Summary: Those who know the grace of God in salvation must make it their aim to please the Lord.
Imagine I have in my hand an Xbox cartridge. Would that be a good Christmas present for my kids? It is expensive, but it is not valuable. Why not? Because we do not have an Xbox. A great gift is not valued if it cannot be received.
God wants to give us a gift this year—holiness. We can have it if we are his. But if we try to take this present apart from faith in Christ, the attempt will drive us further from God, either because of self-righteousness over some measure of success or by discouragement over failing to measure up. Only in Christ, we can receive the gift and with it the joy of being like Christ.
Read 2Corinthians 5.1-10. Pray.
Calvin and Hobbes (the comic strip characters) are playing in the snow in early January when Hobbes asks Calvin, “Did you make any resolutions for the new year?”
“Heck no” replies Calvin. “I’m fine just the way I am! Why should I change? In fact, I think it’s high time the world started changing to suit me! I don’t see why I should do all the changing around here! If the new year requires resolutions, I say it’s up to everyone else, not me! I don’t need to improve. Everyone else does!”
Calvin then turns to Hobbes and asks: “How about you? Did you make any resolutions?”
Hobbes: “Well, I had resolved to be less offended by human nature, but I think I blew it already.”
I would ask that each of us consider a resolution this year: a Biblical commitment to deepening our relationship with God. Maybe in the past we have simply hoped things would work out OK. But year after year, failing to plan for spiritual growth, we often fail to find intimacy and transformation in walking with the God.
Out text is not about New Year’s resolutions, per se. It does define a Biblical goal for living: “pleasing the Lord.” Such a commitment comes only by grace—how does God’s grace enable progress in the Christian life?
1. The Grace of God Produces Good Courage (2Corinthians 5.6a,8a)
2Corinthians 5.6a: “So we are always of good courage….” 2Corinthians 5.8a: “Yes, we are of good courage….”
Paul seems very aware of what we may wish to avoid: life is hard. And when we resolve to “make it our aim to please the Lord,” forces rise to resist us, making it that much harder. As Hobbes pointed out in the cartoon strip, our own sin nature is enough to derail and discourage us. Add to our sinful desires the world and the devil, with their distractions and temptations, and it may seem hopeless to even talk about pleasing God, much less to actually do so.
But those who know Christ are of good courage. We have it in two respects.
First, we are courageous about our lives here. We who are in Christ know that life is not vain, the struggle is not wasted. We have courage to press on, courage to resist the Devil, courage to fight the good fight of faith. We have courage to love the Lord more than we love the things of this world. We even have courage to discipline our bodies to keep them under control. Why? Because we know that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, and therefore, our labors in the Lord are not in vain. Couple in Memphis who wanted never to have children because the world was too terrible. They were afraid to live. Christ gives courage to live!
We also, second, have courage about our life hereafter. When this body is destroyed, those who know Christ have another body, a spiritual body, prepared by God himself. The Spirit within testifies to this if we belong to Christ. Christ gives us courage to die!
As God sent Joshua into the promised land he gave him this message three times: “Be strong and courageous.” Why? “Because I am with you.” Is your faith in him as you begin the new year? Is your hope of such quality that it covers both this life and the life to come?
John Piper tells of the plaque which hung in the kitchen of his house for all his growing up years. Now it hangs in his living room. It says,
Only one life
’Twill soon be past
Only what’s done for Christ
God’s grace gives good courage for the day of judgment.
2. The Grace of God Produces a Desire to Please God (2Corinthians 5.9)
I think it would be wonderful to be able to write that on next year’s Christmas cards: “During 2007, we made it our aim to please God.” Of course, this does not mean that Paul believed in salvation by works. He did not make it his aim to please God so that God would be pleased with him; he wanted to please God because God was already pleased with Jesus.