As the Christmas season comes and goes, the prospect of a new year stands before us yet again. For some, you’ve seen the calendar turn but a few years in your short life. For others, you have had fifty years of New Year’s Eve memories. But no matter who you are, the likelihood you recognize the above song traditionally sung on December 31st remains high. The song’s name is Auld Lang Syne, an old Scottish jingle which, translated into modern English, means “for old time’s sake.”
The song starts with the probing question, “should long standing friendships be forgotten and never brought back to our mind?” It’s as if the songwriter just woke up from a nightmare where we had let years slip away through ignoring long standing friendships. He had become so busy living his life that he had let what was good, true, and beautiful pass through his fingers. Little doubt, the song’s popularity on New Year’s Eve has something to do with a call to remember what we have forgotten. In its essence, the song captures the spirit of the New Year’s holiday: a call to remember things we have long since forgotten, a call to live differently, a call to transformation. Hence why the song pairs with the most popular New Year’s Eve tradition: the resolution.
“.…what does the tradition of making resolutions say about us as human beings?”
What a curious thought. Have you ever wondered why New Years is the time for resolutions? Or better yet, what does the tradition of making resolutions say about us as human beings? As Christians who live in a culture which continually preaches, “be true to yourself,” (as if that kind of lifestyle will make us complete) New Year’s Eve acts like the annoying child in the back of the car asking, “Are we there yet?” It comes to us every year as an incessant reminder that we are never the people we should be. But isn’t that odd? No matter who you are, everyone has a picture of a person they should be.
What explanation is there for this feeling that all of us feel? This is where Christianity uniquely has an answer. The reason we all feel like we need change is because we all really do need to change. But herein lies the difference – our culture believes this deep change can take place at a Planet Fitness or at the YMCA. Or maybe it can be found by attending church more or being nicer this year. The only problem? New Year’s will come again next year, and the slightly more buff/nice/religious you will have that same feeling you can’t escape. It’s like taking a shower to clean yourself, only to realize the dirt is not on top of your skin but underneath it.
But that’s where the Gospel offers us hope. As Paul writes to the Galatians, he uses this interesting metaphor most of us grew up hearing: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:16).
Here’s what Paul’s getting at: when a person repents from their sin and trusts in Christ’s life and death as a substitute for her own, not only is their sin forgiven, but a deep and real change begins. Why? Because God the Holy Spirit now resides in the heart of that person. Paul pictures us as a tree whose roots have been swapped out. We once had evil roots that produced the fruit of evil, destruction, and brokenness. That is some stinky-nasty fruit. We were enemies of God, blind from the fact that we hated him and desperately trying to convince ourselves that we were truly decent people by comparing ourselves to others. Now, the Holy Spirit acts as our new roots. He cleanses our heart and conscience, freeing us from the guilt of our terrible deeds in the past. We also begin to slowly hating the sin we once cherished, exercising patience and kindness where anger once raged, becoming self-controlled where laziness once laid.
This is why Paul can speak of the Holy Spirit as giving off fruit in our lives. He doesn’t imagine you making yourself some better version of you through self-discipline. That’s just New Year’s Eve all over again. Instead, he imagines the old you being put to death while He acts through you to bring about change at the deepest level – in your heart. In short, the Holy Spirit gives you the power to change, a power you did not have before you came to know Christ.
Now does that mean you sit back and do nothing while he changes you? No way! This is where God actually invites you into the work he is doing. This change comes through personal meditation on the Word of God, through prayer, and through patiently loving your still-sinful-but-changing brothers and sisters in Christ at your local church. This is a process that God starts in us now, but he won’t finish until we see him face-to-face.
So what should you do this year as the clock counts down and the ball drops? Feel free to make your resolutions. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be more fit or eat healthier. However, keep this in mind: if you are in Christ, 1) the deepest change you need has already begun, 2) this change is not because of your own goodness, but is a gift from the God who dwells in you, and, 3) there will be a day when the countdown of Christ’s return will hit zero, and you will finally and forever be the person you should be, as God the Father will finally glorify us with Christ.