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New Year’s Resolutions from a Theological Perspective

by Dan Delzell, Pastor of Wellspring Lutheran Church , Papillion, Neb

“I am going to do this or that differently in the new year. And I mean it this time!”

Who hasn’t set off with great intentions on January 1? By the end of the first month however, things often seem to have settled back into “status quo” mode.  So is there a solution to this “resolution riddle” and this new year’s quandary?

Actually, yes.  And believe it or not, the solution is found in the Bible.  When we approach this issue from a theological perspective, we begin to see things in a new light.  And it is extremely liberating and empowering.

First of all, you will need to acknowledge that “self” has often gotten the best of you.  And it seems like the more you try to control your “self,” the more “self” pushes in the opposite direction.  So what’s going on here?  Is there any hope of gaining true self-control?  Or am I simply destined to be dragged around by my “self” for the rest of my life?

The New Testament presents a revolutionary approach to controlling “self.”  Once Jesus Christ arrived on the scene, “self” was in for a rude awakening.  A Christian can come to understand the difference between your “self,” and “who you want to be in Christ.”  When you understand what the Bible teaches about “self,” you begin to gain an awareness that a new you is definitely within reach.  After all, it won’t really be you anyway.  It will be Christ in you.

And that right there is the key to any New Year’s resolution.  The only way to get victory over your “self” is to get connected to the One who won the ultimate victory over man’s sin.  When Jesus died and rose again, man’s “self” had a very bad day.  It was the beginning of the end for “self” in the lives of those who would come to learn the biblical “secret.”

After becoming a believer, the apostle Paul wrote, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” (Phil. 4:12 )  How is that possible?  How can someone have contentment even when “self” is being deprived of certain things?

For a Christian, the old life was a life where “self” was on the throne. What “self” wanted, “self” tended to get. It began at an early age, and continued into the adult years. Or at least until “self” was deposed from the throne as Jesus came to reign there. With Jesus on the throne of a believer’s heart, “self” doesn’t really know what to do. And so it is best just to “forget about yourself,” and concentrate on Christ. When a Christian does that, life seems to flow quite peacefully on the inside.

On the other hand, whenever we allow “self” to push its way back into the equation, we run into trouble. The toughest part about New Year’s resolutions isn’t merely the need for perseverance. There is something even deeper going on. We actually need a complete makeover at the spiritual level. We need a total transformation. And that can only happen with Christ on the throne, and “self” out of the way.

We all have a natural tendency to “jump right in there” and get our own way. But the Christian life offers a much better approach. It is supernatural. It involves our Creator. And it begins and continues as a life of faith, as well as daily reliance upon Him who gave His life for our sins on the cross.

You see, Jesus died to save us and also to lead us. He didn’t die only to save us, and then have us lead ourselves. When we try to lead our “self,” we find that “self” messes things up in our attitudes, relationships, and mental concentration. Our “self” is completely unreliable and thoroughly self-absorbed. That is the nature of self. Meanwhile, the nature of Christianity is “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:27)

New Year’s resolutions tend to be all about me convincing myself that “I can do it.” Christianity, on the other hand, involves the mindset which believes, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13) That is a much different approach than the typical “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. It is Christ in us that matters. That is where we receive the power, the peace, and the sustained spiritual momentum which is so critical for any worthwhile resolution to be accomplished.

Resolutions without Christ at the center are misguided. Why? Because they are being done for the wrong person. When you are doing something for “self” rather than for Christ, you find that “self” never seems to get enough. “Self” always wants more of your time, and your focus, and your efforts. In the end, you will find “self” to be an unrelenting taskmaster. Christ, on the other hand, will gently guide you and lead you if you are willing to be led by Him.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28)

Our “self” makes constant demands of us. Christ, on the other hand, offers us something. He offers us an abundant life. But we must be willing to say “goodbye” to “self,” and “hello” to a new life in Christ.

Perhaps the best New Year’s resolution you and I could make would be this: “I will bring things to Jesus the moment they become even a minor issue in my thinking.” Why is that mindset so critical? Because we often start out trying to solve a problem by looking to our “self” for the answer. That is where we make our first and biggest mistake.

Whoever said “self” could do a better job of dealing with the issue than Jesus? But we have to train ourselves to rely upon Christ, not only for salvation, but also for everything we go through in life. We do that by saying “no” to “self,” and then coming to Jesus about anything and everything that is upsetting our peace in Christ. That includes thoughts, attitudes, speech, behavior, moods, relational pressures, etc.

If we delay in bringing it to the Lord, we find that “self” is usually more than ready to tackle the problem. It’s similar to when a player on the bench says, “Put me in coach!” Likewise, our “self” constantly says, “Put me in. Let me solve it for you.” Our natural impulse is to put “self” in the game right away. But spiritual maturity as a child of the King involves resisting those impulsive urges, and instead, relying upon Him who loves us and gave Himself for us.

The entrance into Christianity is one thing. The life of a Christian is another. The easy part is accepting Christ as Savior. The hard part is saying “no” to self day in and day out. It’s the difference between a “one-time decision,” and “a way of life.”

It’s easy to make a New Year’s resolution. The hard part is relying upon the right Person to bring the results.

So who will be the key to your improvements in the new year? And are you ready to press on with Christ even when the initial excitement of the decision has turned into the daily reality of saying “no” to your old life? The mental discipline necessary to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is not something “self” can produce. But God will produce new results this year in those who learn the secret which the apostle Paul learned in his life.

Paul (formerly Saul) wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20) Saul was “dead,” and Christ was now alive in Paul. And what a difference it made!

It was his relationship with Christ through faith which taught Paul the secret to successful living. “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” (Phil. 4:12) And it is out of that place of forgiveness and contentment in Christ that New Year’s resolutions are more than merely goals of self-determination. They become a new way of living.

This new life is one which is totally dependent upon Christ. As you begin this new year, it’s the perfect time to say goodbye to “self,” and hello to Jesus. And then just do that for 365 days until it’s time to consider some more resolutions.

So are you in it for the long haul? Or just for the initial excitement of making a new decision?

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