A new year is something that many look forward to, but perhaps no one more than those in the fitness industry. Though the idea of New Years’ “resolutions” have become ironic and are oft-derided, there are still a large number of people that see a new year as an opportunity to finally improve themselves, often physically. The transition from December to January, dictated by an ultimately arbitrary calendar developed by our ancestors, is somehow supposed to be able to motivate and inspire deep personal change.
Even doubly so in 2020, as we move not just to a new year but a new decade. There is not only the weight of who you will be this year but for the next ten years. I can only imagine what the resolutions will be like in the year 3000. New year, new decade, new CENTURY!
Translation: the gym I frequent is packed.
This phenomenon is equal parts annoying and interesting to me (okay, perhaps weighted more toward annoying). It causes me to ponder our cultural fascination with paying a company to let us walk in place for 30-45 minutes, but more than that, I can’t help but wonder how many of these people will still be here in 6 months (hopefully the majority wind up lacking in self-discipline, or I am finding another gym).
Here is my theory: at some point we all must come to grips with who we are. Not who we want to be, or hope to be, but who we are. All too often, we dream up lofty ideas and goals for ourselves that far outpace what we are able to do realistically. This idealistic approach to self-development leaves us frustrated and ultimately, we quit.
In other words, we realize that it may be a new year, but we are the same person.
There was no magical switch that got flipped between December 31 and January 1. The person that went to sleep on New Years’ Eve is the same person that will wake up on New Years’ Day. In order to make any sort of personal change, that person will have to acknowledge who they are in contrast to who they want to be.
This is not an article about getting in shape or my personal chagrin at being shoulder to shoulder with sweaty people at the gym. We read in 1 Timothy 4, “Rather train yourselves for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it hold promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (7b-8)
In Matthew 13 Jesus takes the time to explain one of his parables to his disciples. This is a rare occurrence, as he would typically share these parables and intentionally not make the meaning plain to those listening. Because Jesus takes the time to explain this particular parable, let’s take advantage of his explanation and how it pertains to this idea we’ve introduced.
And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”
“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
– Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23
This is often referred to as the Parable of the Sower, but I think a more accurate title would be the Parable of the Soils. After all, that are the focal point of this message from Jesus. There are four different types of soil mentioned here, the first three could all be classified as “bad” soil, with the fourth referred to as “good” soil which produces fruit.
The teaching from this passage often sounds like this: “make sure you are the right kind of soil!” But this seems silly, if you think about it. How would you know what kind of soil you are until you see what kind of fruit you produce? You can try to will yourself to be the “right” kind of soil, but the only real way to tell is when the results are seen.
The teachings of Jesus flies in the face of our resolutions.
We decide that we will do this or that in order to better ourselves, and act as if we should be admired simply for making that decision. But deciding to do something makes no difference – it is what actually happens that matters. That is where the truth of who we are is revealed. That is where we must recognize that regardless of our idealistic view of our capabilities and aspirations, we cannot keep up a facade for very long.
From Scripture, we know that “bettering ourselves” should not be the goal of a follower of Jesus. It is to become more like him (Romans 8:28-29). And how do we tell whether we are becoming more like him? By bearing spiritual fruit (John 15:1-17). Since we know that only “good soil” can bear fruit, how can you tell what kind of soil you are?
Sean O’Donnell says it this way in his commentary on Matthew:
The true test of discipleship is not whether or not one received the gospel with joy at some datable moment in history. The true test of discipleship is whether or not one picks up his cross and follows Jesus, not for one day or two weeks or three months or four years, but until Jesus calls him home. The true Christian is not like a cut flower that a husband gives to his wife, a flower quite beautiful and alive for a week, but quite repulsive and dead after the unrelenting sun has beaten down upon it for a month.
The quality of soil is revealed through the fruit it produces. In the same way that someone’s commitment to their physical health is revealed through their results, so the health of one’s relationship with Jesus is revealed through their fruit. It is not done through “resolving” to grow fruit. True followers of Jesus recognize that it is only through the Holy Spirit that they are able to be “good soil.”
Ask yourself this question as you enter into 2020: how is your fruit? Spend some time pondering Galatians 5 (I’m not going to put it here, you can go study it on your own), and ask yourself some hard questions. Is your life defined more by works of the flesh, or the fruit of the Spirit? Be honest with yourself, and humbly acknowledge where you are and where you are lacking. This honesty drives us to repent and believe in the saving, life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ.
Don’t sit in guilt and shame!
Having repented and putting your faith and trust in Jesus, you can rest in the reality that it is only through the Spirit that you are able to bear fruit. You don’t have to try to produce fruit out of your own ability. Embrace this love relationship with your Savior, practice the discipline of listening for the Spirit, and allow him to use God’s Word in your life to refine and shape you into a closer image of Christ. Let this be the year where your life can grow to be defined by a reliance on the Spirit to produce his fruit in your life.