"For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace" (Rom. 4:16).

Upon entering the new year many people make resolutions and promises. They intend to live a better life during the new year. Self?examination before God is a good thing. However, we should avoid two dangers: self?satisfaction and despair.

In God's sight we are sinners. We have no reason to boast. Jesus says: "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). Outward respectability is not yet perfection. If we are offended by our neighbor or if we ourselves wound him in some way, if we forget the eternal, but seek the temporal - what is the cause of this? A person who seeks things only for himself and is proud, who is not willing to serve even his friends let alone his enemies, is not perfect. If we are satisfied with ourselves we do not feel the need for a Savior, but rather depend on our own works. We reject faith and grace, and remain under God's wrath.

The past year may have caused some people to be depressed. Their conscience accuses them. The wrath of God terrifies. They are afraid to live, terrified to die. They try to lead better lives. They make promises. But they fall, are unsuccessful and sink deeper into despair. Despite their promises they feel themselves to be closer to hell than ever before. They have experienced what Luther experienced - that the road to hell is paved with good resolutions.

Why? People like this may continually base their hope on the possibility that they will become better people. In so doing they are basing their hope of salvation on their own works. But when their conscience accuses and they have no works to rely on, despair follows.

The comfort of the Gospel is elsewhere. It is in Christ. He has lived a holy life, fulfilled all of God's Commandments, suffered the punishment for our sins as our substitute. In this way He has earned forgiveness for us. Salvation is given to us without our works. He who trusts in Christ is saved. "For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace."

The repentant thief on the cross had no works. Not even a new year, no time for bettering his life. But he had Christ and grace in Christ. He entered Paradise. May grace without our works also be our refuge. It will keep us safe.

In the shelter of God's grace we can then make plans for the future and ask God to give us strength to lead a better life.