A New Year Message
‘Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.’
Philippians Chapter 3 Verses 13 & 14
A Happy New Year to you from Tong on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland.
A New Year and a new start for each one us. The 365 yesterdays of the year 2004 have gone, and they cannot be retrieved nor altered. I am sure that there are many things in the past 12 months that we would like to have done differently. There are words we wish we had spoken and words that we deeply regret uttering.
Like the Apostle there is much that I would like to forget and leave behind. I hope that I will do things differently, both today and in the days that lie ahead if I am fortunate enough to see them. I ask the Lord to grant me wisdom each day in order that I may learn His ways and His Will in my life.
If Paul had dwelt on his former life - persecuting the church he was now trying to build - his ministry would have failed miserably. His conscience would have paralyzed him. He needed to forget those things that were behind him, and to reach forward to a new goal, a new prize and a much higher calling.
This time of year lends itself to remembrance.
I cannot help but think of my younger days with my brother and my parents. I am fortunate as I cannot think of any ‘bad’ days or times with them. There is nothing that I remember at this time of year that haunts me in any way. (I am simply talking here recalling the way my parents brought me up and the New Years that we brought in together). My memories are pleasant and, being an emotional person, a lump remains in my throat long after the bells have tolled the New Year.
I am not usually one for making resolutions, but I would instead be free and clean, following repentance, and eager for a new start. Many times it is not God who condemns me but I myself and my own unbelief that do so. Having sought cleansing for all my sins and shortcomings, I fail to fully accept God’s pardon.
This is sin and simply adds to my misery. It is not the way for me to live an effective Christian life.
I cannot seek God’s favour and forgiveness if I afterward hold on to or remember my sins! If He has promised to ‘remember them no more’ then why should I struggle and burden myself with them? It is a good thing to be aware of my sin and sinfulness, but it is an even better thing to fully accept God’s way of forgiveness.
I have to seek a safe haven for my soul, both for time and eternity, just as surely and fervently as a manslayer in Biblical times found safety in the city of refuge from the avenger of blood.
This New Years morning I need to be fully persuaded of my safety in Christ Jesus.
God has shown me that I am a sinner in need - I am in need of a Saviour, and God has provided that Saviour for me in Christ Jesus. He came, not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. “They that are whole need not a physician, but those who are sick.” I am one of those who need the healing power of the Great Physician.
I need Jesus Christ the only Saviour. I need Him to fully save me. I need Him to save me - all of me - and I need Him today! Without His righteousness I am undone and guilty before the thrice-Holy God.
But the righteousness provided by Christ is a complete and perfect righteousness. I do not want my own righteousnesses, which are but filthy rags in God’s sight. I require a righteousness that will stand in God’s Court of Justice, and the only righteousness that I can fully depend upon is the righteousness of Christ imparted or imputed to sinners like me who believe in His name and in His finished work.
When a sinner saved by the grace of God is found clothed with the righteousness of Christ, He is then justified before God. This means that we can stand complete in Christ, before a Holy God just as if we had never sinned. I am being cautious with my wording because so many Christians get their justification and sanctification mixed up - and this causes unnecessary anxiety and fear.
I know that justification and sanctification are two big words that are not often used in every day conversations, but they are important doctrines for all Christians to grasp. The more we understand them the greater the liberty that we will enjoy in our lives.
If I am saved and cleansed through the blood of Jesus Christ my Lord, and if I am clothed with His righteousness, then I am as justified before God today as I ever will be throughout eternity. My legal standing will not change even through the process of my death.
Paul was as desirous of being sanctified as he was of being justified. He was as eager to know the power of Christ’s death and resurrection to kill sin within him and to raise him up to a newness of life as he was to receive the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection in his justification.
I too must be eager to seek sanctification but I fear that all too often I get in the way of God’s dealing with me. You see I try to ‘sanctify’ myself, and it simply can’t be done. Sanctification is just as much God’s work alone as is justification!! I have a great tendency to forget this, and I end up feeling miserable and depressed.
Whenever I am convicted of sin, whether it be a neglect of duty or a more open sin, then my first attempt at correction is to try and please God and atone for my sins by ‘pleasing’ Him in some way or other. It may be by going onto my knees and praying for a while, it may be reading a few ‘extra’ chapters in my Bible or it may even be some good work, like visiting someone in hospital or someone who is poorly in their own home.
How foolish can I be? I know that I cannot add to God’s way of salvation, but knowing doesn’t stop me from trying! I also know that to please God I must live by faith. But what do I do? I try to please Him through my own good works!
Such things may ease my conscience for a little while, but sin and its guilt not only remains, they increase!!
Salvation is through faith and by grace alone.
Justification is God’s work
Sanctification is God’s work.
Get these things into your thick head, Mackenzie!!
It seems that I have to learn the same lessons over and over again!
God is good, and He has not held my faults or my failings against me. He has never put up His hand when I have sought forgiveness, nor has He said to me, ‘No, Iain, not this time. I have given you enough chances and enough clean slates.’
He has never turned His back on me, nor has He broadcast my faults to anyone. He is a Friend who is always available 24/7 and in the year 2004 there was not one moment when He forgot about me or let me down.
Last year was the first year in my Christian life that I honestly started to enjoy God in my daily walk. My relationship with Him became more intimate, and in fact this came about through the increased number of difficulties that I found myself facing. If 2003 was a difficult year for me then 2004 was more so, yet it was more blessed.
God led me in ways and in paths that I would never have traversed. I faced experiences that threatened to crush me, yet He saw my safely through them all.
As I take my first few steps into 2005 I take God’s proven faithfulness with me. I lean heavier upon Him than I did this time last year. If 2005 proves to be harder than 2004, then so be it - my confidence, my way, my life and my hand is firmly placed in His hand.
I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. I press on as being justified in Christ Jesus, and I press on as being sanctified through His Word and Spirit - toward the place that He has prepared for His own and where I will never be parted from Him nor from the Church triumphant.
My friend, leave the sins of yesterday where they belong and step forward as a new man/woman in Christ Jesus. He alone can give His own a fresh start. What better way to start the year 2005 than with a completely clean slate?
The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son cleanses us from all sin. Your sins and iniquities I will remember no more. Enjoy today. Enjoy 2005. Enjoy your God. May He richly bless your soul this day with His presence.
Written by : Iain Mackenzie Edited by : Pastor Al Moak