“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
How are you coming on those New Year’s resolutions? What did you promise yourself you were going to stop doing this year? Eating too much? Spending too much idle time? Running up too much debt? How about the things you resolved to start doing . . . or do more of? Exercising regularly? Maintaining a consistent devotional time? Getting out of debt?
We all do it every year; we promise ourselves we are going to make changes. And that’s a good thing! We should be trying to improve. Sometimes we actually carry through on these resolutions and turn them into routines. I’d like to encourage you this year to resolve to do something far more profound . . . and far more rewarding. It’s time to cast off that corpse you’ve been carrying around for far too long!
“Corpse?” you ask. “What corpse? What in the world are you talking about?” I’m so glad you asked!
The stench of condemnation
Centuries ago, Roman emperors were known to inflict the hideous punishment of lashing the corpse of a murder victim to the back of the murderer. Under penalty of death, no one was allowed to remove the body from the condemned man. The murderer would live out his last days carrying around the putrefying body of his victim, enduring the nauseating stench of the decomposing corpse, until eventually his own body would become infected and he would die a slow and dreadful death.
We cannot say with certainty, but this practice might very well have influenced the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 7:24—“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Paul found his own sin to be so loathsome that it was as if something dead and stinking was strapped to him, accompanying him wherever he went.
Most of us are carrying some corpse from our past: an unhappy childhood experience: addiction or immorality we engaged in, a failed relationship or marriage or business, our dreadful mistakes as parents . . . the list goes on and on. We know where Paul found relief: “Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25). We know intellectually that forgiveness — this rescue from the corpses of our pastb—bwas granted to us the instant we trusted in Jesus Christ for our salvation, yet far too many of us still trudge through life with the guilt or bitterness from some past event clinging to us like a rotting corpse.
The fragrance of forgiveness
Forgiveness is the greatest need of every human heart, and that forgiveness has been granted to us by our Savior. But how many times do we pay more attention to the corpse than we do to the Christ? I long ago lost count of how many times someone has told me, “I know God has forgiven me, but I just can’t forgive myself!” They are carrying the stinking corpse of some past hurt, sin or failure, and they simply can’t smell the sweet fragrance of the forgiveness of Jesus.
If that describes you, let me say something in love: Those of us who have trusted in Christ for salvation and believe we are eternally forgiven, yet say that “I cannot forgive myself,” are essentially insisting that our sense of right and wrong is more highly developed than God’s.
Jesus says, “Forgive them, Father!” Who are we to say, “Not so, Lord! At least not in my case!” The apostle had a Word for that: “Who are you, O man, to talk back to God?” (Romans 9:20). God has spoken: His Son cried out from the cross, “It is finished!” Jesus paid your sin debt in full. God has removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12); He has cast all our sins behind His back (Isaiah 38:17) and hurled them into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19); and He has promised that He will remember our sins no more (Jeremiah 31:34).
Note that God does not say “I will forget your sins,” for that is impossible. God is omniscient; He knows all things. If He were to actually forget something, the way you and I forget where we left the car keys, there would be something He does not know. No, God has deliberately chosen not to call our past sins to mind.
Isn’t it time for you to do the same?
Should we make New Year’s resolutions? Absolutely! Let us resolve together, you and I, to deny ourselves, as Jesus said, and put off anything that is keeping us from following Him wholeheartedly and joyfully. Cast off that corpse you’ve been carrying around for—how long has it been now? — and bury it. The God of the universe loves you freely and fully and unconditionally, and He has called you to cast off that corpse, finally and forever, and take up your cross and follow Him. There is no more important resolution that you could possibly make this day!
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!
Happy New Year!
For more articles by Dr. Tommy Boland, visit goodnewsfl.org/tommy-boland.