So it’s time for resolutions again. Each year, we make commitments to ourselves (and others, and even, perhaps, to God) to be better than we were last year. Perhaps we want to finally lose that pesky fifteen pounds. Or fifty. Or we want to be more faithful in our Bible-reading and in our prayer lives. We want to finally put aside that besetting sin that’s been plaguing us. A new year seems a good time for a fresh start.
I’ve never made resolutions, but for years, it was only because I knew I had no hope of actually keeping them. In fact, hasn’t joking about breaking your resolutions become more of a habit than the resolution-making itself? Recently, my problem with resolutions has become more theological in nature. I envision St. Paul waking up on January 1, noticing all his Facebook friends’ resolutions, and posting something along the lines of Galatians 3:
“O foolish [people]! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so many things in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?”
We Christians have been given an eternal answer for the gulf that exists between the “us” that we are and the “us” that we ought to be: “All sinned…and are justified freely as a gift by the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:23-24). But the way we talk about resolutions often sounds like an attempt to, as Paul put it in Galatians 3, “finish in the flesh.” “The righteousness of God has been revealed apart from the law,” says Romans 3:21, and yet we take New Years as our chance to make a new law, the law of the resolution.
So my answer used to be: Don’t make resolutions. You’d be foolish to live under a law, knowing how the law works, and knowing that it necessarily results in death (cf. Rom 7:11). This year, though, I’ve got a new idea: make your resolutions harder.
The problem with your resolutions isn’t that they’re too hard for you to keep (though they usually are). The problem is that you think you’ve got a chance. So you rely on yourself, work up your will, exert all your effort, and give it your best shot. We think, perhaps, that we can shrink, by our striving, that gulf between the “us” we are and the “us” we ought to be and, just maybe, one day get across.
When John the Baptist is continually questioned about his standing with regard to Jesus, he finally says that Jesus “must become greater, and I must become less” (John 3:30). In other words, we should increase our need for Christ, rather than work to decrease it. Our resolutions should look less like a register of achievable goals and more like the demands of Matthew 5:17-48: a terrifying list of requirements that force us to our knees. We should know, looking at that gulf between our selves, that, should we attempt to jump it, we would surely be dashed to pieces on the rocks below.
We attempt to tell ourselves that a happy new year is one in which we get closer to other side of that divide, if not finally reach it. A truly happy New Year, though, is one in which we come face to face with our need for a savior and hear the Good News proclaimed: not only has our savior come, but he has done his work, and brought us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, and out of death into life.