Defined by Grace

The last days of a calendar year are typically a time for reflection and resolution. It’s good for the soul to look back—to trace God’s faithfulness through the various blessings and trials of the year gone by. When I look back on 2017, my heart swells with gratitude as I see so clearly the many ways God has graciously cared for our family in a year of change and transition. I see His hand of provision in many unexpected beautiful ways.  

It can also be beneficial to look ahead and mentally prepare for the fresh start of a new year. There are certainly noble goals and improvements worthy of our time, intentionality, and discipline. I have already been formulating a mental list of things I want to do (or need to do better) in 2018: More exercise, more consistent time in the Word, better meal planning, less sugar, more prayer, more quality time with each child, etc. Motivating as these lists may be, they also make it easy to feel overwhelmed before the new year even begins.

Evaluating ourselves–our blessings, our hardships, our work, our (perceived) successes and failures our plans, our goals–seems the most natural and beneficial way to end one year and begin the next. We live in a world where most people define themselves by the work they do or the earthly relationships they possess. We tend to define happiness as the absence of pain and suffering. We define blessing as material prosperity or good health or a beautiful, intact family. The problem with evaluating and defining ourselves (and our year) by these measures alone is made clear by either the inflated pride or deep discouragement we often experience as a result. Is there is a better way? What if we ended and began each year looking not at ourselves but at God? How would it change our outlook on the year to recognize that our true worth and the purpose of our days is found only in light of who He is?

God as Creator

As believers, we often acknowledge God as our Creator and ourselves as His creation, but too often we fail to let this truth define our own personal sense of identity and worth. Human beings are the crown of God’s entire creation–rational living creatures, made male and female in His very image and likeness to reflect His glory in a way that no other part of his creation can (Gen 1:27-28). After God created humanity, He declared His creation to be very good, not based on anything inherent in the creation itself but because each human being was made and loved by Him, the good Creator.  C.S. Lewis puts it this way:

God’s love, far from being caused by goodness in the object, causes all goodness which the object has, loving it first into existence and then into real, though derivative lovability. God is Goodness. He can give good but cannot need or get it . . . It is good for us to know love; and best for us to know the love of the best object, God.

God as Redeemer

God intended for His love to wholly define the human beings He created and for us to respond to that love in joyful obedience and service. Instead, we spurned the love of our Good Creator and responded in disobedience and rebellion. We exchanged God’s truth about who we are for a lie and thought it better to look to the creation (ourselves, other people, our work, our stuff) rather than the Creator for our worth and purpose. God would have been just and righteous to leave us in our darkened rebellion, separated from Him forever by our own choice. But our God is more than a holy, just, loving Creator. He is also a gracious Redeemer. God sent Jesus to die for our sinful rebellion so that His righteous wrath against sin and evil would be satisfied and our lost identity as His beloved children would be reclaimed. Jesus came that believers might be defined by God’s grace:

He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will . . . In Him we have redemption through His blood the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace… In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation–having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge for our inheritance . . . (Eph 1)

God as Sustainer

Scripture teaches that believers are created anew in Christ Jesus for the purpose of good works that God prepared for each of us in advance (Eph 2:10). Work is important in God’s economy, and He has given each of us specific work to do for His glory during our years on Earth. But our work must stay in its proper place. It was never meant to define us or become the measure of our sense of worth. When we look to any part of the creation–ourselves, our work, our stuff, our relationships– rather than the Creator Himself to tell us who we are,  we make the creation an idol of our worship. And our idols cannot sustain us through the mountains and valleys, changes, delights, and disappointments of each new year. Our idols of work and self and even good relationships cannot carry us through to the end. There is only one who is worthy of our worship. Only one who can and will sustain us. We must be faithful in the work He has called us to and look to him as our helper in the midst of every high and low.

Listen to me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, You who have been borne by Me from birth and have been carried from the womb; Even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you. I have done it, and I will carry you; And I will bear you and I will deliver you (Isa 46).

As we reflect on the joys and trials of 2017 and look forward with plans for 2018, may we fix our eyes on the God of creation, redemption, and sustaining power. He is the one who tells us who we are. He is the one who holds each day of our lives here on earth and offers the meaning and purpose that we that we so desperately long for those days to hold. He is the one who will carry us through to the end.

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