Thoughts for the New Year
“Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun … if a man live many years … rejoice in them all” (Ecclesiastes 11:7,8).
by Keith Klepin
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At the beginning of the year, many within this world will wipe their slate clean and start fresh. They look to the new year with new hopes, new dreams, new aspirations, and a new beginning. They will take the time to scrutinize their lives and look for ways to improve it. They make resolutions to make themselves better persons.
The eight most popular resolutions are:
(1) Lose weight
(2) Quit smoking
(3) Learn something new
(4) Eat healthier
(5) Get out of debt
(6) Spend more time with family
(7) Travel to new places
(8) Be less stressed
We will look at some of these New Year’s resolutions with a view to higher, spiritual applications, that will benefit our new creature.
Things to Lose
People often resolve to lose weight. Looking at this to apply a comparable spiritual application, we should examine what we as Christians need to lose. As Christians, we have a constant battle going on within ourselves. Paul describes this inner battle in Romans 7. Other places in the scriptures describe this as a battle with the “old man” within us (Romans 6:6, Colossians 3:9). Ephesians 4 gives us a specific instruction concerning this “old man.” It is part of the corrupt and deceitful lust of our fallen nature. The new man, created in righteousness by God, is to replace it. The new man is the new creature begotten in us by God’s Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:17). Anyone who thinks that stripping off the old man (Ephesians 4:22 Rotherham) is not a problem, should take a closer look at their life. One method of doing this is to use a checklist of “old man” characteristics and search for signs of him (Ephesians 4:25-31, Galatians 5:19-21). Some of the items that should be on the list are:
● Have we thought an unkind word?
● When was the last time anger exposed itself in us?
● Do we become impatient with others?
● Do we put our needs before others?
● Have we ever been rude toward others?
● Do we subconsciously keep track of the wrongs of others?
● Does pride ever show in our life?
This list can go on and on. The old man is real and tries to stifle our spiritual growth. The old man is clever and deceitful, always justifying his actions. To grow the new creature, the old man must be put aside. “If any man is of Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The battle is within the mind. We need to transform our thoughts, our words, and our actions. This process does not happen on its own. It requires work and action on our part. The new mind gradually makes little changes, and thus the transforming work goes on. As we come to know and love God, we come to see His will more clearly. As we grow spiritually, we come to see things from the divine viewpoint and use that to regulate every word, every act.
The development of this new creature is gradual. The new creature is developed over a lifetime. Our growth depends on not just knowing the Bible but putting what the Bible teaches us into practice. Knowledge is a powerful tool, but having these principles become part of our life is the true goal of a Christian. We should cultivate a love of God and for all things true, pure, and righteous. The stronger we become as new creatures, the more intense will become our love for the good, the pure, and the true.
Another resolution commonly made each year is to exercise more. A hundred years ago this was not a resolution most people would need. They exercised their body as part of their regular daily routines. Most jobs consisted of physical labor (Genesis 3:17-19). We are now living in a marvelous time when knowledge has increased rapidly, and it has decreased the use of our bodies in daily life. But our stress level has skyrocketed and our physical activity has plummeted. The Lord made our bodies to be physically active.
The world of mankind needs bodily exercise, but for the Church, the item that must be exercised is faith. From Hebrews 11:6 we know that without faith it is impossible to please God. Faith is the substance of things hoped for. It is the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is essential in a Christian character. “By grace are ye saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8).
What does this mean to us? All would agree that our salvation is of divine favor, a gift of God, granted by His grace and favor. We cannot do any works that would justify us before God. The law could not provide salvation, nor can we earn it, because we are all imperfect. By faith, we have the merit of Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. So is faith all we need, and not works? We know that is not true. When Jesus cast out unclean spirits in Mark 1:24, they acknowledged Jesus, but it did not reconcile them to God.
We know many things by faith. But we exercise faith by our works. James covers this subject comprehensively in his letter. “Faith, if it hath not works, is dead. … I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But … faith without works is dead. Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? … Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:17-24).
Some might argue that there was a doctrinal conflict between Paul and James — Paul holding faith as the important feature of Christianity while James insisting that works take precedence.We believe there was no such conflict between the writers, and the subject rightly understood leaves no room for disputes. Paul’s argument is that the Law covenant was a covenant of works and that none could be justified under it because none could do perfect works. Paul did not mean and did not say, that works were valueless in God’s sight. But he realized that the Jews, trusting in the Law Covenant, laid more stress upon works than upon faith. James possibly noticed a tendency in some to go to the opposite extreme in the matter of faith and ignore works entirely. James does not claim that any could do works that would justify them before God but merely insists that if the right kind of faith is developed in the heart, it will surely bear fruit and make an outward manifestation. This agrees with our Lord’s words in Matthew 7:12-24.
“All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. … Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles? Even so, every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. … By their fruits, ye shall know them. … Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man.”
Our Spiritual Diet
The next resolution frequently made each year is to eat healthier. Again, this is a problem we face that most did not face a century ago. Technology has brought us foods that in years past others would never have dreamed of. It was more common before, for people to live off the land. They did not need to be told to eat more fruits and vegetables because many people ate what they grew.
If we look at this in a spiritual way, we are faced with a similar dilemma. The expansion of technology provides the time that in years past has not been available. Most people have to decide on how to spend their free time at the end of the day, the time after work is completed and the time after family responsibilities. Now we have to make decisions on how to use that time.
As the description “Bible Student” implies, we should have a deep desire to know and study the Bible. We should be able to give a reason for the things we believe. Br. Russell never intended anyone to believe him just because he said something. He wanted every individual to prove for oneself what is right and scripturally sound. The only way to do that is through individual study.
There should be other reasons that motivate us to study God’s word. If we really love the Lord, we should want to know and understand His principles and put into practice those things that are pleasing to him. We should evaluate what we feed our minds. How do we use our time? Do we feed on the pure words of truth, filling our thoughts and our mind?
The next resolution commonly made is to save more. For some, it is difficult to save with so many things to spend their money on. Everywhere we look there are stores beckoning us to buy this and to buy that. In contrast, the Christian’s resolution should be to spend or be spent more in the Lord’s service.
Jesus taught this lesson in the parable of the talents, found in Matthew 25. To summarize, a man was leaving on a journey. He called together three of his servants and entrusted his property to them. While the master was gone, two of the servants used the talents and doubled the amount given to them. But one servant dug a hole and buried the talent. When the master returned he praised the two servants. The third servant had been afraid and hid the talent so he would be able to give it back to the master. The master told this servant that he was wicked and lazy.
The talent represents our natural gifts or qualities that we lay down at the Lord’s feet when we consecrate. This includes our wealth, influence, intellectual power, education, public utterance, time, and opportunities for service. The same results are not required of all, but simply faithfulness in the use of what each possesses, on behalf of our Lord. We are not to save our talents, wealth, time, and opportunities for ourselves, but instead, use them without hesitation in the Lord’s service. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:15 that he would “gladly spend and be spent” for them.
Another resolution that people frequently make at the beginning of the year is to do better at keeping in touch with friends and relatives. To apply this spiritually, we might ask “How are we doing in our communication with our heavenly Father?” We communicate to God through prayer. Prayer is one of the greatest privileges we have in our Christian walk. James 5:16 says that the “fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” When we see others going through a difficult time, we feel so helpless. There is something we can do for them. Pray for them. Prayer gives us the opportunity to express our thankfulness for all that God has given us, and to ask that He does what is best for them.
Prayer is the lifeline that keeps us in constant connection with our heavenly Father. It is one that we want to constantly use and have as part of our Christian life.
Faith Under Trial
The last resolution many people strive for in the world is to be less stressed. As Christians, in order to decrease our stress, we must increase our trust in the Lord. Jesus addressed worrying, and the futility of it, in Matthew 6:25-34. He ended by telling his disciples, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.”
There is no denying that life can be stressful. We cannot always control it, but we can control how it affects us. We believe that all experiences are for our spiritual good, and sometimes it takes difficult experiences to help us develop spiritually. If we have the proper frame of mind, then we will accept all experiences as potentially good for our best spiritual development. That is not always easy to accept because some of our experiences can be painful and difficult. How we deal with these situations begins with our thoughts. Feelings of guilt, despair, bitterness, resentment, hope, kindness, and love, all start within us. We can create our own spirit of despair, or we can create a bridge of contentment. This is when we utilize our prayer life to help us through difficult times.
The world uses the changing of the year as a time of reflection and a time to consider a change. We as Christians should always be looking back at our actions and our thoughts, and seek to improve the Christian character that is being molded within us. To improve our character, we not only need to reflect at the beginning of the year but also on what we do daily, hourly.
Life is precious, life is a gift. How we use it is entirely in our hands.