O wretched man
that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank
God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! – Romans
7:24-25a

 

Every year on New Years Eve people make New Year’s
Resolutions promising to change themselves for the better. But New Year’s
resolutions are doomed to failure. If people want to change they don’t need
resolutions, they need regeneration.

 

How Successful are
New year’s Resolutions?

 

How successful are New Year’s resolutions? Statistics in a
study from the Journal of Clinical Psychology showed the following:

 

·        
40
to 45% of American adult make one or more resolutions each year.

·        
Among
the top new years resolutions are resolutions about weight loss, exercise, and
stopping to smoke. Also popular are resolutions dealing with better money
management / debt reduction.

·        
The
following shows how many of these resolutions are maintained as time goes on:
– past the first week: 75%
– past 2 weeks: 71%
– after one month: 64%
– after 6 months: 46%   [1]

Another study  estimated that 97% of New Year’s resolutions
do not work. In this study entitled New
Years Resolutions: Why Don’t They Work ?
Michael York of the Michael York
Learning Center
theorized the reason why resolutions don’t work is because
people expect to fail and that they don’t know how to properly set goals in
order to keep their resolutions. But I would say that the reason people don’t
expect to keep their resolutions is because they have learned from experience
that they can’t keep their
resolutions and no amount of proper
goal setting is going to change that.

 

So what’s the
answer; how can we change for the better? The answer is that we need
regeneration not resolutions.

 

Why Resolutions Can’t Work

The reason why a
resolution can’t work is
because it depends on me, myself and
I; it depends on my own “strength.”
The Bible refers to this
self-centered dependence upon self as the
flesh.
Paul was inspired to speak of the predicament of the flesh when
in Romans he writes:

 

·        
Romans 7:18-24 – 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing
good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is
good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do
not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20
Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin
that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with
me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God
according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members,
warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law
of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will
deliver me from this body of death?

Do you see the futility of relying on your own strength to
try to do good things? The New Living
Translation
(more of a
paraphrase) of the Bible renders
this portion of scripture in the following way:

 

  • 18 I know I am rotten through and through so far as
    my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn, I can’t
    make myself do right. I want to, but I can’t. 19
    When I want to do good, I don’t. And when I try
    not to do wrong, I do it anyway. 20
    But if I am doing what I don’t want to do, I am
    not really the one doing it; the sin within me is doing it. 21
    It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to
    do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22
    I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another law at work within me that
    is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to
    the sin that is still within me. 24
    Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free
    me from this life that is dominated by sin?[2]

 

These words express the futility, frustrations and
ultimate failure of attempts at self-reformation and that is exactly what a New
Year’s resolution is. The reason such attempts at change are doomed to failure
is because they depend on an inadequate power source, the sinful self. Read
what the Bible says about our self, the me, myself and I of who we are:

  • Genesis 6:5 – 5 Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man
    was great in the earth, and that every intent of the
    thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

·        
Job 14:4 – Who
can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one!
     

·        
Job 15:14-16
“What is man, that he could
be pure?  And he who is born of a woman, that he could be
righteous?15 If God puts no trust in His
saints, And the heavens are not pure in His sight,16  How
much less man, who is abominable and filthy, Who drinks iniquity
like water!   

·        
Psalm 5:9 – For there
is
no faithfulness in their mouth; Their inward part is
destruction; Their throat is an open tomb; They flatter with
their tongue.     

·        
Psalm 51:5 – Behold,
I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.

·        
Isaiah 64:6 – But
we are all like an unclean thing,  And all our righteousnesses
are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our
iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.

·        
Jeremiah 17:9 – “The
heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately
wicked;     Who can know it?

·        
Mark 7:21-23 – 21 For from within, out of the
heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,
22
thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an
evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.
23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

·        
Ephesians 2:1-3 – And
you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in
which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the
prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of
disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in
the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind,
and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

These
verses are ample evidence that anything that depends on this flesh
or us, is doomed to fail to reach its goal.

If that
is the case, then how can a person change successfully?

Regeneration the Way to True
Transformation

Sometimes
we can have what we believe are the best of intentions, but they are the wrong
intentions. Our motives are not always what they ought to be. We may want to
change, but if our motive is only to please our self, then we are only
compounding our problem and off the mark. What we need is an entirely new way
of looking at things and an entirely new way of doing things. What we need is REGENERATION.

What is
regeneration?

Regeneration is a work of the Spirit wherein He gives spiritual eternal life to
a repentant sinner. In Paul’s letter to Titus he is inspired to write:

·        
Titus 3:3-7 – 3 For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient,
deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy,
hateful and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and the love
of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of
righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us,
through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6
whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7
that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the
hope of eternal life.

The term “regeneration” (παλιγγενεσία paliggĕnĕsia, pal-ing-ghen-es-ee´-ah[3]) means new birth, regeneration, or
rebirth.
This is a compound word made up of the Greek term palin which
means “again”  and the Greek term genesis
which means “birth.”
 Regeneration
is the work of God to change us from death to life spiritually. God regenerates the person who receives
Jesus as Savior. All of this is a work of God offered graciously as a gift to
be received by us.

 

Jesus described regeneration
with the following words:

 

  • John
    5:24 –
    24 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word
    and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come
    into judgment, but has passed from death into life.

Regeneration
is passing from death to life spiritually. Just as we are physically born, we
must be spiritual born again if we are ever to be changed from our present
state of sinful futility. Before we are spiritually born again we don’t even
understand our true need (1 Corinthians 2:14).
We need to be born again, we need to be spiritual born of the Holy Spirit (John
3:3, 5).

How do I get this
regeneration?
 If you want to change for the better you have
to realize the following.

First, realize
your real problem is sin.
Sin is the destructive cancer like thing
within you that is keeping you from successfully changing for the better. The
Bible says:

·        
Romans 3:10,
23 –
10 As it is written: “There is none righteous,
no, not one; . . .
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the
glory of God,    

Sin keeps
us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2) and it is God alone who can work true change in us.
Sin keep our focus on sinful self where we will wallow in defeat and despair.

Second, realize
only spiritual birth or spiritual life can make a true lasting eternal change
in you.
It
is the gospel that is the power of God to save us from sin (Romans 1:16). Jesus told the religious
Pharisee Nicodemas that he “must” be born again. Jesus said:

  • John
    3:3-7 –
    3 Jesus answered and
    said to him,
    “Most assuredly, I say to
    you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
    4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is
    old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5
    Jesus answered,
    “Most assuredly, I say to
    you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the
    kingdom of God.
    6 That which is born of the flesh is
    flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
    7 Do not marvel
    that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

 

Here we see by way of comparison that Jesus taught Nicodemus
just as he had been born physically he needed to experience spiritual birth as
well.

This is
not something we can work in ourselves, which leads us to the next realization.

Third, realize
regeneration is a work of God offered by His grace through faith in His only
Son Jesus.
The
Bible says that salvation is a work of God (John 6:29). The Holy Spirit
convicts us of our sin and our need of salvation (John 16:8-11). It is God who
draws us out of our sin to Himself (John 6:44).
And God draws us to Himself by dealing with our sin through faith in Jesus
(John 6:29).

Here is
the beauty of how God resolves our sinful predicament. He has sent Jesus to pay
for our sinful debt (because we are unable to pay that debt off on our own).
And He has done away with our sin as we put our faith in Jesus and His work (2
Corinthians 5:21). This is
why at the end of Paul’s passage in Romans 7 he is inspired to proclaim:

·        
Romans 7:24-25a – 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from
this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

It is a
glorious thing to turn over the reigns of your life to God. We need to stop trying in our own strength (i.e.
weakness). We need to turn form our way of
doing things and surrender or turn to God
and His way. This leads us to our final realization.

Fourth, realize
you need to repent or turn humbly to God from your sinful self ways and rely
fully on God’s gracious provision and strength.
We can’t work our
way out of the mire of our sin (Psalm 69). It is only by God’s grace through
faith in Jesus Christ that this regeneration can occur (Ephesians 2:4-9). If we
turn from our self efforts and self interests to God then we can expect times
of refreshing from the Lord (Acts 2:38-39).

It
has been said:

Our lives are fields that primarily contain weeds. We cannot
produce strawberries. We can mow the weeds, but that effort alone will never
produce acceptable fruit. If we really want that fruit we will have to go
deeper. We must plow up the whole field and start again with new plants.[4] 

We can’t
change by resolution. We need the regenerative work of God to change.

But I’ve Done that and I’m Still Failing
and Faltering

Sometimes those who have experienced regeneration continue
to have difficulties in their lives; why is that? Those who have received God’s
gracious gospel provision in Christ need to realize a few things too.

 

First, realize transformation is only begun at regeneration and is a
life long process.
The Bible refers to Christians as “being sanctified” (Hebrews 2:11; 10:14). Change is a process that God works in us over time
as we live a life of surrender to Him (Romans 12:1-2). Regeneration is when the
Holy Spirit comes to indwell a person (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19-20).
It is the Holy Spirit that helps us to overcome our weaknesses (Romans 8:26). The work of the Spirit in us
is to transform us into the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29). This is God’s purpose for us and should be
our goal and target in life.

 

Second, realize the problem is that many who have been regenerated
continue to live to please self rather than to please God.
There are
what are called carnal Christians who live to please themselves rather than to
please God. The Christian who lives to please self will only find discord and
disruption in their lives much the same as before they were regenerated (1
Corinthians 3:1-4; James 4:1-6). To overcome this problem the Christian must
turn their focus on God and seek to please Him by faith (Hebrews 11:6). Paul
explains this well when he is inspired to write:

·        
Romans 8:1-9 – There
is
therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do
not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For
the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of
sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak
through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of
sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4
that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not
walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those
who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but
those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6
For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is
life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against
God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8
So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are
not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.

When we are regenerated through faith in Christ we are
called by God to walk no longer after the things of the flesh or to walk in the
power of the flesh, but we are called to live in the Spirit (8:1). It is this
life in the Spirit that can set us free from our futile fleshly lives (8:2).
God does away with the destructive and depressing affects of sin in a person
through faith in Christ (8:3-4). This new life of spiritual regeneration is an
entirely new way of life and an entirely new way of looking at life (8:5). If
we continue to have a fleshly mindset after regeneration we will continue to
experience its destructive and depressing ways (8:6). It will hinder our
relationship with God (8:7) and prevent us from pleasing God (8:8). In fact
that is exactly the issue; in our flesh we seek to please self; in the Spirit
we seek to please God. The truth is when we seek to please ourselves no one
will be happy. But when we seek to please God everyone benefits. Without the
Spirit in your life, you don’t even belong to God (8:9), which leads us to our
final realization for the believer.

 

Third, realize victory comes through abiding in Christ. The closer we
come to Jesus the more power we will have over sin in our lives.
We are
to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans
13:14). In other words,
get as close to Jesus as possible, as close as your very clothes, and you will
have more and more power over the flesh. Drawing close to Jesus is the way of
escape from many a problem issue in the life of the Christian (1 Corinthians 10:13). Jesus put it this way:

·        
John 15:4-8 – 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As
the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither
can you, unless you abide in Me.
5 “I am the vine, you are the
branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me
you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch
and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they
are burned.   
7 If
you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and
it shall be done for you.
8 By this
My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

We need to “abide” or stick close to Jesus. When we get away
from Jesus we shrivel up spiritually like a piece of fruit plucked from a tree.
If we stay connected to Jesus, we will grow and become fruitful in Him.

 

How do we do this? How do we abide in Jesus? The key is in
the words “My disciples.” A disciple
is a learner who studies the words of Jesus (verse 7 i.e. the Bible) and
surrenders to the Spirit to apply those words to their lives
(John 8:31-32, 34-36).
Disciples also “ask” (verse 7) or pray
because prayer is a declaration of dependence on God and a means of relating
verbally with God in Christ. A disciple lastly does all they do to bring glory
to God
which is the culmination of spiritual fruitfulness (verse 8).
The more we seek to bring glory to God the further away from self we move. The
further away from self we move and the closer we come to God, the more power to
live victoriously in life we will experience.

 

In his book The Power of the Spirit, William Law,
writing in the early 1700s, makes the following statement about the church
living in the flesh rather than the Spirit:

A letter
learned zeal has but one nature wherever it is, and can only do that for
Christians which it did for Jews. As in ancient times it brought forth scribes,
Pharisees, hypocrites, and crucifiers of Christ; as it afterwards brought forth
heresies, schisms, popes, papal decrees, images, and anathemas; so in
Protestant churches it will do the same things, only under different names. The
empty idolatry of Rome
will show itself even without crucifixes and indulgences. Images of wood and
clay will only be exchanged for images of doctrines. Grace, works, imputed sin,
imputed righteousness, and election will all have their worshipping advocates,
dividing the body of Christ in their very zeal to defend their own good
opinions about Scripture doctrines. And so great will be the blindness thus
generated that every kind of gossip, slander, and hatred will be pursued
by  brother against brother, all of it
done in the name of Him who prayed that we might be one. . . . Our divine
Master compares the religion of the learned Pharisees to ‘whited sepulchers,
outwardly beautiful, but inwardly full of dead men’s bones.’ How was it that a
religion so serious in its restraints, so beautiful in its outward form and
practices, and commanding such reverence from all that beheld it, was yet
charged by Truth itself with being ‘inwardly full of hypocrisy and iniquity’?
It was only for this one reasons: because it was a religion of self.
Wherever self has power and keeps up its own interests, even in teaching or
defending sound Scripture doctrines, there is that very same Pharisee still
alive whom Christ with so much severity of language constantly condemned. The
reason for such heavy condemnation is that self is the root and sum total of
all sin. Every sin that can be named is centered in it. Self is nothing else
but the creature broken off from God: the power of Satan living and working in
us the sad continuance of that first turning from God, which was the whole fall
of our first parents.
(Emphasis added.) [5]

Unfortunately what William Law wrote 300 years ago was not
heeded by much of the church and today we have a church that is more carnal and
centered on its sarx, than it is filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
We cannot afford to allow our flesh to rule us; we need the Spirit to overcome
it and empower us to do all that God has wonderfully laid out for us to do. If
you are a Christian and have slipped back into the futility of a life lived for
self and in the weakness of self, surrender to God anew and He will empower you
to victorious Christian living. That would be a great way to start a new year.

 

 



[1] At http://www.proactive-coach.com/resolutions/research.htm
– Auld Lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported
outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers, by John C. Norcross, Marci
S. Mrykalo, Matthew D. Blagys , University of Scranton. Journal of Clinical
Psychology, Volume 58, Issue 4 (2002).
John Norcross is a co-author of Changing For
Good
.
 
[2]Holy Bible, New Living Translation, (Wheaton,
IL
: Tyndale House Publishers,
Inc.) 1996.
[3]Strong,
James: The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words. Nashville
: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1996, S. H8674
[4]
Christian Theology in Plain Language, p. 59. at http://www.higherpraise.com/illustrations/resolution.htm
 
[5]
William Law, The Power of the Spirit, Edited by Dave Hunt (Fort Washington, PA:
Christian Literature Crusade Pubs.) Reprinted 2003 . Pages 28,30.