New Year’s resolutions are generally about improving ourselves, getting better at something or things. From getting in better shape to being better organized, to being kinder, to being more generous, resolutions are about being a better person. But I wonder if the most lasting effect of the Obama administration might not be the decline of the New Year’s resolution. Certainly without statistical evidence I have noted a marked decrease in talk of resolutions over the last eight years. I can say honestly I have not heard the word spoken at all this year until I typed it just now.
The death of the New Year’s resolution seems a natural result of the age of the participation trophy. This is the administration that has expanded equal rights protection beyond characteristics to include behaviors. This is the time when every failure has been countered by a cry of “discrimination.” I wonder if we want to improve anymore? It seems like nowadays rather than learn from our mistakes we seek to enshrine them as “individualized expression.” Even the idea of needing to improve in any fashion seems to be fading.
Certainly in Christianity there is a tension between the boundless grace of God and the need to improve in response to that grace. The Apostle Paul notes that tension in his letter to the church in Rome, but states quite plainly that we can never let the boundless grace of God keep us from improving:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
Clearly the call to the Christian is to use God’s grace not as an excuse for failure, but as a springboard to overcome difficulty and to improve.
The life of a Christian at the time Paul and the other Apostles were writing was a life full of obstacles and difficulties. Yes, there is persecution of Christians in America today, one can lose one’s livelihood for acting on one’s religious convictions. But as of yet our lives are not at stake, nor is our death used as spectacle for the masses – we have it easy by comparison to the first century church. And so we cannot take lightly the many places in the Bible where Christians are called to overcome and improve. Consider just three:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.”
It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
What a different picture those passages paint when compared to the modern view of things – our failures are to be improved upon and our difficulties are to be learned from. And consider how encouraging those ideas are! We are not called to simply “deal with” where we are – we are called to hope and to use that hope to strive for better. The gospel is not merely about salvation, as important as salvation is, it is about using that salvation to be better.
In this modern age we will find ourselves chastised for our desire and effort to be better. In doing so those that seek to cry “discrimination” wallow in their “individualized expression” (BTW, it is not that those things are not real or inherently bad – but they most certainly are overused to justify failure) will feel shame. We cannot allow the shame they feel to keep us from our efforts. If we truly believe these passages then that shame is a nudge to them to improve, not to us to end our efforts to improve.
2017 will see the inauguration of a new administration and present the nation with countless new opportunities. Let’s resolve to put them to good use – to improve – to be more like Christ.