Focus – A Smudge-Free New Year
by Lt. Amanda Reardon –
When I was a child, my father worked for a paper manufacturing company, and he often brought home small pads of paper. I couldn’t have been more thrilled if he had brought home gold bricks. It wouldn’t be long before those little pads were marred by the erasures and smudges of my little mini-novels, but for a brief moment, as my father first placed them in my hand, they were snowy white…undefiled, if you will. And there was promise. There was potential.
With each year that closes, one anticipates the smudge-free, snowy white new year. But this year, we wave farewell to an entire age, and turn our eager faces toward the broad, spotless canvas of a new millennium. (Yes, I realize that technically the new millennium begins in 2001, but in most of our minds, the year ending with the zeros gets the distinction.)
Somehow, goals like losing weight or learning how to ski seem too petty for this new year. As people surmise about the return of Christ or Y2K disaster, an entire world becomes a bit more pensive. And the thoughtful Christian must ask himself what worthy resolution he will set at this historical juncture. I suggest one such challenge: a daily response to God’s clarion call for holy living.
In The Way of Holiness, Kenneth Prior wrote: “The aim of a Christian should always be not to sin.” This seems obvious. And yet, we Christians have long indulged ourselves in a defeatist attitude. We tell ourselves and each other that everyone sins and as we are all growing and learning, it is okay. It is as if God declared sin acceptable. Indeed, he did not! On the contrary, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires…Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.” (Romans 6:11-12,19)
It is fitting to begin each day with this prayer of King David: “Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.” (Psalm 19:13)
There are those who may think I suggest the impossible. But would we deny that the Holy Spirit possesses the power to keep the compliant Christian from willful sin?
Still, we are locked in this human condition, by God’s own design, and as such will continue to do ungodly things by mistake. As John Wesley wrote: “Christian perfection, therefore, does not imply…an exemption either from ignorance, or mistake, or infirmities, or temptations.” Even the holiest Christian errs unintentionally.
Wesley wrote that holiness is “all comprised in that one word, love. The first branch of it is the love of God: and as he that loves God loves his brother also, it is inseparably connected with the second: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’…these contain the whole of Christian perfection.” When we love God and man without reserve, the very thought of offending either (i.e., sinning) is entirely distasteful.
When Brengle initially experienced holiness, he said, “love burned in my soul like a glowing fire.” He described his overwhelming love for everything and everyone around him. Is this kind of love manufactured within the heart of man? Surely not, for I John 4:7 says “let us love one another, for love comes from God.”
Is not the sum of Scripture a call to holy living, motivated and exhibited by love for God and one another? First the Israelite nation and then the Christian church were called out by God to be separate, to be different, to be holy. To characterize such holiness, the greatest commands were to love God and love one’s neighbor. Do that and you will be holy.
Those who know me well know that this subject has been the passion of my life. Yet past failures have discouraged me beyond what I can say. But this new year I will rise each morning and know that there is the potential to be holy that day. My Father’s gift of a new day will be like my father’s gift of new, clean paper. If I have failed the day before, I will repent, and no smudge mark will remain.
On second thought, I may not even wait for the new year.