It’s a new year! A new year means many things: exciting new opportunities; report cards start on a clean slate; one year closer to getting a driver’s license.
My main text tonight comes from 2 Corinthians 5:17 which says, ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come!”
We’re sitting at the beginning of a year, and the beginning of each year always speaks about newness, right?
A new year is exciting; it screams potential – potential for change, for betterment. It is an important ‘checkpoint’ we pass on the path of our lives.
CHECKPOINTS OF LIFE
We know that time doesn’t stop, it doesn’t change direction, it doesn’t slow down, it doesn’t go in circles; time goes constantly in one direction and at one speed, like a river without end.
But we put ‘checkpoints’ in time, don’t we? So that we can find where we are on the map of time, and so we can know when we reach a new ‘phase’.
And there are different kinds of ‘checkpoints’. Sometimes it’s birthdays: We might say, “I was 24 yesterday, today I’m 25.”
When I was a kid birthdays were a bigger deal; ‘Yay, I’m 7, a whole new world has opened up to me!’ But then you get to the age when you wake up on your birthday and realise that it’s not a new world, it’s the same one as yesterday. And I’m not a new person, I’m the same person as yesterday.
But these checkpoints give us a feeling of newness, like we have a new lease on life. We think, “I have the potential to be a different person because today is a checkpoint!”
Another ‘checkpoint’ is marriage. Marriage is a big deal! You unite your life forever to this one person.
Certainly our lives change dramatically at the point of marriage. But how many people live a certain lifestyle in their teens and early adulthood and then expect that at the point of ‘marriage’ they will be completely new people. For example – bouncing from relationship to relationship, and think that when they get married they’ll settle down and be happy forever with the person they’ve married?
That checkpoint gives us a feeling of newness, like we have a chance to be completely new because ‘today is a checkpoint!’
And the New Year is another checkpoint!
I don’t know about you, but for me last year is swept under the carpet, and I start on a clean surface. Sure, there are some consequences of last year. The consequences are there, but we all have this feeling like we have the potential to change ourselves because it’s a new year.
This is the reason we have New Year’s Resolutions, is it not?
I ate a chocolate bar each and every day this last year, but come January 1st, I won’t eat any more chocolate for the next 365 days. Not gonna do it.
I didn’t step into the gym once last year, but come January 1st, I’m going every day.
I’ve been lying to my wife about a lot of things – income from work, and relationships that aren’t good, but come January 1st, all that’s going to change, I’ll be a clean man from that point on.
My brother had an awesome plan for his New Years Resolution, which took a bit of work. About a week before New Years he started to run every day, so that when New Years Day came he could say resolutely, “This year I need to do less exercise.” Easiest new years resolution ever!
Don’t we all do that? Like after this checkpoint, now I’m going to be a new person with a new lifestyle.
When I was in high school I was one of those ‘little higher than average’ students. But I had dreams of being a top-student. I knew that I had the potential to be, if I worked hard. And every January I decided that this was the year I’d get my honours. I’d work hard and get top marks in all my subjects. But the year before I’d only ever done enough homework to keep the teacher off my back, and spent the rest of the time watching tv.
And no matter how much I wanted my life to change, a new year didn’t change me! A new year doesn’t change anyone. And in case you’re holding out hope – a new year has no power in and of itself to change you. A number of you have already given up on New Years resolutions, am I right?
Sounds pretty hopeless? It’s not.
Tonight I want to talk to you about a change that’s already happened that will make you forever new.
Jesus said to Nicodemus in John chapter 3:3 “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
Throughout his ministry on earth, Jesus made it clear that history divides itself into two camps: those who would look to Him for salvation, and those who would not. Of those who would look to Him for salvation, Jesus says that they are ‘born again’. As Pastor William said this morning, the world is divided into two camps: the saints, and sinners; the believers and the unbelievers; the saved and the lost; the born and the born again; the created and the re-created.
This new birth is a picture of a completely new creation. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, those who are in Christ are a new creation.
Understanding this ‘being made new’ is vital to our understanding of salvation.
Again and again, through all the writings of the New Testament we see that there is a fundamental change that comes when we accept Christ. It’s not that we grow a little older, a little wiser, it’s that we are made completely new.
Jesus says that we are born again, Peter expands on that saying that we are born again to life; 1 Peter 1:3 “According to [God’s] great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through…Jesus Christ…”
Where once we had been dead people, now we are alive.
Ezekiel prophesies a beautiful picture of this change in the 37th chapter of his book. Please turn with me and we’ll read together there.
[Read vss. 1-14a]
There is a great change that takes place when we become Christians.
THE UNRECOGNISED LIFE
The problem is, we don’t see it that way.
We were at Summer camp a few weeks ago. There were some wonderful preachers sharing with us there. Every day the Gospel message was preached clearly, and every day one of the preachers would call all those who would like to give their lives to Jesus to stick their hands in the air, and then stand, and then repeat a sinners prayer, then go to the counsellors for counselling.
And it was the strangest thing – As the teenagers were saying the prayer a change came upon them. Their faces started to glow, and then they started to hover a little above the ground. They grew wings and a third arm. Their clothes were suddenly white and grew to cover more of their bodies. On one occasion a group of young people changed so much that a fiery chariot descended upon us and carried them in the flesh to heaven – that’s how instantly and completely sanctified they were!
I’m speaking silliness, right?
I’m saying to you that at the moment of salvation something dramatic and complete takes place; but it isn’t apparent. As Pastor William said this morning, it’s the most important part of a person that we can’t actually see.
A person comes to Christ, but we often don’t immediately see a great difference in the person. But a great difference has taken place.
You see, we are physical people with physical eyes. We don’t see the spiritual.
We judge each other on outward appearances. The Jews would reject Gentile Christians because they hadn’t been physically circumcised, even though they had been born again into the family of God.
We are so outwardly and physically focussed that we didn’t even recognise the Son of God. You know how Isaiah describes the Son of God? “He grew up before [the LORD] like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men…” (53:2, 3a).
John says of Jesus, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (1:10-11).
Why? Why did people not recognise their own Creator walking the dusty road with them?
Because we are a physically-minded people. We judge people by what we can see on the outside. We don’t worry too much about their spiritual standing, though their bodies will die and their souls will live forever in glory or in punishment. We are more concerned with the temporal than the eternal. That’s how we treated Jesus, that’s how we treat each other, and that’s how we treat ourselves.
FINDING THE NEW LIFE
Maybe you’re confused and think I’ve gone off the track. What does that have to do with this New Year and this message in particular?
We all want to change, right? We know that we haven’t reached our highest potential, we haven’t defeated all those niggly and pain-causing habits, we don’t always give the right answers to the questions of life, we don’t look like we think we should, act like we think we should. So we all want to change.
And we don’t just ‘want change’ in a sort of passive, indifferent way. We want change eagerly, desperately. We get wrapped up in stress and anxiety, because we don’t look or act or achieve the way we think we ought to.
And I want you tonight to recognise that that stress and anxiety of wanting to be different is often so powerful that it blinds us to the change that’s already taken place in us, which is the most important change.
We spend more time thinking about how much we need to change then thanking God for how much we have changed.
We become so obsessed with changing our outward appearance and impressing others, that we become unconcerned with the change that God has accomplished in us.
Let me ask you; when you were planning this year, how much time did you spend thinking about all that must change, and how much time did you spend rejoicing in who God has made you?
Paul says to the Thessalonian Church that is weeping over their dead relatives, ‘Don’t grieve about them like others who have no hope’ (i4:13). He says, don’t act like unbelievers, for whom this world is all there is and when they lose it they lose all control.
In the same way, I say to us as Christians: This year, let’s not have the same goals as the world, the same focus as the world, or the same emphases as the world.
Make it your goal to be healthy, fit, and smart. But let that be a lesser focus. Let your main goals for this year be to know Christ, to know what He’s done for you, to live in the new reality of who you are, to enjoy the spiritual blessings of God in your lives, to live and walk in His ways, to prepare yourselves for meeting Him.
Paul says to the Colossians, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (3:1-2).
He says to the Corinthians, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (5:17).
For some reason, and I don’t know why, the NIV leaves out that word, ‘behold’. In the NIV it reads, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come!”
But that word, ‘behold’ is important. Paul is saying, ‘Stop regarding yourself as if you were your old self, belonging to this world, wrapped up in this world. Behold – look again – intentionally choose to think twice about who God has made you, the new you!”
We need to be careful, Christians. We need to be careful to not get so wrapped up in the things of this world that we lose care for the incredible things God has done for us in the spiritual world.
If the people at university or at work have goals this year, don’t try to copy their goals – find out what God wants from you and do that.
If people at school have goals this year, don’t try to copy their goals – find out what God wants from you and do that.
In this first message of the New Year I’ve been speaking about Understanding the new you that you already are.
If you want to hear more about establishing new patterns that will benefit your life greatly, come next week as we speak about Starting New Patterns. We’re going to be talking about how the change in the spiritual world leads to a change in the physical world; we’re going to bring this message home and make it more practical for our day to day lives.
But before we can talk about the physical world, we need to understand and accept what God has done for us in the spiritual realm.
Let’s close our eyes.
If you see that your life needs changing and you have not accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, I can tell you that you are just wasting your time. You can get into all kinds of good habits, have a successful diet and accomplish all your goals for this year; but it is like putting a little plaster over a gaping hole in your side.
To really be new, you need to turn to Jesus, and learn to love and obey God in all you do – make Him your all.
But if you are a Christian, but you’ve been focussing all your energy on this or that goal that you have for this year that has nothing to do with the kingdom of God, I say beware. You won’t find happiness in achieving those goals if God isn’t in them and over them. I want to challenge you tonight to go home and lay your goals before the Lord.
And trust Him to give you incredible goals.
As Pastor William has been saying in the morning services; we say to each other, ‘Happy New Year’, but God wants so much more for us for this year – not just a ‘Happy New Year’, but a ‘Holy New You’.