The new year comes with renewed attempts to get our act together, to pull our socks up, to do better. Our resolutions can be vague (“eat less chocolate”) or specific (“get up at 6.30am to pray”), expensive (“join a gym”) or money-saving (“spend less on clothes”). They can be realistic (“eat an apple each day”) or seemingly unachievable (“stop looking at porn”). They can all be good desires to grow in godliness, but they can also be dangerous attempts at self-justification – trying to save ourselves through our efforts.
By nature we try to gain acceptance from God, others and ourselves through performance. We ask ourselves whether we’ve achieved enough, worked hard enough, or improved enough. If we manage to keep our resolutions, we feel better about ourselves; if we fail, we feel guilty and despondent. Success makes us think that God loves us and is close to us; failure, that he’s angry and aloof.
New year’s resolutions can reinforce the idea that we can save ourselves. For those of us who are generally self-disciplined, we can become confident in our own ability to change, to become acceptable to God. For those of us who are weak-willed, our inevitable failure leads to hopelessness. Either way, we end up focused on ourselves.
Our problems lie deeper than mere behaviour. The eyes of our hearts constantly turn inwards, looking to ourselves for salvation and satisfaction rather than to Jesus. We may try to gain acceptance from God through performance, but we never will. Spiritually, we are dead and in need of resurrection. Resolving to do better by ourselves is like a corpse resolving to learn to tap-dance.
This is why God’s resolutions are such good news. He promises us that “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). He has raised us with Christ, giving us new, resurrection life in him (Eph 2:4-5), and has promised us an eternal inheritance, giving us his Spirit as a guarantee (Eph 1:13-14). He has resolved to bring us home, and he does not break his word.
How does this change how we think about new year’s resolutions?
First, we must accept that we cannot save ourselves from the death we deserve, but God has graciously done it all. Nothing we can do will change this certainty.
With this foundation, Paul says to “offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness” (Romans 6:13). We don’t do this to earn a relationship with God; we do this because we have a relationship with God that is unshakeable, and our new hearts long to serve their new master.
So this year, let us resolve to constantly look to Jesus, knowing all our salvation and joy comes from him; and consequently resolve to do our utmost to follow him daily, knowing that he has resolved never to leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). His resolutions are never broken.