In the past few days, millions of eager Christians, anticipating a New Year of greater growth, created New Year’s resolutions. Quite possibly, in the past few hours, millions of New Year’s resolutions have been broken. Without a doubt, the killing of New Year’s resolutions will proceed with a vengeance in the ensuing weeks.
It is cliche to discuss the breaking of New Year’s resolutions. Instead of making a resolution they will inevitably break, many people choose not to form resolutions at all. Yet for the resolution-makers among us, it’s important to understand a little bit of why and how New Year’s resolutions die. Maybe that way, we can be prepared to hang on to ours a little while longer.
Autopsy of a New Year’s Resolution
When someone — we’ll call him Fred — makes a New Year’s resolution, he is usually excited and determined. Determination fuels the engine that drives him across the threshold into a New Year and the bright promises of the future. But the fuel of determination is bound to run out. Determination alone can’t change someone. So the fuel tank of determination dissipates into the fumes of grit, and things get really tough. The 5am wakeup time, or the hourlong workouts, or the no-sugary-drink resolutions become fierce headwinds that resist Fred’s forward advance.
The determination is gone. The grit is worn down.
And so, Fred’s New Year’s resolutions die.
Discovering the Killer
But what is the killer here? Is it Fred’s culture? His inherit lack of willpower? His nagging wife? His bothersome kids? His boring job? Is it the fact that he can’t afford a fancy gym membership, or New Balance shoes, or organic food, or a heart rate monitor?
Sure, all of these things have an impact. Taken together, they provide a huge challenge that can defeat even the most stalwart arsenal of determination firepower.
But there is a more subtle killer. It is subtle, because we rarely, if ever, take it into consideration when we make our New Year’s resolutions.
In a word, it’s grace. More specifically, it’s the lack thereof.
Grace isn’t the type of thing we tend to make resolutions about. For starters, we hardly even understand it — it’s purpose, meaning, and scope. What’s more, the idea of “grace” doesn’t square very well with “resolution.” Grace is so God-centered and magnificent; resolution is so man-centered and gritty. But there is a sweet convergence of both grace and resolution that can help salvage many a failed resolution. It is the same mysterious convergence of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Its tension is undeniable, but it’s necessity is inescapable.
But how do you make resolutions based on grace? You can’t resolve to get more grace. Such a resolution contradicts the very definition of grace. Receiving grace is about an attitude, specifically a heart attitude of humility.
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility…for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God. (1 Peter 5:5-6)
The proper way to keep New Year’s resolutions is to make New Year’s resolutions in the context of God’s grace. The outpouring of grace doesn’t end at the moment you become a Christian. That’s merely the beginning of a radical adventure of scandalous grace — grace that God delights in drenching us with.
Grace isn’t like a lollipop that we grab from the hand of God. It is more like the air that we breathe — a rarefied atmosphere of health, help, and power. Grace doesn’t necessarily give you a bigger income, a slimmer figure, or a nicer car. God gives grace to enable good works in our lives.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
It is God who redeems us, who sanctifies us, who grows us, and who enables us to live such a life. Resolutions may help a person, but they don’t make the person. This year, carry forth your resolutions in the light of God’s amazing grace.
You may break a few, fail often, and even forget some of your resolutions before long. That’s okay. Grace is still there, even when your shortcomings seem to cut off all form of hope and help. God is still strengthening, enabling, assuring, and comforting us.