We’re only a few days into 2021. Still, I pray all is well with you so far.
Interestingly, because of my daughter Madeline’s fondness for all things 80s, I crossed into the New Year having reconnected with some favorite music from my youth. While I’m more of a hard rock kind of guy—AC/DC being the typical go-to playlist at any given moment—I found myself emptying the dishwasher to some familiars by Huey Lewis and the News.
“I Want a New Drug.” “The Heart of Rock and Roll.” “Heart and Soul.” “Back in Time.” Let me tell you, I forgot how much I appreciated these songs. They had a memorable style.
For me, I think I found the combination of catchy rhythm guitar riffs and the rasp of Huey Lewis’ voice to be a welcome change to the poppy synthesizers that were saturating the airwaves and making the 80s music scene little more than canned cheese. When it came to skill, it felt lazy, and it was almost unendurable at times. Yes, Huey Lewis and the News used keyboards. But they used them the right way—in a bluesy rock way.
Of course, I don’t mean to insult any of my friends who remain huge fans of shoulder pads and “Bonnie Tyler” hairstyles. I most definitely don’t hold anything against those of you who tap down the road listening to the Pet Shop Boys, Culture Club, or Cyndi Lauper. But truthfully, there were only so many times I could be riding along with someone listening to A-Ha’s “Take On Me” before I actually felt like climbing into whichever comic book I might have been reading, even if it meant being accosted by a couple of brutes wielding chains and a monkey wrench. Seriously. If it weren’t for bands led by the likes of Angus Young, Eddie Van Halen, Joe Elliot, and yes, Huey Lewis, the radio would’ve, for the most part, been dead to me.
Of course I hear these songs through different filters, now. As a kid, it’s the music I remember most. But now I’m listening to the lyrics more intently, and oftentimes, I’m discovering things I missed.
Again, speaking of Huey Lewis and the News, I was listening to the song “Jacob’s Ladder.” There’s no arguing it’s sort of a “works righteousness” song. Lewis sings about being put off by the TV preachers and the aggressive Law-wielding Bible-thumpers. Good for him. They are off-putting to me, too. But because this is now his interpretation of Christianity, he turns to the even less certain spirituality of trying to figure it out on his own. He sings about striving to be a good person, and day by day, doing his best to climb his way to heaven. The insinuation is that ultimately God will smile on him when he finally arrives.
“Step by step, one by one. Higher and higher. Step by step, rung by rung. Climbing Jacob’s ladder.”
It’s a sad premise. The Word of God is pretty clear that no one will gain entrance to heaven by their works. In fact, Saint Paul couldn’t have said it any more straightforwardly than when he scribed:
“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).
On the contrary, God’s Word makes clear that mankind is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Good works are a fruit of saving faith, and even as we do them, it is God at work through His believers. In other words, we can’t even take credit for our good deeds (Ephesians 2:8-10). It’s one reason why you’ll hear so many Christians, namely Lutherans, say the phrase, “Soli Deo gloria,” that is, to God alone be the glory.
I must confess, however, right in the middle of Huey’s messy (but also very popular) theology, he says something of value. By value, I mean it’s genuine, and I’m guessing it resonates with most normal people:
“All I want from tomorrow is to get it better than today.”
As a person, he honestly wants to improve. He just wants tomorrow to be better than the day before it.
I get that. As I said, I think most folks do, especially at this time each year. When the month of December has changed to January, and the old year has become a new one, many are hoping for better days—better relationships, better habits, better character, better selves.
There’s nothing wrong with working to be a better person. I say, if you can make those New Year’s resolutions and actually keep them, great. I made my own, and I intend to charge forth. Just keep in mind that as so many are striving to be what the world would consider better—wealthier, the most popular, the most intelligent and most talented in every way—to be any of these or none of these is as nothing if your innermost hope isn’t built on Christ. Without Him, you will be poor no matter the size of your holdings. Without Him, you are to be pitied no matter how many fawn in your presence. Without Him, you are the most foolish, no matter how many degrees you have on your wall; the most bumbling no matter the trophies.
Whatever comes your way in 2021, let your aim in every circumstance be fixed on Christ and His work to rescue you from Sin. He’s the only One with the divine strength for climbing the rungs of perfection, and He did it in your place. He’s the only One who took every step with perfect precision, and He did it all for your sake. He’s the only One who could take a righteous stand before the Father, and He did so as both your mediator and substitute. The Christmas season we just enjoyed is the foretelling of these things. Christmas preaches the Good News that after the fall into Sin, God didn’t turn away from His rebelliously imperfect world in disgust even as He knew we’d never be able to fix what we’d broken. Instead, He sent Jesus—the Son of God having become Man—who submitted Himself to all that we are and must endure. By His perfect work, He fixed what was broken. Now there is peace between God and man. Now, by faith, we are counted as righteous.
Because of Christ, your eternal tomorrow is guaranteed to be better than today.