I’ve seen a lot of blog posts the past few days asking me which resolutions I intend to keep, telling me what the focus of my resolutions should be, and inviting me the read Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions. I’ve seen very few, though, that address the question: Is it biblical to make resolutions? Do we find warrant in the Scriptures to use resolutions to accomplish things and further our spiritual growth?
When I have seen attempts to briefly answer this question, I generally see two opposing viewpoints. The first says, “Yeah, go ahead. Resolve, resolve resolve. Bravo for your willpower. As for me, I’m going to rely on the Spirit.” In other words, resolutions are frowned upon because they seem to leave little room for dependence on God, and highlight my own fleshly determination rather than pointing to what God has done (or is doing).
The counter argument goes like this: “That’s fine; sit around and wait for the Spirit to move, you Quaker. As for me, I see commands in Scripture, I see needs that must be met–how can I not take action to follow God?” In other words, this camp identifies that Christians are called to action, and that action does not come about by sitting idly by–sometimes we need goals, we need plans, and yes, even resolutions are helpful.
Let me first caution you against jumping to one side on complex issues. Very often, the answer isn’t “either/or”, but “both/and.” And I think that’s the case here.
First, what is a resolution? The Merriam Webster dictionary defines it (the way we’re using it), “To determine, to make a definite and serious decision to do something.” So, the real question is: Do we see determination in Scripture as spiritual or fleshly? Some quick thoughts:
1. There are some examples of godly determination in Scripture:
- Acts 11:29–“So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea.”
- Acts 19:21–“Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, ‘After I have been there, I must also see Rome.’ ”
- 1 Cor 2:2–“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
- 1 Cor 7:37–“But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well.” (Note: This verse rightly point out: marriage is, in itself, a form of resolution. That’s why wedding vows are made.)
But isn’t this just relying on your own strength? How is God glorified by my willpower? That brings me to my second point:
2. The whole of the Christian life is to be lived informed by the Scriptures, in dependence on the Spirit, and to the glory of God. Paul said in Galatians 5:17, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” And Paul said in Philippians 3:3, “For we… worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” So, whatever resolutions we make should be done in reliance on the Spirit rather than our own human ability. Dependence on God glorifies God.
3. Having said that, we must avoid the paralyzing introspection of continuously wondering, “Oops? Did I just do that in the flesh? Was that my own strength? How do I know?” I urge you, as I urge myself: Let’s be a people of action. Let’s boldly plow ahead, all the while keeping our Commander and His Words in plain view. “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1).
There is an error that was popular in the last century; it was called Keswick spirituality, and was best encapsulated in the phrase, “Let go, and let God.” You can read further about the problems with this view here, but in a nutshell, Keswick spiritually tends to promote a passive rather than active view of sanctification. It also tends to have a formulaic and simplistic view of sanctification. It further is known to frustrate its adherants by telling them their failures were due to lack of surrender, or because they were relying on the flesh rather than the Spirit–a sort of mystical blame which is hard to correct. When should not frown on resolutions simply because they involve doing; action does not automatically imply that we are relying on the flesh.
So, make your resolutions, if you feel so called. Make sure they’re Scriptural and bathed in prayer. Make sure that God’s glory is your chief aim. Pray for the Spirit’s strength and enablement. Don’t be passive, but also avoid the opposite error of making a show of your self-determination. Resolutions should never boast, but always be done with a spirit of submission to God.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-16 ESV)
We would do well, then, to start our resolutions the way Jonathan Edwards did:
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.