Sometimes when I think about resolutions and doing better, I fall back into thinking like I did as a child before I fully understood the gospel. I had a real desire to be ‘good’ and went through a phase of thinking, “Today I’m not going to do anything wrong” – inevitably messing that up every single day and not even meeting my own childlike standards. So, even for a young girl, the gospel message that Jesus had forgiven and taken the punishment for everything I’d done wrong provided freedom to know that I was loved despite constantly falling short.
As adults who have accepted Jesus as Saviour and King of our lives, we still forget and rely on ourselves in seeking change. Thoughts of: “am I doing enough?”, “could I be giving more?” and thinking about all the areas where we struggle can become exhausting at the start of a new year. There’s nothing wrong with a resolution to do better, but it’s a problem if we’re trying to do it in our own strength and feeling downhearted when we inevitably slip up.
What is it then that helps us to truly change?
Real transformational change comes from a deeper and deeper understanding of how generous God is and the vastness of his love towards us.
Ephesians 3 tells us that in his generosity, God ‘is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us’ (Ephesians 3:20 NIV). We may have dreams or goals for how we wish to change, but because he is so very generous, God is able to surpass those targets and surprise us with what he does in us, through us and for us.
The context of this verse is Paul praying for the Ephesian church to be strengthened ‘with power through his Spirit in your inner being’ (3:16 NIV). Power might be what we are looking for when we feel helpless and weak, having made the same mistakes again or not lived up to our own expectations. But it’s not will-power that we need. It’s the power that comes from believing we are known and loved by a God who can do all things.
And this is what Paul emphasises, as the heart of his prayer is for the Ephesians to ‘grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God’ (3:18-19 NIV). Paul’s description is of a love that is so expansive – it doesn’t find an end. A love that is so generous that it meets us whatever we’ve done. Whether we’re so horribly aware of all the areas in which we need to change or whether we’ve spent the best part of the past year ignoring him.
Being consumed with God’s love, centring on all he’s given us, especially the gift of Jesus, is what realigns our hearts and affects us to change and become more like him.
How do we do this? Not through more rules and discipline, but by remembering that he is always waiting with arms open for us to go to him in our failures and our brokenness, offering grace in abundance. Going back to him again and again for comfort, in repentance and for everything we need.