January 1st marks the beginning of the new year in many countries. Some observe this holiday by making a new year’s resolution. A new year’s resolution is a promise to change something about your life (usually for the better). People resolve any number of things: to exercise more, to have better boundaries, to spend less time on social media, to be more intentional about relationships. Anything a person is dissatisfied with can become the object of a resolution.
A friend of mine used to own a gym. He has said more than once that gym memberships spiked in January only to fall off by March. My friend’s experience illustrates something about new year’s resolutions: They rarely work. Sure, we can alter our behavior for awhile. But this doesn’t translate into long-term follow-through. And why should it? What changed between 11:59 PM on December 31st and 12:00 AM January 1st? Nothing but the clock. We are the same person with the same level of discipline we were one second earlier. Any promises made are empty by default.
Sometimes we fall into the trap of new-year’s-resolution style Christianity. Our “faith” is a series of promises that we’re going to do better—pray more, study the Bible regularly, avoid that sin we so easily fall into, etc. We target whatever we’re dissatisfied with or feeling guilty about. Here’s the problem: Like new year’s resolutions, making a promise doesn’t furnish us with added power to keep the promise. This just lands us on the Romans 7 merry-go-round: The godly things we want to do we don’t do while the ungodly things we don’t want to do we keep doing.
The context of Romans 7 is the law. Paul is explaining why keeping the law doesn’t work. Sin in us reacts to the law like a child we’re disciplining—whatever we’re told not to do we want to do even more (Rom. 7:7-13). So the harder we try to keep the law the more we fail (Rom. 7:14-23).
Under the old covenant, a person could make vows to God or others. A vow was a promise of some kind. If you made a vow, you were required to fulfill it (Num. 30:1-2).
Vows are not unlike resolutions, and this is probably why resolutions don’t work. When we make a vow or resolution we are operating under the old covenant; we are operating by the law. Romans 7 shows this makes failure all but certain. Making promises ensures we’ll want to do the opposite of what we’ve promised.
Paul said, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2, NIV). This is a resolution I can get behind. Paul’s resolution doesn’t depend on me or my lack of discipline; it doesn’t depend on my ability to fulfill commands or keep promises. Instead, Paul resolved to know nothing except what God did through His Son. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and of every promise (Rom. 10:4; 2 Cor. 1:19-20). Jesus fulfilled God’s oath to save us (Heb. 6:13-20).
Jesus wants to be our only resolution. In Him, God provided the change we crave, the satisfaction for every lack we feel. Old things have passed away. All things—not just the year—are new! (2 Cor. 5:17; Rev. 21:3-5).
Again, you have heard that it was said to our ancestors, You must not break your oath, but you must keep your oaths to the Lord. But I tell you, don’t take an oath at all: either by heaven, because it is God’s throne; or by the earth, because it is His footstool; or by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. Neither should you swear by your head, because you cannot make a single hair white or black. But let your word ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’ Anything more than this is from the evil one (Matt. 5:33-37).