Faithlife Sermons

Starting Fresh in a New Year

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There is something about a new year that inspires fresh starts. People make resolutions and set new goals. You may be one of those people. New beginnings always inspire some measure of hope. It might be hope that things will be better than the previous year. It feels like we get a do over in some regard.
I love the thought of a do over. Armed with the knowledge and wisdom I now have, would I have done things differently? Made a different choice? Could I have stopped myself from doing the things that cost me so much? Some of us may love such an opportunity, but I have come to realize that the person I am today is in part because of the decisions I made that ultimately led to the knowledge and wisdom I now have.
Paul writes to the Philippian church to encourage them as they continue to face opposition, placing things into perspective:
Philippians 3:1–14 NASB95
Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: 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.
As we begin this new year, let me give you three principles for starting fresh in 2022.

Learn from past experiences, but do not let them define you.

The early church faced a lot of opposition from a group known as the Judaizers. They were a group of people who taught that God’s gift of forgiveness requires some sort of payment from us. He somehow expects us to earn the grace he gives. In their eyes, paying off the debt for the grace God has given is done so by adherence to the Law of Moses. Circumcision especially was deemed necessary for salvation. To make a long story short, the idea was for Gentiles (non-Jews), to become Jewish first, then come to Christ. It was this mix of grace through Christ and works by keeping the Law. This is a false doctrine and was dealt with in Acts 15 and condemned by Paul in Galatians. When he says beware of the dogs and evil workers, this is who he is referring to.
Paul gives a prohibition against placing confidence in the flesh, which in their case was a way to say not to place confidence in something like circumcision. Do not think for a second that if you removed your foreskin that you are right with God. Paul’s argument here is that one’s adherence to the Law of Moses is not what saves him. It is faith alone in the work of Christ.
He further argues his point by reminding them that if anyone has reason to boast or place confidence in the flesh, it is him. He then proceeds to present his Jewish resume. If there was anyone who could put confidence in past achievements, it was Paul.
Think back over the past year. What went well? What did you achieve? Don’t think about what you didn’t achieve. Think about what you did achieve. Are you defining yourself by those experiences? Could we as a church look back at all the activity we saw in the past year and boast about what we have done? Sure we could, but then we would be glorying in our own accomplishments and not Christ’s. If what we accomplish is good in the eyes of God, we must remember that it was him who worked through us.
What are you trusting in this morning? Are you trusting in the work of Jesus who purchased your pardon through his obedience to God in life and followed through with offering himself as a sacrifice for your sins, or are you looking to your own obedience to the law of God to try to earn salvation? Remember that we are to learn from past experiences, but not let those experiences define you.

Let Christ lead you to the things that truly matter.

Paul used to look at his heritage and his personal accomplishments as personal gains. He now looks to them as loss. The value of knowing Christ surpasses that of all the personal accomplishments of Paul’s life. He says in verse eight that more than the personal accomplishments in his life, he counts all things to be loss in view of Christ, for whom he had suffered the loss of all things. Paul is writing this letter from prison. This loss of all things is not an exaggerated statement. He counts them as rubbish, which is a nice way of the NASB translators to say that Paul counts these things as dung. They are as worthless as excrement. This is because he knows he cannot hang his hat on them.
How many of us have a hard time of letting things go? Over recent years, there has been a growing trend for minimalist lifestyles. There are an abundance of shows about tiny house living, living of the grid, or decluttering your life. All these things are not bad themselves, but all of them include the process of taking inventory of what you have and deciding what no longer fits and discarding them in the effort to change one’s lifestyle from bust and chaotic to simple and more peaceful (at least that seems to be the idea). There is a refocusing in these shows or people who adopt these lifestyles on the things that truly matter.
I want you to notice that even though Paul considered all these personal achievements as garbage, he still had them. He just found out where they truly belong in the grand scheme of things. Certainly God used these things in his life to mold him and shape him and give him the influence he needed to accomplish the mission he had designed for Paul. But Paul did not use them as opportunity to boast in himself.
There might be things in your life that you hold dear but the time has come to let them go. It may that you still have them, but you must let them go in the sense that the power they have over you or the status you think they give you are a hindrance to your relationship with Christ. Through your relationship with him, he will lead you to the things that are most important. It seems natural at the beginning of a new year to self-assess and determine what truly matters. For Paul, it was not the accolades that would have allowed him to receive praise, but a recognition that the righteousness he does have is not derived from his own adherence to the Law, but from God on the basis of faith in Christ. There is a new goal: to know Christ (personal relationship), the power of his resurrection (victory over sin and death), the fellowship of his sufferings (closeness as he experiences hostility toward the truth), and the conformity to his death (death to sin, leaving the former man behind). His goal is attaining the resurrection from the dead. Here he expresses his hope that his resurrection will come as sure as Christ was raised.

Let go of yesterday and embrace tomorrow.

Paul wanted his readers to know that he had not yet arrived at his goal. He has not been made perfect. The word perfect in verse 12 could also be understood as mature. He has not yet arrived. The goals that he shared in verse 10 and 11 are not fully realized. He continues to learn and move forward. In realizing that he has not attained the goal, he presses on so that he may lay hold of the goal. That word for press on means to pursue. To pursue something is not a haphazard setting of goals, but a strategic plan for making forward movement in his relationship with Christ. To pursue is to be relentless. Do you have a strategy for growing intentionally in your relationship with Jesus this year?
We are fascinated with the concept of time travel. “If I could go back to this moment in my life, I would change _______, or I would do ________ differently.” But time travel only lives in the realm of science fiction. Some of us might be holding on to the things of yesterday and cannot move forward until we let go of the things we are hanging onto from yesterday. I don’t want to discount the things that you may have experienced, but the Lord wants you to learn from them, not be defined by them. You don’t think Paul had some baggage? He made it his mission to exterminate the thing he became. Do you think that Paul might have thought, “How can I be one of these people after what I did to them?” Nobody can change the past, but we all have the power to shape the future.
What is holding you down? Paul says he is forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead. For better or worse, 2021 is now behind us. There were some great moments and some not so great. But I can’t go back to them. Rather, I choose to learn from both the good and the bad and press on to what God has for me in 2022 because I have set before me the goal of Christlikeness which cannot come from dwelling on yesterday.
Letting go takes courage. It requires risk. I have seen the scene played out so many times. You know the one where someone in trouble is hanging off the side of a cliff and there is someone at the top extending a hand to rescue them, but the person in trouble has a fear of letting go of the one thing that is keeping them from falling. Sometimes we feel like we are on the side of the cliff holding onto the little tree branch that is keeping us from falling. Jesus is extending his hand to pull us up, but we are too afraid to let o of our perceived sense of safety. We look up at him and say, “You promise you won’t let go?” And Jesus says, “Never.” It is when you place your life in his hands that the transfer of trust from you to him takes place and you find that you are safe in his arms. Let it go. The maker of the moon and the one who rose from the dead has the power to catch you.
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