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"I need to lose weight." "I’m going to quit drinking/smoking/gambling." "I’ll be a better husband/wife/parent." "I should recycle/exercise/volunteer more." "I need to control my temper, spend less, save more, criticise less." These and many other resolutions are made at New Year. It’s a time when we take stock and look to the future. We reflect on the past and determine what we would like to change. Sometimes it’s half-hearted, sometimes it’s serious. We might put in a real effort for a while, but almost inevitably our resolution falters. Often we give up and go back to our previous habits and nothing changes until we vow again next New Year.

That’s not to say that New Years resolutions are worthless. They can be very valuable. The keys to success with resolutions are honesty, realism and achievability. Honest with ourselves about what needs to change, realistic about what it will take, and having a plan to achieve it. Take quitting smoking as an example. Some people might be able to go “cold turkey” but for most people they need a plan, they need support from others and the help of medication. They need to be honest about their addiction and what it’s doing to them. Most of all they need motivation. Addictions are physiological and psychological and rarely overcome by sheer willpower. Some resolutions, such as losing weight or wasting less resources, can be achieved by a change in habits, especially if you have a partner or group to hold each other accountable. What about resolutions that require a change in our disposition, like controlling our temper, or being a “better” parent or spouse? Being a kinder or more honest person? There are things that we say and do which we know are wrong, but we have become comfortable with them. It can be challenging to take a long, hard look at ourselves and see the need for fundamental changes.

Ultimately, the evil, unfairness and ugliness of the world comes down to sin, individually and collectively. Sin is part of our nature, it is who we are. Sin taints and spoils everything. The hardest resolutions to keep are those that require conquering sin. That’s why a resolution to control our temper, or to stop looking at porn, is so much harder to keep than a resolution to do more recycling. The latter just means being organised, with a few new household arrangements and minor inconvenience. The former requires going against our very nature. The apostle Paul wrote about this struggle in his letter to the Roman Christians;

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate... For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my human nature. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing... Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15–25)

Paul knew the answer to his dilemma. To be the man he wanted to be could not be accomplished in his own strength. Two things are needed. The root cause of our bad behaviour and attitudes is our sin, and it must be dealt with. Secondly, we must be enabled to do good, because it is unnatural for us. Both of these things come through Jesus Christ. Firstly, Jesus deals with our sin. He took our sins upon himself, even though he himself was sinless. When he was nailed to the cross, our sins were nailed there with him, and in his death he destroyed sin and its power. Our sins are taken away and remembered no more. They have been punished, but that punishment does not fall on us if we are united with Jesus. This is the good news, or "Gospel" of Jesus Christ. The apostle Peter wrote,

“Jesus himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1Peter 2:24).

The second thing that happens when we belong to Christ is that his Holy Spirit produces a change in our hearts, a “new birth” as the Bible calls it (John 3:3–7). We become new people: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)

Whereas before, our natural inclination was away from God, indulging in the selfishness of our sin and finding the things of God boring and distasteful, the Holy Spirit changes our heart to receive the things of God and delight in them. We become motivated out of gratitude for all that God has done for us in Christ. For, explains Paul, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2;13). God gives us both the motivation and the ability to do what pleases him. We are empowered to become more like Christ, the perfect pattern for humanity. We still sin this side of the perfection that will be gifted to us for eternity, we stumble and we make mistakes. Sometimes we rebel, like a washed pig going back to the mud. But with repentance comes the full and free forgiveness of Christ once again (1 John 2:1). Nothing can separate God’s children from his love (Romans 8:37–39).

When I was growing up, I was taught about God and the life I should lead. I knew I wasn’t the person God wanted me to be, but it was difficult to have an appetite for the things of God. I wanted to go my own way. I didn’t really love God, or even really understand what that would look like, or why I should love him. Yet I knew it was of eternal importance, and could see the results in the lives of Christians, so I asked God to help me want to know him and to want to love him. For some people that happens quickly, even dramatically, for me it was more of a journey. But if we ask, we will not be turned away. Jesus promises, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7–8).

You don’t have to wait for New Year to make a resolution. The most important resolution you can make is one with eternal consequences. It is the resolution to work out where you stand with God and to respond to his call. He promises to deal with the root of your troubles, all the things about yourself you would like to fix. He promises to take away your sin and empower you to live the life he has prepared for you for eternity. Resolve to do some seeking and asking this year.

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