Many of us make New Year’s resolutions. “Lose weight.” “Spend less money.” “Read more.” Of course, few of these resolutions outlive January. Many of us secretly expect our resolutions to fail. A New Year’s resolution is like being in on a culture-wide joke.
Looked at in that way, New Year’s resolutions seem foolish. Certainly, if that’s the way we go about “resolving” to better ourselves and the world around us--making the same empty promises year over year--then New Year’s resolutions are foolish.
For us in the Faith, this lack of resolve can be disastrous. “I shall lose weight” is not (at least on the surface) a biblical resolution. “I shall love my neighbor as myself” is. Failing to lose weight year over year is merely pitiful. Failing to love others year over year is abiding in death as a murderer, to use John’s words (1 John 3:14-15). With the stakes so high, why do we fail so badly at doing the things that we know that we ought?
The root of our problem is not understanding resolve. Resolve is of a piece with what the Bible teaches us about our speech. We are not to take oaths, for example, but to “let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no” (James 5:12). In other words, others ought to be able to take us at our word. What if we cannot even take ourselves at our own word because we so casually break these yearly promises?
Resolve is the determination to finish what we have started. This is what makes New Year’s resolutions look so foolish. They are about beginnings; true resolutions are about endings. A well-followed resolution abides by the proverb, “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit” (Ecclesiastes 7:8).
Following a thing through takes more patience and less pride than most of us have got. The mix of impatience and foolish pride will make shipwreck of our faith if we don’t repent of it. Consider the Lord’s parable about discipleship:
“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace” (Luke 14:27-32).
The Lord’s point in telling this parable should terrify those who half-heartedly follow Him: “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). Following the Lord is not about good beginnings but sacrifice.
We must endure if we wish to be disciples of Jesus. According to the parable, some will “endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away” (Mark 4:17); “but the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13).“The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end,” Jesus says, “to him I will give authority over the nations” (Rev. 2:26).
The New Year is an excellent opportunity to rededicate ourselves to holiness, if we are willing to stick to it. It is entirely appropriate for us to rededicate ourselves in this way. We have an inborn thirst for spiritual renewal; as Paul says, the whole creation groans to be made new, and we groan along with it (Rom. 8:18-25). Nothing will fully slake this thirst until the Lord is revealed in His glory, but advancing in holiness is like taking a sip of water: refreshing and necessary.
Why New Year’s? Why not? There is never a bad time to renew our devotion to the Lord. Are you putting serious thought and action into growing in the Lord? Consider the many activities of the faithful Christian which we read of in the Bible: prayer, worship with the saints, studying the Word, serving the poor and outcast, being hospitable to one another. Consider the qualities which Peter lists as part of a full Christian character: “...supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8). Find something out of all that in which you can do better, then resolve to do it. God’s peace be upon you.