As has been my habit for the last several years, I’m starting the new year with a yearlong theme: new life. Maybe the past two years have prompted me to think in that direction. In 2020, with the COVID pandemic throwing every aspect of our lives into chaos, many of us often found ourselves longing for things to “get back to normal.” However, 2021 threw us for another loop; while there were many areas of our lives where things seemed more like they used to be, life really hasn’t been the same.
That’s the trouble with nostalgia; it often paints the past with a brighter brush than is factual. When we appeal to the past, we most often cherry pick the parts that we liked and perhaps even polish those parts that were less than brilliant. The factual reality that nostalgia often covers up is that life has never really been the way we think it was “back then,” no matter how far back you want to go; life is always changing. So we accept the challenge to make life what we want it to be, at the very least to address the concerns, problems, challenges of everyday life – whether that’s today’s needs, yesterday’s bills, or next week’s uncertainty – and survive.
While we might be satisfied just to survive from one moment to the next, simply because some days that’s not always certain, Jesus offers more. Jesus told his followers: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10, NIV 1984). In that passage, Jesus said that there is a thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Our enemy Satan has stolen the life that God intended for us to have, and now we live as slaves to sin. Jesus offers a full life, an abundant life, ultimately, a new life. Jesus offers to replace what was stolen with something new, something better.
Paul tells us that this new life with Jesus starts when we die to the old life. He writes in Romans 6:4: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (NIV 1984). Jesus died to forgive our sins and rose again to offer new life, and if we trust him and join with him, by God’s grace we can live that new life. This is the Good News of the Gospel: new life out of death.
Throughout Romans 6, Paul tells us about different aspects of this new life. In verses 1-3, he describes dying to sin, no longer living in it. In verse 5, he says that we will experience Jesus’ resurrection. Verse 6 describes how the old self dies, making way for the new self. Verse 7 goes on to tell us this is about being freed from slavery to sin. The new life we find in Jesus comes with a new mind, a new identity, a new way of living, a new way of using our bodies.
With all this newness, it’s no wonder so many of us continue to struggle even after we put our faith in Jesus. I don’t know what it was like for you, but when I came up out of the water in my baptism, I had at least some expectation that things would be dramatically different – I even thought life might be easier. Maybe that’s just an indicator of a 12-year-old’s mind, but even today, I sometimes find myself struggling to live my life as if it were new.
I mean, what do you do with a brand new life? Forgive me for having Christmas on the brain, but it’s like opening a gift and being dazzled by some shiny gadget that can do everything. It’s a good thing that this new life comes with an instruction manual and a users group: the Bible and the Church. This is why it’s so important for us to get into the Bible, the Word of God, to read it, study it, think on it, to internalize it. This is why it’s so important for us to grow into and within the church, the body of Christ, brothers and sisters who are also struggling to live this new life.
So hang on for 2022! Life is going to happen all around us, whether we’re ready or not, but we’re going to spend some time focusing on this new life that God offers through Jesus. As we grow in our faith and knowledge, we can live it abundantly and confidently so we can share it with others. Happy New Year!