Monday 4 January 2016

Free to Change

I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:17-18

So far as we can tell, people have habitually marked the beginning of new years. And the resolve at such times to ‘do better’ goes back at least to ancient Babylon. Something about the turn of the calendar carries with it a pervasive and powerful desire for a fresh start, a clean slate.

Approximately 50% of us make resolutions each New Year, most of them to do with becoming healthier, managing money, and improving ourselves – all of which are significant. And yet, research confirms what we already suspect – perhaps from personal experience – that the majority of us will abandon our resolves by mid-January, with many of us not making it beyond the first week.

Still, the making of resolutions at least implies a felt-need for transformation of some kind – a need that Christians of all people should understand. That need, and our failure to meet it, is addressed supremely in the gospel, which declares that the heart of the Christian faith is not mere potential for self-improvement, still less the need to secure ‘salvation’ through following a certain ‘code’, but freedom – leaving us free from the pressure of having to do things to gain favour with God, free from trying to prove ourselves to others, free to submit to Christ, free to change and be changed.

The gospel not only explains the need for change, but also provides the power to bring it about, a power which comes from the finished work of Christ on the cross, from who God is and what he has done, with the Spirit as the agent of transformation in our lives.

It would be tempting to imagine such change could only happen in special moments of focused, determined effort, or when we’re able to lay aside cares, with plenty of time at our disposal. Like most of us, those to whom Paul wrote had no such luxury. Transformation happens not by withdrawing from everyday life but by walking in step with the Spirit in everyday life – at work, at home and elsewhere. The freedom we enjoy as Christians allows change not just in the fresh resolves we sometimes make at this time of year, but in the consistent, everyday habits and actions bound up with our lifelong process of transformation into the likeness of Christ through the ongoing work of the Spirit.

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