Happy New Year (Ros' Blog)
Some years ago, I read an article by Miles Kington about New Years’ resolutions. He said he only made ones he knew he could keep. I can’t remember all the examples he gave, but I do recall that one of them was never to speak fluent Norwegian in public (easy, as he didn’t know a single word of Norwegian). I thought this was an excellent idea, and decided to adopt his method myself. This year I have kept all my resolutions – I never lapsed into speaking German at work, I always wore clothes to church and I didn’t swim the English Channel. I’m currently thinking about some impossible-to-break resolutions for the coming year!
The thing that makes the Gospel message unique among all the world’s religions is that it doesn’t involve keeping certain resolutions or observing certain standards of behaviour in order to achieve salvation. You can break every one of your resolutions, and never pick up your Bible, and God will still love you just as much and be just as committed to your salvation. That’s why it’s good news. In fact, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the great preacher of the early twentieth century, once said, “If your preaching of the gospel of God's free grace in Jesus Christ does not provoke the charge from some of antinomianism (complete lawlessness), you're not preaching the gospel of the free grace of God in Jesus Christ.” He went on to say that Paul was exposed to the charge of lawlessness or antinomianism, and that to be so accused is a good test of evangelical preaching.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones wasn’t advocating that we should be able to behave as we like unchecked – he quotes Paul in Romans 6 to counter that idea: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! We who have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” But what he was saying was that our salvation does not depend on us – on our achieving certain standards of goodness. Our salvation is achieved by Jesus, independently of anything we have ever done or ever could do, and so nothing we do can make us any less or more saved.
I wonder if disabled people struggle with this concept more than others? After all, in every other walk of life they seem to have to go beyond what others have to do, just to prove that they are equally capable. For example, one study found that disabled employees are more loyal, harder working, take less sick leave and are up to 110% more productive than their able bodied colleagues; yet in the same year, a study by Civil Service unions found that disabled staff members are much less likely to be given pay rises for good performance than their non-disabled colleagues.
It’s good to be reminded that this kind of inequality, and the need to out-perform non-disabled people, does not extend to our relationship with God. Each of us stands helpless and incapable of influencing our own salvation by anything we do. All we can do is appeal to God for mercy, and rest in the knowledge that Jesus promised never to cast out anyone who turned to Him. No matter how many resolutions we fail to keep, the grace of God is great enough to redeem all our shortcomings. What changes our behaviour and transforms us into the likeness of Christ is not our efforts but His Spirit at work within us.
So, make New Years’ resolutions if it helps you to focus on changes you want to make in the coming year, but don’t set them impossibly high, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t keep them, and don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your relationship with God is dependent on your behaviour or performance.
In the meantime, I think my resolutions for 2016 will be to avoid auditioning for The X Factor, not to set fire to the Through the Roof offices and not to train for the 2016 Olympics. I’m pretty sure I should be able to keep those ones.