Phil Cox

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New Year’s Resolutions

28th December 2006

Does it actually make sense to make resolutions at New Year, or at any other time?

Doesn’t the Bible teach us that the Lord will overrule our plans anytime He likes:

Proverbs 16:9
In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.

Proverbs 20:24
A man’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand his own way?

Jeremiah 10:23
I know, O LORD, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps.

Luke 12:25-26
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

James 4:13-15
Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that."

This sort of stuff bothers some Christians. “What about free will?” they ask. Well, it seems to me that everyone has free will, in the sense that we have the ability to make any decision we want. But we don’t have the ability to carry out every decision we make.

Here’s one example. Every one of us could decide to walk on water. But not many of us could actually walk on water. Peter did. But before he did, he asked Jesus to “command him” to do so (Matthew 14:25-31). He knew that he couldn’t walk on water just because he decided to – he needed help from God.

But this isn't only true of the miraculous. We can decide to do various things in the coming year, but we don’t even know if we’ll be alive to do them. We don’t know if we’ll be healthy enough to do them. We don’t know if our lives will change dramatically, or in what ways, or by how much.

That’s why James wrote the passage we’ve just read, and it’s why he went on to write, in the next verse:

James 4:16
As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.

To say “next week, or next month, or next year, I will do this or that” is to boast, because we’re talking as if we're in control of our own lives – and we’re not.

Another way our free will is limited is by other people. You might decide, for example, to visit the Queen next week, and have a chat about Council Tax, or war, or republicanism, or whatever. But the palace guards would probably stop you. More mundanely, you might like a quiet night in tonight, but your husband, or your wife, or your children, or your friends or neighbours or employer might have different ideas, or your car might break down on the way home.

And if other people can, and do, restrict the exercise of our free will, we shouldn't be in any way surprised if the greatest Person of all does the same.

And our free will is limited by our circumstances. You might decide to buy a Rolls-Royce next week, using your credit card. But your card’s spending limit would probably prevent you (and, if not, can you spare a fiver?).

And God is the Lord of our circumstances.

Most fundamentally, God is in control. And He has free will too. And sometimes He chooses to rein us in. Thank God!

And it’s not just a matter of what we do. It’s also the Lord who determines what sort of people we will be:

Romans 9:19-21
One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’" Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

Ephesians 2:10
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

And yet the Bible is full of exhortations to change the way we live:

Acts 17:30
In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

Acts 26:20
First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.

2 Peter 1:5-7
...make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.

So we see that God encourages us – commands us – to turn from doing wrong and to do right. But we’ve seen that He also tells us that He’s determined what we will and will not do.

And we can’t do what we choose to do, anyway, even (or especially) when we’re choosing to do right:

Romans 7:18-19
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing.

And we all know this is true. If we were convinced that we could keep our resolutions, surely the first resolutions any Christian would make are “I will never commit another sin, I will love God totally, I will love my neighbour as myself”.

Yeah, right.

In fact, most Christians DO make these resolutions regularly – at least once a week. But we don’t keep them. But it must still be right to repent – to intend to keep them. Isn’t that a fundamental part of how we became Christians in the first place?

Acts 2:37-38
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"
Peter replied, "Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

I’m sure you know how we resolve this dilemma. The Christian way is to repent, but to ask for God’s help.

Later in the passage we quoted from Romans 7, we read:

Romans 7:24-25
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!...

Even repentance itself is a gift from God:

Acts 5:31
God exalted him [Jesus] to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.

Acts 11:18
When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life."

2 Timothy 2:24-25
...the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth

So, to conclude, yes, go on, make any Godly resolutions you like, but understand:

  1. If God doesn’t want it to happen – it won’t.
  2. If God doesn’t help you to live better, then you can’t manage it by yourself.

But this is no excuse for idleness. God sanctifies us by His Holy Spirit, we don’t sanctify ourselves. But He sanctifies us with our co-operation. So how’s this for a resolution:

I will seek God’s help in being the best person – the best Christian I can be. I will ask God to show me what He wants me to do, and to help me do it. And I will ask Him to help me to trust Him when things don’t work out the way I expected, or the way I wanted.

May God bless you, mature you and fulfil you in 2007.