As a schoolboy I did not have the neatest of handwriting and my exercise books quickly became messy and dog eared. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, I enjoyed getting a new exercise book at the beginning of term, or when an old one was full. Full of good intentions I would take great care to write slowly and neatly in the first few pages, but invariably would lapse back into bad habits long before I got to half way through, as I would start to rush my work.
Many people think that being a Christian is a case of turning over a new leaf, rather like getting a brand new exercise book and working hard to write neatly. They understand that God is loving and merciful and so come to him seeking forgiveness but promising to do better next time. The underlying thought process is that if they can somehow live a good enough life going forward, that will in some way make amends for all that has gone before. There are two flaws with this kind of thinking. Firstly at its root is the idea that we can earn God’s favour. However, the bible is clear that none of us can ever be good enough to earn God’s favour. The second flaw is that before too long, just like my wayward handwriting, we revert to old patterns of behaviour and can get trapped in cycles of guilt.
The true message of the bible is that we are powerless to change but God is powerful. PJ Smyth, a preacher in South Africa, expresses it like this: “Nothing I can do can make God love me more, and nothing I can do can make God love me less.” This is the ultimate in equality! No matter how good we might be we can never be good enough, but God offers us forgiveness through Christ anyway. No matter how bad we might be we can never be so bad that God will refuse to forgive us if we come to him through Jesus Christ. The bible calls the process of forgiveness in Christ being born again because, rather than turning over a new leaf, we embark on a new life. The remarkable thing about this transformation is that when we truly grasp that God loves us like that, and forgiveness is due to God’s mercy alone, then we can be set free from guilt. The motivation for living therefore becomes gratitude to God rather than seeking to win his favour.
This New Year, rather than making resolutions to turn over a new leaf, come instead and receive a new life in Christ – it’s freely available to everyone who will respond!
This blog post featured in the January 2015 edition of Hook Focus