From Pastor’s Desk.
Do you have a new year’s resolution? Are you ready to be out with the old and in with the new?
Bible scholars use the term “Old Adam” or “Old Man” (a term first coined by the Apostle Paul that is often translated as “old self”) to talk about our sinful nature. There is a common conceit about the sinful nature. The conceit is the idea that we are just imperfect people and that the answer to that is faulty, stubborn, and imperfect attempts at being a better person.
So, we admit our failings (or are confronted so blatantly by them that we cannot deny them any longer) and commit to a plan of self-improvement. We will do better this time, we promise. We won’t make those same mistakes this time, don’t worry. This time is going to be different. I’ve got this.
And then, we fail.
We fail and we fail and we fail some more.
And if the story ended there, we would be lost, but Christ had a different plan—a plan that works.
You see, the problem is not the strength of your will. The problem is that your will could never be strong enough. The problem is not that you can’t pick yourself up by own bootstraps. The problem is that none of us—no one throughout all time—has been capable of that. There is no strategy, tip, piece of self-help, mentor, book, podcast or act of self-determination that is going to change that.
You can’t be a better person. Being a person is the problem. There is no ideal person, because people are an imperfect creature. Mankind – each of us individually, all of us collectively and even the very concept—deserves nothing but death.
Speaking in his letter to the Colossians, Paul touches on this concept in chapter 3, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices.”
Wait, I can hear you scream, that’s what I’ve been trying to do. It sounds like Paul’s just giving me another self-improvement pep talk! And, if you stop reading there (or if Paul stopped writing), it could very well seem that way.
But, that’s not where Paul stops. In fact, it’s not even where he began! Look at how Paul begins that message in the preceding verses. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”
Paul’s good news is not that you can be a better person. The good news he shares is that the very nature of your humanity was crucified with Christ on Calvary and buried with him. You, with Christ, have been raised as a new creature and co-heir of eternal life.
God foresaw our foolish quest toward a better version of ourselves from the moment Adam and Eve ate of the fruit hoping to “be like God.” His response was not to teach the first man how to pick himself up, dust himself off and turn his life around. Instead, he put into place a heavenly rescue mission, understanding that only his Son could do what man could never do himself.
God’s plan is not a program of self-improvement. It’s an honest look at who you really are. You are a poor, wretched, miserable sinner for whom there would be absolutely no hope. However, brothers and sisters, you are also a dearly loved child of God for whom there is a Savior and salvation and wide-open heaven waiting for you.
Our goal, then, is not to be a better person than we were yesterday, but to daily throw ourselves and our failings at the cross, trusting that our sins yesterday, today and forever are fully and freely forgiven by Jesus.