• Steve Hatter
New Year resolution graphic

Now is the time of year when people tend to make resolutions. There is something about the freshness of the new calendar year that inspires a person’s conscience to consider noble life changes of direction; changes that by nature come harder to begin in less remarkable times of the year. Times when we are mostly driving along in the ruts of routine.

Such New Year’s resolutions tend to organize along predictable lines. We regret poor health habits—“I’ll join a gym and lose a few pounds.” We are convicted of  habitual independence from God—“I’ll get serious about going to church,” or “I’ll commit to a daily quiet time.” We dread our accumulating underachievement as another year passes—”I’ll start a business, write a book, get a degree, sail around the world.”

Sadly, most New Year’s resolutions fail. A 2018 U.S. News & World Report research piece concluded that an astonishing 80% collapse by February 1st. Newly purchased home treadmills lay fallow, packed church pews seen on Christmas Eve or the first Sunday in January do not sustain. Achievement dreams remain just that, dreams.

Why is this so? I took the liberty of performing a google search asking this simple question, “why do New Year’s resolutions fail?” I was amazed at all that popped up from the depths of the worldwide web. Most, if not all, of the articles addressing this question, were varying forms of pop psychology emphasizing man-centered explanations. Some listed three reasons, others ten, but what I noticed they all had in common was that they all focused exclusively on “the self.” Selfishness, it seems, is the premium value in the when, how, and why of modern resolution-making. Because this is so, the creator God of the universe is not even considered, much less mentioned. People want to change for their glory instead of the rightful owner of all glory, God.

Believers know that Scripture tells us precisely and comprehensively that motivations rooted in “self” are generally doomed to fail. As human beings—uniquely made by a sovereign God in His image and for His purposes—we should know self-help projects emanating from selfish motivations are usually not in harmony with how God desires us to live. Therefore, if we want to change, we must ensure it is a godly change motivated by our love for Him and our desire to obey Him based on that love. Unbelievers really cannot know of this principle because they are unregenerate. All they can turn to for understanding is man-made constructs like psychology or humanistic philosophy. No wonder the high failure rate of “by one’s-own-strength,” and “for one’s-own-glory” resolution-making.

The Gospel of Matthew gives us the most valuable insight into the foundation of all real success in life, and especially when making meaningful and lasting changes in lives dedicated to God. Chapter 22 of Matthew narrates Jesus taking on the Jewish authorities who tried to trap him with conundrum type questions. However, because Jesus is God, He always had the perfect answer that flipped the script, ever putting pressure back on His accusers:

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34–40)

There is much more here than how to achieve a New Year’s resolution successfully, but there is a direct application to this first Monday of 2021. When we love God first—and I mean we really love God first—only then are we able to discern what His will is for us. As we align with God’s will, we are then also able to live and love rightly in all our horizontal relationships, whether with our spouse, our children, or our neighbor.

The great American revivalist preacher Jonathan Edwards was known for making determined resolutions. In fact, in 1722–23, while living in New England, Edwards penned seventy resolutions that remain with us today. These resolutions were grouped into categories such as Overall Life Mission, Good Works, Time Management, Relationships, Suffering, Character, and Spiritual Life. Reading through the resolutions cannot help but leave one utterly impressed with Edward’s intellectual gifts, knowledge, and spiritual insights—and all these gifts brilliantly firing before he turned twenty years old. But a more in-depth study of Jonathan Edwards yields an incredible insight into the man Edwards sitting on the precipice of conversion, versus a fully regenerate Edwards writing a decade later. You see, the twenty-something Jonathan Edwards made seventy brilliant resolutions that, by his own admission, were more in the “by one’s-own-strength” and “for one’s-own-glory” category than not at the time he penned them. His very first resolution addressing overall life mission says this:

“Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.”

As noble as this lofty life goal sounds, it is fascinating to read the humbled, pastoral, preaching-almost-daily Edwards writing in the early 1730s as he considered this and his other resolutions as utterly impossible apart from God’s grace. Only the regenerate Jonathan Edwards, grown in the knowledge of his own sin and inadequacy, was able to successfully live this bold meaning-of-life resolution by depending on God’s strength and provision. Consider God’s sanctifying work ongoing in the preacher’s heart that penned this lament circa 1730:

“I have a much greater sense of my universal, exceeding dependence on God’s grace and strength, and mere good pleasure, of late, than I used to formerly have; and have experienced more of an abhorrence of my own righteousness. The very thought of any joy arising in me, on any consideration of my own amiableness, performances, or experiences, or any goodness of heart or life, is nauseous and detestable to me.”

I, for one, totally resonate with the regenerate Edward’s sentiments. I am daily humbled by God’s grace in my salvation and Spirit’s ongoing work in my life sanctifying me daily. My need for grace presses on me daily. Therefore, my one resolution for 2021 is to love the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind!