New Year’s Resolutions – Good or Bad?
Update January 1, 2018
Should We Make New Year’s Resolutions?
New Year’s Day. Time to make our New Year’s Resolutions! Or is it?
Thomas Brooks, a puritan, wrote, “Ambition is a gilded misery, a secret poison. Ambition is a hidden plague, the engineer of deceit, the mother of hypocrisy, the parent of envy, the original vice of the angels, and Adam and Eve. Ambition is the destroyer of virtue, the blinder of hearts. Ambition turns medicine into malady and remedy into disease.”
We all know the stories of blind ambition. We all are exposed to highly ambitious self-promoting people. It has caused many people to sell their souls, compromise their convictions, violate their beliefs, and sacrifice their character, and essentially destroy relationships all around them. Ambition is often associated with adjectives, like unscrupulous, self-centered, proud, driven, insensitive, careless. Ambition often leaves a trail of carnage of family friends. Ambition tramples over principle. Ambitious people are associated with greed, with lust for power, with a strong desire for social visibility, for popularity, for approval, for peer recognition, for authority over others.
When we look around the world today, we see many examples of ambition gone wild. North Korea’s dictator, not actually old enough to lead a neighborhood block party, is threatening the planet’s most powerful military with nuclear weapons. In this case, ambition has gone completely mad with no compassion, empathy, or concern for the millions of people that will certainly die if Kim’s ambitions are fulfilled. The ambitions of one of our presidential candidates, the one who lost, will this year, in my humble opinion, result in indictments, embarrassment, and, hopefully, incarceration if justice by men has any meaning at all. She will suffer the judgment of Almighty God, that is certain. But, it would be just and right for men to hold accountable those who break laws but seem to skate simply because they are in an elite class.
Ambition has such a bad reputation, and justifiably so, that the missionary leader Bishop Stephen Neill once wrote, “I am inclined to think that ambition in an ordinary sense of the term is nearly always sinful in ordinary men. I’m certain that in the Christian, it is always sinful, and that it is most inexcusable in the ordained minister.”
Oswald Sanders, famous Christian writer, suggested that Jesus came into the world to save people from their selfish ambition. The Bible even condemns selfish ambition. Jeremiah 45:5 says, “But you, are you seeking great things for yourself? Do not seek them?” So, are we seeking great things for ourselves? We should not seek them. The Bible rejects ambition.
The Apostle Paul has always been a hero to most Christians, and he had a very simple view of life. He saw himself as a man who was not particularly given over to oratory or human wisdom, but to preach Christ and Him crucified. That was his message to the point that people mocked him for that simplicity. He viewed himself as a steward of divine truth that had been handed to him which he was to distribute to those the Lord gave him opportunity to reach. He was little more than a channel through which God would speak.
He had a depth of his commitment to God, but it was God’s responsibility to decide the breadth of it. It’s not about the quantity of ministry. It’s about the quality of life that one brings to ministry. But, surprisingly, in 2 Corinthians 5:9, Paul tells us he is ambitious. “Therefore, we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to him.” Verse 10 says. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
So what did Jeremiah have in mind when he said, “Are you seeking great things for yourself? Do not seek them.” What he had in mind was seeking great things for oneself. But, when Paul says he has ambition, his ambition is to be pleasing to the Lord. That is a huge difference! The Bible forbids that we have ambition to please ourselves. The Bible elevates the noble desire to have ambition to please the Lord. The profit Jeremiah then is not condemning all ambition as sinful, but he is condemning selfish ambition, personal ambition. In fact, the Greeks actually helped elevate the idea of acceptable ambition from the Romans and the Latin language. The Greek word for ambition in the verse in 2 Corinthians 5:9 means to love honor and be noble. We must always be careful in our Bible study to dig out the correct interpretation, the proper hermeneutics of Scripture. This requires time, resources, and dedication.
Paul had a legitimate ambition to please the Lord, a legitimate ambition to lead the church, a legitimate ambition to preach the gospel, and that is honorable and noble. He sees himself as a slave whose one purpose, one aspiration, one ambition in life is to please, to satisfy his Master by doing his Master’s will. For the believer, that is the simplicity of life. We are nothing but a channel through which the will of God, the Word of God, the purpose of God, the work of God can flow.
Paul reminds us all in 1 Corinthians 10 that the one who thinks he stands better take heed lest he falls. He knows that the one who examines him is the Lord and no other. The Lord is the one who renders the verdict on his life, the only verdict that matters.
So, sometimes we say, “I’d like to make a New Year’s resolution.” What should that resolution be? How should we word our resolution? What is acceptable to God in a resolution? The answer is that we should resolve to be pleasing to the Lord. Resolve to do everything to please Him. And, if we are going to please Him, we have to know what pleases Him. The only way to know what pleases Him is to read the Bible, both Testaments. Iit starts with Scripture where He has revealed His will. From Scripture, we learn the Truth that the Scripture affirms; from the Truth, we learn exactly what our convictions should be; from those convictions, the belief in Truth becomes a part of our system of belief and changes our behavior; then from behavior, our every desire falls in line with His will. We start out with the Truth of Scripture because there, we find what pleases the Lord. We let the Spirit of God develop those convictions of Scripture in us until they begin to show up in our behavior. Then, increasingly, that behavior becomes the passion and the driving desires of our hearts. That was the source of Paul’s ambition. And it really is that simple. Dedication to God’s Word and the reading and studying of it is not something to resurrect at the start of every new year. This is something to live every single moment of every single day and to be pleasing to him. James says in 4:13- 17, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow, we will go to such and such a city and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ You don’t know what your life will be like tomorrow. What is the nature of your life? You’re just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live, and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. The one who knows the right thing to do and doesn’t do it, to him, it is sin.”
So, what is the right thing to do in creating a New Year’s Resolution? What should be our motivation not only on New Year’s Day but every single day of our lives? To yield to the will of God and do what is pleasing to Him. Through the work of the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit we are given a desire that will last forever, to be pleasing to the Lord. That’s the highest goal and the widest experience that we can have and exhibit while we are still here on Earth.
2 Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body according to what he has done whether good or evil.” This should be our the deepest motive. Hebrews 4:13 says, “There’s no creature hidden from his site, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” God who examines the heart knows our motives, and at that exciting future event, when we come before the judgment seat of Christ, God will render the final verdict on whether we lived our lives motivated to please Him. Stripped of all pretense, stripped of all disguise, all the external trappings of religion and morality dissolve in that confrontation, we are naked and exposed there What is revealed to God and all present is whether or not the works that we did were gold, silver, precious stones, or wood hay stubble (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
Paul is saying, “We’re all going to stand there at the Bema seat of Christ. Each one of us is going to appear. But what is encouraging is that the results are all good. Each one will be rewarded for his deeds in the body according to what he has done, whether good or useless.” The useless is the wood, hay, and stubble. It’s gone. We will not be judged for our sins because Christ was judged for our sins. We will be rewarded for having served Him with a pure motive of doing everything to please Him. The motivation should be to be sure that the pile of wood, hay, stubble is very small compared to the gold, silver, precious stones pile.
In Romans 14:10, Paul says, “We will all stand before the judgment seat of God, and each one will give an account of himself to God.” There will be an accounting. It’s not about sin though. It’s about determining our eternal reward so that we may be rewarded. The things that were useless disappear. And the things that were genuinely motivated by a desire to please the Lord remain. On the basis of those that make it through the fire, we receive a heavenly reward. This is the long-range view, the heavenly view, the strategic view. But most people are all caught up in what they can get in the here and now. Being short-sighted is definitely not a virtue.
As believers, we want to make sure that we push everything into that future, everything done on a daily basis. Even New Year’s Resolutions must be considered in light of what is to come. Paul says, “My ambition is simple. Whatever pleases the Lord is what I am about because I want to be pleasing to Him. Here and in Heaven, it’s the same ambition. What should drive us is that, someday, we will have to give an account, and we will forever receive the benefit of that service rendered to Him motivated by a desire to please Him, not a desire to elevate ourselves.”
Our highest goal should be to be pleasing to Christ in all we do or anticipate or plan. The widest expression of being pleasing to Christ is in this life as well as the life to come. The deepest motive should be the anticipation of eternal rewards. So, as we think about our lives, if we consider New Year’s Resolutions, we should think about them in those simple terms. That’s all God ever asks out of us. Being pleasing to Christ was the ambition that drove, really, the most powerful Christian in all the New Testament. That same positive, acceptable ambition is all that is required to ready us for standing before Christ. Therefore, in all that we do, we do for the glory of Christ and that certainly should include making New Year’s Resolutions.
Suggestions on “Concentrating Principles” for New Year’s Resolutions
Of course, Scripture forbids all clear-cut sins such as lying, cheating, stealing, murdering, or committing adultery. The Bible also clearly calls us to pursue Christ and grow in our faith. No Christian seriously questions whether he should read the Bible, pray, or tell others about Christ. Scripture is unambiguous about those two categories of do’s and don’ts.
There is, however, one class of questions that seems to fall somewhere in the middle. These are considerations that Christians need to have in mind daily and especially if considering New Year’s Resolutions. These are also the issues dealing with Christian freedom, things that fall between what God prohibits and what He commands. What entertainment is acceptable? What kind of music is okay? What can a Christian do or not do on Sunday? What about what you wear, what you eat and drink, or how you spend your free time. What to have a desire for or what to stay away from. Does the Bible address those things? Should we consider the Bible when making New Year’s Resolutions?
Some would say, “No, the Bible doesn’t address those things. Those are gray areas, so do what you want to do. You’re free in Christ!” While it is true that the Bible doesn’t specifically list every possible decision we face in life including making New Year’s Resolutions, it does address all choices with principles, principles we should concentrate upon, that govern Christian freedom. When we run our choices through the following grid of “concentrating principles” from God’s Word, we find both clarity and true freedom to live our lives to God’s glory:
Will this benefit me spiritually?
“All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (1 Corinthians 10:23). A “profitable” thing is useful, helpful, or to our advantage to do; and the idea behind “edify” is to build up spiritually. So based on this verse, ask, “Will doing this enhance my spiritual life? Will it cultivate godliness? Will it build me up spiritually?” If not, we should seriously question whether that behavior is the best choice.
Will this bring bondage?
“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). In the second part of this verse, Paul is saying, “I will not be brought under the power of anything.” If what we are considering can be habit-forming, why pursue it? We don’t allow ourselves to be in bondage to anything or anyone. We are bond-servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Him alone.
Will this defile God’s temple?
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We do not do anything that we know will harm our body or bring shame. It is the only instrument we have to glorify God. Romans 6:13 says, “Present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” How we choose to use our bodies should always reflect our concern to honor Jesus Christ.
Will this cause anyone to stumble?
“Food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:8-9). This is the principle of love. As Romans 13:10 says: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.” If we know that our choice, what we consider “in bounds” and approved, causes another Christian to stumble and sin, love that brother or sister enough to restrict our own freedom. That is not very popular in our self-absorbed society, but it is biblical. To continue to indulge in a legitimate freedom that causes problems for another Christian is a sin. For “by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore,” Paul said, “if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble” (1 Corinthians 8:12-13).
Will this further the cause of evangelism?
“Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:32-33). Whether we are aware of it or not, what we allow or disallow in our behavior affects our witness for Christ, and the world is watching. It’s an issue of testimony, what our life says about God. Our testimony either tells the truth about God, or it tells a lie. The choices we make in areas where Scripture speaks principally rather than specifically should reflect our concern not to bring offense to God’s reputation but to bring Him praise instead.
Will this violate my conscience?
“He who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). First Corinthians 10:25-29 contains three references to abstaining from a certain practice “for conscience sake.” We should never train ourselves to violate our consciences. If our conscience is troubled by what we consider, don’t do it. If we are not sure about it, we should not do it. It is hard to overstate the value of a clean conscience, but it is worth keeping our conscience clear so that our relationship to God will not be hindered. If we keep ourselves in prayer and the study of God’s Word, we will inform our conscience so we can “walk as children of light … finding out what is acceptable to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8, 10).
Will this bring glory to God?
“Therefore, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). That verse is clearly both the summary and the goal of all the principles listed above. Isn’t our heart’s cry to glorify our Lord and Savior with our lives? Think about our decisions. Will He be glorified, honored, and praised through them? May we say along with Jesus, “I glorified You on the earth” (John 17:4).
Of course, none of us will ever be in the position to use nuclear weapons, and, certainly, no one reading this will ever even consider running for President of the United States and be tempted to allow our ambitions to skirt the law of the land. But we can and should be mindful of our positions as children of the Living God in Jesus Christ! We should all remember with great joy that we are loved beyond our imagination by the only One Who matters. We already have the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is nothing on this earth that can overpower any of those gifts direct from God that we all got possession of when we believed in Jesus Christ, in His resurrection from the dead, and made Him Lord of our lives.
So, in conclusion, the next time we want to make New Year’s resolutions, or we face decisions where Scripture is less than specific or overt, we should run them through these Biblical principles and enjoy our freedom in Christ. We are citizens of Heaven even as we sit at our computers or wrap up in a blanket on a cold day. Rejoice and again I say rejoice! And a Happy New Year to ALL!