The Greatest Resolution
I hope you’re finding time to relax and refresh this holiday season. In just two-and-a-half days 2016 will be officially in the books and we’ll be faced with the opportunities and challenges of 2017.
I was in the grocery store last New Year’s Eve when I heard one of the department managers telling another employee about a party that he was attending later that same night. He said that his shift ended at 11:00 p.m. and he was going directly to the party, which would last until the early morning hours. With a sheepish grin, he intimated that he wouldn’t be proud of what would likely take place that night, but whatever happened, it would be ok, because it was the last day of the year. The next day offered a fresh start. (Their conversation continued as I lingered around the bacon, pretending to deliberate over the different flavors. Raspberry chipotle or apple cinnamon? Hmm.)
The manager went on to tell his much younger cohort that New Year’s Day was his favorite holiday—he preferred it over Thanksgiving, Christmas and Halloween—because New Year’s Day provided the perfect occasion to put behind him all the bad stuff he’d done and start with a clean slate. Turning the page on the paper calendar was, to him, a visual reminder that everything that happened in the past was indeed in the past. And, at least for a moment, he would be free from the guilt and shame of bad behavior, unfulfilled expectations, and erstwhile lapses in judgment.
I never asked that department manager how the New Year’s Eve party went. (I didn’t want to disclose my own eavesdropping.) Nor did I inquire if the calendar change brought with it the sort of freedom and guilt-destroying newness that he thought it promised.
I already knew the answer.
Within days of the new calendar year, resolutions are broken, bad habits are resumed, temptations reignited, and the stinging weight of our failures haunts us with new vigor.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you are in Christ, New Year’s Day is just another day. You don’t need a “fresh start” because your slate is already clean. And that will never change. Should you pray more, give more, or serve more? Perhaps. And there’s no better time than the present to make those changes. But if you’ve put your faith in Jesus, you are already forgiven for every past, present and future sin, you are blessed with all spiritual blessings, you are a child of God, victorious over Satan and declared holy and blameless by your Maker. You are now indwelled by the Holy Spirit and secure in Christ.
But why point this out again? Well, so many Christians suffer from perpetual discouragement and defeat because of their failures, and those disappointments are magnified with every blown resolution. Many Christ-followers live in a fog of shame because they’re trying so hard, unsuccessfully, to earn Christ’s righteousness by their law-keeping and obedience. But that’s not how it works in God’s economy. In recounting his own successes and setbacks, the Apostle Paul writes: “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:8-9).
My brothers and sisters, if you are in Christ, you are completely forgiven from your sins from the moment you received Jesus by faith and God made you alive in Christ. You will never be condemned for your sins ever again. You have been granted the very righteousness of Jesus not because of your performance—good or bad—but because of your faith in his performance. Your slate is bright and faultless! And this is as true on December 31st as it is on January 1st. Certainly, there are horizontal consequences to our sins and offenses, but our failures need not torment us.
So, go ahead and make your resolutions. Exercise more consistently. Eat less ice cream. Listen better. Resist the pressure to wear skinny jeans. These are just a few of mine. But how about this for an even better one (in the spirit of the Apostle Paul): “I am resolved to recognize and rejoice more fully in the height, depth, width and breadth of God’s unrelenting love for me in Jesus, and to awake to the righteousness that is mine in Christ, and sin not.”
Should God enable us to do that, through his Spirit, prayer, his word and the fellowship of the saints, we’ll also find that those sins that so easily beset us start losing their luster. And the joy that is ours in Christ will be as rich and fulfilling at the beginning of the year as it is at the end.
Happy New Year!