It is estimated that in the month of January, 200 million people are going to make New Year’s resolutions. And in February, 80% of those will aggressively abandon or fail in those resolutions.
I believe this happens because of how we think about New Year’s resolutions. Most resolutions are simply confessions based on regret, shame, and guilt.
Sure, there is a yearning deep within us for something to change but honestly, our resolutions are simply an acknowledgment of our failures based on perceived expectations within our culture and so we make lofty plans to become a better version of ourselves.
And as we evaluate our lives, we end up trying to do something about everything but it becomes too overwhelming and so we just give up and we say things like, “Well, maybe next year will work”.
So, last week I challenged you to begin to think differently about resolutions. Instead of asking, how can I make up for my past failures and become a better version of me, ask, what does God want me to become this year? I challenged you to carve out some time alone with God and boldly ask for one word to be placed in your heart. One word that you believe captures God’s desire for your life this year.
Let me tell you what this word is not . . .
It is not a magic word, unless your word is abracadabra. It’s a word that frames a vision; a word that will serve as a lens for you to see God’s work in your life, and a word that will shape, inform, and give you a fresh perspective of your life.
It’s also not a prophet word. It’s a word that will cause you to look at the condition of your heart and put you into a position to see your heart changed. In other words, it creates a process for formation.
One of the biggest challenges with New Year’s resolutions is that we tend to say, “I will never do that again or I will always do this new thing for the rest of my life” but then what happens? We end up doing the very thing we said we wouldn’t, or we don’t follow through with the thing we said we would.
How does that make you feel? Pretty much like a failure.
You see, the problem with this approach to change is that we make these promises, these resolutions, and they create two categories; success or failure. And when you fail, which statistically we know we will, you put yourself into the category of being a failure and you simply give up and when you do that, you neglect the most important part of formation.
Formation is a process and it requires time and attention. Your one word gives you a lens to pay attention. Proverbs 24:23 says, “Above all else guard your heart for from it flows all of your life.”
Every part of your life flows from your heart. Where you heart is, your life will follow. So, it’s important to pay attention to your heart. And to create change in your heart requires awareness and discipline. Discipline is the difference between what you want now and what you want most.
Your one word forces you to focus on what you believe God wants most for your life and it causes you to focus on the process, not the outcome. This isn’t about success or failure but formation of your heart which happens over time and sometimes temptation and failure play a big part in formation.
As I think about formation as a process, I can’t help but think of the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. This story takes place immediately after Jesus had been baptized in the Jordan river.
Let’s listen to our text: Luke 4:1-13
It was an amazing scene . . . Jesus has just been baptized and as he came up out of the water, the skies opened and the spirit of God descends upon Jesus like a dove and a voice from heaven spoke saying, “This is my son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.”
Jesus is not only being blessed by God . . . he is proclaiming Jesus to be the Son of God and that he is loved. God’s word for Jesus is love and this word becomes the lens in which his life and ministry flow.
So, now that Jesus has been baptized, filled with the Spirit, and given a word, it seems like it is go time but the Spirit isn’t finished with him yet. Remember, formation is a process.
Instead of opening up ministry opportunities right there on the banks of the Jordan River where people are already gathered and seemingly primed to hear whatever it is that Jesus might say or do after seeing what just happened . . . that same Spirit leads him into the wilderness all by himself for forty days.
And for 40 days, Jesus is tempted. Luke records 3 of these temptations but there were more. This was ongoing temptation for forty days and forty nights. Jesus got to that place of constant temptation by being spirit filled, spirit led . . . hmm.
You see, this isn’t just a time for quiet reflection and contemplation. It’s the spirit of God throwing Jesus into the wilderness of his own soul, his own call, and his own identity. It’s a spiritual process.
The first temptation begins at the end of verse two, chapter four: “He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’”
Jesus hasn’t eaten for 40 days and dude is hungry and Satan tells him to make bread.
If you’re hungry, is it a sin to eat bread? No. Could Jesus have turned stones into bread? Sure. He’s going to make water into wine. If he can make water into wine, he can make stones into bread.
Then what’s the temptation here?
If you listen closely, you’ll hear that this is an attack on Jesus’ identity, “if you are the Son of God.” Remember, Jesus was baptized, comes up out of the water, skies open, spirit comes down like a dove and God the Father says, “This is my Son, whom I love.”
And Satan says, “Really? Are you really the Son of God?” Does he really love you?
You see, your life comes out of your identity and your identity flows from your heart. What you think you are will determine what decisions you make and how you live your life.
Jesus has just been told that he is the Son of God and that he is loved; a proclamation that will set the course of his life and his ministry and Satan comes and says, “Are you sure?”
You see, if Satan can get you to forget your identity then the decisions about how you live your life and your calling will be drastically altered.
Jesus responds by quoting scripture . . . Deut. 8:3, “it is written man does not live on bread alone” The rest of that verse says this, “but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD”
In the face of temptation, Jesus doesn’t say, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to do some homework and I’ll get back to you” but instead he’s prepared, and he quotes the word . . . from memory.
Now, you would think that Satan would back off – just quote a verse at him, say your word, and he’ll leave you alone but that’s not how the deceiver operates. He wants you to forget your identity, he wants you to forget your word from God so he continues to tempt in hopes that you will fail and give up.
The story continues, “And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, ‘“You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.”’”
Satan comes preaching prosperity to Jesus – a tactic Satan still uses in the church - but what’s at issue here is worship.
Satan says to Jesus, “You want glory, you want fame, and you want power – you want to be a better version of yourself . . . we can do that without the cross. You don’t need to be abandoned, betrayed, arrested, and murdered. We can give you a crown without a cross. We can give you a kingdom without a tomb. We can do that. Just one thing, you’ll need to worship me.”
What’s interesting is that he’s not asking Jesus to become an atheist and deny the father. Just take the father down a notch from his position of glory. And if you do, I’ll make you comfortable, successful, and powerful. I’ll give you all the pleasures that your mind could ever think of.
How does Jesus respond? He turns to the Word. This time he quotes Deuteronomy 6:13 . . . “It is written, you shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.”
Does Satan leave him alone, thinking “man, this guy is good, I’m never gonna get him to crack? No, he comes to Jesus one last time.
Jesus is exhausted. He has been without food for 40 days and 40 nights and the devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple and he says,
“If” . . . there it is again, challenging his identity . . . “If you are the Son of God throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. Jesus answered, ‘It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Satan comes to Jesus and says, “I notice you like the Scriptures. I study them myself. You’ve been quoting Deuteronomy a few times, but I’ve been getting my devotionals from the Psalms and it says that God will protect those who are his faithful servants . . . Test him.”
You want to know what Satan and his demons are doing right now. They are having a bible study trying to figure out how to destroy us. They’re sitting around with an open bible, and saying “okay, those people at Logos Dei Church, I don’t think they really understand this. Maybe we could use that to lead them astray and get them to forget who they are in Jesus and what God wants for their lives.”
But Jesus knows the Word of God, very, very well and he goes back to Deuteronomy. This time it’s chapter six. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
What he is telling him is, “you have quoted the verse, but you have misapplied it - you’ve tried to make God’s word fit into your argument.”
God’s point in Psalm 91 is not, test God and make him prove to you who he is . . . it says if you faithfully serve him, he will lovingly help you in your time of need.”
And with that Satan leaves Jesus; forty days of constant, ongoing, painful battle and temptation and then he’s gone but notice that it says he left him until an opportune time.
The story doesn’t end there.
Luke continues, "Then, Jesus armed with the power of the Spirit returned to Galilee." He returns to his hometown with clarity about his mission and purpose. Jesus heads over to the church, opens the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and reads these words,
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me. He has sent me to announce good news to the poor, to proclaim release for the captives and recovery of sight for the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the Lord's favor." Then Jesus rolls up the scroll and says to the assembled worshippers, "Today, today, in your very hearing this text has come true."
Jesus comes out of the wilderness, out of his temptations, filled and armed with the Spirit. He claims his identity as the son of God and embraces his mission; to proclaim the good news, to bring restoration and release, reconciliation and renewal . . . in one word, he comes with LOVE.
Jesus claims it. Jesus embraces it. He breathes it. He lives it through preaching, teaching, healing and welcoming the outcast and poor. He shows it finally in his willingness to offer himself on the cross as an action of love poured out for all.
In his experience in the wilderness, Jesus does not become distracted by the things that the tempter tries to offer him. No, he keeps his eyes on the prize. He rests in the Spirit of God and refuses the power and security that could keep him temporarily satisfied while deterring him from his real purpose in life.
As we said earlier, Discipline is the difference between what you want now and what you want most.
Jesus clings to God’s word for him and He chooses his mission and call. And because of what he did, he offers to those who call upon his name and believe that he is the son of God a new identity.
In Christ, we have a new identity. You’re a new creation and been given a word that can define your life in Christ and Satan would come to you and say,
- “Are you really forgiven? Don’t you remember the horrible things you did? Are you sure God forgives you of that? “
- God loves you. Are you sure that he loves you? You’re suffering right now and you’re failing at everything. It doesn’t look like he loves you.
- Are you sure you’re saved and loved and redeemed and cleansed and forgiven? All those big promises the Bible makes, if that was true, wouldn’t your life look a little better than it does right now?
Some of you come here, and even hearing this, all you hear is “Your temptation is so strong, and your faith is so weak. Your life course is already set. Your past is unforgivable. Your future is unhopeful. You’re beyond the grace of God. You are a failure.”
That would be your enemy whispering in your ear, trying to take away from you the freedom and the joy and the newness of life offered in Jesus.
He’s a liar. He’s a liar and the truth will set you free!
I know that some of you have experienced guilt and condemnation and shame. But there is no condemnation in Jesus. Romans 8:1 says
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
There is no condemnation, there is conviction; the spirit takes you to that wilderness of your own soul, your own call, and your own identity.
The conviction should cause you to love Jesus and transform your heart, but transformation takes time and it takes awareness and having one word will help you stay focused on what God desires for your life.
Jesus will give you a new identity as one who is changed, loved, healed, forgiven, and granted his perfect righteousness. Jesus’ victory is your victory. Jesus’ righteousness is your righteousness. Live up to what you’ve already obtained.
Let me tell you what we’re gonna do. I want you to take a few moments to think about a word that you believe God might be giving you this year and then write it down on this note card. Maybe there are a couple of words that come to mind. Write them down. Take it home with you, put it in a visible place, and begin to pray about this word. Pray that God give you clarity and vision for what he desires in your life this year and next week, we’ll talk a little more about it.