The start of the New Year is approaching fast. I don't know if you are a person who makes New Year resolutions – perhaps to get healthier, kick a bad habit, read more of the Bible? While many people choose this time of year to make resolutions of what we are going to do, rarely do we talk about who we are going to be. So can I ask you: who you are intending to be this year?
Okay, I can see that you may be wondering what on earth I mean.
I admit it may seem quite strange – after all, we are all going to be the same person we were the previous year – aren't we?!? Well, let's just consider for a moment how each of us are continually changing and being influenced and moulded by something and/or someone.
Sheridan Voysey, in his devotional book Resilient, has said much that has challenged me as I've used the book over the last few months. For example, in it he says, 'Every day you and I are becoming someone, progressing toward an ideal image of ourselves. This image may be shaped by a hero, a fashion, an advertiser, or a friend, but the ideal we pursue determines our character.' So often we do this without even realising it.
Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount (which Sheridan's book focuses on) calls us to 'be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect' (Matthew 5:48). Is this an unobtainable goal? An unfortunate weight around our necks as we strive to be better than we are today? Being like our Father does demand a lot from us – but it has ultimately been achieved for us by Jesus. Through his death and resurrection we can now stand before God wearing his righteousness rather than our rags of sin.
Now I know we know this. But do we choose to live in the light of it every day, allowing it to affect what we do, think, say – who we are even? I was hugely blessed and influenced by various books in the last half of 2015. Sarah Bessey, in her book Out of Sorts, talks about the fact that she lost Jesus amongst the rituals of church life and it wasn't until she took a step back and searched for him afresh in the scriptures that she learned who he really was. She told me that she 'found he was so much more than I expected – more wild, more wonderful, more free, more welcoming, more challenging, more loving, more surprising...'
Is that not the person you want to shape you, so that you become more like him? The unexpected, challenging and yet ultimately loving and accepting Jesus?
In Colossians 3 we are reminded that our old selves have died, and we are now 'hidden in Christ with God' (v3). The passage goes on to talk about various sinful things we need to throw off and then tells us to put on the characteristics of Jesus:
'Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.' (vv12–14).
The type of person we are being exhorted to be here is one that puts off not just the obvious sexual and immoral sins but those everyday things that we often excuse and put down to being character traits – such as anger. Ouch.
What I love in the above passage is the emphasis – 'therefore'. It is because we are already totally loved and accepted, made holy in God's sight through Jesus, that we are encouraged to respond out of love. Our deeds and 'trying harder' to be a particular person who shows certain character traits isn't what saves us. Rather, it is precisely because of our salvation that our response should be one of love –wanting to be influenced by our Saviour above all else (our friends, colleagues, culture – church even).
We don't have to try and do this out of our own strength – one of the other things that I've been reminded of in the last year is how God takes nobodies and makes them somebodies through his Spirit (just think of the disciples, and the many mistakes they made before being transformed into courageous proclaimers of the gospel).
2 Corinthians 3 reminds us that becoming more like Jesus is actually part of our inheritance – it is something that is supposed to be happening in our daily lives.
'Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.' (vv17–18)
So, can I ask you once more: who are you going to be this year?