At church on Sunday morning, and then at housegroup on Tuesday we were thinking a little bit about the fresh start that is offered by Jesus.
Life is full of fresh starts. We make new year resolutions to turn over a new leaf. We lie in bed thinking how tomorrow we'll do better at something. We move to a new area or a new job with great hopes of creating a new impression of ourselves (minus the bits we don't like!).
One thing that gave me joy to think about was how much better the new start that Jesus gives is. The problem with all other fresh starts are is the person at the other side of the fresh start is the same as the person this side, operating in the same world under the same rules.
Two things about the fresh start that Jesus gives make it wonderful. Firstly, when we are born again, we are not only forgiven of our past life, but we are given a new heart with a new ability to actually bring change to our lives (see Ben Parker's blog post on this here).
The other thing is the sphere in which we operate. Before being born again we stand under condemnation. We are judged by the law - our lives, our thoughts and our hearts shout 'guilty'. We become a Christian and through Jesus' death we are forgiven, the slate is wiped clean, in the sight of God we are no longer guilty. In fact, we are credited with Jesus' righteousness.
That's what happens at the point of conversion, but the reality is that after that point sin doesn't stop. So I've made a fresh start... but now I've messed up again. Or have I? Well yes, in one sense I have. But it's not the same as before - this messing up doesn't bring condemnation. It doesn't put us back into the same situation as before. The reason for that is that our standing before God no longer depends on how well we hit the mark. We are no longer condemned for falling short of his standard. Our standing before God is now based on grace - he judges us by how well Jesus matches up to his requirements... perfectly.
So being born again is a wonderful thing! It's not just a decision to try harder that is quickly crushed by failure. It's a new heart and a new power to change, and it's the declaration that our failing no longer marks the end of the attempt. The fresh start offered by Jesus is a real fresh start, its a move from being under the law to under grace, it's a wonderful new, joy-filled reality!
The words of a particularly cheesy old Christian song come to mind and sum it up well...
I am a new creation,
no more in condemnation,
here in the grace of God I stand.
My heart is overflowing,
my love just keeps on growing,
here in the grace of God I stand!