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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
January 1, 2012
Happy New Year! That is a pleasant greeting people give to one another as the previous year is placed on the book shelf of history and a new calendar is opened. Wishing others a happy new year is certainly a kind expression and one I am glad is still part of popular culture. I think some people say it out of cultural obligation to give the proper greeting for this time of year. I think others say it as more of a statement of relief. They are glad the old year which was miserable for them is now past and they are looking forward to something better. I think most people, or at least I would like to think that most people, say it out of a sincere wish for the well being of others. We generally desire to be happy ourselves and wish others to experience the same. Happy New Year! But what would it take for AD 2012 to be a happy new year?
Since happiness is based on perceptions, the answer to that question will be dependent upon what the individual thinks their life is about. Most people have a view of life that is dependent on situations and circumstances. When those are perceived as favorable, they are happy. When they are not, they are not happy. The greater their purpose in life is dependent on those situations and circumstances, the greater will be their degree of happiness or sadness because of them.
Let me give you a couple of quick examples. There are many people that enjoy sports of one kind or another. Normal sports fans are happy when their team wins and disappointed if they lose. There are others that are fixated to the point their life revolves around their team. They become emotionally unstable. They are elated when they win, and distraught at a loss. A championship game becomes dangerous because they might riot either way.
Similar things can be said about hobbies, recreational pursuits, social clubs, business, politics, employment, relationships, health, etc. Some of these are very important and some relatively unimportant to most people, but should any of them define whether a year is “happy” or not? Should any of them define whether you can still be happy or not? The greater your dependence on your situation and circumstances to fulfill your perceived purpose in life, the greater those things will control your happiness.
While I realize most of our society has now become dependent on circumstances to fulfill their purpose in life, it has not always been this way nor is it the way that God wants us to be. Happiness can and should be transcendent. Jesus Christ became a man, lived a sinless life, died as the substitute for our sin on the cross, then rose from the grave on the third day and then ascended to heaven where He is now preparing a place for His followers and will return one day to receive them to Himself. By God’s grace through faith in Jesus we are redeemed and forgiven our sins, and we who were dead in trespasses and sin are radically changed by being made alive in Him. The Holy Spirit then indwells us and we begin the process of being transformed into His image.
These are all radical changes and with them comes a radical change in the purpose of life. People are innately selfish and so live for something they perceive will benefit them. The more common things people set as their purpose in life are fame, fortune, pleasure and power or some combination of these. The purpose of life for a Christian is to bring glory to God by loving and serving Him and others. This is in opposition to natural selfishness and learned habits so Christians have a normal struggle to live according to this new purpose in life. We are expected to mature over time and with that comes the ability to experience happiness in situations and circumstances that would devastate most people. We can be joyful even in circumstances of profound grief as was seen in the Ramac family as they said fare-well to Grace and she departed this life to be with the Lord.
This desire to change and mature and seeing it as a purpose in life to do so is not limited to just Christians. In fact, at one time it was a common desire of most Americans to change as individuals into better people. Benjamin Franklin wrote down this common thought this way, “Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.” It was for this reason that making resolutions to suppress vices and promote virtues was part of the normal maturing process. The coming of the New Year brought with it a thoughtful reflection of what needed to be changed in the coming year in order to develop a better character.
I am well aware that resolutions, especially New Year’s resolutions, no longer carry such importance in our society. They are often at the receiving end of a joke such as these humorous definitions; “A New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other,” or the fellow who quipped, “May your troubles in the coming New Year be as short-lived as your resolutions.” Some people are cynical about any hope for change, such as the fellow who said, “The New Year gives people a fresh start on their old habits,” and another who said, “Serious trouble comes when the New Year’s resolutions collide with the old year’s habits.” Others reveal the evil in their own heart in their resistance to make any resolution to be a better person, such as the one who said, “A New Year’s resolution is a promise to stop doing everything you enjoy the most.”
What many people now consider to be what they “enjoy the most” used to be commonly considered vices that a mature individual would have set aside,
or at lest they would recognize them as vices and not something to be proud of or promoted. Character mattered. The society in which we live has a changing standard of what is a vice and what is a virtue, but our standards are set by God’s word and not by society. Regardless of what our society may or may not advocate, the Christian has a hope that is bound up in changing into someone more godly than they were the year before. That is why it is good for us to take note today of the passing of time and give consideration to what we will be like in the future.
Resolutions are good for us because thoughtful change is good for us and resolutions require that. You may not need to go through the formality off writing down all the “wherefores” and “therefores,” though that may be a good and helpful exercise, but we should take the time to examine our lives and consider the “whats,” “wheres” and “whys” we have failed or lack and then make definite plans on how to change and overcome them. This is a normal Christians’ desire.
Man’s Ability to Change
Some seem to question if man can change. The fact is that not only can man change, but he is expected to change. God created man in His image and included within that image is reason and volition. These are the ability to think through things and make choices. The evidence of man’s ability to change is evident all around us. Technology has changed and continues to change rapidly. Political and governmental systems change. It is even hard to keep a world map that has the correct names and boundaries of countries. Laws constantly change along with the morality of societies. Even the unregenerate recognize this which is why they work so hard to change our laws and advocate education so strongly. They use law to reset the definition of what is right and wrong, and they use education to set the worldview of people are they are young and most moldable.
This does not mean that man can change to become good enough to meet God’s standards of holiness. Man is in slavery to his sin nature, and while the particular sins may change, the bondage can only be broken by the regeneration that comes with faith in Jesus Christ (Titus 3:5, Romans 6, 1 Corinthians 5:17). Man can meet God’s standard of holiness only when the righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed to him resulting in his justification (Philippians 3:9; Galatians 2:16). My point here is simply that all men can change, and there should be an expectation that they will do so.
If non-Christian can make resolutions and improve their behavior, then even more so the Christian should change for the better with the passing of time. The stated purpose of our salvation in Romans 8:29 is to be conformed into the image of His Son. There is no doubt that God expects the Christian to change.
Paul makes this point clear in Romans 12:1-2. “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, [which is] your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
In view of what Jesus has done for us, it is only reasonable for Christians to resist the pressures of the world and change their way of thinking so they can live in holiness before God. Making resolutions to change in specific areas is simply an aspect of being transformed by the renewing of your mind for it is making up your mind about what needs to change and setting plans for doing so.
God’s commands and the principles that flow out of them prove that God expects the Christian to change by being obedient to Him. We are to set aside the old life with its sinful habits and put on the new life (Colossians 3). We are to no longer let sin be our master because we are now to be slaves of righteousness (Romans 6). If a professing Christian does not change and continues to live sinfully, then there is legitimate reason to call into question their profession of faith. They should be properly challenged to examine themselves to see if they are indeed in the faith (2 Corinthians 13). This does not mean the Christian will not sin, for the Bible makes it clear that all Christians do sin. However we are expected to walk in the light, and when we do sin, we are expected to confess it (1 John 1:6-10). The purpose of church discipline is to correct and restore erring brothers and sisters while disfellowshiping those that refuse to repent and follow Christ (Matt. 18; Gal. 6).
The question then becomes, how do you change?
First, understand that changing to live in holiness is not something you can do on your own. The good news is that God has promised to work in you to change you. The Holy Spirit is sent to indwell you (Romans 8:11). Christ intercedes for you (7:25). He strengthens you (Philippians 4:13), and He has promised to perfect the good work He has started in you (Philippians 1:6).
Second, while God will be faithful to do His part, He has given us a part to play in living out the Christian life. 2 Peter 1:3-8 explains that though God has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, we are with all diligence to apply to our faith moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. I want to spend the rest of our time this morning considering in very practical terms how we can carry out our part in making these changes.
Breaking the Old Habits.
Change begins with recognizing the problem. You will not fix what you do not think is broken. The Holy Spirit will do His part in convicting you of sin, righteousness and judgment for that is why He came (John 16:8). Your part is to confess that God is right and you are wrong and therefore must change. Take care that even if the activity itself may not be sinful, there still may be sin involved. This may take some serious Bible study to know the mind of God on a matter as well as thoughtful meditation to see how it applies specifically in your life.
For example, it is easy to spot the sin in habits such as lying, having a foul mouth or failing to meet with other Christians. There are direct commands concerning each of these. We are not to lie (Colossian 3:8,9). We are not to let any unwholesome word proceed from our mouths (Ephesians 4:29). We are not to neglect meeting with other believers (Hebrews 10:25). But what about something like spending more time in prayer and Bible Study? You may have to think through your use of time. Perhaps there is nothing sinful in itself in what you are doing with your time, but over all there may be a failure in making the most of your time in fulfilling God’s priorities (Ephesians 5:16). Reading the newspaper is not a sin, but if you do that while neglecting your Bible, then perhaps it is. Watching TV may not be a sin, but if
you are doing that and neglect to pray, then perhaps it is. Those activities are hindering you from doing what is best and so the encumbrance needs to be set aside (Hebrews 12:1).
Paul states in 1 Corinthians 10:23 that for the Christian, “All things are lawful,” but “not all things are profitable” or “edify.” Just because you can do it does not mean you should. Paul added in verse 24 that we are not to seek our own good, but rather the good of our neighbor. We should seek the best, not just what is lawful. Hebrews 12:1 tells us to set aside every encumbrance as well as the sin that entangles us. If it is hindering you from doing what you should, then set it aside so that you can diligently pursue holiness.
In 1 Corinthians 6:12 Paul makes a related point on this issue. He said that he would not allow himself to become mastered or subjected to anything. You may need to avoid even a good thing if you become controlled by it. Hobbies can be a danger in this way. The hobby may even be good in itself, but if you become obsessed with it, then it becomes a habit for you that needs to be broken. If you cannot easily set the activity aside, then perhaps it is mastering you. If so, stop it for awhile just so that you remain in control.
This essentially is recognizing that you have a habit that needs to be changed because it is either bad, controlling or an encumbrance. If you are not convinced of that, then you will not change, or you will resent the change forced upon you by others.
We find the principle for the second step in Proverbs 2:3-6, Isaiah 55:6-7, Matthew 7:7-11 and James 1:5. Seek wisdom and ask God to give you an understanding of His will and how to change. God is faithful and gives such wisdom generously to those who ask. Your task is essentially to stop old bad habits and replace them with good new ones. However, what is good or bad must be defined by God’s standards and then godliness is to be pursued by godly means. In practical terms, you must develop a plan to change and then make each successive step of the plan trusting God to empower you to do so. Remember, while it is wonderful when people are able to change with a giant leap, most of the time will come step by step.
Establishing New Habits
After the needed change is recognized, effort is made to stop that bad habit. The key to success in breaking an old habit is actually the next step which is replacing it with a new habit. If this is not done, I can almost guarantee that you will go back to the old habit. It is not enough to stop lying. You must also tell the truth. It is not enough to stop stealing. You must also start giving. It is not enough to stop receiving counsel from the ungodly. You have to develop friendships with the godly and mediate on God’s word (Psalm 1). It is not enough to refrain from music, TV, movies, and other entertainments that tear you down spiritually, you must replace it with what fits the Biblical standard of being true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:6).
How do you create a new habit? Stop the old habit and practice the new habit with great diligence. This takes conscious effort at first, but as you continue doing it, it will take less effort. If you do this long enough, it will eventually become your normal way of life.
For example, how do you start getting up earlier in the morning so that you can have a time of prayer and Bible reading? First, set your alarm clock at the time you want to get up and place it on the opposite side of the room from your bed. Make sure it will produce a sound annoying enough that you will be forced get up to turn it off. Next, do whatever you need to do to make sure you are awake enough to read and pray and not fall back to sleep. Exercise, take your shower, get a cup of coffee, etc. Then read your Bible and pray. Do this for a few days and you will be tired enough to go to bed earlier in the evening so that you can get up earlier in the morning. Repeat this process for a few months, and you will start waking up before the alarm goes off. Repeat this for a few years, and you won’t need an alarm clock. It is now your habit of life. You will then find that if you miss your quiet time with God in the morning, you will feel out of sorts all day long.
How do you change then? Stop the old habit and replace it with the new habit you want to develop. Repeat this over and over for days, weeks, months and years. This sounds simple, but it will take great diligence to accomplish it.
What Needs to Change
The next question will be, what needs to change? There are many things in our lives that probably need to change. Most people consider a diet immediately after the holidays to get rid of the extra girth they have added from all the feasting. New Year’s resolutions also usually contain points about stopping vices such as smoking, drinking, cursing, overspending, etc. along with beginning or improving virtues such as regular exercise, healthy diet, financial discipline, civility, etc. However, those are side issues. There are much more fundamental issues that must be changed in order to produce godliness. These require a deeper examination of life and motivations and out of these arise the specific behaviors.
The reason people cannot change enough to match God’s standards is because outward conformity to God’s laws is not enough. There are plenty of people in the cults and false religions that do well at meeting an outward standard of behavior, but God looks at the heart and weighs the motives (Jeremiah 17:10, 1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Chronicles 28:9). True godliness is a change that occurs from the inside out. It requires a fundamental change in world view and not just outward behavior. Let me address the most important ones.
First, the quest to know God and His ways. This was the cry of Moses to God in Exodus 33:13, “let me know Thy ways, that I may know Thee,” and in verse 18, “I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!” John 17:3 states that Jesus came for the purpose that we might know the only true God. The Christian is still to continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord (1 Peter 3:18). Paul said that his desire was to “know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10).
Second, the quest to love God. Jesus said the great and foremost commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37-38). We need to know God first because our love for Him is a response to His love for us (1 John 4:19). Our love for Him is demonstrated by our obedience to His commands (John 14:21).
Third, the quest to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). False w
orship includes more than worship of false gods. It also includes the many professing Christians that try to worship the true God according to their own desires and schemes instead of according to God’s commands. Tragically, much of the worship offered in American churches is man centered, not God centered. True and proper worship gives God the sacrifice of praise that comes from a broken and contrite heart and spirit (Hebrews 13:15; Psalm 51:17).
Fourth, the quest for personal holiness. God’s command is that we are to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). He saved us that we might be holy and blameless before Him (Ephesians 1:4). The true Christian wants to be cleansed by God and have a clean heart before Him (Psalm 51:2,10). We also want to live a life separated from the world and unto God. (Romans 12:2). In knowing, loving and worshiping the Lord we want to know and do His will in our lives. This separates us from the world and its practices for our desire is to please God instead of fulfilling the lusts of the flesh, eyes and boastful pride of life (1 John 2:15-16).
Fifth, out of these arises the quest to be used of God for His glory. All that a Christian does, ranging from any good deed to what and how he eats and drinks, are to glorify God (Matt. 5:16; 1 Cor. 10:31). Paul was able to rejoice in his unpleasant circumstances because he sought God’s glory (Philippians 1) and so he pressed on toward the goal for prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:13).
Sixth, the quest to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus said this was the second great commandment and upon it and loving God depend the whole Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:40). Jesus commanded us to love one another as He has loved us (John 13:34). The apostle John tells us that this love rises from knowing God and that the lack of it is the evidence of neither knowing God or loving Him (1 John 4:7-8; 20-21).
Seventh, out of all these arises the desire to see others know Jesus and follow him. 1 Peter 2:9 makes it clear that we are saved for the purpose of proclaiming the excellencies of God to the nations. Our love God compels us to do that, and our love for others compels us to tell others about Him. We desire to fulfill the great commission in making disciples of Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:19,20).
A corollary to these last two quests is using your spiritual gifts for that is how the whole body of Christ is built up and becomes more effective in the task of discipleship including teaching obedience to Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 12). The result of all of these is that your life is lived for God instead of yourself because you are in submission to the Spirit and conducting yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27).
All the particular issues included in your New Year’s resolutions, and there may be many particular issues, should arise out of these fundamental quests, and the essence of these are in loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and loving your neighbor as yourself.
While I do not know what areas you need to work on the most, I do believe that if you will seek the Lord and give some thought to it, you will be able to recognize what resolutions you need to make.
Let me close by asking some thought provoking questions to stimulate your thinking.
Loving God: Do you really love God with all your heart, soul and mind? What is more important to you than God? That would be an idol. How much time do you spend in your own Bible study, prayer, meditation and personal worship? Are you spending enough time in those activities that you are actually getting to know God and His will better? How does the time spent in those activities compare to time spent in your hobbies and being entertained? Do you know what your spiritual gift(s) are? Are you using them? How much time do you spend in serving the Lord? How does that compare to time spent in your hobbies and entertainment? What about your finances? Does your financial health reflect godliness or selfishness? Are you a cheerful giver? A grumpy hoarder? Or an oblivious spendthrift? Do you ever use the Lord’s name in vain? Do you treat Him in any way as less than the holy being that He is?
Loving your neighbors: Do you love your neighbors as yourself? Do you honor your parents? Children, do you obey your parents? Is there anyone you hate? Do you have a grudge against anyone? Do you refrain from adulterous glances and thoughts? What do you allow yourself to see? hear? think about? Do you steal? Do you give your employer a full day’s work? Do you cheat on your taxes? Do you lie about anything even if it seems innocent to you? Do you gossip? Are you discontent and want what your neighbor has? Do you rejoice in your neighbor’s success?
Godliness or Wordliness: Do you love the world and the things in the world or God? (1 John 2:15-16) Is your mind set on things above or the things of this earth? (Colossians 3:2). Have you considered the members of your earthly body dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed? (Colossians 3:5). Have you put aside anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive speech from your mouth? (Colossians 3:8; Ephesians 4:31). Have you put on the new self (Ephesians 4:24f). Is your mind set to think on what is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praise worthy? (Philippians 4:8). Is your life marked by walking in the flesh with its idolatry, heresies, enmities, strife, jealousy, disputes, envying, drunkenness and carousing? (Galatians 5:19-21). Or by walking in the Spirit with His fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? (Galatians 5:22,23).
There are areas each of us can improve. The question that remains is “will you?” Will you do what is needed to change? Will you break the bad habits and replace them with new ones? Will you step out in faith in obedience to God to do it. The Holy Spirit will do His part and help you. You also need to take advantage of the other resource God has given to help you – other believers.
The body of Christ is to grow together but too often fear prevents us from sharing our areas of weakness. We don’t want anyone to think less of us or judge us for it. Yes, there will be immature people that will do that, and when they do, they are in sin. However, do not let that stop you from asking other Christians to help. You need to let others know your areas of struggle so they can pray for you, encourage you and hold you accountable. That is one of the functions of the church.
In the bulletin this morning I have put in a Resolutions insert to encourage you to do that. There are t
wo copies so that you can fill one out for yourself and a copy to give to someone you would like to help you. Ask them to pray for you and hold you accountable. If you want prayer but also want to remain anonymous, then write down your request but leave your name off, or put your name down and put “unspoken” on the resolution line. Then give it to me or put it in the faith box, and the matter will be prayed about.
Let us all be more serious about living for Christ and helping one another. Don’t put it off any longer. We should be ready to do this at anytime, but the transition from one year to the next is a good time to make resolutions and make the changes needed in one’s life.
Dear Master for this coming year, Just one request I bring:
I do not pray for happiness, or any earthly thing –
I do not ask to understand, The way Thou leadest me,
But this I ask: teach me to do, The thing that pleaseth Thee.
I want to know Thy guiding voice, to walk with Thee each day.
Dear Master make me swift to hear, And ready to obey.
And thus the year I now begin, A happy year will be –
If I am seeking just to do, The thing that pleaseth Thee.”
Sermon Notes – 1/1/2012
Resolutions – Selected Scriptures
Introduction – Happy New Year!
Happiness is based on ________________, so worldview determines its sources
Circumstantial happiness _______________________________________________________________
Transcendent happiness ________________________________________________________________
Be at war with your ______, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man
Good resolutions push us past society’s standards into striving to meet _________ standards
Man’s Ability to Change
Man is created in God’s image with reason and ___________- the ability to think and make choices
Man is naturally a _______to sin, but He can be redeemed, regenerated, justified & transformed by God
We are to be conformed into the image of His Son – _____________by renewed minds (Rom 8:29; 12:2)
God’s many commands prove He expects Christians to ___________ by being obedient to Him.
God expects us to do our part in becoming _____________ – 2 Peter 1:3-8
Breaking the Old Habits
Change begins with recognizing the ____________ and confessing that to the Lord
Conviction of sin comes by the ___________and considering the commands & principles of God’s word
Habits that are either bad, controlling or an encumbrance need to be ___________ and changed
Establishing New Habits
The key to successfully breaking an old habit is _____________________ with a new one
Create new habits by ceasing old habits and consistently __________the new behavior over a long time
What Needs to Change
Outward conformity to God’s laws is not enough; there must be fundamental ______________ change
Loving God _________________________________________________________________________
Loving your neighbor _________________________________________________________________
Godliness or Worldliness _______________________________________________________________
Don’t let fear keep you from seeking and gaining prayer, encouragement and accountability from others
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