Make More New Year’s Resolutions!
JANUARY 5, 2022
We get so many emails and letters here about how to experience the reality of God’s love, grace, and mercy.
It’s the question, “How do I get it from my head to my heart?” I certainly understand. When Jesus found me a long time ago, he started with my head. I became convinced of the Christian faith’s truth before I experienced it. I think I was saved—God made salvation surprisingly easy—but I just wasn’t emotionally connected with that truth. I was often puzzled when I saw people’s emotional reactions to the truth I taught. (Of course, that has changed over the years. Our faith needs to be more than the equivalent of believing in the multiplication tables.) The thing is, the acceptance of truth without the experience and emotion may be intellectually satisfying, but it won’t keep you warm at night.
So I understand the question, and I’m here to help. After years of teaching and preaching, I’m finally ready to share the secret of moving faith from one’s head to one’s heart.
Are you ready?
Make New Year’s resolutions!
Wait . . . that’s it?
Yeah, that’s it. Frankly, nobody keeps New Year’s resolutions, and that failure is a doorway to our hearts. Now, if you make resolutions and keep them, don’t read what follows. I’m not writing to you. Perhaps you might consider writing a how-to book with the title, Obedience and Faithfulness: How I Achieved It.
So that you know, for years I have had one New Year’s resolution . . . not to make any New Year’s resolutions.
I repent. You would be surprised by how long this year’s list of resolutions is. And Jesus is quite pleased by that list, but not for the reasons you may think.
Romans 7 is one of the most important and surprising passages of Scripture. If I were Paul, I would have left that chapter out. It seems inappropriate that a Christian leader of his stature should be airing his dirty laundry in public. If I had a title for Romans 7, it would be, Obedience and Faithfulness: How I Screwed It Up.
Paul’s resolutions are there and what he writes about them is surprising.
For instance, Paul wrote, “For I have this desire to do what is right . . . For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being” (Romans 7:18, 22). I get that, and if you are a Christian, you do, too! While I’ve said this often, it’s still true, and I say with all the humility I can muster: You’ve never met anybody who wants to please God more than I do. You would be surprised by the items on my list of New Year’s resolutions this year. They include eating fewer cookies, throwing out my pipes, and being a nicer person. The angels will have already laughed at me by the time you receive this letter because I broke my previous record. I can’t resist a cookie (I make the Cookie Monster look disciplined); I lit my pipe before I remembered I planned to throw it away; and, as hard as I try, I don’t do nice well. But there were also more important resolutions. I resolved to walk closer to Christ and to live a life that honored and glorified him. I resolved to be a stronger witness for Christ and to be defined by that witness. And I resolved to speak truth, be compassionate and kind, and be a servant.
Just as Jesus was pleased by Paul’s heart, he was just as pleased by mine.
Years ago, when Barry Goldwater ran for president, his conservative views were almost further to the right than mine. The much-repeated slogan for the Goldwater campaign was, “In your heart you know he’s right,” to which the opposition countered, “In your guts, you know he’s nuts.” God knows my heart, and that means God knows I’m his.
The problem and the gift are when we want to be faithful to resolutions and fail miserably. Paul put it succinctly, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19). I’ve been there, done that, and still visit there fairly regularly.
(As an aside, God knows how to conjugate verbs. Some suggest that Paul is talking about his life before becoming a Christian. They’re wrong. If that were true, the verb would be in the past tense. Paul is talking here about his present, ongoing, and regular walk with Christ . . . and ours, too. The little boy who said he could be good—but not for very long—may have expressed a genuine and appropriate desire, but he also expressed a troubling and ongoing reality.)
You may be thinking, Why bother then? How is that a gift? “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” If we don’t have a horse, as it were, it’s best to face it.
Wait, don’t leave! I haven’t gotten to the good part yet.
Paul expressed his honest frustration, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). In other words, pleasing a holy God is a lost cause. This is a problem that can’t be fixed. While we should never try to fix something that isn’t broken, we should never try to fix something that can’t be fixed either. Someone described a child’s toy that needed to be put together, but that was designed with the express purpose to be impossible to put together “to teach the child the reality of a world where everything can’t be fixed.” God sort of did that, too.
As one moves into Romans 8, Paul wrote (he was dancing as he wrote this, but nobody tells you that), “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
Really? Yes, really.
Now, I have to be careful here because God knows that if he gives us an inch, we’ll take a mile. But the truth is that our hearts’ desires become an increasing reality in our lives, and when that happens, it’s always a surprise. That’s because God is already pleased with us, and it’s not something we earn. People who do righteous things are hardly ever aware that what they’ve done is righteous. And people who do evil have convinced themselves that what they’ve done isn’t evil. The difference between Christians and unbelievers is that Christians know the evil and it bothers them, while unbelievers have convinced themselves that evil is good.
To keep us from getting discouraged, on occasion, God lets us see the good we’ve done but always adds, “Don’t let it go to your head.” And if we do let it go to our heads (that’s called self-righteousness), he then allows us to break some more resolutions. We once had some guests on our talk show who said, “What the angry legalists don’t understand is that if they would stop yelling at us, we would probably do most of the things they’re yelling about.” But then, what they’re yelling about isn’t the point, and they make it the point. That’s like making the hood ornament the point of a car.
In Brant Hansen’s book, The Truth About Us, he opens with a note to the reader that we all have a problem. We think we’re good people, while Jesus says that we’re not good people. Then Brant adds a P.S. that the rest of the book is the P.S. The rest of the book is about God’s mercy, forgiveness, and love . . . what New Year’s resolutions are about. It’s called the law, and it really is a gift you can’t experience until you don’t deserve it and know it.
Brant wrote in his book (or maybe he told us the story during our interview with him) about how he reminded his wife that Jesus got angry with the money changers and kicked them out of the temple. “Honey,” she replied, “You don’t understand. You’re the money changer.”
That’s it! That’s the reason unbelievers are so angry at Christians. It’s because forgiven people irritate those who have decided that they don’t need to be forgiven. It’s also the reason sinning gets harder and harder to do, but we, nevertheless, manage to keep on sinning. God is very slow to remove our “thorns in the flesh” (as Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 12:7) because his power is made perfect in weakness and, I might add, seems to be so slow to remove our sin, our struggle, and our broken New Year’s resolutions.
Don’t thank me. I was glad to help.
So, go ahead and make a lot of New Year’s resolutions. When you break them, the truth of God’s forgiveness and love will become an experience in your heart. It’s what Martin Luther and Augustine meant when they said, “If you sin, sin boldly.” Neither was encouraging sin, but simply pointing to the only sure way to experience God’s grace and mercy and to even sometimes get better.
Happy New Year.
Just don’t forget that if you break your New Year’s resolutions, break them boldly.
He asked me to remind you.