Thursday, January 8, 2015

Resolutions That Last

Q: Why is it so hard to maintain resolutions that people make for the New Year? I want to walk with Jesus but it's so hard sometimes! Am I doing something wrong?

A: The first full week of 2015 has come and gone. In just a short week, many people have already become frustrated because they have failed to keep their New Year's resolution(s). If you made some resolutions, how are you doing with them?

It is a fairly uncontroversial statement that change is hard. Many explanations for this reality are offered. The Bible is clear and straight-forward: Jesus taught that human beings are slaves to sin (John 8:34). This bleak truth works itself out in different ways. For our sinful ways that we enjoy, it doesn't bother us as much. We are slaves to various lusts and impulses in our flesh which we enjoy gratifying. When we enjoy gratifying them, we are usually good at justifying our behaviors.

This is a major reason why the spiritual discipline of fasting is not very popular. When we justify our appetites, and enjoy fulfilling them, we don't desire to die to self or crucify the flesh by denying those same appetites. If anyone tries to point out that these things may not be in accordance with God's will, it is easy to write these things off as the ravings of a legalistic and judgmental person.

On the other hand, when our slavery to sin is expressed in an area we don't particularly enjoy, then our slavery becomes more burdensome. This is often (not always) why New Year's resolutions fail. We see something in our lives that we don't like, but are hard-pressed to eliminate it because we are powerless to release ourselves from slavery to the sin in our flesh. Only Jesus can truly make us free through repentance and faith in Him. When we are successful in bringing about change in these areas, we are usually trading one form of slavery for another (more pleasant) form.

Jesus gave the answer to our bleak problem just two verses after telling people that the one who sins is a slave to sin: So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36, NASB)

But the question that was asked points to a Christian struggling with resolutions and the freedom to genuinely walk with Jesus in obedience to Him, because that's what it means to love Him (e.g., John 14:15; 1 John 5:3). I think most professing Christians can relate to this struggle and have experienced it for some (if not all) of their Christian walk.

Questions like these are hard to answer definitively. There may be something wrong and maybe not. What I can suggest is that I think many resolutions to change - whether they are made at the beginning of a new year, or anytime else - fail for similar reasons: we have the wrong focus.

Often our resolutions are made to change things that we don't like about ourselves. That's the problem right there. When that's our motivation, then our resolutions are really about us.

You may be saying, "Well... duh! Of course my resolutions are about me!" But this idea needs to be explored further.

Christianity is not about us. It is not about you and it is not about me. Christianity is about the glory of God. If we fail to understand this foundational point, then whatever we build on a different foundation will be shaky at best. However, if we understand that God's grace in our lives - the reason Jesus came to set us free from slavery to sin and death - was not primarily for our benefit, but for the glory of God, then our understanding of the aim of God's grace also changes.

Many resolutions to change fail because we make our resolutions about changing things in our own lives that we find unpleasant. We may ask God to help us, but really we are attempting in our own strength to change our circumstances so that our life will be more enjoyable. We may succeed. We may fail. But ultimately, either way, we are aiming at the wrong goal.

Instead, as Christians we should be aiming at the glory of God and seeking to cooperate with the purpose that He intends for us. God's grace is amazingly powerful. The power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in all of God's people!

When we forget God's purpose for His grace in our lives, then we are working against it.

Instead of seeking to change what we don't like about ourselves or changing circumstances that we find unpleasant, Christians ought to seek to participate with God's grace in being conformed to the image and likeness of Christ. This is God's goal for His grace in the lives of all His children (Romans 8:29). Instead of praying and asking God's power and grace to work in our lives to achieve our goals and purposes for ourselves, we should switch our prayers to ask God to cause His power and grace to work in us both to will and work for His good pleasure. After all, this is a much more biblical prayer (e.g. Philippians 2:13).

Something the Lord has been working on in me recently is opening my eyes to see that focusing on my inheritance in Christ is worthwhile, but it is not the full picture. In addition, Christians should focus not only on our inheritance, but also on God's inheritance!

Does that sound strange to you? Listen to the Apostle Paul's prayer for the church at Ephesus:

For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. (Ephesians 1:15-19a, NASB)

Paul says that he prays that God will give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him; specifically, that the eyes of their hearts will be enlightened so that they will know the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and the surpassing greatness of His power toward those who believe.

To understand these things, we must not separate this prayer from the surrounding description in Ephesians 1:3-23 of God's activity in salvation and His purposes for His people. Christ became a man to redeem a people for Himself. The hope of this calling is amazing! Ephesians 1:14 states that God saves people and seals them with His Holy Spirit, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:14).

As God's people, redeemed by Jesus, we are God's inheritance. Let that sink in for a moment.

So often we focus on the inheritance we receive as God's people, but God has saved us to be His inheritance to the praise of His own glory. Kind of puts a new perspective on our calling to live a life worthy of our calling, doesn't it? To live a life worthy of being an inheritance for the living God is a tall order!

This amazing truth is why Paul prayed for the Ephesians that God would give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation to understand the hope and glory of this reality. If God has saved you by the blood of Jesus, He has determined to conform you into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:28-30). God does this so that we will be a people fit for Him! God is serious about His inheritance - a people redeemed and conformed to the image of Jesus from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

We may reflect on our own lives and see failures, stumbles, and other things that are not fitting of the Lord. Paul continued to pray that we wouldn't just understand these first truths, but that we would also know about the surpassing greatness of God's power toward us who believe. God is at work in you and His power is surpassingly great. As we persevere in our walk with the Lord, we should conduct ourselves with wisdom as we allow His power to work in and through us for the praise of His name. We should set our aim on allowing Him to direct the course of change so that we will be fit for Him, instead of us attempting to direct the changes that seem best in our eyes (for whatever reason).

It is an interesting study to see the glory of the individual Christian's inheritance in the kingdom of God. It is equally as interesting to study God's own inheritance in a redeemed people, purchased by the precious blood of Jesus.

If you are a Christian, God's grace is at work in you to bring lasting change that is fit for Him and bring praise, honor, and glory to His name. Are you participating with this grace or are you seeking for God to change things in your life according to your own will and comfort? I pray for all of God's people (myself included!), that our God will give us all a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that our eyes will be opened to know the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. God's will cannot be thwarted and His purposes will be achieved. However, it is common to see that God's people all throughout history have worked against God's purposes for them - both individually and as a body. This is why repentance is necessary for both Christians and non-Christians alike. When we find we are struggling against God, we should immediately turn and once again submit ourselves to His will and participate with Him by the power of His grace. This is what resting in God looks like. It's not passive. It's active!

Genuine and lasting change should be the reality in each of God's people. If we are genuinely His, He is working towards the purpose of conforming us to the image of Jesus. Let's participate with a full heart and mind in what God is doing in 2015 and however many days the Lord is pleased to give us. We are called to be His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). As representatives of Him, it is critical that we allow Him to work in and through us so that we will represent Him faithfully in the world He has made.

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