(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
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:
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:
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:
And yet the Bible is full of exhortations to change the way we live:
2 Peter 1:5-7
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:
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”.
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?
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:
Even repentance itself is a gift from God:
2 Timothy 2:24-25
So, to conclude, yes, go on, make any Godly resolutions you like, but understand:
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.