As 2017 comes around, it’s quite natural that my mind and many people’s minds are filled with thoughts of doing something better, new and different as the year starts. Reading the feeds on Facebook or simply having a conversation over a New Year’s Day party would conjure up thoughts of reviewing your life and thinking about what you want to do this year. I know I certainly have.
And so, we entertain making some resolutions. We resolve to read the bible this year. We resolve to eat healthier. Or the more common one – to join a gym. We may even resolve to kick a bad habit. Or an addiction to sin we’ve been battling with. So why is it a paradox? Why did I call this post “The New Year’s Resolution Paradox”? It’s a paradox in my mind because for every determined resolution statement or post, I read or hear just as many statements or post that ridicules it. Some say human willpower won’t work. Some make satire news over it. Some write articles to counter its effects. We know ourselves very well don’t we, I for one know it all too well. From over 20 years ago, I’ve resolved to kick an addiction, decided to exercise and plan to read my bible. For just as many times, I’ve failed to do any of it consistently and incorporate it into my life.
It just doesn’t work!…
Now, I’m sure there are exceptions. But I can safely say that most the time, our resolutions fail to transform into anything but a thought that doesn’t go beyond March. This is even a problem for Paul in the New Testament.
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:15-24 ESV)
So, in the words of a famous little girl – “do we flush our resolutions down the toilet?”. I think the Paradox is the fact that we shouldn’t. There are many, many instances in the bible that talks about striving for what is good and just and righteous. This can only be done if we strive, in other words, resolve, to do it. But we’ll fail. Just like Paul’s frustration in Romans 7. Hence the paradox. We should have resolutions, but have no ability to achieve it.
Actually, Paul immediately gives us the key to unlock this paradox in his next sentence.
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25a)
So how can our resolutions truly change us?
1. If the resolutions are “through Jesus Christ our Lord”
Paul’s immediate answer to his question “who can deliver me from this body of death” is “through Jesus Christ our Lord”. The body of death that, Paul knew, cannot help itself. That has no ability to change. That has no ability to follow through on resolutions. Paul says, through Jesus Christ our Lord, we can be delivered. This must mean, somehow, the key lies within Jesus.
As Christians, we are called to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). This means to live our lives following Jesus. Another way to put it, is to live under Jesus’ Lordship. His rule over our lives. To surrender our own kingship over our lives and to live for Christ. So the first way to keep our resolutions is to make sure that our resolutions align with Jesus’ purpose. Which ultimately is God’s purpose.
For example, it is good to keep fit and join a gym. But do you do this so that you can get more energy and focus in your life to disciple others or to spend time with non-Christian friends? Or do you resolve to join a gym because you want to look like a super model or have great abs to show off? Same resolution, but with one, the heart is aligned to following Jesus.
2. If we recognise that we can’t change ourselves
All through Romans chapter 7 verses 15 to 24, Paul loathes his flesh. It frustrates him that he wants to do good, but can’t because his “members” seek to do evil. Recent psychology research is finding that we have very little to no willpower to fight over temptations. This is something Paul already knew some 2000 years ago. The sooner we understand that in our sinful state, we have no ability to change by ourselves, the sooner we can realise that it is purely by God’s grace alone this can happen.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord and what he did on the cross, we can see the ultimate picture of God’s grace. We had no ability to save ourselves from damnation and God’s wrath. It is through Jesus Christ we are saved. In very much the same way, even after we’re Christians, we must continue to rely only on this grace alone to sustain us through this life. This is something John Newton knew too well and hence he wrote the famous hymn “Amazing Grace”.
“Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come.
’tis grace that brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead us home.”
(Amazing Grace 3rd Verse by John Newton)
So, the only way we can keep our resolutions is to realise it is not ours to keep. It is up to God, granting us, by his grace, the ability to keep them.
3. By praying through Jesus Christ our Lord
This leads us to the 3rd, “through Jesus Christ our Lord”, point. This one is the most direct and easily comprehensible point. Since we can’t change ourselves, we must ask God to do it for us by his grace. And the way to ask God is through prayer. A couple of helpful verses tells us this.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”
(John 14:12-14 ESV)
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”
(John 15:7-8 ESV)
These verses in John works together with points 1 and 2 above. This means that if our resolution “abides in Jesus”, then when we ask, pray, for it, Jesus will do it. Using the join-a-gym example again. If you’re praying for God to give you the motivation to exercise so that you can be energetic to serve him more or be a less angry person at home because you want to love your family, you are abiding in Jesus. And your prayer will be heard and Jesus will do it because it was asked in his name, abiding in him. This, of course, won’t work if you are asking to win the lottery to buy a Ferrari! (Also see disclaimer below)
4. Through the word
Lastly, “through Jesus Christ our Lord” also means that you can keep your resolutions and change if you read scripture. In John 1, it says…
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1-2 ESV)
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 ESV)
We have to see that Jesus Christ is the Word. Scripture is not only God’s word, it is God himself, in the flesh, as Jesus. So, in other words through Jesus Christ, the word, we can “deal with the wretched man” as Paul puts it. Here’s another way to see it…
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
(2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)
Scripture, the Word, Jesus, has the ability to make us “complete” and “equipped for every good work”. If completeness and every good work is how we’ve aligned our resolutions, then the Bible can change us!
So, there you have it. The way to achieving your New Year’s Resolution!
Sure, you might be able to use sheer willpower to resolve something and change yourself. But it seems the sure-fire way to truly change is when it’s through Jesus Christ our Lord! I know it feels counter intuitive. But if we align our reasons for change towards God’s purposes, rely on His grace to change, pray that he will do it and constantly cling onto his Word by reading it, I think our resolutions will become reality. Yes, even the join-a-gym one!
Disclaimer: Of course in this article we didn’t talk about God’s timing vs. your timing. Or your definition of good vs. God’s definition of good.