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No Resolutions

Monday, December 29th, 2008

While I was in Chattanooga over the holidays, I opened up the local newspaper and found an article about a new church in the area.  The pastor was talking about his slogan for the New Year: “Make ‘no resolutions’ your only resolution!”  This unique approach to faith, he hopes, will draw in seekers who are weary of trying to achieve spiritual results on their own and are ready to turn their lives over to God.

The concept of doing nothing in the name of God is not new.  Years ago we started hearing “Let go and let God!” from church leaders promoting passivity.  Making no resolutions for the New Year is just a different version of an old idea.

These non-ambitions are rooted in the Reformation’s knee-jerk reaction to Catholicism’s works-based salvation.  What started with salvation by faith alone has become living by faith alone.

The results of not making goals and not pushing toward the ideals God has established for humankind are disastrous.  Nothing in the Bible suggests that we ought to throw our hands in the air and give up so that God can take over and do all the heavy lifting for us.  In fact, a close consideration of the Scriptures actually encourages goal-setting.

The most common word for sin in the New Testament is hamartano, a word that literally refers to missing the mark or falling short of a goal.  This connotation was still with the word in New Testament times, as Romans 3:23 demonstrates: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Failure to stop sinning and pursue God’s goals results in certain condemnation, as the writer of Hebrews explains: “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.”

John the Baptist preached, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Lk. 3:8).  He saw repentance as an internal changing of the mind that produced right actions.  This is illustrated by Zacchaeus, who set his goal before Jesus, saying, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor.  And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Lk. 19:8).  Jesus did not correct him but rather gave him a commendation.

Paul, that great church builder who established more congregations than any other servant of Christ, frequently stressed making resolutions to follow Christ in his preaching.  Consider the following cluster of illustrations he used in a letter to the Corinthians:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

Analogies to the athletic world were understood in Corinth, where the Isthmian Games were held every other year.  Paul was encouraging effort, not passivity, comparing Christians to athletes in rigorous training.  His language in the last verse emphasizes the severity of this effort more than the English translations have indicated.  Taken literally, Paul’s words have him giving himself a black eye and making himself a slave to his spiritual goals so that he does not become disqualified.  Paul is speaking of strict discipline while some church leaders, like the one mentioned before, are encouraging their members to become couch potatoes.

The idea that Christianity involves letting go and giving God control comes from passages like Philippians 4:13, where Paul says he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him.  But this statement has to be tempered by what the apostle has already writing in his letter to the Philippians.  In chapter 2, verse 12, he tells them, “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”  And in the next chapter, speaking of himself, Paul says, “But this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).  Far from lulling his readers into complacency, Paul is motivating his readers into a zealousness for God.  They did need the strength of Christ, but not so that they could wait for him to do all the work for them.  Christ’s strength is meant to help us endure as to push forward and strain for the goals that most of mankind miss because they are satisfied with the world.

So if you make resolutions, keep making them.  If you don’t, now is the time to start.  You will never get anywhere if you fail to plot a course.