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Return to March/April 2015 articles.

Who does not love spring? Even those of us who suffer from pollen allergies look forward to this time of year in spite of the fact that we know we will be sneezing and our eyes will be watering and itching. It all goes with the season. I do not think it is just the pretty flowers and the warm weather that makes us love spring. For those of us in Michigan at least, it is the contrast from the darkness and confinement of winter that makes spring uniquely special. When you have been through five months of lake-effect clouds and short days during which you do not see the sun, having longer days and wonderful times of sunshine make spring truly a time of renewal.

In addition to all of this, spring brings freedom from all of the problems that existed in the world around us in the fall. Winter snuffs out the weeds that never got pulled from the garden, and at least for a while all of the weeds we battled in the autumn are gone. The scum on the pond is gone and the pond is full of fresh clean water. Instead of the dead leaves that never got raked up, the forest floor and much of our back yards have fresh new grass, jack-in-the-pulpits, mayapples, and ferns.

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul uses the analogy of a plant in spring to describe what Christianity is designed to do. “In your own experience you know that a seed does not germinate without itself ‘dying.’ ” “And when the green shoot comes up out of the seed it is very different from the seed you first planted …” (verses 36 – 37, Phillips and TLB). He goes on in verses 42 – 44, (NIV) to compare this to life and life after death. He points out that in life we deal with corruption, but in heaven there will be no corruption (verse 42). He finishes by saying we are sown a natural body and raised a spiritual body. This analogy is carried on in Romans where Paul pushes on to say “don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin — because anyone who has died has been freed from sin” (Romans 6:3 – 7, NIV).

Second Corinthians 5:17 (KJV) tells us that when we become a Christian we become “a new creature: old things are passed away; … all things are become new.” Colossians 3:9 – 10 (KJV) tells us we “put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man; which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.”

We talk in this journal about the design features seen in the creation around us. Our “Dandy Designs” column is now available in five volumes giving hundreds of examples of things observed in the world around us that speak of God’s order, wisdom, and planning. There is perhaps no example of design in the creation that is as important as the design of the Christian system. How important is it to live with a world-view that allows us to make a new start in life? How vital is it to mental health to know that we CAN put our past behind us and make a new beginning?

This new beginning is not a bandage that we can apply outwardly to free ourselves from repeated sin. The most fundamental condition of this freedom is the change of heart that is involved in repentance. The Greek word used for repentance is metanoia, meaning “to have a change of mind,” or “to have another mind” (Young's Analytical Concordance of the Holy Bible). Like the planting of the seed, what comes out of repentance looks nothing like what went into it. We think differently, we have different priorities, we put different value on things, and we embrace a different way of living. In the Old Testament under the Law of Moses, people were enslaved to their actions. The “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” of Judaism (and of all other major world religions today) work on the overt conduct of the individual. However, the weakness of human beings makes these rules unworkable. Paul marveled at how quickly the Galatians left the freedom of Christianity and went back to the enslavement of the Old Law (see Galatians 1:6; 3:1 – 4, 11 – 14; and 6:15). In Colossians 2:8 – 17 Paul makes additional references to this and tells his readers that Jesus nailed the old ordinances to his cross.

The picture on the cover of this issue conveys the idea that the old man is kneeling before the cross of Jesus so that he can have the Lord's help in securing the newness that Christianity offers. We are not left hanging out on our own in this renewal process. Peter stated the process in concise form in Acts 2. He was asked what a person needed to do when they realized that they were in the darkness of sin and despair — the winter of living life their own way. His response was, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are afar off, …” (Acts 2:38 – 39, NIV). Notice that Peter tells them to repent — to start thinking differently, to turn away from the past and the attitudes and philosophies and religions that have controlled them, and to turn to a new way of living. That newness is once again the theme of this article. Notice that this newness has linked to it an assistance that was never available before in any religious or philosophical system — and it is still unique today. “The gift of the Holy Spirit” is promised to everyone who will accept Christ and obey him in baptism. That promise applied in Peter's day and still applies today.

When I became a Christian, I was coming from the darkness of atheism. I had trusted in philosophy and in a lifestyle that revolved around “survival of the fittest.” I had been driven to the brink of suicide by this way of living. I no longer wanted to live a lifestyle that used others and was based upon my own strength — even though at the time, in my own eyes, I WAS “the most fit.” First John 1:5 – 10 talks vividly about walking in the dark, and I knew what that darkness was about. I knew about obeying God, and I knew I wanted to change. I also knew about my own weakness in how I thought and acted. Romans 7:14 – 25 is a perfect description of me. My overpowering fear was that I could not change.

The “gift of the Holy Spirit” is not some overwhelming ghost-like creature that solves all of our problems for us and absolves us of any responsibility for making a new beginning. This “gift” is something you have to accept and use. You use this gift by prayer and by allowing the Holy Spirit to guide you in situations where on your own you would fail. For me, even such a simple thing as not filling the air with expletives was a monstrous challenge. Stopping my criminal acts was simple compared to not thinking with curse words in my thoughts. Looking at a woman without a singular sexual thought was an obstacle that I thought was biological and thus unstoppable. The “newness” that I wanted as a Christian did not come instantaneously. It grew as I matured and learned how to converse with God and how to think differently. Strength that I knew was not of my own origin began to become apparent in my life.

It was a mystery to me how plants knew when to come up in spring and why when they were planted upside down they always emerged right side up. It was a mystery how animals could migrate thousands of miles to a specific point in the middle of a vast ocean. I could not understand how the chemistry of life functioned. As I have learned more about these things, I have seen the wisdom and intelligence involved in the creation. As mysteries are solved by scientists, the intelligence involved in those mysteries becomes more and more apparent. Even more of a mystery to me is the change I have seen happen in my life. I have not “made it” as a Christian and take comfort in the fact that newness does not mean perfection in this world. It is incredibly comforting to me that 1 John 1, which talks about walking in the light, also says ,“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. … If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives” (1 John 1:8, 10). In between those two verses is the statement “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Romans 7, referred to earlier, ends in the next chapter with a similar statement saying, “There is therefore now, no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1, KJV).

Spring is a wonderful time of year, and the design of everything associated with this season testifies to the wisdom and planning of God. God's plan in his “New Testament” also speaks of God's wisdom and design in a very different way, but in a more important way for us. It talks about how things will be different for us when this life is over. We can truly believe that “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new’ ” (Revelation 21:5).

— John N. Clayton

Picture credits:
Photo: Roland Earnst
© alexmillos. Image from BigStockPhoto.com.
© sam2172. Image from BigStockPhoto.com.
Last two photos: Roland Earnst