As we enter a new year, it is interesting to note that every New Year is really a repeat of the previous year....as least on a cosmological basis. That is, every year is still 365 days and has four seasons of winter, spring, summer and fall. So in a way, 2020 is an exact repeat of 2019. The reason this is so is because the Lord's plan to change the world for His glory never changes. The only plan the Lord has ever had is to make us like the Lord Jesus Christ, to conform us to His image. The Lord tells us that in Romans 8:28-29 where we hear,
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
Each New Year is a reminder that the cycle of the last year repeats as it unfolds the cosmological story of the death (winter) and resurrection (spring) of our Lord. So each New Year is a repeating reminder that the concept of newness is rooted in what our Lord has done for us and how His life is the template of change as we die to our old life and come alive or resurrect to a new life in Christ.
Understanding the real meaning of a New Year and the Lord's desire for the world to change and reflect His image in Christ is a basic concept that has been largely lost in our modern-day thinking. In today's world we are told people don't need to change. As a matter of fact, it is said to be wrong and unloving to even suggest that someone needs to change or that any behavior is ungodly. If you doubt that fact, just tell people the Lord says something is a sin or wrong and watch the reaction. It may shock you. That reality is why few make any moral pronouncements on any issue or behavior today. No, the message today is one of tolerance and acceptance of any behavior. Somehow the message people are getting is that God accepts every behavior and attitude. We are told that "God loves us just as we are." That statement seems to often be where the Christian message seems to stop for many. The idea of repentance, making needed changes and being something new is often not in the sermon notes. For some this message has become the definition of "grace" that is preached from many pulpits in America and around the world. Multitudes believe it. This explains why the church is not really different than the world. In many instances the church has become the world.
The problem we are having today is really quite obvious, even if few will mention it. You see if nobody changes their lives, behavior and attitudes in major ways it is impossible for Heaven to exist as Heaven. If none us make any changes then Heaven is going to end up being just like what is going on now and that surely doesn't seem very "Heavenly" to me. How about you? How many of us would like to wake up in Heaven with a copy of today's news cycle in our hands? How many of us would like to hear about the murder, lying, stealing, cheating, deception, anger, bitterness and political mayhem that go on in a typical day? How many of us would like to continue to face our own sins and issues that beset us? As a matter of matter such an imagined future "Heaven" might end up seeming more like a definition of Hell.
Now the Bible is clear that such behaviors are not a part of the Lord's plans for Heaven. Somehow the Lord is going to change them, and those changes are under way now in people all over the world in what is called the true church. Listen to Apostle Paul discuss this issue in Galatians 5:19-24,
The acts of the flesh 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. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
So, the Bible is quite clear that unless we change somehow there could be no Heaven that would be Heaven. We wouldn't belong there in the condition we find ourselves right now. Imagine people's reaction when hearing that truth today...even in the Church. How many people would be happy hearing such news? And yet, it is obvious that something has to change in someone in some way for Heaven to reflect another reality than we are experiencing now. This leads to the "the million-dollar question." What needs to change in us and how does that change happen? Those are the questions of life right now and the world to come. May our Lord show us the answers for His glory.
The heart of these questions and their answers is contained in the Gospel. The Gospel message tells us that we need God to forgive us as a precondition to being changed. The Lord's Gospel offers forgiveness for our sin that ALSO includes changing us. All of this is done by the Lord for us as a gracious gift of love. That is why the Gospel is called Good News. We can't forgive our sins any more than we can change ourselves. The Lord has to do it all and that is the promise of the Gospel. The Lord has the desire, power, ability and will to change us to be like the Lord Jesus Christ. Without the Lord's direct intervention into our lives and world none of us would have the ability or even the desire to be like Him. And without those desires and new lives we would just be left with this old world and the chaos we see around us.
Now the way the Lord has chosen to change us is for us to see our need for change, followed by a revelation of what that change looks like. This is God's great work through the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit's job is to show us that we need to change, we need help, and we have sinned. The Holy Spirit then shows us a revelation of what our changed life looks like the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord Jesus talks about this exact storyline of change in John 16:7-11 where we hear,
But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer.
Our Lord is telling us here that the Advocate, who is the Holy Spirit, comes to show us we have been in the wrong about our sin and righteousness. We have sinned, and we can't make ourselves good or change ourselves to be righteous people on our own. Only the Lord can change us and shape our lives into the image of what we were created to be, namely like the Lord Jesus Christ. When we know we are wrong and we know that God has a plan for change we are changed. Without that truth, reality and power to change us, none of us could ever move toward a new beginning or the Heaven we will one day live in. Without the Holy Spirit bringing Christ's life to us and building it in us we are left with the morality and views of our changing culture that can never produce Heaven anywhere at any time. This is the GREAT work of the Lord in redemption. This is the great future for which our lives are destined.
This is the great hope for everyone in this New Year who realizes that we are meant for something greater than this present world. The Lord never planned to leave us in a world racked with sin, conflict and chaos. There is a new world coming soon, there is a Heaven. All these longings for a better world will be satisfied because such a place does exist. The Lord is more interested in taking us to Heaven than we are of going there. That was the promise of the Lord Jesus before His resurrection in John 14:1-3. This promise of the Lord changing us to be like the Lord Jesus Christ is also the great comfort for all who battle themselves, their sins and their failings.
And so, in this New Year, the Lord reminds us all that new things really do happen to people. People really do change forever in Christ our Lord. That is truly Good News for everyone to share and the hope of the ages.
So Happy New Year to everyone in our Lord. May it be our best yet.