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Beginning Again, and Again (and Again)

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A sign above the ice cream shop read: “Dairy Queen: Ruining your new year’s resolutions since 1962.”

Who can’t relate? How many new year’s resolutions, no matter how passionately entered upon on January 1, by the fifteenth, or the twentieth, or the first week of February have fallen by the wayside? Or by that summer have fizzled out, with fervid resolutions to try again later? As some anonymous wit quipped, “New year’s resolutions are that which goes in one year and out the other.”

A recent poll by CBS News said that Americans are putting aside new year’s resolutions, at least this year, anyway. “Perhaps it’s due to the unpredictability of 2021, but the percentage of Americans who say they will make New Year’s resolutions for 2022 has dropped from the past two years. This year, just 29% of Americans say they will be making New Year’s resolutions, down from 43% a year ago.”

(At this point, with all that has been going on, maybe it’s enough to resolve to try to simply get through the year, much less make big changes?)

Change the World

There’s nothing wrong with making new year’s resolutions, especially if there are things in your life that you want to see changed, that need to be changed, that you have been wanting to change for a long time.

And who doesn’t need to make some changes?

A rabbi told a story about how, after his semikhah (ordination), he intended to change the world. After a few years, he was going to change the country. Then he was doing to change the city that he lived in. Then he was going to change his congregation. Now, older and wiser, he said, “All I want is to change myself.”

And even that, as we know, isn’t always so easy.

The Man of Romans 7

In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul talks about the struggles that humans have in their own fallen flesh. “I know,” he wrote, “that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” (Romans 7:18-20).

The good I want to do, I don’t; the evil I don’t want to do, I do? Hmmm… who might be able to relate?

There’s been a great deal of speculation among theologians about whether this was Paul before his conversion to Jesus, or afterward. Either way, is this not something that everyone, even converted Christians, have experienced? Of course, and that’s because we are all fallen, sinful beings living in a fallen and corrupt world that, to some degree, impacts us all.

No Temptation

There is good news in all this, however. First, the Bible is filled with numerous promises about divine help in overcoming sins, in overcoming bad habits, in overcoming those things in your life that you want rid of.

For instance, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:23). Or “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

At the same time, who always overcomes every temptation, every time? Who, looking from within for comfort, does not become weary, disappointed, discouraged at what they see about themselves and their character? A sense of our weakness and unworthiness, the awareness of our sinfulness — this should lead us with humility of heart to plead the atoning sacrifice of Christ, to plead for the forgiveness that has been offered us in Him. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners” — even when we have failed in keeping all our resolutions — “Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

In fact, it is precisely because we failed that He died for us.

The Guy in the Black Hat

A pastor preached a sermon called “The Gospel According to John Wayne,” in which he said the promise of salvation isn’t just for the guy in the white hat, the hero, who goes off in the sunset with the rescued woman riding beyond him. The gospel is for the guy in the black hat, the villain, the one who ends humiliated, foiled, defeated.

Do we not, at times, feel humiliated, foiled, defeated — especially when it comes to failing our resolutions, New Year or any other day? Failure, at least at times, is just part of life. The Marines had a slogan, “Be all you can be,” which sounds nice, but for most of us, it just doesn’t work. We aren’t all that we could and should be — and we know it.

But that’s why we need Jesus, why we need the Gospel, and why we need to claim Jesus’ perfect righteousness as our own. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). As we rely upon His merits, His perfect righteousness, we shall find rest, peace and joy. He saves to the uttermost all who come unto God by Him, even those who, at times, get tripped up by Dairy Queen.

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