. It reminds us of the work Christ still needs to accomplish in our hearts and minds.
As I child of God, though, when I confess my sins to him, the reason I no longer need to ask his forgiveness is because it makes no sense to keep asking for that which we already have!
Imagine, for example, this scenario. You’re a parent of a young child and you buy a new house. The child has his or her own room and big boy/girl bed for the first time. They’re so excited to sleep there! It’s theirs!
Now imagine that on the second night of living in that house the child comes to you as the parent and says, “Mommy, Daddy, can I have my own room and my own bed again tonight?” You’d think, of course you can! It’s yours. You don’t need to ask – I’ve given it to you. If the child continued to come to you night after night asking for that which they had already been given, at some point you’d have to wonder if the child understands the nature of the parent-child relationship and what has transpired in the giving of a gift.
It is that way with God’s forgiveness of us. He has forgiven you if you are his child for all of the sin in your life – past, present and future. When he looks at you, God doesn’t see the last thing you did and judge accordingly. He sees the righteousness of Christ because all of your sin was crucified on that cross with Christ, and all the righteousness of Christ has been credited to your account from that moment of conversion forward.
Yes, we must continue the process of sanctification throughout this life. Yes, it is good to continue to humble yourself before God and confess all you want. But don’t keep asking your Abba, Father, for something he has already given you as if he may have given your room and bed to someone else since the last time you asked.
When you confess your sin this year, I challenge you not to precede or follow that confession with “Father, forgive me…”, but with “Father, thank you that have you have already forgiven me.” See what that does to your understanding of forgiveness. See what that does for your devotion and gratitude to him. It will leave you not with a desire to take advantage of his forgiveness, but with a desire to bow before him in humble adoration and eternal gratitude.
You are forgiven if you are his child. Grasp that. Be amazed by that. Be humbled by that. And this year can be one where you truly are no longer bound by the sins of your past, but one in which God can start a new thing in you for his glory.
There is one more thing about new beginnings that I think our world needs…
We need to be more intentional about encouraging others in their new beginnings.
As fellow human beings in a world of hate and anger, society needs more people encouraging others in their efforts to change for the better. That means we don’t pigeonhole people as hopeless and incapable of change. Just as God has given us second chances, we need to do the same for others. That doesn’t mean we tell others uninvited how we think they ought to change! It does mean that we be supportive in any way we can just as we would like them to be toward us.
So, those are my thoughts on new beginnings this year.
- Initiate some of your own using the God-given brains, body and self-discipline he’s given you.
- Abide in him so that he can abide in you and initiate his desired changes.
- Along the way, be kind and supportive to others in the new beginnings they pursue.