Should I Make a New Year’s Resolution?
Should I make a New Year’s Resolution?
It may be a cultural tradition, but is resolving to “do better this year” good theology? If I am saved by grace alone, through faith alone, why should I worry about making a New Year’s resolution? After all, God loves me “just as I am.”
True enough, but Paul reminds us that the gospel of salvation by faith is not contrary to a desire to grow, mature, and flourish as a Christian. In fact, when Paul rhetorically asks himself “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” he answers without hesitation: “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2). The faith-wrought power that saves us from the guilt of sin is also at work within us even now to redeem us from the power of sin, a process we often call “sanctification.” In fact, Paul compares this process of growing into maturity to running a race:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; cf. 2 Tim. 4:6-8).
So while we are not obligated to make New Year’s resolutions, we are nevertheless always engaged in the process of self-improvement, not through our own power, but because the power of the Spirit is at works within us (self-improvement through Spirit-empowerment). So consider making a few resolutions this year–some might involve conquering indwelling sin, others directed at issues of self-control, and still others serving the church or spending more time with family.
How can I succeed at my resolutions?
We all know that keeping our resolutions is harder than making them, so how do we avoid the dreaded February Fail, March Miss, or April Apathy? There’s no silver bullet. Growth and maturity is difficult, which is why Paul compares it to athletic training. James says it requires trial, testing, faith, and steadfastness (Jas. 1:2-4). So what are some biblical principles for success?
Resolve carefully. We need to recognize that this is difficult. When we seek to grow in faith and maturity we are fighting the three great enemies of human flourishing: the world, the flesh, and the devil. We fight with the power of the Holy Spirit, but we need to recognize that it is still hard, that we will slip, that God forgives those who seek him, that steadfastness is required. Being reasonable means setting manageable goals. Keep your list short–around three–and avoid grandiose and unobtainable objectives. Most importantly though, don’t quit when you slip; rather, seek God’s forgiveness (if sin was involved) and aid, remembering that Jesus “sympathizes with our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15).
Resolve prayerfully. There are two ways to fall into legalism. The first is to think that I am saved by being good enough. The second, and more subtle, is to think I can keep improve without the power of the Holy Spirit. As we strive to keep our resolutions we need to constantly “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). Pray over your resolutions and seek the power of the Spirit as you train your body and heart. Take advantage of every means of grace–the word of God, the worship of the body, the sacraments. Remember, the only reason we can resolve in the first place is because the power of Christ is at work in us, so do not neglect that power once the going gets tough.
Resolve publically. Remember that Christ made us part of a body, surrounding us with other believers with the same struggles, the same hopes, and the same power at work. So find someone with whom you can share your resolutions–a parent, a spouse, a pastor, a friend. This not only makes the resolving more serious, it also connects you to people who love you and can help when things get difficult (and praise you when things are going well). Of course, not everyone needs to know, especially if your resolutions are sensitive, but someone should, and it is perfectly appropriate to ask that person to pray for you and to ask you how you are doing.
None of this will guarantee that this year will be your year. Yet we need to realize that as Christians we do not resolve as the rest of the world resolves. We work because Christ is at work, and that gives us hope as we seek to please our heavenly Father. As Paul puts it, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).