The craze over New Year’s Resolutions seems to be useful, as far as I can tell, not so much at changing our behavior, as much as at bringing us to a brutal honesty about where our behavior has been poor. The act of creating a resolution is a bold, public, and safe way to say, “I crapped all over this aspect of my life in the previous year, so now I’m going to try and change.”
Christian thought, and the Bible (through many examples), has been banging this drum for millenia. We are much better off as people when we don’t bury our shortcomings, but when we look at them with honesty and integrity and say, “I need to change”. Doesn’t this make New Year’s Eve one of the most powerful and widespread examples of repentance in the world? Millions of people openly saying that they haven’t figured out how to get “it” right in many different areas of their life.
This kind of diagnostic behavior is healthy for individuals and healthy for society. When we step out from behind our shields and let the arrows of personal, public, and Divine scrutiny fly at us unhindered we will see what actually hits us with honest merit. This also means that those darts that are simply shot out of envy, pride, malice, or in insecurity, though they have some kinetic validity while we are guarded, they will miss us when we stand in the open and courageously say, “take your best shot”. Open confession leaves us in the liberating state of freedom, where we walk with lightness and with a smile. Though we may have done some monumentally stupid things, after we’ve brought those things into the clearing of our lives there is little else that stupidity can do to harm us.
Paul said this of the cross in the letter to the Collosians:
13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. ESV
Paul says something interesting, in verse 15, about what Jesus did on the cross. He says that Jesus put evil to “open shame” by triumphing over them. How did He triumph over them? By taking the sins of the world to the cross. So what Paul is saying here, at least in part, is that the venue of Jesus’ definitive battle with sin was the most open, unguarded, and exposed place that could have been chosen. Christ was stripped naked, beaten bloody, and hung for all to see until He died. But what did “they” see? What do we see when we step outside of the city limits and walk to Calvary on that day? We see the sum and total result of sin. All of the rebellious pleasures, all of the instant gratification, all of the indulgences, all of the impatient and shortsighted decisions, etc…all there on a cross. Jesus shows us that the things we think are so important, or that feel so good, or that seem to be so important in the moments of temptation are really not as “shiny” and “pretty” and wonderful as we may think. He walked a path that carried sin to its furthest possible point and we find pain, humiliation, shame, and death.
Paul tells us that Jesus “embarrassed” the things that tempt us by showing us what they truly are. And generally, on December 31st, we do something similar: we look at who we have been with the fresh eyes of retrospect and embarrass some of our weaknesses by saying, “not this year, not again”.
The diference here is key. The vast majority of all New Year’s Eve resolutions are discarded, forgotten, or flat out broken within months, weeks, days, or even hours. But the change that comes from Godly repentance is eternal. When we come to God and ask Him to expose those places in us that are broken that we’ve gotten used to and can’t see anymore, He lovingly mends us and gives us lasting hope for the future.