January strikes a cold note in the hearts of many. After the excesses of December with its celebrations and feasts, the new year dawns and we wonder if we’d rather just stay under the covers. We drag ourselves to what in an image-obsessed culture might be the ultimate reality check – the scale – and see what sort of havoc our overindulgence has wreaked. “It’s time for new resolutions!” we cry, horrified at the number appearing below us.Our biblical readings to start 2014 fit well with new beginnings, for we will examine the theme of our old and new selves – how at conversion we leave behind the old and embrace the new identity that is being formed in Christ. Of course, we could explore this theme at any time of the year, for the new birth is foundational to our lives as redeemed people. But looking at it now may help us to infuse any New Year’s resolutions with the riches of spiritual depth we find in the Bible. For as we shed the old self and put on the new, living empowered by the triune God, we are able to leave behind our former ways of life, perhaps those invaded by bitterness, anger, hurt or rage. When we put on our new self, our lives will show forth the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Our readings come from the Old Testament and the New, starting at the beginning in the Garden of Eden, where the choices of our first parents effected the need for a New Adam – namely Jesus Christ. We move through some of the prophets and see how they called the Israelites to have a new name and a new heart. Then we engage with Jesus and the teachings of the early church. The apostle Paul especially writes on the new birth and life that we can enjoy after we submit ourselves to God. He who was changed so radically on the road to Damascus writes with a passion and urgency that exceeds any bland New Year’s resolution. For if we put to death what used to cling to our earthly nature, we will move forward in the freedom of light and life.
Dead in Adam; alive in Christ
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked. (Genesis 3:4–7, NIV)
As I deliberated about where to start our thematic look at old self/new self, I realized the obvious, that our best jumping-off point is at the fall of humanity. For here in the Garden of Eden is where we first experienced the need for a new self. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s instructions, instead following the serpent’s tempting invitation to come and eat, they introduced sin into the world and into our hearts. No longer would we walk freely, without shame. Now men would be governed by the need to work and women would pine for their husbands.
But the triune God in his graciousness doesn’t leave us in the garden, hopeless and helpless. He covers their (and our) shame not only practically – with garments of skin – but spiritually through Jesus’ death on the cross. We are born fallen through the effects of our first parents’ disobedience, but we can be redeemed by the New Adam who was the perfect sacrifice. As the Apostle Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).
We may be making resolutions as we’ve entered 2014. But true and lasting change comes through living in Christ. As he dwells in us through his Holy Spirit, he will help us to leave behind our sinful patterns of behavior and travel a more fruitful path of new life.
Prayer: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we dedicate our lives in 2014 to your glory. Help us to shed the old and embrace the new. (We wouldn’t mind losing a few pounds/kilos too.)