The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Resolutions or Regeneration?

O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! - Romans 7:24-25a

Every year on New Years Eve people make New Year’s Resolutions promising to change themselves for the better. But New Year’s resolutions are doomed to failure. If people want to change they don’t need resolutions, they need regeneration.

How Successful are New year’s Resolutions?

How successful are New year’s resolutions? Statistics in a study from the Journal of Clinical Psychology in 2002 showed the following:

• 40 to 45% of American adult make one or more resolutions each year.
• Among the top new years resolutions are resolutions about weight loss, exercise, and stopping to smoke. Also popular are resolutions dealing with better money management / debt reduction.
• The following shows how many of these resolutions are maintained as time goes on:
- past the first week: 75%
- past 2 weeks: 71%
- after one month: 64%
- after 6 months: 46%

Another study at the end of 2005 estimated that 97% of New year’s Resolutions do not work. In this study entitled New Years Resolutions: Why Don’t They Work ? Michael York of the Michael York Learning Center, theorizes the reason why resolutions don’t work is because people expect to fail and that they don’t know how to properly set goals in order to keep their resolutions. But I would say that the reason people don’t expect to keep their resolutions is because they have learned from experience that they can’t keep their resolutions and no amount of proper goal setting is going to change that.

So what’s the answer; how can we change for the better? The answer is that we need regeneration not resolutions.

Why Resolutions Can’t Work

The reason why a resolution can’t work is because it depends on me, myself and I; it depends on my own “strength.” The Bible refers to this self-centered dependence upon self as the flesh. Paul was inspired to speak of the predicament of the flesh when in Romans he writes:

Romans 7:18-24 - 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Do you see the futility of relying on your own strength to try to do good things? The New Living Translation (more of a paraphrase) of the Bible renders this portion of scripture in the following way:

18 I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn, I can’t make myself do right. I want to, but I can’t. 19 When I want to do good, I don’t. And when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. 20 But if I am doing what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing it; the sin within me is doing it. 21 It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin?

These words express the futility, frustrations and ultimate failure of attempts at self-reformation and that is exactly what a New year’s resolution is. The reason such attempts at change are doomed to failure is because they depend on an inadequate power source, the sinful self. Read what the Bible says about our self, the me, myself and I of who we are:

Genesis 6:5 - 5 Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
• Job 14:4 - Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one!
• Job 15:14-16 - “What is man, that he could be pure? And he who is born of a woman, that he could be righteous?15 If God puts no trust in His saints, And the heavens are not pure in His sight,16 How much less man, who is abominable and filthy, Who drinks iniquity like water!
• Psalm 5:9 - For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; Their inward part is destruction; Their throat is an open tomb; They flatter with their tongue.
• Psalm 51:5 - Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.
• Isaiah 64:6 - But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.
• Jeremiah 17:9 - “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?
• Mark 7:21-23 - 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”
• Ephesians 2:1-3 - And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

These verses are ample evidence that anything that depends on this flesh is doomed to fail to reach its goal. If that is the case, then how can a person change successfully?

Regeneration the Way to True Transformation

Sometimes we can have what we believe are the best of intentions, but they are the wrong intentions. Our motives are not always what they ought to be. We may want to change, but if our motive is only to please our self, then we are only compounding our problem and off the mark. What we need is an entirely new way of looking at things and an entirely new way of doing things. What we need is REGENERATION.

Okay, you might be thinking, how do I get this regeneration? If you want to change for the better you have to realize the following.

First, realize your real problem is sin. Sin is the destructive cancer like thing within you that is keeping you from successfully changing for the better. The Bible says:

Romans 3:10, 23 - 10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; . . . 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Sin keeps us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2) and it is God alone who can work true change in us. Sin keep our focus on sinful self where we will wallow in defeat and despair.

Second, realize only spiritual birth or spiritual life can make a true lasting eternal change in you. It is the gospel that is the power of God to save us from sin (Romans 1:16). Just as we are physically born, we must be spiritual born again if we are ever to be changed from our present state of futility and out of focus sin life. Before we are spiritually born again we don’t even understand our true need (1 Corinthians 2:14). We need to be born again, we need to be spiritual born of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3, 5). Another word for this spiritual enlivening experience is regeneration and refers to it in the following way:

Titus 3:3-7 - 3 For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

As you can see this is not something we can work in ourselves, which leads us to the next realization.

Third, realize regeneration is a work of God offered by His grace through faith in His only Son Jesus. The Bible says that salvation is a work of in that He convicts us of our sin and our need of salvation (John 16:8-11). It is God who draws us out of our sin to Himself (John 6:44). And God draws us to Himself by dealing with our sin through faith in Jesus (John 6:29). Here is the beauty of how God resolves our sinful predicament. He has sent Jesus to pay for our sinful debt (because we are unable to pay that debt off on our own). And He has done away with our sin as we put our faith in Jesus and His work (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is why at the end of Paul’s passage in Romans 7 he is inspired to proclaim:

Romans 7:24-25a - 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

It is a glorious thing to turn over the reigns of your life to God. We’ve been slipping and falling and totally off track. We need to get into God’s car and let Him do the driving, which leads us to our final realization.

Fourth, realize you need to repent or turn humbly to God from your sinful self ways and rely fully on God’s gracious provision and strength. We can’t work our way out of the mire of our sin (Psalm 69). It is only by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ that this regeneration can occur (Ephesians 2:4-9). If we turn from our self efforts and self interests to God then we can expect times of refreshing from the Lord (Acts 2:38-39).

It has been said:

Our lives are fields that primarily contain weeds. We cannot produce strawberries. We can mow the weeds, but that effort alone will never produce acceptable fruit. If we really want that fruit we will have to go deeper. We must plow up the whole field and start again with new plants.

We can’t change by resolution. We need the regenerative work of God to change.

But I’ve Done that and I’m Still Failing and Faltering
Sometimes those who have experienced regeneration continue to have difficulties in their lives; why is that? Those who have received God’s gracious gospel provision in Christ need to realize a few things too.

First, realize transformation is only begun at regeneration and is a life long process. The Bible refers to Christians as “being sanctified” (Hebrews 2:11; 10:14). Change is a process that God works in us over time as we live a life of surrender to Him (Romans 12:1-2). Regeneration is when the Holy Spirit comes to indwell a person (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19-20). It is the Holy Spirit that helps us to overcome our weaknesses (Romans 8:26). The work of the Spirit in us is to transform us into the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29). This is God’s purpose for us and should be our goal and target in life.

Second, realize the problem is that many who have been regenerated continue to live to please self rather than to please God. There are what are called carnal Christians who live to please themselves rather than to please God. The Christian who lives to please self will only find discord and disruption in their lives much the same as before they were regenerated (1 Corinthians 3:1-4; James 4:1-6). To overcome this problem the Christian must turn their focus on God and seek to please Him by faith (Hebrews 11:6). Paul explains this well when he is inspired to write:

Romans 8:1-9 - There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.

When we are regenerated through faith in Christ we are called by God to walk no longer after the things of the flesh or to walk in the power of the flesh, but we are called to live in the Spirit (8:1). It is this life in the Spirit that can set us free from our futile fleshly lives (8:2). God does away with the destructive and depressing affects of sin in a person through faith in Christ (8:3-4). This new life of spiritual regeneration is an entirely new way of life and an entirely new way of looking at life (8:5). If we continue to have a fleshly mindset after regeneration we will continue to experience its destructive and depressing ways (8:6). It will hinder our relationship with God (8:7) and prevent us from pleasing God (8:8). In fact that is exactly the issue; in our flesh we seek to please self; in the Spirit we seek to please God. The truth is when we seek to please ourselves no one will be happy. But when we seek to please God everyone benefits. Without the Spirit in your life, you don’t even belong to God (8:9), which leads us to our final realization for the believer.

Third, realize victory comes through abiding in Christ. The closer we come to Jesus the more power we will have over sin in our lives. We are to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14). In other words, get as close to Jesus as possible, as close as your very clothes, and you will have more and more power over the flesh. Drawing close to Jesus is the way of escape from many a problem issue in the life of the Christian (1 Corinthians 10:13). Jesus put it this way:

John 15:4-5, 7-8 - 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. . . 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

We need to “abide” or stick close to Jesus. When we get away from Jesus we shrivel up spiritually like a piece of fruit plucked from a tree. If we stay connected to Jesus, we will grow and become fruitful in Him.

How do we do this? How do we abide in Jesus?

The key is in the words “My disciples.” A disciple is a learner who studies the words of Jesus (verse 7 i.e. the Bible) and surrenders to the Spirit to apply those words to their lives (John 8:31-32, 34-36). Disciples also “ask” (verse 7) or pray because prayer is a declaration of dependence on God and a means of relating verbally with God in Christ. A disciple lastly does all they do to bring glory to God which is the culmination of spiritual fruitfulness (verse 8). The more we seek to bring glory to God the further away from self we move. The further away from self we move and the closer we come to God, the more power to live victoriously in life we will experience.

In his book The Power of the Spirit, William Law, writing in the early 1700s, makes the following statement about the church living in the flesh rather than the Spirit:

A letter learned zeal has but one nature wherever it is, and can only do that for Christians which it did for Jews. As in ancient times it brought forth scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, and crucifiers of Christ; as it afterwards brought forth heresies, schisms, popes, papal decrees, images, and anathemas; so in Protestant churches it will do the same things, only under different names. The empty idolatry of Rome will show itself even without crucifixes and indulgences. Images of wood and clay will only be exchanged for images of doctrines. Grace, works, imputed sin, imputed righteousness, and election will all have their worshipping advocates, dividing the body of Christ in their very zeal to defend their own good opinions about Scripture doctrines. And so great will be the blindness thus generated that every kind of gossip, slander, and hatred will be pursued by brother against brother, all of it done in the name of Him who prayed that we might be one. . . . Our divine Master compares the religion of the learned Pharisees to ‘whited sepulchers, outwardly beautiful, but inwardly full of dead men’s bones.’ How was it that a religion so serious in its restraints, so beautiful in its outward form and practices, and commanding such reverence from all that beheld it, was yet charged by Truth itself with being ‘inwardly full of hypocrisy and iniquity’? It was only for this one reasons: because it was a religion of self. Wherever self has power and keeps up its own interests, even in teaching or defending sound Scripture doctrines, there is that very same Pharisee still alive whom Christ with so much severity of language constantly condemned. The reason for such heavy condemnation is that self is the root and sum total of all sin. Every sin that can be named is centered in it. Self is nothing else but the creature broken off from God: the power of Satan living and working in us the sad continuance of that first turning from God, which was the whole fall of our first parents. (Emphasis added.)

Unfortunately what William Law wrote 300 years ago was not heeded by much of the church and today we have a church that is more carnal and centered on its sarx, than it is filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We cannot afford to allow our flesh to rule us; we need the Spirit to overcome it and empower us to do all that God has wonderfully laid out for us to do. If you are a Christian and have slipped back into the futility of a life lived for self and in the weakness of self, surrender to God anew and He will empower you to victorious Christian living. That would be a great way to start a new year.

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