New Year – new you?
Have you made any New Year's resolutions to change and improve your life in 2014?
Perhaps you have – and are determined that, this year, they will really stick! Or maybe you have already broken the promises you made to yourself just a short time ago. Alternatively, perhaps you regard the whole idea somewhat cynically.
One thing is for sure: we change every day whether we like it or not. Whether it is simply due to the daily process of ageing or the impact of different circumstances, change goes on around us and within us, however much or little we recognise it.
To some, it comes as a surprise to discover what a Christian view of personal change is all about. Many secular frameworks for self-improvement – and indeed those of most other world religions – all boil down to one simple thing: try harder!
But for Christians, change doesn't start with trying – it begins with grace. Grace is God's unearned love and kindness, as made known to us in Jesus Christ. Grace is shown supremely in Jesus' death – an act of love which makes possible forgiveness for the past, purpose for the present, and hope for the future.
It's no wonder, then, that a Christian view of change must include this startling statement: "If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. Behold – the old has passed away; the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5v17) When we come to faith in Jesus Christ, we are made completely new. We have a new status – as children of God. We have a new identity – not primarily as male or female, black or white, or middle or working class – but as people who above all are "in Christ". And we have a new set of relationships as we connect with God and His people. All these changes are possible because of grace – what God has done for us, rather than anything we do for Him.
But just as any parent who loves their child wants them to fulfil their potential, so God wants us to grow and develop too. His concern is not first and foremost to make us happy – but to make us holy. And holiness is not crusty religiosity, but a robust, white-hot joyful goodness – in other words, "Christ-likeness".
In seeking to change, we continue to rely on grace, for it is "the grace of God [which] teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives," as Titus 2v11-13 puts it. Such grace-fuelled change is always centred on a person, Jesus, rather than a programme – and on trusting Him, rather than trying in our own strength. We must recognise too that it is often forged in the fire of suffering.
But change is truly possible. As Tim Chester writes in his book, You Can Change: "There is hope for change. That hope is not in counsellors or methods or rules. That hope is a great and gracious Saviour."
Thankfully, also, it's not a solo project! Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane declare in their book "How People Change" that "the Bible emphasises change within the community of faith". It is as whole churches "participate in a groundswell of gospel celebration – a celebration of the amazing grace available to us in Christ" that we are pulled "upward, beyond our personal happiness, so that we might enjoy his blessings and offer them to others".
So don't dwell on yourself and your new year's resolutions too much! If you want lasting growth in 2014, look to Jesus daily, and meet with his friends (the church) regularly – and positive change will come.