Stop Starting Over
What are you starting over this week? As the weekends inch closer to Monday, brand new promises begin to cycle through our heads. Our diet begins today. Our workout plan starts now. Since the slip-ups of our weekend are past, we can start again with our early bedtimes, dedicated cleaning schedule, home-cooked meals; the list goes on and on. The fresh week pushes us to hope the habits we threw out over the weekend were just a fluke. This week we’ll get it right.
Fresh starts aren’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, the turning of each season and the New Year gives us needed time to reflect on the past and think of the future. Yet I wonder if we can take the desire for new starts a little too far. I’ve spent too many of my own weekends convincing myself Monday will be different, and I’ve been exhausted by the process. Who wants to live in a state of perpetual stop and go?
Not only do we throw our diets, health choices, and habits on this exhausting cycle, but Christians can likewise lump their spiritual life in the same manner. How many times have we promised ourselves this week we’ll conquer our Bible study? This week we’ll be more patient with our kids? This week we’ll not fall for that temptation? This week we’ll pray more consistently? It all starts today!
These aren’t bad desires of course, but living in a perpetual do-over as Christians can harm us in significant ways. Firstly, it ingrains in us the false idea that the Christian life is something we should master. This is so far from the truth. Paul makes very clear we have been saved by grace, not by any work of righteousness (Eph. 2:8-9). And this same grace continues to uphold us each day of our lives. We’re not saved by grace and left to complete our sanctification by our own obedience.
The mercies of the Lord are new every morning because the Lord knows we need them every single morning. But his mercies aren’t doled out to us like an extra life on Super Mario Brothers. When we fail and lose our patience with our spouse or when we forget our prayer time, the Lord doesn’t send us back to the beginning of the level to try again, hoping we’ll succeed unscathed. He surely knows we won’t, and we can’t. That’s precisely why we needed Christ.
Instead, the Lord convicts us, and when we repent, he draws us near to him, forgives us, and reminds us of the price his Son paid in our place. Contrary to what I believed as a child, I don’t need to continually “rededicate” my life to the Lord out of fear and an effort to “start over fresh.” Christ’s perfect life and sacrifice assures us we don’t have to do this. He is the sacrifice once and for all (Heb. 10:10). Hebrews goes on to remind us we still have a high priest in Jesus, who lives and sits at the right hand of God and actively intercedes on our behalf (Heb. 4:14-16). We don’t need to continually start anew. Christ’s atoning sacrifice covers the sin from last week, yesterday, and the ones we will commit tomorrow. We can rest in Christ’s finished work, not our fresh starts and promises.
Not only do perpetual start-ups give us a false understanding of Christ’s work, but they also rob us from seeing the beautiful handiwork of our Savior in our lives. The Christian life isn’t fractured into a hodgepodge of pieces. It’s a slow, patient pilgrimage, where God holds and carries us through suffering, joy, rebellion, grief, doubt, and growth. As Eugene Peterson coined so well, it’s a “long obedience in the same direction.” And our Lord is faithful through it all.
When we constantly tell ourselves we’re “starting again” those fractures keep us from seeing God’s steady hand. They tempt us to parcel up our spiritual lives into moments when we might have felt “more spiritual” or “more disciplined.” But our unfaithfulness or times of slower growth serve as important reminders of the faithfulness of the Lord in the midst of our unfaithfulness. We need to acknowledge those too. We don’t want to scrap them to the side in exchange for the Instagram-version of our spiritual walk.
We see reminders of Israel’s failures constantly throughout the entire Bible. Through repeated rebellion and idolatry, the Lord remained faithful. We need their whole story to remember just how good and gracious the Lord is, just as we need our own. Not just the starts where we felt on top of our game. Not just the new beginnings where we promised to be disciplined. We need to gaze back at the whole long road and see the steadfast love of the Lord towards us, his children.
Maybe you have goals for this week. Maybe you hope to do something different today than you did yesterday. That’s good and needed. But you don’t need any other fresh start than the righteousness of Christ you already have, Christian. It’s not going to go away, because it’s not dependent on what you do, but what your perfect Savior has done. And believe me, that same Savior is working in you by his Spirit. He’s patiently forming you, growing you, and continually drawing you back to him, and weaving his faithfulness and love throughout every single up and down that comes your way.
Throw out the exhausting cycle of starts and stops, and just trudge on this week. Continue on with the journey Christ has called you towards, and the one that he alone enables you to walk. Press on this week, in the strength and great mercy of your Savior.