It’s that time of year again, that wonderful time of year when half of your friends make New Year’s resolutions and the other half mock them for it. That time when half the internet beckons you to get fitter or smarter or nicer in the new year and the other half helps you do the exact opposite of each.
New Year’s resolutions certainly make for easy targets. The gyms are packed full on January 2nd but nearly empty a week later. Diets last as long as the next trip to the grocery store. Our new resolve for patience, well, we put that off until next year…oh well, at least we’re patient with ourselves.
So should we give up the whole idea? Should we abandon the idea of New Year’s resolutions? Not at all! Not because there’s anything sacred or special about turning the calendar over, but because resolutions themselves are great and what better time than now? So let us consider the praise of resolutions, especially spiritual ones.
Resolutions are great aids in the fight against oncoming sin
“But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank.” (Daniel 1:8) Daniel knew that a particular temptation was coming and made a resolution of what he would do.
“I have made a covenant with my eyes, how then could I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:1) Part of what steeled Job’s heart against sins of lust is a decision, a resolution he made to scrupulously follow God’s law on a tenacious battlefield of temptation.
Are you in battle now? Are you pretty sure there’s a certain battlefield waiting for you in the new year? Make a resolution – decide with certainty which side of the battle you want to be on, decide according to God’s Word how you want to live and act. The decision isn’t a guarantee, but it is good ground to stand on when you fight.
Resolutions put God’s grace and our works into a right relationship
“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power…” (2 Thess. 1:11)
To some Christians, perhaps to you, the idea of making resolutions seems antithetical to living by God’s grace. By resolving are we taking credit for what we accomplish? Are we saying that we’re able to make spiritual progress apart from God? Not if we do it right. In writing to the Thessalonians, Paul assumes that they have made many resolutions to do good works and prays that God will be fulfilling their resolutions.
That’s the essence of the relationship between works and grace that we’re always struggling with: we resolve and God fulfills. We decide to obey and God empowers the obedience (and even the decision!). Someone who refuses to make resolutions and set goals isn’t relying on God’s grace, they’re spurning God’s grace.
Resolutions help us do great things
Did you do anything good, big or great this year? Chances are pretty solid that it didn’t just happen. To pull off that home remodel, you spent a lot of time planning. To get in shape, you had to join and gym and get people to encourage you in the process. To take that amazing trip, you had to spend many hours planning and routing just to make it a success.
By choosing a big goal and resolving the important steps toward that goal, you put yourself (by God’s grace!) on the only path toward great things.
Resolutions help us fight spiritual drift
This quote from D.A. Carson has long stuck with me this year:
People do not drift toward Holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.
It’s every bit as true spiritually as it is physically: no one gets better or healthier by doing nothing. We don’t drift toward holiness but away. This is one of the inviolable spiritual laws of this age. We can pretend other wise by lying to ourselves (as Carson notes), or we can ignore the reality of spiritual decline, or we can face it and make resolutions to swim upstream and grow spiritually this year.
- Consider making resolutions, especially spiritual ones, for the new year.
- Consult with friends and family about what might be the most important and needed resolutions for your life.
- Make your resolutions measurable (“be nicer” = bad; “write one encouraging note a week” = good).
- Make your resolutions achievable (“memorize Romans” = probably bad; “memorize Romans 6-8 = hard but doable).
- Don’t resolve perfection; resolve to grow.
- Tell a buddy. Growing spiritually is a team sport!