By Richard Niell Donovan
Tomorrow is New Year’s Day, and New Year’s resolutions come to mind. Some time ago, Money magazine told about Richard Osgood, who has faithfully kept a New Year’s resolution that he made in 1936. Osgood resolved not to spend any pennies but to save them. Each time he purchased anything, he ended up with more pennies in his pocket. At the end of the day, he put them in a jar. When he had a hundred pennies, he opened a savings account. As soon as he was able, he bought stocks. Today, he has $33,057.11, directly traceable to his penny savings. He believes that he might be the only person in history to keep a New Year’s resolution for sixty years.
I haven’t kept any New Year’s resolutions faithfully for sixty years—have you? Not many people have. I read about one woman who said, “I’ve kept every one of my New Year’s resolutions. I keep them in a manila folder.” Earl Wilson, the newspaper columnist, says that most New Year’s hangovers last longer than most New Year’s resolutions.
But certainly, the coming of the New Year causes us to reflect on what we would like new in our lives. What would you like to change in your life?
In our scripture text, Paul is talking to Christians who need to make changes in their lives. Some of the Colossian Christians had not changed their lives very much when they became Christians. Paul reminds them that, because they have been raised with Christ, they should:
“Set your mind on the things that are above,
not on the things that are on the earth.
For you died,
and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:2-3).
Paul makes the same argument in his letter to the Romans. In that letter, he had been talking about the grace of God. He had been telling the Roman Christians that their salvation did not depend on their works, but on God’s grace. But then it occurred to him that someone might say, “If God forgives all our sins, why worry! Let’s do whatever we want! The bill has already been paid!” Paul anticipates that and says:
“What shall we say then?
Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
May it never be!
We who died to sin, how could we live in it any longer?
Or don’t you know that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus
were baptized into his death?
We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death,
that just like Christ was raised from the dead
through the glory of the Father,
so we also might walk in newness of life.
For if we have become united with him
in the likeness of his death,
we will also be part of his resurrection;
knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him,
that the body of sin might be done away with,
so that we would no longer be in bondage to sin” (Romans 6:1-6).
In other words, when we became Christians, we became new people—Christ’s people. And so he says to the Colossians—and to the Romans—and to us—that we should live as the new people whom we are. And so he says:
Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: And then he makes two lists of things that we should get rid of—things that are not in keeping with our life in Christ.
The first list is:
• sexual immorality
• depraved passion
• evil desire
• and covetousness, which is idolatry (3:5)
This first list has to do with the passions of our hearts. It deals with tender things—sex, money, feelings.
The second list is different. In it, Paul tells us to avoid:
• and shameful speaking out of your mouth (3:8).
Just think of what a wonderful world this would be if we could get rid of anger, wrath, malice, slander and shameful speech. Just think what wonderful places churches would be if we could get rid of anger, wrath, malice, slander and shameful speech. Paul tells us that we need to do so, because those things are not in keeping with who we are as Christians.
When Paul tells us to get rid of these things, he uses the word that people used to describe taking off one’s clothing. That would have set up powerful imagery to the early Christians.
Those of you who have travelled in Italy may remember very early churches that had a separate baptistery building. These were often large buildings with a large baptismal pool. Baptismal candidates went into the dimly-lighted baptistery building and removed their clothing. Men and women were baptized separately, and were baptized naked.
After baptism, they were clothed in white robes, anointed with perfume, and taken from the dimly lighted baptistery into a brightly lighted sanctuary, where they took communion for the first time. This would be the first time that they had ever seen communion, because those who had not been baptized were always dismissed from the worship service before communion was served.
All this pageantry was intended to dramatize the “new birth” of the Christian, who had “taken off” the old life and had “put on” the new. We have become new people in Christ.
And so Paul wrote to the Colossians, telling them to put aside those things that characterized their old life and to put on that which characterized their new life. He said:
“Put on therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
a heart of compassion, kindness,
lowliness, humility, and perseverance;
bearing with one another, and forgiving each other….
Above all these things, walk in love,
which is the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts (3:12-15).
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could do all that! But we cannot do it. There is not a person in this congregation who has the power within themselves to get rid of all the bad in their lives and to adopt all the good.
But it is possible. I saw a phrase once that I believe holds the answer to every problem. The phrase is:
“Let go, and let God.”
“Let go and let God.” Of course, that is harder to do than it sounds. We love to hold on to the debris of our lives. But God can do wonderful things for us when we begin to let go of the debris and trust him for our salvation.
Sam Shoemaker, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, put it this way:
“Make an act of self-surrender.…
Gather up your sins and needs, put them together,
bring them to Christ for forgiveness and help.…
What is important is that you let go,
let go of your sins and your fears and your inhibitions.”
Today, there are millions of men and women, mostly alcoholics, some in this congregation, who have had their lives absolutely transformed by following Shoemaker’s advice.
Some time ago, I saw a story about Lindsay Clegg, a businessman who had been involved in the sale of an old warehouse. The building had stood empty for months. Vandals had smashed windows and trashed the building.
As he showed the building to a prospective buyer, Clegg promised that the owner would repair the damage. But the buyer said, “Forget about the repairs. When I buy this place, I’m going to build something completely different. I don’t want the building; I want the site.”
And so it is with God. He offers to take us just as we are. He doesn’t care whether we are beautiful. He doesn’t care if we are rich. He doesn’t care if we are smart. He doesn’t care if we are powerful. He cares only that we will “let go and let God.” He doesn’t want the building. He only wants the site.
Today, as we close out the old year and bring in the new, how would you like the new year to be different? If you would like it truly to be different, “let go and let God!” Surrender to him your life, your behavior and your goals—and let him raise up a new life on the site of the old.
My prayer for each of you is that the coming new year will be a truly blessed year. May God bless you all.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2006 Richard Niell Donovan