December 29, 2011

A New Year’s Top Ten List

by Nathan Busenitz

Only three more days until New Year’s.

New Year (Part 1)

We all know what that means. It’s time to take an inventory of how we lived in 2011 and think through some much needed changes for 2012. In other words, it’s time to make a list of New Year’s resolutions.

Many of our lists will be necessarily long; many will involve a bit of wishful thinking; and most, if not all, will include some recycled resolutions that weren’t kept last year. But whatever the specifics, everyone agrees on a few key facts: once the ball has dropped, last year is history, and the future is brimming with possibility.

From losing weight to saving money, non-Christians traditionally associate New Year’s Day with sobering up, not only from the night before but also from the disappointments and distractions of the previous 365 and ¼ days. For those who were too busy, it’s time to start enjoying life. For those who were too lazy, it’s time to get organized or learn something new. And for those who were too self-indulgent, it’s time to lose weight or get out of debt.

Even a quick glance at a typical “Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions” is enough to see that it contains no major surprises. As expected, the things our world values most—such as finances, fitness, family, friends, and food — consistently top the list of popular self-made promises.

A “Top Ten” list I found online included these resolutions:

1. Spend More Time with Family & Friends

2. Fit in Fitness

3. Tame the Bulge [Lose Weight]

4. Quit Smoking

5. Enjoy Life More

6. Quit Drinking

7. Get Out of Debt

8. Learn Something New

9. Help Others

10. Get Organized

Granted, the ten items on that list are admirable goals. There’s certainly nothing wrong with scheduling regular physical exercise or achieving financially stability. I, for one, hope to get more organized this next year.

But shouldn’t there be something more to the resolutions we make as Christians? I certainly think so.

Why? Well, for starters, our purpose on this earth is totally different. While those in the world discipline themselves for physical gain, we are to discipline ourselves for godliness (1 Tim. 4:7–8). While they relegate sobriety to a designated driver, we are to be constantly sober in spirit for the purpose of prayer (1 Pet. 4:7). While they pursue the various lusts of this passing age (1 John 2:16–17), we are to pursue holiness, in keeping with our holy calling (1 Thess. 4:7). They have a temporal perspective, we are to have an eternal one; they live for their own personal success, we are to live for God’s glory (1 Cor. 10:31); they conduct themselves however they see fit, we are to love God and keep His commandments (Mark 12:30).

From our allegiance to our attitudes to our actions — we are totally different than the world around us … or at least we’re supposed to be. That’s why Peter calls us “aliens and strangers” (1 Pet. 2:11) sojourners in this foreign land called earth (cf. Heb. 11:13).

So as you make your New Year’s resolutions for 2012, don’t be content with merely planning to drop a few pounds or save a few pennies. Instead remember that, as a believer, to live is Christ (Php. 2:21) and to follow Him is to deny yourself and daily take up your cross (Mark 8:34). He is to be the supreme object of all our aims and affections. He is the One we are to please; He is the One we are to praise; and He is the One we are to pursue. Everything else, in comparison, is nothing more than rubbish (cf. Php. 3:7–8).

Put simply, the resolutions we make as Christians (whether for the New Year or sometime else) ought to be profoundly deeper, and thus categorically different, than the resolutions made by unbelievers.

If that’s the case, then what kinds of resolutions should we be making?

Though it is not an authoritative list (in the sense that Scripture alone is authoritative), the seventy resolutions of Jonathan Edwards serve as a wonderful example to us in this regard. Amazingly, Edwards penned these resolutions when he was only in his late teens and early twenties. Moreover, the commitments he made were lifelong pursuits; they were not limited to just the next year (as our New Year’s resolutions often are).

Interestingly, a survey of Edwards’s resolutions finds that the seventy fall into ten general categories. I find it intriguing, though not surprising, how different Edwards’s “Top Ten Resolutions” are from the secular ones listed above.

Here are the primary areas in which Jonathan Edwards was resolved:

1. To live for God’s glory (see resolutions #s 1, 4, 27)

2. To make the most of this life, in terms of eternal impact (see #s 5, 6, 7, 9, 17, 19, 23, 52, 54, 69)

3. To take sin seriously (see #s 8, 24, 25, 26, 37, 56, 57)

4. To become theologically astute (see #s 11, 28, 30, 39)

5. To be humble (see #s 12, 43, 68)

6. To exhibit self-control in all things (see #s 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 40, 44, 45, 59, 60, 61, 64, 65)

7. To always speak with grace and truth (see #s 16, 31, 33, 34, 36, 38, 46, 47, 58, 66, 70)

8. To constantly develop an eternal focus (see #s 10, 18, 22, 50, 51, 55, 67)

9. To be a faithful Christian, in prayer and dedication (see #s 29, 32, 35, 41, 42, 63)

10. To daily pursue a fervent love for Christ (see #s 48, 49, 53, 62)

* Edwards also committed himself to keeping his other resolutions (see #s 2 and 3)

As we consider the resolutions that we make for 2012, we can definitely learn something from the man widely recognized as America’s greatest theologian.

Even when Edwards resolved to use his time wisely (see #5), to eat properly (see #20), or to maintain healthy relationships with others (see #31) — resolutions that seem to coincide with the secular “top ten” list — his resolve flowed out of a God-focused perspective that was eternal in its scope. Thus his resolutions were not merely temporal lifestyle adjustments designed to solve a perceived bad habit. Instead, they were earnest spiritual decisions made for the purpose of combating sin and living a God-glorifying life.

Moreover, Edwards did not solely rely on his own willpower or clever scheming to stay true to his resolutions. To be sure, his resolutions required a tremendous amount of personal discipline and hard work. Yet, unlike the self-made commitments of the world, Edwards ultimately relied on God’s grace to help him accomplish what he knew to be humanly impossible (cf. Php. 3:12–13). In the preamble to his resolutions, he wrote: “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.”

So what kind of resolutions will you make this year? Will they be those that reflect biblical priorities? Will they be those that necessarily depend on divine grace to accomplish? Will they be those that accord with the will of God and the glory of Christ?

If not, then what makes our resolutions any different than the good intentions of the unbelieving world? But, if our perspective is eternal and our priorities are biblical, then our resolutions will be categorically different — even if our list includes things like better time management, greater self-discipline, and more love for others.

After all, as a Christian, good intentions aren’t enough … only godly intentions will do.

Nathan Busenitz

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Nathan serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Church and teaches theology at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles.
  • http://myredeemerlivesministries.blogspot.com/ Mary Elizabeth Tyler

    I have so many favorites of Edwards’ resolutions, but I have always loved this one: # 56, Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

    I thought of Solomon when I read your article. “God said to Solomon, “Because you had this in mind, and did not ask for riches, wealth or honor, or the life of those who hate you, nor have you even asked for long life, but you have asked for yourself wisdom and knowledge that you may rule My people over whom I have made you king (2 Ch 1:11).”

    I think every true Christian can relate to Solomon’s request for wisdom and knowledge, we tend to ask God for eternal things that are of a weighty matter. My resolution for ALWAYS is to entreat God for more wisdom and knowledge.

    Thank you for this great article! This blog is the best!!!

  • Pastormarksc

    Thanks for condensing the list. Great food for thought…

  • http://scripturethoughts.wordpress.com/ LyndaO

    Thank you for the great thoughts here, how we should approach the New Year as Christians, in how we understand the purpose of our lives. I wasn’t aware of Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions, and that list at the link provided is great.

  • Matthew

    Wonderfully written and thought out!

    Perfect for this time of year & something I personally hope to implement.
    Thank you.

  • Jessica

    Since we’re listing our favorites, mine is 8:
    “Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.”

  • http://myredeemerlivesministries.blogspot.com/ Mary Elizabeth Tyler

    I just found this through reading and article by Ray Stedman “Ishmael Must God,” and thought it was interesting because it goes along with your article.

    “I recall reading an article about Dr. Barnhouse and was struck by evidences of this very choice in his experience. He said, “Early in my ministry, I had the idea that I must strike out against all error wherever I saw it. I hit Christian Science, Unitarianism, Romanism, and if error was in some fundamental leader with whom I was in 95% agreement, I swung hard at the 5%.” This made Dr. Barnhouse a highly controversial figure, often unmercifully sharp and dogmatic. This zeal for truth within him became an Ishmael in his life. Then he tells how there came a time when the Spirit of God taught him to love and he faced the choice — Ishmael had to go. He had to learn to be more understanding and more tolerant of some of the variant views of others. He wrote, “Some time ago, I published a ***New Year’s resolution**** expressing regret that I had had differences with men who are truly born again. The results of that resolution were astounding. In the years which followed its publication, my ministry has been transformed. I need to know all who have been redeemed by Christ, for I will never know my Lord fully until I see him in every individual whom he has redeemed and saved by the outpouring of his life for us all upon the cross. This,” he says, “is true fellowship.” It was wonderful to see in the life of Dr. Barnhouse the removal of an Ishmael. The closing years of his life show much of his mellowing and of the sweetness of the fruit of the Spirit in one who before had been so harsh, critical, and demanding.”

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