On being resolved

“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse.”  Galatians 3:10

The passage from one calendar year to another has come to involve a certain ritual — the New Year’s resolution.  I don’t know how or when this custom became culturally ingrained, but I vote that we change it.  I suggest that a whole year is way too long to expect me to be able to remember to behave like a much better person than I really am.  I don’t even remember my New Year’s resolutions from last year, but I consider it doubtful that I happened to keep them.

We could try “New Month” resolutions, but I think that also exceeds my “behavioral modification attention span”.  I think that a week is pretty much the realistic limit to how long I can be expected to remember to behave like the person I wish I was. So I am putting the “New Week” resolution out there in the hopes of seeing a groundswell of grassroots support.  I further propose that Sunday be the day for making such resolutions.  Not only is Sunday historically considered the first day of the week, but churchgoers will have the added benefit of being constantly reminded how they completely failed to keep their resolutions from the week before.

Actually, there is an important lesson to be learned from the inevitable failure of almost all New Year’s resolutions — sheer willpower is not the way we change from who we are to who we want to be.  The Apostle Paul spilled a lot of ink discussing the distinction between two different types of self improvement programs– law and grace.  Under the latter, we behave differently because we actually become different people.  By knowing God — seeing him as he is and entering into an interactive relationship with him — we become a new creation.  We have new spiritual DNA.  We actually produce different fruit because we are a different kind of tree.

Paul contrasts this sort of change (which works from the inside out) with “the law” (which operates from the outside in).  When the law is our self-improvement strategy, our own willpower is central.  God tells us what he wants and we marshall all of the resources of our will to comply.  This is kind of like living every day under the weight of a myriad of  New Year’s Resolutions.

This type of approach is almost always doomed to failure.  We can’t simply decide to be a different person.  We may continuously resolve to do better, but in the end, we just end up being who we really are. We have to be changed at the most fundamental level and we can not do this on our own.  As the prophet Jeremiah said:  “Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.” (Jeremiah 13:23).

Paul described it as the difference between trying to be conformed (being reshaped by some external object) and being transformed  (taking on a fundamentally different identity):  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind . . .”  (Romans 12:2).

This does not mean that I don’t have a New Year’s Resolution.  I do.  I am resolving to pray more.  I don’t know that that resolution has much more chance of succeeding than the others but I think it is going in the right direction.  If I pray more, I will know God better.  If I know God better, I will be changed.  And if I am changed, there will be more and better fruit.

Happy New Year to everyone!

P. S.  With apologies to my wife, here is my personal favorite:

 

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