For those who have made resolutions for the year 2018, how are we doing? Although we are only in the middle of January, are we making good progress in our list of “Being” and “Doing” goals? Or has it been more of a situation of “one step forward, two steps back”?
Although Christians are declared righteous before God because of Christ, we learn from Apostle Paul’s teachings that the road to sanctification does require much effort on our part (Romans 7:7-25). After all, we can all testify that the real battle goes beyond trying to discipline ourselves to stick to our Quiet Time routine, diet restrictions or change in behaviour. The real battlefield is our hearts. More than just a one-off event, the exercising of faith and showing repentance are to be daily disciplines practiced over a lifetime.
There is no doubt that we all have things about ourselves we would like to change. The more important question to consider is why we would like to change. This is because it is so easy for our motivation to be self-centred rather than God-centred. For example, we may want to change because we desire to prove ourselves to others so they will like us and think highly of us. Sometimes, it could even be because we just want to feel better about ourselves.
In addition, when we do not have a biblical understanding of God and our standing before him, we may be led to believe that we need to change in order to prove ourselves to God and receive his blessings. This would be most unfortunate since a wrongly-grounded motivation will never be able to provide us with the true power and joy in working towards change.
As God’s beloved children, the good news is that since we have been justified through Jesus, we need not strive to prove ourselves. Rather, on the basis of our newfound identity, the reason Christians should want to change is that we desire to bring glory to God and to walk in the fullness of life that Jesus came to give (John 10:10). Indeed, if God who created us in his image is working at restoring our sin-marred image, it would be rather foolish and hard-hearted of us to remain as we are. If God who is good and wise has revealed a better way to live, to persist in our old ways will only bring misery and subject ourselves to further bondage.
As people who “no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor 5:15), we can take heart that God’s grace is sufficient in seeing us through our commitments towards making changes. We know that change can take place because the Holy Spirit is present and active even in the mundane moments of our lives. Just as few addicts actually quit because of a single moment of resolve and few relationships become stronger because of one dramatic moment of commitment, we also do not rest our hopes merely on some spectacular moments or experiences.
Indeed, as a Christian counsellor and pastor Paul Tripp so aptly puts it, “the character of a life is not set in two or three dramatic moments, but in 10,000 little moments. The character that was formed in those little moments is what shapes how you respond to the big moments of life.” In other words, we need to understand that what leads to significant personal change is that God is at work in the midst of those thousands of seemingly unremarkable moments of our lives as we seek to follow Christ.
As we press on in 2018, let us build on lives upon this truth that God is intimately involved in our lives and molding our character through a variety of situations. There will be occasions when we find ourselves stretched beyond our strength and abilities. Yet, God is actually using these moments as we turn to God for help to mold us so that we can continue to have a healthy dependence upon God’s strength. Likewise, there will be instances of failure and disobedience. But when we humbly come before God in confession and repentance, we discover that God never tires of lavishing his grace unto us.
Regardless of how successful we will be in making changes in 2018, we can rest assured that this year will continue to be a year of God’s matchless grace for all who are in Christ. After all, it is also in God’s agenda that those who trust in him will increasingly be conformed into the likeness his Son. Thus, as much as change will certainly involve a lifetime of constant struggle on our part, we can take heart that God is on our side. As we exercise discernment and take practical steps in working towards sanctification, it is a wonderful thing to know that we are not left on our own. Furthermore, we can thank God that our labour will not be in vain. It would not be, not when Christ is always worth it!
Rev Edwin Wong
January 21, 2018