NEW COMMITMENTS FOR THE NEW YEAR
Well it’s that time of year again when, in a fit of optimism, many of us make great promises to ourselves about what we’re going to do in the New Year that we usually abandon sometime around the second week in January.
Let’s be honest now… How many of you kept to “the diet” in 2016? How many of you kept going to the gym last February? Surely, I’m not the only one who didn’t hold on.
This year, I’m determined that things are going to be different. I’ve made a couple of resolutions I know I’ll be able to keep for all of 2017. Are you ready? Here they are:
- I’ve decided to eat more and exercise less.
- I’ve decided to spend at least an extra half an hour a day with my feet up.
Maybe I could keep that kind of resolution, but they wouldn’t make a real difference in my life, except perhaps to increase my waist size.
In contrast, I’d like to talk to you about four resolutions, four commitments that I am confident can make a real difference in my life — and your life, if you choose to follow through on them.
Here’s what I’m suggesting: if we make these four commitments that God’s Word encourages us to make, I believe that 2017 could become one of the best years in our lives.
Instead of being simply about having a few days off, if we all follow God’s advice, the New Year could be a way for us to live a better life. Let’s hold each other accountable to these four commitments for this New Year.
FIRST: COMMIT TO FORGET YOUR FAILURES
Over 2000 years ago, Paul gave this advice to the church in Philippi: “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:13-14)
That advice from God’s Word has stood the test of time. There is not much advice that would be more relevant and practical for us now at the start of 2017.
God assures us that we need not live our lives imprisoned by our past.
Many of us have failed in some way in our lives over the last year. We probably won’t see our failures recorded for history in the news, but they are recorded in our hearts and minds.
For many of us, these failures can be painful memories. Those of us who are parents may feel that we failed our children in some way. Some may feel that we’ve failed our parents. And it’s likely that many of us feel that we’ve failed ourselves in some ways.
What God’s Word is saying is that we must not allow ourselves to be bogged down by our past failures. That we not dwell on our past so that it stops us from moving forward into the future that He has for us.
The start of a New Year is a good time for us to rise to this challenge. To say to ourselves that we are going to — with help from God — forget our past. Let’s stop torturing ourselves about what we did or didn’t do. Let’s stop being chained to past failures. God is saying here in His Word that He doesn’t want us to go through life branding ourselves as failures.
Jesus died on the cross to forgive us for our past. When we commit to become Christians “on purpose”, that forgiveness becomes a reality in our lives and allows us to forget our failures.
SECOND: COMMIT TO GIVE UP YOUR GRUDGES
Listen to these words from Paul’s letter to the Colossians because in them you’ll hear the second challenge that God’s word encourages us to commit to.
“bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you [forgive].” (Colossians 3:13)
Did you catch the challenge?
In His Word, God challenges us to personally give up our grudges. That’s what He means when He says forgive each other whatever complaints we may have against one another.
What’s a grudge? A grudge is a deep, ongoing resentment that we cultivate in our hearts against someone else. A grudge is an unforgiving spirit that leads to unforgiving attitudes and unforgiving actions. Most of you know what I’m talking about.
Harboring a grudge is like nursing a dislike for someone. What we need to know is that grudges are dangerous because they are destructive.
Grudges destroy marriages, break up families, ruin friendships, split churches.
Let’s be honest enough to admit that one of the scandals of the Church is the grudges that Christians hold against one another. If any of us are holding a grudge against someone, then God has something to say. He says “give it up.”
Let’s remember that grudges are not just destructive… they are also self-destructive. When we hold a grudge against someone, we hurt ourselves as much as — and likely more than — we are hurting the other person or persons.
We should remember that, if any of us continues harboring a grudge, it will eventually tear us down. If not physically, then certainly emotionally and spiritually. It can make one a bitter and twisted person. In chapter 21 of the book of Job (the “GNT, Good News Translation), there are people who “have no happiness at all, they live and die with bitter hearts.” None of us want that to be how we’re remembered after we’re gone.
Do you remember the parable that Jesus told about the servant who was forgiven a huge debt by the king and then refused to forgive someone else a tiny amount? Jesus said that his unforgiving spirit landed him in prison.
According to God’s Word, the way to give up a grudge is to forgive a grievance. God doesn’t ask us to ignore whatever a person may have done to us. He doesn’t ask us to pretend it didn’t happen. He doesn’t ask us to condone it or pretend it didn’t matter. What God asks us to do is to forgive the grievance. For our own health, we should acknowledge (not deny) how wrong and painful something may be AND decide to forgive the person who did the wrong.
Some of us may need to forgive a grievance we have against our parents for what they did or didn’t do. Some may need to forgive our children for similar reasons. Some may need to forgive a partner for emotional or physical abuse. Some may need to give up a grudge against a colleague at work. Some may need to give up a grudge that stems from an argument they’ve had with someone.
God says that any deep-seated resentment we may have against other people has to go. What better time to make that difficult decision to forgive than the start of a new year?
We should not tell God that we can’t forgive, because what we really mean when we say that is that we won’t forgive. If Christ can forgive our sins despite the pain of the cross, then surely we can give up our grievances whatever the cost. The question is will we do it?
THIRD: COMMIT YOURSELF TO RESTORE YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
In Scripture, God issues an encouragement to us to ensure that our personal relationships are healthy. Here is how the Lord issues that challenge in Paul’s letter to the Romans: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:18)
The important phrase here is “so far as it depends on you.” By using that phrase, God is personally challenging each one of us to do all that we can to restore our relationships. In context, “all men” meant EVERYONE. It was not a gender-specific point of view. The Lord wants us to do everything we can to restore relationships that may have gone wrong.
God recognized that some relationships might have gone wrong because of what other people have done and they might very well not want that relationship restored. That’s why this encouragement starts with “If possible” …
But in fairness, some relationships have gone wrong because of what we have done.
When God’s Word says here “so far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone,” it’s saying if we have caused a rift in a relationship then we have a responsibility to do everything we can to restore it. And “everything” includes the one thing many of us may find most difficult, asking for forgiveness.
It can be remarkably difficult to say “I’m sorry” to the people we are closest to. Many marriages are not all that they should be or could be simply because someone won’t say “I was wrong. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”
This “flipping of the calendar page” can be the right time to restore relationships we’ve damaged by sincerely saying that we are sorry for the angry words or the selfish and unthoughtful actions.
As you all know, this is very hard to do. But it could be one of the most significant things that we can do to mark the New Year. Not to set off fireworks, but to admit our past errors in relationships and humbly seek forgiveness from the ones we have hurt.
FOURTH AND FINALLY: COMMIT TO TURN YOUR BACK ON YOUR TRANSGRESSIONS.
After the Civil War was over and the slaves had been set free, many slaves decided to stay with their former masters and continue to do what they were told. They were set free, but they chose to continue living as slaves.
Unfortunately, the New Testament tells us that this is exactly how many Christians choose to live. Christ died to set them free, the Holy Spirit has given them the power to be free, but just like those former slaves, they still choose to obey their former master… sin.
Reading again from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, we see this encouragement: “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2)
God’s Word is reminding us that we are no longer slaves to sin. He is issuing the challenge to us to turn our back on our transgressions.
Christian writers have referred to something called besetting sins. Besetting might be interpreted as “harassing”. What these authors intended to convey was that there are particular sins that a person might be prone to doing time and time again. For most of us, when we are saved, we give up certain sins easily — but there are often other things that we know are wrong that we really battle with. Those are our besetting sins. Some choose to give in to besetting sins and end up living double lives.
Those Christians who cave to their besetting sin, come to believe that they CAN not do anything about it when they are actually choosing that they WILL not… so they learn to live with it. This is very sad, but it is true. Some very prominent Christian leaders have been “found out” after learning to live with a besetting sin.
Our spiritual life can be crippled if we learn to live with a besetting sin. Is it a quick temper that we constantly give in to or a caustic tongue that assassinates other peoples’ character or wounds their feelings or a critical judgmental attitude or a sexual sin?
God encourages us to turn our back on our sins… whatever they may be. To stop letting them control the way we live. To stop giving in. He wants us to stop obeying our old master and choose instead to be servants of Christ.
Let’s be clear about this… Jesus willingly gave up His life to break the power of sin and the Holy Spirit gives us the power to resist sin. This means we don’t have to go into this or any other new year still being defeated by the same old sin. We CAN have victory over it. God says we are no longer a slave to sin, so we should not live like one or act like one.
In conclusion, it all boils down to this: Will this New Year be just a calendar-changing event or are we willing to rise to these challenges from God’s Word, make these resolutions, and make it a life-changing event?
Will we resolve to forget our failures?
Will we resolve to give up our grudges?
Will we resolve to restore our relationships?
Will we resolve to turn our back on our transgressions?
This New Year will really be something to celebrate if we make LOVE and FORGIVENESS the heart of what it’s all about. Let’s be encouraged right here and right now:
- To LOVE and FORGIVE ourselves and “forget the past”
- To LOVE and FORGIVE others who’ve hurt us “and forgive whatever grievances you have”
- To LOVE and ask for FORGIVENESS from those we have hurt and “so far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”
- To LOVE God and seek His FORGIVENESS and “No longer be a slave to sin”.