Today is Chinese New Year. And just like the Western New Year, it’s a time to begin the year anew by leaving behind our failures or disappointments from last year and starting the new year afresh. I’m not sure if Chinese make New Year’s resolutions or not, but I’m sure some do. Regardless, for any of us, some of us might make noble resolutions for the new year to eat healthier, exercise more, socialize more, or perhaps be more organized and efficient. Sooner or later, those resolutions fall on hard times, and we can choose either to give up or recommit ourselves to our goals.
For me, this struggle with committing to resolutions directly applies to my spiritual life. It’s the classic battle between the old man and new man. And it’s a painful, bloody one at times. I am saved. I am a new creature. Christ has redeemed me and given me new life. Yet I still sin and sometimes even intentionally rebel against His Word. How is this possible? Why does the struggle continue?
Let’s be honest. The old man is a tough opponent. He seems to offer much. And this world has many attractions and pleasures. We wouldn’t sin if the act weren’t pleasurable. There’s always that momentary pleasure that comes after a sinful act. But I’ve found, for myself, my flesh (the old man) is never satisfied. It cannot be satiated. If I’m not careful, one act can lead to a series of progressively worse choices, and soon I’m stuck in this dizzying whirlpool that sucks me further into its depths. There seems to be no way out.
Thankfully, since I have been saved, I have hope. I have become a new man in Christ. And even when I feel exhausted, bloodied, and helpless, the Spirit helps me continue to fight. I may not always win a battle, but the war has already been won, which should give me hope. And it is encouraging to win even a small battle against the old man, those worldly desires that blatantly oppose God’s will.
But the war rages on. And sometimes I wonder whether it’s my flesh or Satan who tempts me, searching for my vulnerabilities and exposing my weaknesses. At the beginning of the year, my pastor gave a stirring sermon on spiritual warfare and Satan’s desire for Christians to fall away from God or even leave the faith.
I know there’s this unseen spiritual battle that rages on in this world, but I think I forget how great a battle it is. Satan and his followers have already lost, but that doesn’t mean he has given up. The more Christians he can cause to discredit their faith and their God, the better. The more people he can enslave to the desires of this world, the better. He may have lost the war, but he’s going to drag down with him as many people as he can. And he’s pretty good at it.
When I think of struggles I’ve had in the past, it’s never begun with some blatant sin. It’s always been wrong thinking or ideas that have percolated in my head. After they have festered there, those thoughts begin to affect my speech and my actions. And if I give into them, I find myself in a place where I never imagined I’d be. And it all began with wrong thinking in my mind.
Satan and my worldly desires are powerful, but I have my own weapons too. I just don’t use them enough – the Word and prayer. Jesus used the Word to combat Satan during his trial in the wilderness, and I must do the same. Of course, it helps to be immersed in the Word so that I can effectively fight him. And prayer isn’t always easy, but it’s vital. I have the pleasure of speaking to the omnipotent Creator who for some mind-boggling reason desires to have a relationship with me. Yet my prayers are often repetitious, rote words, devoid of passion and love for the great God who created me and holds the world in his hand.
So if I am truly a Christian and have the new man, why the struggle? It’s because I’m a sinner saved by grace. The old man and those worldly desires will never be gone until I die. Lord willing, they will have less of a pull on me and be less attractive over time, but they’ll always be there. Through meditation on the Word and intentional prayer, I can begin to win more battles. But it’s not going to be easy.
Thankfully I have someone on my side who lived as us, never sinned, and defeated death. Jesus has already defeated Satan by rising up from the grave, proving his right to be Lord over all. And after returning to heaven, he gave all believers the Holy Spirit. With such power on my side, how can I ever despair?
I generally don’t make many resolutions. But by God’s grace, I resolve this year to pick up my bloodied, battered new man and ward off the old man and his worldly desires. I don’t expect I’ll win every fight. In fact, I know I won’t. But I hope to have more wins than losses. It’s time to fight again.