New birth for a new year
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
This statement by Solomon includes the New Year season with its promise of a fresh start. There is an underlying sense as the calendar is reset to Jan. 1 that we have been given a clean slate.
It is the time of year when the dial has been reset to zero, and we allow ourselves to entertain the very real possibility of transforming those areas of our lives that we sense are in disrepair.
For some, it will mean conquering goals of physical transformation through exercise and eating right. For others, it will mean overcoming goals of mental transformation through the challenges of school and academia.
For still others, the new year brings the tangible sense of hope in rebuilding and renewing strained relationships or faltering careers.
It is a wonderful time of year.
Transformation is something that is both exciting and fascinating as we watch it in the world around us. We see the mystery of it in nature when an ugly, worm-like caterpillar enters into its cocoon to be transformed into a beautiful, awe-inspiring butterfly that is no longer bound to the earth. We see the wonder of it in the human anatomy of a mother as her body is transformed by the baby that grows within; eventually emerging into the world bringing great joy.
In the same way, spiritual transformation is no less exciting or fascinating to behold.
In the Gospel of John, a man named Nicodemus, who was associated with the resistant religious group known as the Pharisees, came to meet with the Lord privately one night.
During their conversation, the Lord said very lovingly yet very boldly to him, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus was clearly confused by this statement and said so. Jesus responded further by clarifying that, “Unless one is born of water and the spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
What Jesus was declaring to the Pharisee was simply that spiritual transformation is essential to anyone who would desire to enter the kingdom of God and taste eternal life.
Furthermore, he pointed out to Nicodemus that it is not through human effort but only through the work of the Holy Spirit that new birth is possible.
In fact, the Bible teaches that it is impossible for human effort to produce spiritual transformation because our lives have been fatally corrupted by sin. This in turn has a way of tainting even our best efforts at transformation.
Martin Luther illustrated this principle by saying, “All of our good works are like snow covered dung.”
Living in rural Iowa during the winter season, this is an image that we can relate to. It is like walking out into the barnyard on a crisp, cool morning after a fresh snowfall has covered the ground. All looks well until one begins the journey across the feedlot and discovers something else lying just beneath the snow.
This is how Luther described the human effort at spiritual transformation — crisp and clean on the outside, dirty and dungy on the inside.
Since Jesus stated that new birth was essential to entering the kingdom of God, and yet our efforts at it are insufficient, mankind finds itself in desperate need for a mediator to resolve the conflict. Therefore, God has intervened to fix this problem through Jesus Christ, who alone is able to bring us new birth.
Through him, this profound declaration is made: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, the new things have come.”
The answer to mankind’s conflict comes through the work of the Holy Spirit, bringing about faith in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, causing all who would believe in him to find spiritual transformation resulting in eternal life in the kingdom of God. What a great proposition for a new season of life.
As the New Year season is upon us, with all of its anticipation for fresh starts and renewed efforts at transformation, my humble prayer for the residents of Greene County is that you will find rest from your efforts at spiritual transformation through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
Heavenly Father, we look to you and the work of your son, Jesus Christ, for the change that you said is necessary for eternal life.
Our hope and faith rests in you completely.
Lord, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
A Jefferson native, Chad Cummings is pastor at Gospel Open Bible Church on South Grimmell Road.