During my marriage, my wife has tried a lot of challenging things, and she usually succeeds as them. On occasion, though, after completing a particular task, she asks me to remind her never to try it again! I had to do this once, when we needed curtains for a specific window. Remembering the countless iterations of ironing and fiddling with some nice curtains she had made in the past, I warned her that this was one of those times. So, we bought some stylish, pre-made curtains, which I was able to install, and everyone was happy.
Another time, my wife re-finished some wooden chairs. This was a tedious process. The old finish had to be be stripped off, gaps needed to be filled in, and loose joints were secured. In this case, she even had to replace entire spindles in some of the chairs’ backs, before applying a fresh coat of stain. The refinished chairs have served us well for many years, but if this opportunity presents itself again, I have strict instructions to prevent her from going through it a second time.
Like a window whose curtains are worn, torn, or missing, our lives – left to ourselves – need a new look. Like chairs with scratched, faded, and oddly-colored varnish, we need something more than just another coat of paint – we need a completely fresh start. Knowing that we needed more than just a touch up or minor course correction, Jesus Christ offers us the radical change that is necessary for getting out of our deteriorated lives of sin.
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT
For those who remember the pointlessness, frustration, and hopelessness of living a life opposed to God’s good goals, we can rejoice in becoming brand-new. However, as we become a new creation, the same things will likely need to occur in our lives as those required to make an old piece of furniture like new again:
- Old “paint” (bad habits, evil thoughts, destructive beliefs) may need to be stripped away. Like harsh chemicals that remove varnish, this might require some aggressive treatment. Jesus didn’t mince words when He prioritized righteousness over other things in Matthew 18:8-9.
- Gaps may need to be filled in. Whether this is filling up on God’s Word, to better understand Him and His expectations of us, or building relationships and community with others who will help us grow, this doesn’t happen automatically. Becoming better doesn’t just mean emptying out junk; it also requires replacing it with something worthwhile. After all, just taking the old finish off of something isn’t going to give the same protection as covering the surface with primer and paint.
- Some habits may need to be tightened up. This sometimes goes by the intimidating term, “spiritual disciplines”, but when you consider that this just means establishing good practices to help us grow spiritually, it sounds more attainable. I remember reading Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster, some years ago. This is a great book on spiritual discipline, but upon finishing it up, I felt like it was calling me to some unattainable – even monastic – level of devotion. Shortly thereafter, though, I also read The Life You’ve Always Wanted, by John Ortberg. This second book also offers help on cultivating spiritual disciplines, but with a tone that says, “Hey, this is a challenge; let’s figure it out together” (see footnote, below).
- Entire pieces of our lives may need to be replaced. Sometimes, we just need to get rid of things (see Colossians 3:8-9 and Ezekiel 20:7, for instance). Breaking a favorite attachment to something unhealthy or unproductive can be a challenge, but like peeling off outdated wallpaper, it paves the way to put in something better. (Having said that, God has often pre-equipped us with good skills, opportunities, and resources to use in our walk with Him.)
So, unlike the onerous tasks that I must remind my wife to avoid in the future, this transformation is one that is worthy of pursuing every day. Jesus makes us new, and our role is to just live out what He made us to be.
(With regards to the two books about Spiritual Discipline, I’ve linked to both books on Amazon, but don’t get any commission or anything like that. Whether you can afford to buy them, or just check them out from a library, I encourage you to read both.)