There are plenty of makeover shows around promising new beginnings. Whether it is a new backyard, a new house, a new hairdo or a whole new body, many of these shows claim that your life will be radically transformed if you have this particular makeover.
Of course a mere cosmetic change cannot change a human heart, where the real makeover is needed. We all need new beginnings, and a change of direction, but most changes on offer just will not do the trick. Only radical open heart surgery (spiritually speaking) can make the real and lasting changes we are all in need of.
Several television offerings I happened upon last night help to illustrate all this. The first had to do with a guy who did not get a chance to change, to find a new beginning. His life was cut short, and his selfish, hedonistic ways meant that he would not even live into his thirties.
I refer to one of a number of rockers who died at age 27: Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. A doco on the early days of the Stones aired last night and I managed to view some of it. Having been a hard core Stones fan in my wild youth, it was interesting to revisit those tempestuous days in the mid- to late-60s.
Drugs and wild living were of course a big part of the rock scene. And Jones was fully into it all, so much so, that he became less and less involved with the Stones and less and less able to contribute, so they had to seriously consider finding someone else to take his place.
The Stones were in a London recording studio when they learned of the drug-related death of Jones on July 3, 1969. Two days later they went ahead with a concert in Hyde Park, with as many as a half million fans in attendance. Mick Taylor was the replacement guitarist. This was sort of a new beginning for the Stones, but it was obviously too late for Jones to start over.
The second thing I saw last night was the tail end of a film in which a couple are given a new lease on life – a whole new beginning. Evidently at least one of them had quite a shady past, as a hit man, but after getting rid of their various enemies, the film ends with them on a train with new passports and new identities – ready to embark upon a whole new life.
When I saw this I thought, “Wow, if only…” One can certainly hope that things were that easy in real life: live a very dodgy and destructive lifestyle, but then have the ability to make an entirely fresh new start, and do it all over again, from scratch. Very few people can experience such a radical makeover.
This in fact is possible, but as I say, the makeover which we all need is ultimately a spiritual one – one in which a heart of stone is replaced by a heart of flesh; one in which our selfish, sinful nature is radically transformed by an encounter with Jesus Christ. The Bible speaks much to this theme of course.
In Jeremiah 13:23 we read about our predicament: our inability to change ourselves; “Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.” But later in Jeremiah we find a remarkable promise of real change. Jer. 31 offers an amazing passage which is quoted a number of times in the New Testament:
“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jer 31:31-34)
This new heart is just what we all need. And it comes by grace when we receive Christ in faith and repentance. These words about newness of life are found often in the New Testament. Plenty of important passages could be mentioned here.
In 2 Corinthians 5:17 we find these words: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” What is needed is new life, and that is exactly what Jesus said we must experience: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3)
Or as Paul said in Romans 6:4-6: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with.”
When we come to the end of our rope, and cry out to God to deal with the mess we have made of our lives, he promises to step in and give us a new beginning. And it is not just a new beginning, but a whole new life for the rest of our lives.
Thus our initial saving experience in Christ is just the start of a whole new adventure. The rest of our Christian life is to be characterized by slow but steady growth in sanctification, holiness, and conformity to the image of Christ. We are to cooperate with God in this.
We are to put off the old man, the old ways, and our old fleshly thoughts, and put on the new man, new ways, and new spiritual thoughts. It is a complete revolution, transforming us in every aspect of life, from inside out. Sure, it will be a gradual, progressive, and less than perfect journey. But real progress is possible as we allow Christ to do his work of renewal within us.
The characters in the film I mentioned above had a shot at a new life. One can only guess just how new it was. And some, like Brian Jones, really never got the chance to experience a wholly new life. He tragically died while still in his old life, and missed out on the opportunity to be transformed by the grace of God.
The gospel message is really quite simple. We are all condemned sinners who are unable to save ourselves or remake ourselves. Only God can do that, and he has made every provision for this possibility by sending his son to take our place at Calvary.
Whether we avail ourselves of this opportunity for new life, and a fresh start, is up to us. We all need a new beginning. We all are in desperate need for a deep and life changing makeover. Christ offers this to all of us. What we do with this offer will determine not only the course of the rest of our life on earth, but our life in the next world as well.
by Bill Muehlenberg