Today is New Year’s Day. And we all know what that means. It’s time to take an inventory of how we lived in 2007 and think through some much-needed changes for 2008. In other words, it’s time to make a list of New Year’s resolutions.
From losing weight to saving money, many Americans associate New Year’s Day with sobering up—not only from their parties the night before, but also from the disappointments and distractions of the previous 365 days. For those who were too busy, it’s time to start enjoying life. For those who were too lazy, it’s time to get organized or learn something new. And for those who were too self-indulgent, it’s time to lose weight or get out of debt.
In and of themselves, those are noble goals (even if they are often little more than wishful thinking). There’s certainly nothing wrong with planning to exercise regularly or working toward financially stability. I for one am hoping to get more organized this next year.
But shouldn’t there be more to the resolutions we make as Christians? Shouldn’t our lists reflect our radically different worldview?
While those in the world discipline themselves for physical gain, we are commanded to discipline ourselves for godliness (1 Tim. 4:7–8). While they relegate sobriety to a designated driver, we are to be constantly sober in spirit for the purpose of prayer (1 Pet. 4:7). While they pursue the various lusts of this passing age (1 John 2:16–17), we are to pursue holiness, in keeping with our holy calling (1 Thess. 4:7). They have a temporal perspective, we are to have an eternal one; they live for their own personal success, we are to live for God’s glory (1 Cor. 10:31); they conduct themselves however they see fit, we are to love God and keep His commandments (Mark 12:30).
From our allegiance to our attitudes to our actions—we are called to be different than the world around us. That’s why Peter refers to believers as “aliens and strangers” (1 Pet. 2:11), sojourners in this foreign land called earth (cf. Heb. 11:13).
The seventy resolutions of Jonathan Edwards serve as a wonderful example to us in this regard. Amazingly, Edwards penned these resolutions when he was only in his late teens and early twenties. Moreover, the commitments he made were lifelong pursuits; they were not limited to just the next year (as our New Year’s resolutions often are).
Interestingly, a survey of Edwards’s resolutions finds that all 70 fall into 10 general categories. (These categories, of course, were not delineated by Edwards; but rather come from my own, admittedly non-expert, analysis of his material.) I find it intriguing, though not surprising, how different Edwards’s “Top Ten Resolutions” are from those typically found in the world around us.
Here are the primary areas in which Jonathan Edwards was resolved:
1. To live for God’s glory (see resolutions Nos. 1, 4, and 27)
2. To make the most of this life, in terms of eternal impact (Nos. 5, 6, 7, 9, 17, 19, 23, 52, 54, and 69)
3. To take sin seriously (Nos. 8, 24, 25, 26, 37, 56, and 57)
4. To become theologically astute (Nos. 11, 28, 30, and 39)
5. To be humble (Nos. 12, 43, and 68)
6. To exhibit self-control in all things (Nos. 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 40, 44, 45, 59, 60, 61, 64, and 65)
7. To always speak with grace and truth (Nos. 16, 31, 33, 34, 36, 38, 46, 47, 58, 66, and 70)
8. To constantly develop an eternal focus (Nos. 10, 18, 22, 50, 51, 55, and 67)
9. To be a faithful Christian, in prayer and dedication (Nos. 29, 32, 35, 41, 42, and 63)
10. To daily pursue a fervent love for Christ (Nos. 48, 49, 53, and 62)
* Edwards also committed himself to keeping his other resolutions (Nos. 2 and 3)
Even when Edwards resolved to use his time wisely (No. 5), to eat properly (No. 20), or to maintain healthy relationships with others (No. 31)—resolutions that might sound familiar to many in our day and age—his resolve flowed out of a God-focused perspective that was eternal in scope. Thus his resolutions were not merely temporal lifestyle adjustments designed to solve a perceived bad habit, but earnest spiritual decisions made for the purpose of combating sin and living a God-glorifying life.
Edwards also did not solely rely on his own willpower or clever scheming to stay true to his resolutions. To be sure, his resolutions required a tremendous amount of personal discipline and hard work. Yet, unlike the self-made commitments of the world, Edwards ultimately relied on God’s grace to help him accomplish what he knew to be humanly impossible (cf. Phil. 3:12–13). In the preamble to his resolutions, he wrote: “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat Him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to His will, for Christ’s sake.”
So what kind of resolutions will you make this year? Will they be those that accord with biblical priorities? Will they be those that necessarily depend on divine grace to accomplish? Will they be those that accord with the will of God and the glory of Christ?
As you make your New Year’s resolutions for 2008, don’t be content with merely planning to drop a few pounds or save a few pennies. Instead remember that, as a believer, to live is Christ (Phil. 2:21) and to follow Him is to deny yourself and daily take up your cross (Mark 8:34). He is to be the supreme object of all our aims and affections. He is the One we are to please; He is the One we are to praise; and He is the One we are to pursue. Everything else, in comparison, is nothing more than rubbish (cf. Phil. 3:7–8).