Why we make resolutions
Are you one of the 50% of Americans who made a New Year’s resolution this year? Or have you ever wondered why resolutions are so popular? And are we really even that successful in keeping them? But as each new year rolls around, we turn the calendar with new hope and tell ourselves this year will be different, right? Right?!
Think for a second about what resolutions generally revolve around...bad habits. Most resolutions involve an intentional resolve to change those bad habits.
Here are some popular resolutions:
Don't waste money
Eat healthy foods
Get off social media
If these are common resolutions, why do so many of us resolve to make changes like these anyway?
Most people recognize habits, tendencies, or behaviors that need to change. Whether it’s outbursts of anger, poor time management, habitual overeating, or inability to get off Instagram, we can all pinpoint areas of improvement in our lives. Still, have you ever pondered the deeper question - why are bad habits the common experience for both men and women?
Before we get to that answer, there’s one more thing to consider. According to Lifehack, 156 million people fail to keep their resolutions, while only 12% of people experience some level of success. Leaving us to ask a second important question - why is our inability to change bad habits so universal?
Why resolutions are nearly impossible to keep
The common, universal nature of bad habits, character flaws, and inconsistent actions attest to the reality of sin and the sin nature that corrupts every one of us, men and women, young and old. (Disclaimer: I'm not saying all resolutions are made to address sinful actions. But that resolutions involve altering behavior, and the common experience of men and women is the universal reality that we all have areas of our lives that need to change.)
Our sin nature means try as we might to be good or do good, we still fall short of being good enough. Scripture speaks to this reality. God’s word tells us that all people have all fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) If we were able to keep the whole law yet fail at just one point, it’s as if we are guilty of all of it. (James 2:10) Even our ‘righteous’ acts are filthy rags before God because our sin condition taints everything. (Isaiah 64:6) One manifestation of sin - and there are many - is this inability to be consistent, steady, or intentional in doing what is right or good. This explains why resolutions rarely stick. On our own, we will fail at anything that demands pure motives, right thoughts, and best practices.
Now I don’t mean to be a downer on your resolutions or be depressing about your ability to change. But my hope is that you realize you need assistance outside yourself - through faith in Jesus Christ alone - to enact real-life change.
Through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, God wipes our sinful slate clean and forgives our inability to be good enough. But he doesn’t stop there. Once we believe and are saved through faith, we still need divine help. Yes, we strive to obey God and pursue holiness, but again, we require assistance.
This process of growing in holiness and Christlikeness, putting off the deeds of the flesh and putting on the works of the Spirit, etc is the process of sanctification. It is a process where the Christian seeks to honor the Lord by word, thought, and deed while depending on God to graciously enable the desire for holiness and impart the fruits of that desire. Philippians 2:13 speaks to this by commanding believers to work out their salvation while also knowing it is God who works right desires in them.
Even more, as believers, the Bible says God equips us with everything we need for life and godliness. This means he continues to give us the ability to keep his commands and live for him after salvation for the progress of sanctification. And the primary means by which he accomplishes this is through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
Stay with me here. This will tie back into New Year's resolutions soon...
Self-Control is key
In Galatians 5, Paul lists the fruits of the flesh in comparison to the fruits of the Spirit - where the ways we acted before coming to faith (according to fruits of the flesh) are contrasted to how we can live now (displaying the fruits of the Spirit). Though sins are forgiven in Christ and the Spirit’s presence helps us kill sin and live for God’s glory, we will still fight sinful desires and inconsistent obedience. But through the divine help of the Spirit, we can please the Lord and strive to display his fruits. Galatians lists the fruits of the Spirit as: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. While each of these is important to daily life, I want to focus on self-control.
The Holy Spirit enables the practice of self-control in the Christian. Self-control is key to fighting sinful desires, keeping our tongues under control, combatting wrong thoughts, struggling against the flesh, striving towards obedience in all areas of life, etc. Self-control can also be described as self-mastery because it is not the self that is in control but the self that is under control. Mastering self entails mastering sin. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 is helpful here and is a crucial text on self-control. I’ve previously written on it in my first body stewardship blog post.)
The following are 5 quick, but enlightening observations about the fruit of self-control.
1. The very fact God equips believers with self-control (and all the fruits of the Spirit in general) means that he must impart qualities humans can’t live out on their own.
2. Humans naturally engage in sinful things, and we are called to exercise greater control over sin by the Spirit. So when we fight to be self-controlled, it means we are consciously choosing to not allow fleshly desires to be in control.
3. God has made us stewards of our bodies, and we require divine assistance to manage them. Self-control is key to body stewardship.
4. Self-control involves displaying godly restraint over all aspects of life. It means seeking to honor the Lord by deliberate, intentional thoughts and actions.
5. Being self-controlled requires recognition. Recognizing we are able to keep our desires under control is critical before we can actually live out that control. And remember, this ability comes only as a Christian, redeemed by the blood of Christ, and empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
So, how do we exercise the fruit of self-control in our lives? Practically, what does it look like?
For example, say your resolution is to cut back on the amount of time you spend on social media - or sub any resolution here.
First, humbly admit you need the Lord’s help to make the change.
Second, express gratitude that he has already provided you divine help by the Spirit to work on it, specifically the fruit of self-control.
Third, recognize that even though he has given aid, you still have to make the choice of not opening the Instagram app or shutting down your Twitter feed - but you can do this because you've been supplied with the ability to control yourself.
Last, in the moment of temptation when you’re faced with the choice of staying on Facebook or putting down the phone, pray and ask for the strength to deny temptation and make the choice not waste so much time on social media.
So, what does all this mean for your New Year’s Resolutions? It means go ahead and make them. We should absolutely acknowledge things about our lives that should change. But this year, avoid the inevitable failure. Instead of trying in your own strength, rely on the power of God by the Spirit, to be self-controlled and resolved to actually change.