If we’re going to set New Year’s resolutions, we better make sure they’re worth the time. Many of the objects of our pursuits are transient. Since things of a physical, financial, or material nature don’t last, we have to generate new goals to replace old ones.
The alternative to making fleeting annual resolutions is to set spiritual goals. But as we discussed in last week’s post, it’s difficult to specify them, much less to measure progress toward their attainment.
But we can change our focus.
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:18
In Christ, we already have what we seek. We may question how we’re going to overcome our vices or achieve breakthroughs, but Jesus assures us of victory.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:3
This isn’t wishful thinking; Jesus paid a big price to give us God’s best.
“He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” – Galatians 3:14
The bad news? We can receive His blessings but fail to benefit from them. Jesus illustrated this sad fact with a parable about forgiveness:
“Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ 22Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
23For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, “Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.” 27And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.
28But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, “Pay back what you owe.” 29So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, “Have patience with me and I will repay you.” 30But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.
31So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32Then summoning him, his lord said to him, “You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?” 34And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.’” – Matthew 18:21-35 (NASB)
Owing way more than he could pay off, the first servant was responsible enough to promise reimbursement but foolish to believe that he could do it.
In a demonstration of grace, the king forgave the servant’s debt “because you pleaded with me” (vs. 32). But the servant didn’t beg for forgiveness; he asked for an extension. He felt either responsible or capable of paying off his debt if only he had sufficient time.
Why, then, did the king cancel the obligation?
Recognizing that the servant had no way to repay the debt, the king showed mercy to him by nullifying it.
Had the servant taken this to heart, he would have treated the other servant with a lot more kindness. Instead, his ruthlessness cost him everything. The king honored his desire to pay back the debt (vs. 34). He’s back to where he started.
The Bible warns us about this consequence.
“Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” – James 2:13
Why didn’t the servant share the grace he himself had received? It goes to mindset. In this parable, Jesus contrasted two ways of thinking: one based on grace, the other on law. A beneficiary of mercy, the servant found himself incapable of transforming his attitude. So accustomed was he to obligations and duties that the grace shown him never took root. And it cost him everything.
A little bit of mercy would have gone a long way!
You can use every resolution as a way to pay off the debts you believe you owe to God. Or, you can abandon that approach and accept His mercy in Christ. And being free, you can share the kindness of Jesus with others.
Where in your resolutions is there room for compassion?