In the new year, we often long for new beginnings and have new hopes. Unfortunately, these are met with disappointments that usually catch up with us by March (at least, that’s how it went in 2020). We realize that new beginnings are never really that new. A new gym, new job, new city, even a new marriage, all seem to promise a new beginning. But most of our problems still remain–we still don’t like going to the gym, there’s a new annoying coworker, the commute stinks, and we’re still prone to fight about the things we fought about before we were married! As we face this cold, hard reality, our hopes fade, and with them, the refuge of possibility seems like a mirage in the desert. Why hope for fresh start?
The apostle Paul’s words in Galatians 2:19-21 describe a new beginning that’s very different from what we often have in mind. These two truths have the power to meet us in our disappointments:
- A New Beginning Starts with Death
In Galatians 2:19-21, we’re given a new beginning we can hold onto–a shift that’s so drastic, so new that to speak of it is not in the language of redoes and second chances, but of death and resurrection! First, the Apostle Paul declares that “…through the law, I died to the law…” (v. 19). Death is not a common New Year’s resolution, and yet for the Christian, dying to the law is the initiation of their new beginning.
This dying to the law is not pious talk, but our actual death being united with Christ’s death, where he bore the curse of the law (see Romans 6:3-11). That is, our failure to measure up, and the curse that it brings, is placed on Christ’s cross, rather than our shoulders. Thus, Paul declares for himself, and for us, “I have been crucified with Christ” (v. 20). Lying with Christ in his grave, we embrace a seemingly strange God–one who “…redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–as it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Gal 3:13). The demands of the law remain in the grave of Jesus. And in the dark, cold and seemingly hopeless grave, we hear the purpose of all of this: “I died to the law, so that I might live to God” (v. 19).
In the midst of such a death, how can anyone be bold enough to speak of living? Such talk can only be possible because of the resurrection of Jesus who proclaims; “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die…” (John 11:25-26). Death to the law was necessary if there was ever going to be a new beginning–a resurrection–especially if that life was going to be “to God.”
- A New Beginning Continues by Faith
Because this new beginning has sprung up out of death to the law, it’s now lived in by faith, out of a new identity: “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” (v. 20). Life “to God” is not a “second chance” or even a “fresh start” but a new world: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17).
The law tells us to climb–to strive for new beginnings and second chances. But we’re always left disappointed. As Luther wrote, “The law says, ‘do this,’ and it is never done…” It cannot produce the new life it describes. But love springs forth because we have died to the law and its demands; “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14).
From start to finish, the new beginning we long for, and the new beginning we now have in Jesus, is by his grace alone, through faith alone.
As the new year approaches and our longing for new beginnings rears its head, let’s remember that our deepest need has been met in Christ. He is at work in us, making all things new (Rev 21:5). Our hope is not in what we will accomplish this year but in the finished work of Christ. That hope “does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).
 Martin Luther, Thesis 26, Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 as quoted in On Being a Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard O. Forde (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 107