A Different Kind of New Year’s Resolution

One day each year, it seems that grace-alone, faith-alone Protestants abandon everything they believe. No, it’s not Halloween. It’s New Year’s Day. When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, even Christian pastors will pile on the law: read your Bible more, pray more, attend church more, read more Christian books, tithe more, witness more. In short: do more, do better, try harder. The gospel melts into Christian moralism.

So this year, I want to put the indicative before the imperative. I propose a different kind of resolution, a joyful abandonment to grace and a sure confidence in God my Father.

1. Resolved, that God, who made heaven and earth, made me also, and loves me, and delights in me.

2. Resolved, that God, who is infinitely holy and demands perfect adherence to his moral law, took upon himself the task of restoring me, his fallen child.

3. Resolved, that Jesus—through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension—has become my wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.

4. Resolved, that even when my faith seems to waver and my conscience accuse me, God is greater than my heart and will reassure me.

5. Resolved, that in my baptism, God tells me that I have been washed from sins, born anew, and filled with the Holy Spirit.

6. Resolved, that in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, Jesus offers himself to me for spiritual food.

7. Resolved, that God will sustain my faith and bring me, through trials, into his beautiful presence, never more to depart.

8. Resolved, that all my brothers and sisters in Christ are likewise objects of God’s love and mercy, and are thus my friends and fellow-travelers.

There are many more I could add, but as the numbers multiply, it becomes more difficult to focus my attention on each one. My daily perseverance requires embracing God’s promises, not inventing my own, which I cannot keep. There will come a time for resolutions in the conventional sense, personal goals and the shouldering of responsibility. But the law will bear crops only where grace has fertilized the soil. So, at least for the first month of this new year, my focus will be not on what I plan to do better, but what has been done perfectly for me. Resolved.

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Published in: on January 2, 2012 at 9:31 am  Comments (7)  

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  1. I think a big challenge for theologians of our generation is going to be articulating a truly scriptural perspective on law and gospel so that people won’t be blown around by winds even of gospel-centeredeness, for all its salutary effects. Yes, resolutions can be a burden of self-made law, but they can also be helpful tools.

    I found the following passage helpful in rooting me in this area:

    3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,
    4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
    5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge.”

    Basically, Peter had no trouble saying that sanctification is ultimately a work of God and yet following that command up with a word like “effort.”

    And another passage: “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power.”

    Resolutions aren’t necessarily bad.

    • Agreed. Resolutions aren’t bad. I don’t think that our generation needs to find gospel and law itself so challenging; it’s been worked out quite astutely by a number of previous generations. If one thinks in quantitative terms (how much gospel vs. how much law), there is no hope. Once one grasps the concept of order (law–>gospel for unbelievers; gospel–>law for believers), things become manageable. Most New Year’s resolutions, though, are merely law leading to guilt leading to more law, leading to more guilt. Fie on that.

  2. Good stuff to think about. I was directed to this post by Mark Ward’s blog and I’m glad I read it. I’m going to teach 70 guys in a drug program tomorrow evening and the topic revolves around setting some resolutions. I just changed my outline. Thanks!

  3. You’ve established the appropriate foundation of the indicative, but I’d like to see how you’d develop the imperative. You’re responding to those who leave the indicative off (or assumed), which I agree is wrong. But the right path forward is both, in the right order.

    • Hi, Phil. I’m sorry I didn’t respond to your comment earlier. Somehow it ended up in my spam filter. As you noted, I didn’t really deal with the imperative in this post. That was a conscious choice. Since I have begun observing the liturgical calendar, I’ve recognized the value of letting certain phases simply hang there for a while. For example, in Advent, the first 2 weeks are mourning over the sin and darkness of the world. Then, in the third week, the “Gaudete” of the angels to the shepherds is proclaimed, and the mood is trembling expectation. Then Christmas Day arrives! Joyful adoration! Holy Week offers a similar movement, more compressed.

      So, for now, I’m content to let the indicative hang. The rest will follow, in time.

  4. […] greatly appreciated the encouragement my friend Charlie gives on his blog, in a post called “A Different Kind of New Year’s Resolution:” “One day each year, it seems that grace-alone, faith-alone Protestants abandon […]

  5. […] A Different Kind of New Year’s Resolution. “My daily perseverance requires embracing God’s promises, not inventing my own, which I cannot keep. There will come a time for resolutions in the conventional sense, personal goals and the shouldering of responsibility. But the law will bear crops only where grace has fertilized the soil. So, at least for the first month of this new year, my focus will be not on what I plan to do better, but what has been done perfectly for me.” (Note: theologically I’d disagree with a couple of his resolved statements). […]


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