Made any New Year’s resolutions yet? Most of us would like to change something about ourselves. Sometimes it is in the area of health, such as diet or exercise. Often it has to do with spiritual disciplines such as prayer or studying the Scriptures. For many, the New Year symbolizes the opportunity for a fresh start.
Likewise for many of us, the New Year is an embarrassing if not painful reminder of failed resolutions from previous years. I have certainly had my share of those. For some, the New Year is a time to feel powerless. If that’s the case for you or someone you know, I hope this will encourage you.
After all, we can take encouragement from the fact that we want to change, to be better than we are. Imagine the alternatives. We could remain smugly self-satisfied, unaware or indifferent to areas of our life that don’t measure up. Or worse, we could resolve to change—but not for the better!
I once heard someone resolve to please herself rather than concerning herself with other people. She was actually expressing a popular sentiment. Taking care of Number One has long been the basis for many advertisements, and the logical conclusion of this mentality is finding a foothold in many people. Selfinterest is the greatest motivator the world has to offer.
Few people need to make resolutions to pursue their most selfish interests. Can you imagine someone resolving, This year I promise to be more covetous of material goods?” Or, “This year I am going to dwell more on lustful thoughts and pursue ways to indulge my appetite for illicit gratification”?
Yet self-interest can also motivate us to change for the better. It is impossible and unnecessary to exclude self-interest from the equation when it comes to change. Think about what drew you to faith in Christ. We can talk about God’s irresistible grace, but how does it play out? One way or another you had the opportunity to hear and understand the gospel. There was something in it that you wanted for yourself. Some have received Christ because they were afraid of dying and going to hell. Others were on a desperate search for meaning in life and found that meaning in the Messiah.
Nevertheless, it is the power of God through the working of His Holy Spirit that accomplishes conversion. We recognize His power as absolutely essential for a person to be born again. We know we can never become children of God through our own will power. God is gracious to allow our own selfinterest to play a part in drawing us to Him, but it is only a part.
Likewise, when we determine to improve in some area of our lives, selfinterest can play a part in bringing it to pass, but only a part. If the only basis for our resolve is self-interest, we are most likely doomed to fail at the New Year or any other time. Our hearts are deceitful, and what we perceive to be in our best interests can change at any moment. Only God has an unchanging understanding of our best interest.
Yet many of us act as though our own will power can affect the positive changes we want to see in our lives. Paul spoke to the Galatians about this when he said, “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3). The Galatians mistakenly believed that obedience to the Law of Moses was the key to growth in godliness.
The worldly way to affect change is to harness the strength of selfinterest to the power of the will and self-control. Through this combination, many people have made and kept life-changing resolutions resulting in many noble and altruistic achievements. But most people fail. God has a better way for those whom He has called.
Sanctification—being set apart for God in ways that affect our everyday behavior—is just as much a work of the Holy Spirit as is salvation. Have you ever seen a major, positive change in your life that lasted? How did it come about?
A few years ago God convicted me of the sin of anger. I found myself regularly getting frustrated and I was allowing that frustration to build into genuine anger. I had convinced myself that if I was angry for the right reasons, my outbursts were justified. After all, didn’t Jesus say “Be angry and sin not?” At some point, I began to wonder about this, so I thought and prayed about it for several weeks. Late one night as I was driving a rental car in South Florida, I sensed the Lord telling me that indeed, my anger was wrong and sinful—it all came together very clearly in my mind.
I had to ask God to forgive me and to help me to change. Then I had to call two people right away to apologize for the way I had spoken to them. Later I spoke to my family and asked their forgiveness, too. Something in me changed right away. Sometimes I still get angry and have to apologize for speaking unkindly, but not to the same extent as before. Unlike some of my failed resolutions, it was obvious that this change was affected, not so much by the power of my will but by the power of God.
There is nothing wrong with resolving to change and there is nothing wrong with will power—be it at New Year’s or some other time. But rather than simply seeking to change, we need to seek the One who has the power to change us. As we seek Him, we need to be concerned about His interests and not merely our own. That means discarding our own agenda and asking Him to have the victory in our lives rather than giving us victory for our agenda.
The Scriptures tell us, “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3). Paul said, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). So it is God’s will, not our will power that will bring about sanctification. And He wants to change us, not just for our benefit, but for His glory.
This does not mean that self-control is not important, even necessary, for sanctification. But self control is the fruit of the Spirit, according to Galatians 5:23. So apart from the Spirit of God, self-control is—fruitless.
Sanctification is a lifelong process. God usually doesn’t change us all at once—and the gradual nature of the change gives us more opportunities to trust Him. But we need to remember that God wants to produce good and godly changes in our lives, and that He alone has the power to do so. Perhaps what we need most is to ask God to help us care about what He wants for our lives, and to ask for His great grace to allow us to submit to His transforming power. The more we learn to concern ourselves with His kavod, His glory, the more He will find ways to glorify Himself in and through us.
So what about those New Year’s resolutions? This year, instead of making a list of what I want to see changed, I am resolved to ask the Lord to help me be more concerned with His glory, to show me what changes He wants to make in me, and to help me submit to His will power. That is what I resolve to pray for you, our friends and for all the family of Jews for Jesus. May 2003 be your best year ever in the Lord!