Points to Ponder/Isn’t It Great to Start Over?
by Pastor Dennis Whitmore
Well, we are at the top of the year once again - a “new” year. (I wonder when the year becomes “old” - or at least slightly used). It is interesting how anxious people are to celebrate the big non-event; the passing from 11:59 p.m. in one year to 12 a.m. in the next means what? Well, I suppose it is the big chance to start over again. Then, twelve months later the crowds will gather once again, anxious to get out of this year and start over again in the next.
Starting over. To some extent, at some time in our lives we all want to start over. Do you have any regrets? Who doesn’t? Things said, things done, mistakes made, and sure things that turned out to be surely wrong; it all adds up over the course of a year. We are imperfect, subject to a sinful nature, and prone to wander from the righteous path. We have our share of misfortune and pain, and we have sometimes caused some pain and heartache for others. Those who say that people are basically good are basically wrong.
God Almighty says:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
The Apostle Paul was well aware of this struggle. In Romans 3:23 he sums up our condition “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” He knew the law of God as a devoted and devout Pharisee, yet even after he became a Christian and personally experienced redemption in Christ, he still struggled (as we all do).
“I know 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 doing.” (Romans 7:18-19 NIV)
He goes on to describe it as a law; that the right and the good things are right there, we understand them and even love them. But the sin nature constantly pulls us in the opposite direction. Our consciousness of this ongoing spiritual struggle provides an ample inventory of “instant replays” in the video stores of our minds. Regret, guilt, and “if only I had...” come back again and again.
In Galatians 5:16, Paul says we can avoid following our sinful inclinations if we are living in the Spirit. Again he says:
“For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other so that you do not do what you want.” (Galatians 5:17 NIV)
It is a frustrating thing. By the time December 31 of whatever year arrives, many folks are ready to watch the ball drop in Times Square, and start again.
As Paul reflected on this struggle he concludes Romans 7 as if throwing up his hands in a soulful plea:
“...I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin, which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:22-24 NKLV emphasis mine)
That last line pictures a form of execution practiced by the Romans. A man convicted of murder would be bound hand to hand, face to face with the corpse. The overwhelming stench of the rotting flesh would overcome the condemned man and slowly kill him. What a picture of sin’s effect on us! We are, in a sense, strapped to a rotting corpse - this body of death. Death eventually claims us all, without regard for wealth, status, or even the best doctors. It is the consequence of sin.
The answer is in the very next verse. Paul, the self-described chief of sinners (I Timothy 1:15) who had helped persecute, imprison, and kill Christians had much to regret. Yet, he was not enslaved by those things. In Romans 7:25, he answers his own question:
“I thank God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
In his letter to the Corinthian Church he sums it up:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; old things have passed away behold all things have become new.” (II Corinthians 5:17)
The Apostle, John tells us how we can come to God with our sins, regrets, and guilt.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9 NKJV)
Leave yesterday’s regrets, remorse, and “what if’s” at the foot of the cross. What is the point of a “new year” if your today is not a new day? The consequences of yesterday’s sin may carry into the present reality, but the past is over.
In your life, TODAY is the only day in which you and God together can make a difference. The first difference may need to be made in YOU.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Whitmore serves God at the First United Methodist Church in Laurel, MD.