Great Advice for the New Year, AEUNA Minister to the Union
Updated: Jan 30
"The teacher" sounding like a depressed person, starts the book of Ecclesiastes with these words: "There is nothing new under the sun." "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done." (1:9). Year after year we celebrate the New Year. But what is new about the year that we are starting, other than the date on the calendar? Can we have newness in our lives, in our church, community, and in the world? I can never forget what my theology teacher said once. "There is nothing categorically new in our history other than the coming of our Lord into our history" and the renewal of our lives that comes through His sacrifice. Today, I want to remind us of the newness God wants each of us to experience not only once a year, but every day of our lives. Being renewed brings some newness to our surroundings through Him and His strength.
If you read the letter to the Romans in one sitting, you can't miss the break in the line of thought that comes in Chapter 12. The first 11 chapters focus on explaining the problem of sin and how man can enter into a right relationship with God. Starting from Chapter 12, verse one, Paul focuses on how that right relationship with God should be reflected in one's daily life and relationships with other people. In the first 11 chapters God's provision for humanity is explained in detail. The last five of those deal with how Christians should live as children of God in this world. The first part is theology, while the second part is practical advice. The key word in the first 11 chapters is "righteousness," which means being considered right in the eyes of God, having right relationship with Him. The word is not so common in the second part. It is used only once, and it refers to the right relationship we are to have with others. Those five chapters describe how we should respond, with acts of worship and service. It is important to remember that holy living is our gratitude for God's grace. It is well said that, "In the New Testament religion is grace, and ethics is gratitude" (Thomas Erskine).
Verses 1-2 are a great introduction to the discussion of right living as a Christian. To live as a believer in this world, experiencing the Light of God's gift of salvation, we need to 1) offer ourselves as a sacrifice and 2) be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
Using a cultic language, Paul encourages Christians to be committed to a life of obedience to the will of God. Jewish priests were expected to sanctify themselves first and then offer unblemished sacrifices on behalf of the community. Here he asks Christians to offer their own bodies, themselves in their totality, as an offering pleasing to God. Paul urges them, appeals them with authority, to live a life of service to God. Our lives belong to God, because we were bought with a price. This is our reasonable or adequate response to the sacrifice God has offered. More than that, our sacrifice should be our intelligent and deliberate response to God's gracious act, as opposed to the cultic sacrifices, where the objects had no role in deciding what was done to them.
Verse one is about dedication, while verse two is about transformation, the result of the living out of that commitment. A life dedicated to the Lord needs continual vigilance, because we live in a world that can impact our life and weaken our dedication. What Paul requires from believers is a call to nonconformity and holiness, which is addressed to the people of God throughout Scripture. The verb used for "transformation" is the same used for the transfiguration of Jesus in the gospels. It refers to a complete change. So, the change that Paul talks about here is a fundamental transformation of character and conduct, away from the standards of the world and into the image of Christ Himself. God's purpose for life and His values for everything, including greatness, sex, money, community, success or anything else, are different from the value system our surrounding culture offers or does not offer. This transformation is possible only through the renewal of our minds by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. This is not a onetime experience, but continuous process. First our mind is renewed by the Word and the Spirit of God, then we are able to discern and desire the will of God; then we are increasingly transformed by it.
For some, if not most of us, there is nothing new in the New Year other than the change of date on our calendars. For some of us and hopefully for most, if not all of us, any Sunday worship service, Bible Study or quiet time, is an occasion for renewal, for a new start, for a positive change in our lives, our relationship with the Lord or with our family and friends, or with others around us, even with ourselves. That newness is going to affect our response to the things that are happening around us, and in the world. Today, and every day of our lives, can be an occasion for starting anew. God has prepared the path for that newness.
In the light of all challenges and life threatening dangers our brothers and sisters are facing on a daily basis in Artsakh and Armenia, Syria, Lebanon, Iran and the whole Middle East, how is the above-mentioned newness going to impact us and our responses to such situations? The newness involves thinking and caring more and more for the interest of others and valuing them above ourselves (Phil 2:3-4), carrying their burdens, especially those who belong to the family of the believers (Gal. 6:2,10).
God is faithful to be with us and strengthen us even in the most difficult situations, as we read in Lam. 3:22-23 “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” While we are renewed by God’s faithfulness and steadfast love, and in view of God’s Mercy, I join apostle Paul urging you to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
He is in the business of creating newness and is faithful. What he wants from us is to worship Him by offering our bodies and all that we do, every day, not only on Sundays, but every day of the week, wherever we are and whatever we do. Are you willing and ready to do your part?
- Rev. Hendrik Shanazarian
AEUNA Minister to the Union