Every Day is New Year’s Day
About this time every year, millions of Americans make resolutions to improve the quality of their lives. Some decide to stop smoking, others to lose weight. A few launch a new exercise program.
Most of these “New Year’s resolutions” are well intended. After all, we all have areas where we could improve a little. But nearly everybody who makes such resolutions finds one thing to be true. Jesus put it this way: The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41). Our intentions may be good, but we often lack the consistency to follow through. And this means that there really isn’t much resolve to our resolutions.
But this does not mean that we should not make resolutions. In fact, we should make them all the time — not once a year, but every day of the year. We should always be looking for ways to put off the things of the old man, which is corrupt according to deceitful lusts, and put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness (cf. Eph. 4:22–24). But is it any easier for us to keep our resolutions than it is for the world? Well, the answer is both yes and no. It’s no if and when we rely on our own strength. Our flesh is weak, and we are constantly assaulted by the devil. But the answer is yes when we look to the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy. Paul wrote: But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption (I Cor. 1:30).
In other words, our resolutions are backed up by one that’s far greater, viz., God’s resolution to conform us to the image of his Son through his Son’s mighty work in our behalf. The Lord’s resolution makes every day a New Year’s Day for those who put their trust in him. Our text says that we are new creatures in Christ, and therefore old things are passed away and all things are become new.
Old Things Have Passed Away
Many of you here today have never known a time when you didn’t know the Lord. You may have grown up in Christian homes. Your parents were believers, and perhaps even their parents before them. If this is your situation, you should get down on your knees every day and thank God for this wonderful blessing! It means that you have been spared from many of the effects of sin in your early life. Your parents were probably not drunks, adulterers or jailbirds. And so you never had to wrestle with such things. The danger here, though, is that, unless you really appreciate your godly upbringing, you could be lulled to sleep in a false security. Your love for Christ may become cold, static or even apathetic.
The Bible tells us about a Pharisee named Simon who once invited Jesus to his house. As they sat down for a meal, a woman well-known in the community for her vice barged in uninvited. At first, she just stood behind Jesus and wept. Then she began washing his feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. She also had with her an expensive flask of alabaster oil, which she broke open and poured all over him. Simon thought that all of this fuss was absolutely ridiculous. Luke says that he said to himself, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. Jesus responded to Simon’s inward reasoning by telling a little parable. He said, There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Of course, even Simon knew that the one who had the greater debt would also have the greater love (Luke 7:36–50).
Now, there are two ways to look at this incident. The first is to say that Jesus wanted to criticize Simon for not loving him at all. But that’s not really what the text says. It’s true that Simon had not understood what had happened. In fact, his remark if he were a prophet makes it clear that he was at least willing to entertain that as a possibility. But his ignorance and weakness does not mean that he had no love for the Savior at all. To the contrary, I believe it was his love for Christ that made him overzealous, if not almost fanatical, for his honor. The second possibility is that Simon had not appreciated the depth of this woman’s love for Christ. It does not seem to have dawned on him that love for the Lord varies in intensity from one believer to the next. Nor had he grasped that the intensity of our love for God is directly proportional to the degree that we acknowledge our own depravity. Simon thought his sins were minimal. He believed that he was an okay guy. Therefore, his love for Christ was small. But the woman who came uninvited knew that her sins were many and great, and that she deserved the severest penalty that the law allows. Her acknowledgment of the viciousness of her own sins made her love stronger by far.
Notice that I said that our love for God is proportional to the degree that we acknowledge our own sins. I did not say that it was proportional to the sins themselves. If that were true, Osama bin Laden and the men who flew the planes into New York City and Washington, DC on 9/11 would be among the greatest of saints. But neither bin Laden nor his evil associates will own their wickedness. They refuse to admit the extent of their own sin and misery. To the contrary they believe they are doing God a favor.
Now let’s bring this point a little closer home. The fact is that a practical experience with excessive wickedness isn’t necessary for an individual to have overwhelming love for the Savior or to appreciate his marvelous grace. In fact, a lesser sin will teach more about God’s grace to a repentant sinner than a greater sin will for someone whose heart is hardened to the things of God. Let me illustrate this with two true stories.
The first comes from my childhood. When I was about twelve years old or so, my father sent me to a local hardware store to buy some seeds for the garden. A man who had served as an elder in our church and had retired from his own business worked part-time in this particular store. Occupied with another customer, he didn’t see me come in. I waited quietly, and in that brief few minutes I heard this man use some of the worst language imaginable, including the deliberate abuse of God’s name. Apparently, his conscience was not bothered by such an overt wickedness. Righteousness wasn’t a major concern for him.
In contrast to this is an incident that took place about the time that I was ordained to the ministry. A very dear woman of ninety-three years had invited a traveling minister, whom she had known for many years, to stay with her and her daughter while in town. He accepted the kind invitation, and the three of them had a very pleasant visit. Her pastor, however, was not happy about the matter at all. He thought he should have been allowed to entertain the traveling minister, since he was the local pastor. So, after the guest left, the pastor chastised the elderly woman severely over the telephone, and took it upon himself to erase her name and her daughter’s name from the church membership roll. I first met this woman shortly after this incident happened. She told me her story with tears in her eyes. She couldn’t understand why she had been removed from the church she loved so much. She asked me to tell her what she had done so that she could repent. I spoke with all the parties concerned, and it was clear that her story was true just as she told it. So I went to see her a second time and told her that I saw nothing wrong in what she had done. She wept again, but this time her tears were tears of joy. For the first time since this incident happened her conscience didn’t bother her.
In the first story, the sin was great but the man gave no evidence of any appreciation for God’s grace. The situation in the second story is exactly the opposite. The woman hadn’t sinned at all, but having been told that she had, her fear of offending God forced her to seek God’s favor all the more. An experience of great sin doesn’t account for the difference, but the assurance of great sins having been forgiven by the grace of God does. It is grace alone that teaches us to put the old things away.
Look at what our text says. It’s not just the God’s grace enables us to put these old things away, but that they have already passed away. Paul wrote, Old things are passed away (παρῆλθεν). This might sound a little too optimistic, especially for those whose awareness of their own sin is acute. The daily struggle with sin is only too real. But from God’s perspective the victory has been won. And that’s what Paul reminds us of in the rest of the chapter. In verse 18, he says that God reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ. Verse 20 says that he has given us the gift of the gospel ministry, so that we can know and enjoy that reconciliation. Yet, the clearest statement of all is in verse 21. Here we find that because our sins were imputed to Jesus Christ, so that he bore them and paid the full penalty for them on the cross, his perfect righteousness has been imputed to us. Our debt has been fully satisfied. Old things really are gone, destroyed, out of the way once and for ever. Our enmity with God has been replaced with the sweetest fellowship.
All Things Have Become New
Now, if God’s declaration that these old things are passed away sounds almost too good to be true, the next line does even more. Paul wrote, All things are become new.
We might be tempted at this point to think that Paul didn’t really mean all things. After all, we still have the same parents, grandparents and siblings. We still live at the same street address, have the same job and have to deal with the same problems.
Yet, the truth is that even these things have become new. Their newness isn’t measured by days and hours but by perspective. The old perspective is that of sin. It looks out upon a world that is in rebellion against God, and believes that this is perfectly natural. This perspective allows man to think that he is in control. Christianity, on the other hand, teaches us to look at all things, including things that have been part of our life for a long time, in a completely new light. The new perspective is that of reconciliation. By the cross God has reconciled believers to himself. Look how frequently Paul talks about reconciliation in the verses following are text: God reconciled us to himself and gave us a ministry of reconciliation (v. 18), he was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself (v. 19), and his ambassadors are to command men to be reconciled to God (v. 20). Now, instead of taking warfare and rebellion against God as a normal thing, the believer tries to bring all things into submission to God. Where once he saw only hatred and abuse, he now offers kindness and assistance. The problems and difficulties of his life had been transformed into challenges and hope. According to verse 15, we once lived unto ourselves but now we live unto him who died for our sins and rose again from the dead.
Here the best illustration I can think of is marriage. Being the creatures of habit that we are, we become accustomed to doing things a certain way, often without thinking about it. But when we get married, for the first time someone wants to know why we do certain things the way we do. This makes us reconsider even the little things in our lives that we thought were fixed and settled. We have to analyze our reasons for doing things the way we do, and sometimes we may even decide to try something new. In any case, we’re looking at the whole situation differently than we once did.
This is the way the Christian faith is. Usually, the circumstances of our lives do not change as much as our attitude does. Regeneration (or the new birth) is, first of all, a change in our thinking. We begin to see all things from the perspective of the cross of Jesus Christ.
New Creatures in Christ
The change that we’re talking about is so radical that Paul says, If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.
But what kind of creature is this? What makes us new? Well, note that verse 17 begins with the word therefore, which connects it with the preceding verse. To be more precise, verse 17 gives the reason for verse 16. The apostles, apparently including Paul himself, once knew the Lord after the flesh. That is, they thought of him after a fleshly manner. And we see countless evidences of this in the gospels, as, for instance, all the times that they simply could not grasp what Jesus was saying or doing. They were trying to interpret his life and doctrine by what they thought it should be. But there came a point when they stopped doing this. And not only did they stop doing it, but they started to rejoice that they do it no more. But why? Having had the privilege of sitting at the Master’s feet while he dwelt on this earth would have been a privilege of inestimable value. The point is that they didn’t really know the Master in this way. They didn’t know him until they put away this kind of thinking and let him be their teacher. In other words, the apostles had to first be made new creatures in Christ. Their old things had to pass away, and all things had to become new to them.
Now if this was true of the apostles, who had been taught by Jesus Christ himself, then it is certainly true of us!
In fact, it’s not just that we don’t know Jesus after the flesh. Verse 16 begins by saying, Henceforth know we no man after the flesh. The enemies of the gospel, according to verse 12, glory in appearance, and not in heart. They looked, for example, at the apostle Paul and thought that he was beside himself, that he was crazy. But Paul says that the love of Christ constrained him to do even those things that men think absurd and ridiculous. And yet his message wasn’t absurd. It is the message of salvation.
If we are truly new creatures in Christ, we too will not judge by appearance but by heart. We will not be as concerned with the person’s job, the size of his bank account, how much real estate he owns, the level of his education or his celebrity, as we are about his faith in Jesus Christ. Race, social status, wealth and such things pale into near meaninglessness when we place a higher value on the fact that such a person is a new creature. We will then be able to say with the apostle Paul that there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Gal. 3:28–29). So, it’s not just that we understand that we are new creatures, but that we also see other believers as new creatures as well.
And, although Paul doesn’t explicitly mention it in our text, the fact that we have the status of new creatures means that we must live as new creatures. Every aspect of our lives should reflect the triumphant of Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.
With each passing year, we have greater opportunity to evaluate our lives in the light of the Word of God. We look to the past and no doubt see areas where we could have done better. But we also see where we’ve come from. The Spirit of God has taught us to hate and abhor sin. In the name of Jesus Christ we have already conquered a lot. And we look to the future and trust God’s grace to give us increasing victory until at last our Lord takes us unto himself into everlasting glory. We seek greater opportunities to serve the Savior. We see a creation that is under the control of a loving and good God, who has reconciled us unto himself forever. And we have God’s own promise that what is true now in principle will be brought to completion in the day of Christ Jesus. Our souls long for the new heavens and new earth, wherein dwells perfect righteousness.
As you can see, God’s resolution concerning his people applies every day of the year. It’s more than a New Year’s resolution. Every day he offers us the chance to see old things defeated for Christ, and new things put in their place. And our resolution, which must be backed by a firm resolve and not just a happy and sentimental wish, should be to serve our King every day of the year.
May God, through his mighty Spirit, make it so with each and every one of us. Amen.