Summary: Improving ourselves in a self-focused way is not necessarily bad but it must come second to improving our relationship with Jesus.
CHRISTIAN NEW YEARS RESOLUTION
We are at the transition point between the end of one year and the beginning of a new year. What happened in the old year, good or bad, is done and we cannot change it; we simple must live with the results of the past. In living with the past, it is wise to capitalize on the positive and prudent to minimize the impact of the negative. In many ways that is what we call learning from the past; and one way we do that is to make up our mind that we will do better tomorrow. While it is true that we always have the opportunity to make changes in our life, somehow it just seems like the first of January is a good time to resolve to improve the way we do things; thus, New Year Resolutions are common. From a secular perspective, the top 10 most common New Year Resolutions for 2012 are:
1. Get More Fit
2. Lose Weight
3. Quit Smoking
4. Spend More Time with Family & Friends
5. Enjoy Life More
6. Fall in Love
7. Get Out of Debt
8. Learn Something New
9. Help Others
10. Get Organized
Perhaps we have even given consideration to one or more of these resolutions. In any advent, there will be many people who have resolved to improve their life by addressing one or more of these issues.
A NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION IS NOT AN OATH
We must admit that any one of these worldly actions would probably be an improvement in our life. Yet, over the years I have heard more than one preacher condemns the practice of making New Year’s Resolutions. Most often the preacher will quote Matthew 5:33-37, where Jesus said: “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” When you take this statement out of context it almost seem that Jesus does not want us to swear to do something; making it easy for a preacher to twist this scripture into a doctrine of not making a New Year’s Resolution. But, if we put Matthew 5:33-37 back into the context of Jesus’ sermon on the mount we will see that Jesus is bringing to the people the spiritual concept of His New Covenant. Jesus would say: “You have heard that it was said,” and then He would explain how His teachings are a more perfect fulfillment of this Law. When Jesus taught about oaths He was telling the people that they should not put emphasis on ritualistic oaths, like the Pharisees; instead, simple do what you say you are going to do. In my opinion, if you are going to make a New Year’s Resolution Jesus would simple tell you to make that improvement.
Jesus knows that we humans often lack the power to fulfill, or sometimes even act on, our strongest desires and intentions. We compound the impact of our weakness when we turn our intentions into an oath, which we fail to keep. That is why we do not take a New Year’s Oath; at the beginning of a new year we determine (resolve) to make an improvement in our life. In fact, you might say: “I am resolved no longer to linger, Charmed by the world's delight.” Making a New Year’s Resolution to work on improving some aspect of our life is not the same thing as swearing an oath.
WHAT A CHRISTIAN RESOLUTION IS NOT
The words of the song ‘I am Resolved’ are very powerful and they certainly clearly define the objective every Christian should take in making a New Year’s Resolution. The song was originally written by James H. Fillmore, Sr. in 1896 and because it was so popular Fillmore asked Palmer Hartsough to rewrite the song for publishing. Perhaps it would be profitable for us to take the time to think about the opening line of that song: “I am resolved no longer to linger, Charmed by the world's delight; Things that are higher, things that are nobler, These have allured my sight.” Now compare this with what Paul wrote to the Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,” (Romans 12:2). How could you possibly find evil in a person resolving to be transformed by the renewing of their mind, through the word of God. For a Christian, that is what a New Year’s Resolution should be all about.