David Westerfield

Theology, Culture, Technology, Reviews, and Other Commentary

New Year’s Resolutions Are About Law, Not Gospel

I heard a sermon (MP3 here) recently by one of my best-friend’s, Jon Dansby, given at his new church home, Austin Stone Community Church. It was timed for the new year when many are looking to make changes in their lives of various kinds and to different degrees. The scripture Jon preached on was Galatians 6:7-9. Ryan McCarthy, College Minister at Christ Chapel Bible Church, also reiterated many of the same points (with Jon’s permission of course) in a talk he gave to the college group last night. They both made some great, practical points (their points) I wanted to share.

First of all the text, Galatians 6:7-9 (ESV):

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

So very simply, you reap what you sow. If you sow to the flesh you will reap corruption. However, if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life.

This is Jon’s definition of sowing to the flesh: “My desire to run my life according to my will, not God’s.”

In order to identify specific ways we sow to the flesh, it is important to identify the means by which it happens:

  • Blatant sinning.
  • Doing nothing.
  • Doing good.

Doing good? Yes, doing good. This may sound very odd coming from a Christian, to those who may not believe in Christ. We’ll get to this later.

To the first point, in blatantly sinning, we are very obviously sowing to the flesh and will reap visible, obvious consequences. This is probably the most obvious to people. If you gossip behind people’s backs, you are using your tongue to murder essentially (from the heart, see Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5) and will destroy those in your life, including friends and family. If you sleep around, there are very obvious consequences to that as well; emotional, physical, relational, spiritual, possibly financial consequences. If you defraud others by lying about business prospects or setting up ponzi schemes, you will destroy people with whom you are associated in business deals, intentionally, for the benefit of only yourself or you and your cronies (love that word). In sowing to the flesh by blatantly sinning, you are attempting to very obviously deceive God, calling right wrong, and wrong right.

Now the next level that ups the complexity of how our hearts deceive us and another way in which we sow to the flesh is by doing nothing. Many times we perceive that if we sit idle in our faith, we are going nowhere. However, it is clear upon inspecting scripture that in doing nothing, you are actually allowing the weeds to take root around you. And if you allow this to happen for a length of time, the weeds will choke out anything that was fruitful. So if you do nothing in your faith, you are sowing to the flesh and will reap corruption and death. In this form of sowing, you are attempting to specifically deceive yourself (and more subtly, but upon inspection, obviously God of course).

The final way of sowing to the flesh comes in the form of doing good things. And how odd this must sound to unbelievers who typically view Christianity through the lens of those “do-gooders, more holy than everyone else, telling everyone else what they should and shouldn’t be doing, while hypocritically failing in different areas.”  Now obviously doing something that benefits another person or society at large, regardless of the motive, is “good” (positive) on a human level. But what does it look like in relation to the spiritual, and more importantly, how does God Himself see it? The Lord looks into the heart, remember. We sow to the flesh in doing good by doing it first and foremost for our own benefit, not others. We do the good thing our way, not God’s. We do it for a self-confirmation of our own supposed righteousness that we can then use as evidence to attempt to put God in our debt. This form of sowing to the flesh is an attempt to deceive others, yourself and God, all wrapped into one (although all the others are as well really). The prime example of this in scripture were the Pharisees. But we see it far too often in Church community life as well. And we see it a lot in the church’s dealings with unbelievers and society at large in making our overarching cry primarily against the evils in society instead of our primary cry being the Gospel and God’s grace to sinners.

Now that we have identified ways we sow to the flesh, the next question  is how do we sow to the Spirit? Here’s a list:

  • Scripture reading: Take scripture in daily, meditate on it, memorize it, study it. Don’t let your Bible (or iPhone as it were, Bible app) collect dust. Get in the Word. Do a read-the-Bible-in-a-year plan. Or if you’re not reading right now, just read five minutes a day. Understand that it is God’s infallible, inerrant, living, breathing Word that when combined with the omnipotent power of the Spirit, penetrates to the heart, breaks up the fallow, hard ground, and sows seeds to the Spirit that produce life in us and then works its way out to those around us.
  • Prayer: commune with God. Confess your sins. Turn from them. Hold them up to the light and scrutiny of Scripture and receive the free forgiveness and grace for those sins in the blood of Christ. In doing so, you break the power of sin, not you so much, but the Spirit. Speak to the Lord, let Him know of your trials, your temptations. Pray for strength, not your own, but His. Get real with Him! And the peace that passes all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ. You sow to the Spirit in prayer.
  • Fellowship (accountability, encouragement): this is not just having a potluck dinner and talking sports, technology, or the weather with other believers (though of course those things are fun [relatively speaking of course]). This is getting in each others lives, confessing sin to each other, acknowledging shortfalls, and at the same time encouraging one another in the Word, with the Word. This is rejoicing together in Christ, and also mourning together in trials.
  • Battle plan. Go into your day with a battle plan, for we who are in Christ are waging war against the flesh. Understand that Satan wants to take you down and away from Christ, assisting you in sowing to the flesh. In each moment of life we make decisions, big and small. We sow to the Spirit in holding up those decisions to Christ and making them in light of Him and His work on the cross. God have mercy on me.

What do I mean by New Years’ resolutions being about law and not gospel though? I want to make clear that it is a good thing to have goals, especially one’s that are attainable. So it’s good to have New Years’ goals maybe. When you make a resolution though, you’re committing to do something you weren’t doing before. When we’re talking physique goals, or course you have to get up and do the work. But in the realm of spiritual things, these resolutions most likely mean you are relying on your own power, strength, will, and resolve to attain whatever it is you have set out to do. You must rely on self to attain a resolution. This doesn’t translate into the spiritual realm. And if you fail, you beat yourself up, which is just another form of self-righteousness and self-focus, all related to changing your life by adhering to certain self-imposed or even God-imposed rules and looking inward for the resources to attain that change. This is the very essence of humanistic religion as opposed to the Gospel which is God’s grace to sinners.

The Gospel comes in though, in our new year goal setting, and speaks a wonderful word over us. The first part is tough though yet ends in rejoicing. It says, that though you have failed, miserably (if you’re honest with yourself), in the way that counts for eternity (eternal condemnation by God), Christ came in human form and took the punishment and eternal consequence for that failure on the cross and died for our sins. He rose again conquering sin, death and hell. He lived a perfect life in our place, died a perfect sacrificial death for our sins, satisfying the Father’s wrath toward our sins, and rose in perfect power from the grave. He now sits at the right hand of the Father where He intercedes for us. The Gospel is about God, perfect and holy, justifying sinners through Christ! Christ intercedes for sinners! If you have trusted Christ, the Father sees you as He sees His own Son, perfect righteousness is credited to your account and no more condemnation awaits. Speaking these truths to your heart breaks the power of sin and enables you to sow seeds to the Spirit that produce eternal life and glory to God.

So this new year, set goals that are attainable in light of the list above and focus primarily on sowing to the Spirit and He will produce the change in you that you desire. We’re not talking the superficial kind of change like losing weight, eating right, being more productive (though those are good things of course that are positive). But rather, in sowing to the Spirit, He will produce the kind of change that matters and lasts for eternity and brings God the glory for His grace to us sinners.

“He breaks the power of canceled sin, He sets the prisoner free; His blood can make the foulest clean, His blood availed for me!” – Charles Wesley, O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing

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