I have mixed feelings about making New Year's resolutions. In the first place, I'm not certain that it's a Biblical concept. The Holy Spirit, not a New Year's resolution, is the Agent of meaningful transformation in our lives. If, instead, our focus is on what we can do in our own strength, making resolutions has the same feel to it as the widely established non-biblical doctrine that "The Lord helps them that help themselves." The truth is, if you added the word "cannot," as in "The Lord helps them that cannot help themselves," you'd be on the road to sound biblical doctrine.
Another potential pitfall with New Year's resolutions is intentionally waiting for New Year's Day to fix something that is broken, especially if sin is involved. Sin needs our immediate attention. It's the same feeling you get when you hear an inexperienced parent give a disobedient child "until the count of three" to obey. The take-away message for the child, of course, is that a deferred 33% obedience rate is acceptable. In reality, "obey" and "later" (or "next year") don't work well together in the same sentence.
On the other hand, if anyone should have reason to make a New Year's resolution, it should be Christians. We have been freed from the bondage of sin by the Holy Spirit, Who is able to effect genuine transformation in our lives. If you want a picture of this liberation, put yourself in the place of the demon-possessed man in Mark 5:1-20. If God can overcome the spiritual bondage described in that passage, He can overcome the sin patterns in our life as well.
Jonathan Edwards was a man who made resolutions, though not in the form of New Year's resolutions. In his long list of resolutions He included: "Resolved, to live with all my might while I do live; Resolved, never to lose one moment of time, but improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can; Resolved, never to do anything, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him; Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge; Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die."
For most, a more focused and realistic goal would be a resolution to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in order to be delivered from one particular area of sin in your life.
This will not come as a surprise to non-Christian onlookers, but just being saved does not give Christians immediate deliverance from sin patterns, especially those that have been developing over many years. Addictions to alcohol, drugs, and pornography, for example, are extremely hard to break. Nevertheless, there are concrete steps that you can take to put yourself in the path of God's grace for deliverance from all types of sin, but you must be resolute in your determination to be freed.
In my Father's Day sermon this year, I identified seven principles that every father must teach his children. One of those principles had to do with dealing with temptation and life-dominating sin. Here is an outline of a practical series of steps that you can follow when you are tempted to turn towards sin in your life:
1) First we should thank God for the temptation; it is an opportunity for our personal growth. Begin with a prayer to God thanking Him for the trial. Remember, it is not a sin to be tempted - temptation becomes sin when we turn towards that temptation in the direction of sin.
2) Next we must move away from the direction of the sin. If it is coming at you, change your course. Put as much distance as you can between you and the source of the temptation - run if you have to.
3) As you are moving way from the source of temptation, quote scripture that you have memorized that applies directly to the area of temptation. For example, if your struggle is with sexual immorality, quote 1 Corinthians 6:18-20. Do this while you are moving away from the source of temptation.
You can get help from your pastor, an elder, or another qualified trained counselor in your church to help identify scripture that applies your sin and to help identify other spiritual disciplines that can be employed to reduce the incidence of temptation.
4) Find yourself an "angel of accountability." Confess to that person that there is a specific sin that you are struggling with and ask that person to hold you accountable in that area. More is said about accountability partners below.
5) Finally, make for yourself and carry around a "think and do list" specific to your particular sin - sometimes called a "Philippians 4 list." In Philippians 4:8-9 we read "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you."
So work with your accountability partner to make up a card or group of cards - one for each "whatever is…" in Philippians 4:8 - and come up with a list of things that you can do that would be admirable, or lovely, etc. This completes the process of dealing with the sin. The first part is to "put off" the sin; the last part is to "put something good on in its place." That is, do something good!
Your accountability partner MUST be willing to ask you pointed questions, such as the following two, each week; moreover, you must promise to answer honestly and to hide nothing from your accountability partner. The first question is "How many times were you tempted in your sin area this week?" The second question is "How many times did you turn towards the sin?"
As you struggle for freedom from sin patterns you will be tempted over and over again - consider keeping a detailed count of the number of times you are tempted for the purpose of tracking progress. It is NO sin to be tempted. We sin the moment we take a small step in the direction of the sin (rather than running away from the temptation). We sin the moment we hesitate from turning away from temptation. Again, to track progress, consider keeping, and reporting, a count of the number of times you actually sinned.
One other recommendation regarding your selection of an accountability partner - consider making it someone that you ABSOLUTELY do not want to have to report failure to, such as a younger Christian who considers you more mature in your faith, but who is mature enough to handle helping you with your spiritual temptations. Knowing that you will have to report failure, and knowing that it is someone to whom you do not want to have to report failure, is powerful motivation that will make you think before sinning.
This sounds like a lot of work, and it is - but if you employ these steps in dealing with sin struggles and in getting control over your thought-life, there is no reason to be resigned to defeat. Why not make a New Year's resolution to gain victory over one sin area in your life? And why not start working on that resolution today?
Dr. Chuck Betters has been the pastor of Glasgow Reformed Presbyterian Church in Bear, Delaware since 1986. He has a daily radio program, airing since 1994, In His Grip, which can be accessed online at www.MARKINC.org. Along with the development of numerous audio and video resources designed to help heal broken hearts, he is also co-author of Treasures of Faith, Living Boldly in View of God's Promises.