A new year is upon us, and with it comes the often discussed and encouraged ‘new year’s resolutions’. Recently the idea of ‘resolutions’ have been much revived by the popular preaching of John Piper; particularly his recapturing of the passion and thought of the last of the puritan preachers, Jonathan Edwards. It is fairly obvious from research done or one’s own experience that resolutions are seldom kept.
Psychology professor Peter Herman and his colleagues have identified what they call the “false hope syndrome,” which means that peoples resolution are significantly unrealistic and out of alignment with their internal view of themselves.”[i] This is the apparent reason for the lack of success in resolution keeping.
We can see this type of thing in the Scripture. Consider the boldness of the Israelites in Exodus 24:3, after receiving the law,” they responded with one voice, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.” The rest of the story demonstrates that they did not follow through with this resolution.
In fact Edwards was so aware of his propensity to fail in keeping resolutions, that his third one was, “Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.”
Something about Peter Herman’s words speak loudly to why we often fail to keep Resolutions. As he noted, resolutions people make are often “out of alignment with their internal view of themselves”. We find an echo if this in the proverbs when it says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.” (23:7)
Resolutions generally centre on changing behaviour, but as Christians, we must be careful to relegate ‘resolutions’ to a realm outside of the gospel. We do not change behaviours by being more determined- by trying really really hard; we are not trying to impress a deity like the Babylonians and Romans of ancient time… or perhaps we are.
The path of sanctification (changing), is to see the glory of Christ, the tragedy and triumph of the cross and the mystery of the incarnation that was just considered in December. As these truths alter our “internal view of ourselves”, so naturally those behaviours that need changing are changed. Perhaps the most significant and foundational resolution, indeed What’s the very flavour of the Christian life should be that of worshipping Jesus. Knowing Him more and more. Knowing Him means any success is due to his enabling, any failure is not the end of the world; it is part of what makes the cross so necessary. To try new foods is to explore more of “all things that were made through Him and for Him”. To become financially stable is to be able to give more to those in need; as Christ Who became poor for our sake, that we might be rich. To further education is to participate in loving God with your entire mind; as He show loved to you while you were yet a sinner.
In short, it is not determination but character that is the key to resolutions. Character is only changed by the Spirit as we see the wonder of a crucified Saviour. Only this can remove the sting from failure and keep us from giving up all together. When we realise that our worth, identity and standing with God is not based on our performance, but on Christ’s; we are liberated to become like Him. Each one then is free to become like Him in the unique way they feel compelled to at the moment of contemplation and resolution forming. Love must compel us, not fear or pride. Not fear of man or God, nor pride to exalt over others in our successes. What is going to motivate and sustain whatever resolutions you make this year?
[i] http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201012/why-new-years-resolutions-fail. Last accessed 29/12/2012