Pastor John, some Christians believe in New Year’s resolutions. Others mock resolutions. Most people simply seem to avoid resolutions altogether. But we are getting a number of email questions on this from both resolution-setters and resolution-haters. So the question for you is this: For the Christian, are New Year’s resolutions helpful, are they harmful, or are they just a setup for eventual failure? How should we think biblically about resolutions?
Well, as always, Tony, it depends on what you mean by resolutions. If you mean declarations on what you intend to do by dint of willpower, then that will not only probably fail, but 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 or the beginning of an hour. You don’t screw up your willpower to obey a command and resolve to do a thing by virtue of strong resolution and call that Christianity. It is not.
“God doesn’t like for our hearts to be irresolute.”
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.
Resolve in the Strength God Supplies
The principle — whether it is a new year, new morning, new hour — is 1 Peter 4:11: Let him who serves, serve in “the strength that God supplies.” So you could paraphrase it: Let him who resolves to do a thing or not do a thing, resolve in the strength that God supplies, so “that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” To him be glory forever. So yes, go ahead — resolve.
Paul put it like this: “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.” 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.” And then he says, “Though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
Or he says in Romans 15:18: “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 got this ambition to preach the gospel where Christ has not been named (Romans 15:20). Let’s go.” And then he writes, “I am not going to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me.”
So 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, not just to make resolutions. Philippians 2:12–13: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you.” Which could be paraphrased: 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.
“The mystery of holiness is that we live our lives in the strength of another.”
So my answer is: Yes, we should make resolves, lots of times — not just at the beginning of a year. Whenever we feel, whenever we 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 recognized that we are doing it, we should resolve: Don’t do it.
Decide, Resolve, Act
Resolve not to do what you shouldn’t do, and resolve to do what you should do, whenever you see that you are not doing it or that you are doing it. God doesn’t like for our hearts to be irresolute. The opposite of resolving is to be irresolute, indecisive.
And 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). So resolve this day who you are going to serve. Get off the fence and follow your Lord. And 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 the fence and not making any commitments to be or do a certain thing.
Paul said — this has been really important in my understanding of tough decisions — he said in Romans 14:5, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own 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.
“Resolve this day who you are going to serve. Get off the fence and follow your Lord.”
So, David says to the counselors of Solomon, “Set your mind and heart to seek the Lord your God” (1 Chronicles 22:19). What is that but resolve? Set your mind and heart to it. Or of 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.
A Theology of Resolution
So here is a theology of resolution in a verse, Tony. It is the most important two verses in the Bible on New Year’s resolutions. So everybody should just go get their Bible, study these two verses, and they will have a theology of resolution. Second Thessalonians 1:11–12:
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.
Everything is there. So here they are:
- You should resolve for good. Resolve 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.
- Thus, God fulfills the good resolve.
- Thus, Jesus gets glory.
That’s a theology of resolution in two verses (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12). So my answer is not just at New Year’s, but all the time. Whenever we see we are falling short, resolve not to fall short. And whenever we see something that needs to be done, resolve to do it.