New Year’s resolutions get a bad rap, largely because they aren’t kept- a full gym in January, empty by February. I saw an article from the Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking Journal (yes, there is one, and no, I don’t subscribe to it) saying that resolving to uninstall Facebook from your digital devices and your life would save the average American 300 hours a year, and make them markedly happier (no false comparisons to other people’s life highlight reels). But, could you really do that? How long could you actually hold out not knowing where Sid and Tricia took the kids for Christmas while you sat at home making jell-o mold? Statistics say, not very long. So, people abandon resolutions, or don’t make them at all.
I’m a fan of resolutions. There’s something deeply ingrained in the human spirit that is not content with the way things are, and longs for it to be better. This is a good and precious thing, evidence of the image of God crying out within us in a fallen world.
Rather than resolving to lose those 10 lbs. you gained at Christmas, or to call your mom once a week (go ahead and do those things, too), what if you decided this year would be the one where you were actually obedient to the call of God on your life? If you are His, I know He’s asking you to do something, something He has placed on your heart. I just don’t know what it is. But, you do. Maybe it’s joining a small group. Maybe it’s reading through His Word all the way this year, or restoring a broken relationship, or going on a mission trip, or figuring out how to make intentional devotional times work in your family. Chances are that something has been nagging on you a while.
What if this was the year you actually did it?
I know. Sometimes the thought of taking it on feels oppressive, like a burden. One more thing you have to do. Trust me, I have felt the same way. Recently, I read a book most of you won’t want to read. It’s called “The Whole Christ,” and it’s about an obscure doctrinal dispute among 18th century pastors and theologians in Scotland (I know; you’re rushing out right now to amazon.com to buy it). At its core, however, the book is about the classic debate between legalism and antinomianism (the idea, because we have grace, we can abandon the law, even the moral law, in its entirety). As I was feeling oppressed by a certain act of obedience I knew the Lord was calling me to do recently, I read a quote by Tim Keller, in the foreward of this book. And, it nailed me between the eyes:
Because both mindsets (legalism and antinomianism) refuse to believe in the love and graciousness of God, they assume that any commands given to us are evidence that He is unwilling to bless us. They both fail to see obedience as the way to give the gracious God delight as well as the way to become our true selves, the people we were created to be. They participate in the same incomprehension of the joy of obedience- they see obedience as something imposed on us by a God whose love is conditional and who is unwilling to give us blessing unless we do quite a lot of work. The only difference is the legalist wearily assumes the burden, while the antinomian casts it off by insisting that, if God is loving, He wouldn’t ask for it.
God convicted me that, in viewing what He was calling me to do as burdensome and oppressive, I was acting like a closet legalist. “I’ll do my part, so you can do your part, God.” I was operating as if my approval before God, or His willingness to approve of me, was contingent upon this act of obedience. As a result, it felt oppressive. And, I wearily assumed it, dragging my feet the whole way.
I had to repent. Instead, I reminded myself of the beauty and power of the gospel- I stand righteous and holy before God, not because of anything I have done, but solely because of Christ’s sacrifice for me, and for you. God will never love us more or less than He does right now, if we are saved in Christ. That’s the cataclysmic, at times incomprehensible thing about grace.
If He’s calling you to do something, an act of obedience, He’s not doing it to put a burden on you. He’s calling you the way your dad called you to jump into the pool when you were little and scared, because he was trying to teach you to swim, to enjoy all the excitement and joy the pool in the summer had to offer. Even better, God wants to give you the opportunity to become the completely new you He created you to be, to delight in Him, and to experience a type of joy you’re not experiencing right now, for His glory, and your good.
Unlike some of our self-motivated resolutions, God doesn’t ask you to become the new you alone. He puts the power of God inside you, the power that raised Jesus from the dead, power that is yours just for the asking. The reason we try and fail so much is that we operate out of our own, weak flesh. Meanwhile, God offers His power to us, just for the asking.
This new year, make a resolution, the one rooted down deep that’s been there for a while. The one God placed in your heart. Obedience is like any other discipline, like working out; once it’s trained, it’s always less of a struggle to repeat. It becomes an inclination of the heart. Toward the new you your soul longs to be.