My siblings and I are big fans of the TV show MASH. One of my favorite bits is from the “Bug Out” episode in which Radar, the company clerk, brings Col. Potter his lunch, a cold Spam sandwich, which Potter rejects, ordering Radar to tell the mess sergeant to get the kitchen back together. When Radar returns a few minutes later, Potter says, “Seems to me I’ve seen that Spam before.” “But it’s warm now,” says Radar. “Got the stove set up?” Potter asks. “I kept it under my arm,” says Radar. “Pass.”
Sometimes “new” really isn’t different; sometimes it’s the same old thing rewarmed, rearranged, or refurbished. As much as I like finding good deals on new gadgets, I really have to watch for the fine print that identifies the product as refurbished. New-to-me used objects might be good bargains at some level, but not when they’re somebody’s old junk cleaned up for a quick sale.
Unfortunately, it’s far too easy for us to do the same with our spiritual lives. While we talk about the new life we desire to have through our faith in Jesus, sometimes we find ourselves tucking our cold, dead sinful lives under our arms to warm them up a bit or cleaning off enough grimy residue of sin that we look just a bit more shiny, hoping nobody looks too closely. Sometimes folks who put their faith in Jesus experience a dramatic change – new vocabulary, new habits and activities – but are not willing or able to sustain the change for long, at least not on their own. Other folks get stuck in the transition, somewhere between the old life and the new life, and find themselves wavering back and forth between the way they “used” to be and they way the want to be and ought to be, again, struggling on their own.
Sometimes it’s an intentional cover-up, like with the false teachers we’ve been watching through our studies in 1 Timothy and Galatians. Paul describes such people as “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). However, sometimes it’s just a matter of the on-going struggle that many face, probably most of us. It’s the struggle Paul describes about himself when he writes, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15).
Even though we might find some comfort in knowing that even Paul struggled with this problem, we can’t settle for the same-old thing when we know that God has done so much more to make us new through Jesus. It’s one thing to be honest about our past, but Paul reminds us that we really have been changed, writing in 1 Corinthians 6:11, “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
That’s a great part of the Good News we have to offer in the Gospel, that even though we’re all sinners with a past, we also have a new present, a new future, a whole new life. If we forget that aspect of the Gospel and its effects in our lives, then we don’t have much of an answer when people ask us, “What’s new?” If all we have is a new schedule for Sunday mornings, a new vocabulary for when we hit our thumb with a hammer, or new habits for dealing with life when it throws us yet another curve ball, then it’s not really a new life, just a new cover on the same-old life – warmed up, polished up, mostly made up – and most people are just going to pass on it.
What we need to do, then, is let God truly transform us and then live like it so that others can see what’s new without having to ask. Then, when they do ask, we need to tell them what we found, as Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”