by Darrell Wacker
Another year has come and gone,
and with the passing of Christmas, it is not unusual for us to look at the upcoming year as a new beginning
or a fresh start. The passing of a year can be a useful place for us to take stock of our lives and think about ways to do better.
It is pretty common for people of all stripes to make resolutions in January. Resolutions can vary from losing weight, getting a better job, studying harder, or to do more volunteer work. Some resolutions are made with a great deal of thought, while others are made with little or none. Some are private, while others are very public, almost boasting. Regardless of the who, what, when, or where of each resolution, most of them seem to share the same basic motivation-to change some aspect of life for the better.
Certainly, I believe New Year’s resolutions, or Lenten fasting, or other attempts we make to better our lives can be good things if kept in the proper perspective. However, these sorts of promises or resolutions usually have one fatal flaw-they rest solely upon our weak and imperfect human actions to achieve the desired outcome. Sure, we may ask a friend or a spouse to help hold us to our promise, but in the end, most resolutions rest on our own will power, our own deeds. It’s no wonder most resolutions are broken within a few weeks!
God has also given us a form of resolution, and it is called repentance. Webster defines repentance “to turn away from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life.” It also refers to repentance as feeling regret or contrition, or changing one’s mind. It is true that all of these sound much like a resolution, but true repentance is different than a resolution in one very significant way. Unlike a resolution, which relies on human works to bring about a change, Christians who repent of sin are relying on God, and God alone, to forgive sin and bring us back into a relationship with God.
God calls us to repentance over and over again throughout the Bible. In fact, the entirety of Scripture is the cyclical story of sin, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:32 that He came to call sinners to repentance. He also warns us in Luke 13:3 that unless we repent, we will perish. Certainly, Jesus isn’t mincing words here-why all this talk about repentance? How is that supposed to make us feel good about God or ourselves?
Sin isn’t a very popular topic of discussion in our society, or forthat matter, the church. It seems that people would much rather feel good about themselves and be pumped up about finding purpose in life rather than talk about sin. But the reality is we need to hear about sin. It’s the reality of the world we live in, and it’s the reality of our lives. Sin will literally kill each one of us at some point-not cancer, or heart disease, or a car crash, but sin! Sin is what kills, and it kills in a way nothing else can, because sin separates us from God with no way to earn our way back into good standing.
I know, I know, that’s not a very nice thought for the New Year, is it? It certainly isn’t a pretty picture, and you won’t hear it in many places, but it’s the plain, simple, Biblical truth.
The beauty, though, is in the rest of the story. Repentance, just like a new year, is about rejuvenation, restoration, and a new beginning. Repentance gives us all of this and so much more!
Repentance consists of two things-contrition (feeling sad about having sinned and offended God) and faith. Faith is a key component, because this gift is what allows us to overcome the rational part of our minds and hear the sweet words of God when he forgives us. The gift of faith is what allows us to trust in the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the complete satisfaction for our sins. Without faith, these are just hollow, historical events. But with faith, we receive Jesus in His sacraments that make things right, and we know Jesus is our only hope.
God does not leave us to wallow in our sins, but instead promises forgiveness and restoration. He promises this in Jeremiah 31:34, where the prophet records these words of comfort: “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (ESV)
Darrell Wacker is a member of St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Huber Heights, Ohio, where he serves on the Parish Education Committee and as a Communion Assistant. He works for the YMCA of Greene County as a Grant Writer and as a freelance sports writer covering high school sports for Times Community Newspapers in Dayton, Ohio. He is the husband of Barbara, and the father of Matthew (19) and Daniel (7).