Technology and media today bombards us with messages to be better. Be thinner, be more outgoing, be adventurous, be a slick Instagramer, be more kind, be fill in your own blank. The beginning of a new calendar year has come to signal the prime opportunity to make long to-do lists that inevitably are abandoned within week two.
Why do we make resolutions? The word itself means “a formal expression of opinion or intention made,” “a decision or determination.” Of course, there is nothing wrong with desiring to better oneself physically, spiritually, or emotionally. Indeed, the Christian life is a call to perfection with Christ as the example, “so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).
There are two questions I ask those who rattle off a list of honorable resolutions. First, what is your motivation? And, why did it take a new year to prompt this decision?
Flipping the pages of Scripture reveals one primary reason for self-improvement: not for ourselves, but for God. Before composing a laundry list of goals this year, consider your purposes. Why do I want to exercise more? Is it to become more attractive to gain attention from the opposite sex, or is it to improve one’s general health, stewarding well God’s temple? Colossians 3:23, though oft-quoted, must be constantly in our thoughts, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”
My main issue with New Year’s resolutions is that one specific day of the year is devoted to reinventing oneself, often with futile, vague goals, i.e. “Drink less caffeine,” “Pray more,” “Spend less time on Facebook,” or “Read War and Peace.”
Certainly they are noble ambitions with pure intentions, but the result is similar to what I term ‘The Church Camp Effect.’ The speaker says something convicting/profound, you are moved to a decision with all gravity and sincerity, accomplish it for a week or two and then forget about it until you rededicate yourself next year. The cycle continues until you are discouraged, disillusioned and dismayed with guilt.
Then what is the solution?
It is the simple yet difficult admission that we, broken and fallible humans, cannot change ourselves. We must remember the humbling epigram Jesus spoke to the disciples: “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
We hear the phrase, “New year, new you!” artfully imposed on a photo of a blonde with perfect teeth. Jesus says we are already new; by definition believers are redeemed and cleansed from sin, made whole because of Christ’s sacrifice.
But He also says, “New day, new you.” Christ daily, even hourly, wants us to permit Him to make us better, more perfect, more like a true son or daughter of His. A.W. Tozer articulates, “God answers our prayers not because we are good, but because He is good.” As January days continue to fly by, don’t strive for change yourself; allow God to change you.