Some Christians believe and use New Year’s resolutions. Others are anti-resolutions. We’re getting a number of questions about this. Pastor John, for Christians, are New Year’s resolutions helpful or harmful — like a setup for failure — or are they simply unnecessary?
Strength Not Our Own
As always, Tony, it depends on what you mean by “resolutions.” If you mean declarations of what you intend to do by dint of willpower, then that will probably fail. And if it doesn’t fail, it is not Christian either.
So, if it fails, it fails, and if it succeeds, it fails, because that is not what the Christian life is. It is not lived that way — not at the beginning of a year, not at the beginning of a day, not at the beginning of an hour. You can’t screw up your willpower to obey a command, resolving to do something by virtue of strong resolution, and call that Christianity. It is not.
The mystery of holiness is that we live our lives in the strength of another. That is, we walk by the Spirit. We walk by faith in the power of another. We depend on another (namely, the Holy Spirit) to do in us and through us what needs to be done so that another (namely, God) will get the glory.
The principle — whether it is a New Year, a new morning, or a new hour — is 1 Peter 4:11: “Whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” So, yes. Go ahead. Resolve.
Resolved (Through Grace)
Paul put it like this: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
So, he gets up in the morning, and he says, “What do I have to do today? Well, I have to travel to Philippi. I have to make three tents tonight. I have to prepare a message for tomorrow morning. I resolve to do those things.” Then he says, “It was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
Or, he says in Romans 15:18, “For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience.” So he says, “We are going to Spain. Let’s go. I resolve to go to Spain. I have this ambition to preach the gospel where Christ has not been named. Let’s go.” Then he writes, “I am not going to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me.”
His resolutions are empowered by, sustained by, worked through the grace of Christ, which is right at the heart of what it means to live the Christian life. It isn’t just to make resolutions. Philippians 2:12–13 says, “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.” Those verses could be paraphrased like this: “Resolve. Make a resolution with fear and trembling, for God is the one who is making the resolution in you.” That is the way to live the Christian life.
Hopping Off the Fence
So, my answer is yes. We should make resolves — lots of times, not just at the beginning of a year. Whenever we feel or see something that we should be doing that we are not doing, we should resolve: “Do it.” Whenever we are doing something that we should not be doing, and we recognize that we are doing it, we should resolve: “Don’t do it.”
Resolve not to do what you shouldn’t do when you are doing it. Resolve to do what you should do whenever you see that you are not doing it. God doesn’t like for our hearts to be irresolute. The opposite of resolving is to be irresolute or indecisive.
Here is what Elijah said about that: “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). Resolve this day who you are going to serve, he says. Get off the fence and follow your Lord.
I think there are a lot of Christians who are afraid of resolutions, and the opposite of resolution is not this wonderful, freedom of dependence on God to empower them. It is sitting on a fence and not making any commitments to be or do a certain thing.
Through Him and to Him
Paul said — this has been really important in my understanding, Tony, of tough decisions — in Romans 14:5: “One man esteems one day above another. Another esteems every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his full mind.” That is amazing.
In other words, whether you go with saying all days are alike or whether you go with esteeming one day above another, don’t be wishy-washy. Don’t waffle. Don’t sit on the fence. God doesn’t like irresolute hearts. Make up your mind. Decide. Resolve. Act.
“God fulfills the good resolve. Thus, Jesus gets glory.”
David says to the counselors of Solomon: “Set your mind and heart to seek the Lord your God” (1 Chronicles 22:19). What does that but resolve? About Rehoboam, the Bible says, “He did evil, for he did not set his heart to seek the Lord” (2 Chronicles 12:14). He didn’t resolve to seek the Lord. He just coasted in his life.
Here is a theology of resolutions in two verses, Tony. These are the most important two verses in the Bible on New Year’s resolutions. Everybody should just go get their Bibles and study these two verses. Then they will have a theology of resolutions.
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, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12)
Everything is there. So, you should resolve for good things in your life. This is pursued by faith so that it is a work of faith. God acts through that faith by his power. God fulfills the good resolve. Thus, Jesus gets glory.
That’s a theology of resolutions in two verses. My answer is not just for New Year’s, but all the time. Whenever we see we are falling short, we resolve not to fall short. Whenever we see something that needs to be done, we resolve to do it.