Start Fresh

A New Year's Beginning

Olive branches have symbolized peace since the earliest times of the bible. But real peace is found in Jesus Christ. Whether you are a Christian who wants to refresh your faith this year or a curious nonbeliever looking for peace, start here by meeting people who found Jesus was the change they needed.

Becoming a Christian can be a jumble of wonder, awe, guilt and emotion. One moment you probably have no clue who God is, and the next moment you enter a relationship with your Creator. Renewing your commitment to the Lord can have a similar effect.

Through a simple prayer, you put your name into one of the Bible’s greatest promises: “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” John 3:16. You are one of the whosoever!

This is salvation. Or as the Bible also calls it, you are saved. But what does that mean? It means that you have openly confessed that Jesus is your Lord and Savior.

Jesus can save you because He died on the Cross for you. His blood pays your penalty for all the sins you have committed.

Regardless of your race, nationality, social status or beliefs, prior to reaching out to Jesus, you are crippled by a viral infection called sin. All humans sin, even if you are convinced you lead a good life. At times, even the best people lie, cheat, steal or otherwise act dishonestly, selfishly and with little thought of others. By reaching out to Jesus, you are admitting that you are a sinner in need of Jesus and his power to save.

The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23 ESV. Whether you have stolen a dollar or committed a murder, you have broken one of the Ten Commandments, which were given by God as a basis for all laws.

In coming to Christ, you are also recognizing that there is a penalty for sin. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 6:23.

To accept the free gift of God, simply talk to Him, which is prayer. Confess that Jesus is your Lord and repent of your sins. Repenting means to change direction and turn away from your sins. As you confess and repent, ask for God’s forgiveness of your sins. God is perfect and wants you with Him eternally, but you cannot bring sin into His presence. Only those forgiven and made clean by God can enter Heaven. Finally, surrender to God. Promise obedience to His commands and you will feel born again.

Confess

In the early 1970s, there was risk involved in confessing Christ if you were a citizen of the old Soviet Union. But Tatiana Gorichev, then 26 years old, had grown weary of her own failings and sin.

“From my childhood my eyes had been blindfolded in some way. I longed to make my confession because I already felt with my innermost being that I would receive liberation, that the new person which I had recently discovered within myself would be completely victorious and drive out the old person. For every moment after my conversion, I felt inwardly healed and renewed, but at the same time it was as though I was somehow covered with a crust of sin, which had grown around me and had become hard. So I longed for penance, as if for a wash.”

Repent

After confessing, repent. This brings healing to your soul and spirit. As Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” Luke 5:31–32.

This is illustrated in the New Testament story (John 4:1–42) about a Samaritan woman who encountered Jesus at a water well. As they spoke, Jesus told the woman that he could give her “living water,” a metaphor for salvation. He also revealed that she had five husbands and the man she was living with was not her husband. Recognizing the power of Jesus, she repented—turned in another direction—and spread the word about Jesus to her community, many were drawn to him. Only by repenting of her sins could the woman have received God’s mercy.

Forgive

The essence of the Christian message is this truth: God sent his only Son, Jesus, to die on a cross at Calvary and rise from the dead to sit at the right hand of God. He can and will extend forgiveness for sins to all who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

As the New Testament teaches, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” Ephesians 1:7 ESV.

But forgiveness is not confined to God. Christians also are commanded to forgive others who have wronged them or ask forgiveness from others they have wronged. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” Matthew 6:12. Among those debtors are all you have sinned against, such as strangers, friends, and even—as a mother and son learned—family.

The last time Mike Hartwig caught a glimpse of his father, all he could see were his dad’s legs ascending the basement steps when walking out on his family.

Not long after, his mother remarried a man who did not want to raise another man’s children. So six-year-old Mike and his two sisters were put up for adoption.

Adopted into a family that already had four girls, his new father and his new sisters weren’t the problem, his new mother was. When Mike met her, she stood silently, a scowl on her face. After his new dad went back to work that day, Mike spoke rudely to his fearsome new mother, which was a mistake.

Springing at Mike, his mother began pummeling him. Seething, she grabbed a knife and hissed, “No kid is coming into my house and ruining the good thing that we have going. Straighten up or I’ll plunge this knife into your skull.”

More rage was to come. She beat Mike daily for years, often using whatever was at hand. Sports equipment was effective: Tennis rackets, baseball bats and hockey equipment were her favorite weapons.

“I have a nice scar on my skull to this day,” Mike says.

When Mike turned 13, he was determined to stop the beatings. She approached one day, but he snatched away her bat. Holding it over her head, he warned, “If you ever come after me again, I will take this bat and come crush your skull with it in the middle of the night.” Mike’s father never saw any of the war going on within his church-going family.

Around this time, Mike picked up a picture Bible. An illustration of a bloodied Christ caught his eye. Towering over the Savior was a massive Roman soldier armed with a cat-o-nine-tails. The caption said, “He did this for you and me.”

“No one wanted me. My dad didn’t want me, my mom didn’t, my new dad didn’t and new mom didn’t. No one wanted me. But here was Someone who did want me. After reading it, I was changed,” Mike says.

A couple years later, Mike started college, preparing for ministry. Even then, the long reach of his mother’s anger found him. She regularly wrote long, nasty letters assuring him he would fail.

A Christian friend advised Mike to forgive her; he did. He prayed about it alone and didn’t tell his mother. The friend encouraged Mike to show her kindnesses; he did. His kindness didn’t seem to have much effect. Then an unexpected call came from her.

“It sounded like she was crying,” Mike says. “Two things about my mom: I never saw her cry and I never saw her laugh.”

She had called to ask for his forgiveness. She was befriended by a neighbor, who invited her to a Bible study. Through that, Mike’s mom came to the Lord.

Over the following months, forgiveness took root. Mike’s mother had trouble understanding this, until he told her, “We can do this because Somebody wanted me and wanted you. His name is Jesus Christ,” Mike said. Then he offered a small joke to relax the situation. This drew a light laugh from his mother. “Can you imagine going 20-some years without ever hearing your mother laugh?”

Today, Mike and his mother are close. They talk on the phone every week, and she is the only grandmother his children have ever known. She loves them and they love her. “I love my mother, too,” Mike says.

Surrender

Surrender is what happened when Deanna, a young woman in San Diego, made Jesus her Lord in 2009. She literally reached out her arms to Jesus and embraced this verse: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” Galatians 2:20.

She had been brought to this moment some months after making a bad decision because of financial stress. The high cost of college pushed her to follow a friend’s advice and become a stripper. Bills were paid and all seemed well at first.

“When I was on the stage, I felt so beautiful. When I was up there, I felt like everyone stopped just to look at me. It felt really good,” Deanna says. “The more I made, the better I got, and the easier it was to do what I did.”

But as she pursued her choice, a realization was forming deep inside that something was wrong.

In 2009, she was invited to an Easter service at Rock Church in the San Diego area. Deanna’s usual resistance began to crumble. Soon she was crying. Then she surrendered.

“I remember walking up and coming to Christ with my arms wide open and saying, ‘God, I will do whatever you want me to do, and I know what You want me to do is to turn away from that lifestyle. I know in my bones that You have something more for me.’ God has delivered me and made me whole,” Deanna says.

With her surrender came an awareness of who she really was.

“I feel so much more beautiful now than I ever did taking my clothes off. I thought then that that’s what beautiful was. But now I know that I’m worth way more on the inside than I am on the outside,” she says.

Anyone who commits his or her life to the Lord can feel like Deanna did that day. One minute you are a sinner, and the next minute you are a saint. The moment you are forgiven by God, you join the ranks of His people—the saints.

Now, as a believer, you are told in the Bible to follow Jesus like an obedient child, setting aside your old sinning ways and patterning your new life after the holy life of Jesus.

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” 1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV.

Everything ahead of you is new when you surrender your life to God. Follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit and accept whatever God wants for your life.

As the Bible says, “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” Romans 6:13. God will use everything about you—your mind, your spirit, your arms and legs—to do His will. In surrendering to Him, you are offering your “members.”

After you confess, repent, are forgiven and forgive, and surrender, Scripture says that a new believer should also follow the example of Jesus and be baptized. “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” Romans 6:4.

To see Deanna’s testimony, posted by Rock Church, San Diego, go to: youtube.com/watch?v=GL127MSJa1k.

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