When I was about eleven years old my mother enrolled me in swimming lessons. Never a confident preteen, I really didn’t enjoy those lessons – but the worst one was the last one. I was told to come dressed in pants and a sweatshirt over my bathing suit. We didn’t know why, but my mother correctly guessed we would have to swim in our clothes, and she reasoned that it would be easier to swim in something which wasn’t loose and baggy. She therefore dressed me in a skin-tight pair of last year’s jeans and my little sister’s sweatshirt. I could barely get it on over my head. What my mother and I hadn’t counted on was that I would have to get these clothes back off my body, sopping wet, while treading water. I was, predictably, the last student left in the pool, tears streaming down my face, while an unsympathetic life guard yelled at me to “hurry up and get those things off.” As a consequence, I learned that while it’s easy to peel off clothes you haven’t grown into, once they become a form-fitting second skin, it’s almost impossible. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4:22-24)
It’s that time of year when many of us start thinking about changing our ways. Some may say that it is superstitious, legalistic or even futile to make New Year’s resolutions. However, God seems to think we should be actively engaged in a process of change, and it makes a lot more sense to permanently develop the fruits of the Spirit with God’s help than it does to temporarily battle those ten extra pounds in your own strength. In fact, the New Year seems like a wonderfully symbolic time for spiritual change, since it involves the end of something old and the beginning of something new. Jesus told us that when we sweep away the evil from our lives, we must occupy that space for Christ or risk new problems (Matt. 12:43-45). And God has given us some helpful suggestions for what these changes might look like:
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator… Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Col. 3:5-14
Put off and put on. Good advice from Scripture. And do it now, before those old habits become a form-fitting second skin which drowns you in your own tears. What will you put off this year? Gossip? Pornography? Grudge-holding? What would it take to replace those things with kindness, purity or forgiveness?
In the Comments section below I’d love to hear any practical ideas you might have for putting off and putting on. Here’s to a happy and more holy New Year!
3 New Year’s Resolutions for Christians (from The Huffington Post)
4 Christian Principles for Making New Year’s Resolutions (from Ligonier Ministries)