I’m Not Into Guilt So Count Me Out
DECEMBER 31, 2018
It’s January and time for new beginnings, new goals and, of course, New Year’s resolutions.
It’s a time to review last year, make adjustments, fix the broken, reset priorities and make right the wrong.
Go for it!
But just so you know, I’m not doing any of that.
I’ll try my best not to be grumpy and difficult about it, but count me out for a lot of reasons. For one thing, I’m old and cynical, and I’ve broken more resolutions than politicians have broken promises. And then there is the guilt. I once heard someone say that if we don’t make New Year’s resolutions then we never have to feel guilty about breaking them. That works for me. I already have more guilt than I can handle.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for the desire to do and be better. Believe it or not, sometimes I am better. In fact, everybody—except my wife, family and close friends—is sure that I’m a good deal better. As I may have told you, my life verse is Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…” I don’t do goals much and I hardly ever have plans to accomplish, so I’m very often surprised with “whatever my hand finds to do.” When God deals the cards, as it were, I try to play them as best I can. Sometimes I play well and sometimes not, but I’m always wary about the promises.
This isn’t a sermon directed at you. I don’t think the way I do things is to be universally applied to every Christian. I don’t do “discipling” either. The thought of everybody doing things the way I do them is rather frightening. If you’re philosophically oriented, then you know that Kant believed that one of the ways to determine what is right or wrong is to question what it would be like if everybody did what you were thinking about doing. That kind of works with my goals and resolutions too. So I’m not preaching, just telling you what works for me.
Again, you can do what you want, but I’m not into new beginnings, clean slates or resolutions.
I wouldn’t even be telling you this except that my pastor, Kevin Labby, said last Sunday that the Christian faith isn’t about clean slates, second chances or starting over. When Kevin said that, I started humming the Hallelujah Chorus (to my wife’s consternation). Not only that, it also enabled me to write what I wrote above…without having to repent.
The good news is that God isn’t into “second chances.” There are no second chances because there is no need for them. John wrote, “For whenever our heart [i.e. conscience] condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:19-20). Even before that, John wrote, “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). And speaking of being righteous, Paul wrote in Romans that God has imputed the righteousness of Christ to us.
It is said that when Abraham Lincoln was asked what he would do with the South after the Civil War, he said, “It will be as if they never left.” It’s not that you and I don’t need second chances (as someone prayed, “O God of second chances, it’s me…again.”), it’s just that the Christian’s vocabulary should reflect Lincoln’s attitude about the South. Second chances are important for organizations designed for moral improvement, but not for Christians who recognize that moral improvement is no longer the issue. Jesus and what he’s done—not what we do—is now the issue.
It’s the same way with a clean slate. Do you remember in the old days when we used blackboards in school? Teachers would write something on the blackboard and when the subject changed, they simply took out an eraser and erased what was previously written and then wrote something else. As opposed to a computer screen, the problem is that after so many erasures, the blackboard was almost white with chalk. You couldn’t write anything else until some student (it was usually me) was required to stay after school to wash the blackboards as a punishment. God doesn’t use a blackboard where he erases our sins and starts over. He doesn’t even use a computer screen, deleting the files chronicling our bad stuff. God threw away the blackboard and unplugged the computer. Then he laughs and says, “I love you! Is that okay?”
I have a friend who is married to a psychologist. Now, when one needs a psychologist, one needs a psychologist. But you don’t want to bring one home or, good heavens, to be married to one. My friend and his wife have a great marriage. Do you know why? They have a rule that when the psychologist comes home, she leaves the tools of her trade at the office and my friend promises to try not to do anything for which she needs those tools.
That’s what God did. He left the tools of his work (e.g. judgment, wrath, condemnation, critical analysis, restorative therapy…religious tools) outside the door. The “marriage” works for that reason. That doesn’t mean we don’t need “therapy.” We’re a sinful, rebellious and needy bunch. It’s just hard to have a relationship if one side of that relationship (the perfect side…that would be God) is always trying to fix the other side of that relationship (the sinful side…that would be us). It robs a party, dinner and pleasant evening of its joy.
Brown, you’re looking for excuses. You really don’t care about sin and obedience, do you? If you did, you would make some resolutions and start again. The only difference between successful Christians and those who fail is that they got up the last time they fell down.
Maybe. I’m not above looking for excuses at times. And I have to regularly repent of my efforts at rationalization. However, I don’t think I’m doing that here. In fact, we could have a contest. You make a list of all your sins and then make a similar list of New Year’s resolutions to be better and more obedient. I’ll continue to refuse to make resolutions and make that list. Then next year at this time, let’s compare. I bet I’ll be a whole lot better than you!
Okay. Maybe not. (I think I just heard the angels giggling.) However, I suspect I will be better than I am; and frankly, there is a good chance that you will have given up. That’s the difference between you doing it your way and my doing it God’s way. Wait. That didn’t come out right. How about…betting your way that demonstrably doesn’t work against my way that does, while taking into account the good possibility that I need a lot more fixing than you do… Uh, that still doesn’t sound right. I’m giving up with a quick prayer that you get it even with my poor way of saying it.
I was asked fairly recently to participate in a wedding in Atlanta for some friends of mine. Their pastor and friend addressed the couple with some of his own words and those from a devotional by Mark Batterson. What he said was powerful and wise:
As you enter into holy matrimony, I want to encourage you with truths that you need to believe and stand on individually before you can move together in spiritual wholeness and health as a couple:
You aren’t the mistakes you’ve made, the labels that have been put on you, the lies the enemy has tried to sell you. You are who God says you are. You are a child of God and the apple of his eye. You are more than a conqueror, a new creation in Christ, and the righteousness of Christ.
Our identity issues are fundamental misunderstandings of who God is: Guilt issues are a misunderstanding of God’s grace, control issues are a misunderstanding of God’s sovereignty, anger issues are a misunderstanding of God’s mercy, pride issues are a misunderstanding of God’s greatness and trust issues are a misunderstanding of God’s goodness. Let God be the loudest voice in your life! God doesn’t love us because of who we are. God loves us because of who he is.
Go ahead and make New Year’s resolutions. I’m praying that you break every one of them. If, perchance, God should answer my prayer and things really don’t work out the way you intended, you might want to reread what I wrote here.
He told me to tell you.