Only three more days until New Year’s.
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.