I tried to refrain from writing a post about New Year’s resolutions. It feels a bit like writing something on politics the day after the election. There’s already been so much said that it seems futile to try to add something meaningful to the conversation.
I couldn’t fight the urge so I sat down to write a post originally titled “Gospel-Centered New Year’s Resolutions”. Then I decided that my first resolution in 2017 was to take “gospel-centered” out of my vocabulary.
But, that is in essence what I’m doing—proposing a framework for New Year’s Resolutions that goes beyond the simple, self-referential “lose 10 pounds”, “take my wife on a date,” or “stop being a jerk.”
The impetus for these types of resolutions is typically an area of recognized failure. It’s generally a good idea to spend time with your spouse and avoid jerkishness. We know we are missing it in a certain area and commit to applying ourselves to change. Like a middle-schooler at a Christian summer camp, our best laid plans and tear-stained intentions often don’t make it past January 10th.
As I reflect on my own life this year, I’m going to try an alternative starting point—one that I hope will provide a better foundation for lasting change. In John’s gospel, Jesus vividly captures the connection between our lives and the types of good works we should aspire to produce. He says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
The last part of that statement has always been troubling to me. I can seemingly do all sorts of things apart from God. In fact, I think this is at the crux of the plight of the human condition. I daily, moment by moment, fight the temptation to do things apart from Him.
And, at least it seems like I actually do all sorts of things apart from Him. I can lose weight apart from Him. I can take my wife on a date apart from Him. I can even read my Bible apart from Him. Jesus’ point, isn’t that I can’t do certain actions apart from him, but that I can’t do anything that produces genuine, God-honoring fruit apart from Him. The only way to bear fruit is to abide in Him. There is no other way.
In many ways, the desire to bear fruit should serve as the header over all of our resolutions. We want to bear fruit in our lives, our families, our churches, our relationships with neighbors, and our business. That’s the goal to which we strive.
Paul gives us an indication of the types of fruit that we should produce near the end of his letter to the church in Galatia. He begins by noting the ungodly fruit that is normative in the lives of those who live apart from God, such as impurity, sensuality, jealousy, and envy (5:19–21).
In contrast, God’s Spirit at work in one who abides in Christ will produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (5:22 – 23).
These nine fruits provide a helpful framework for crafting meaningful, God-honoring, Spirit-empowered resolutions in 2017. Consider what would happen if asked questions and created resolutions based on a desire for growth in each of these areas:
- What single action would have the most impact on my love for God?
- How can I more effectively and intentionally love the primary relationships God has put in my life?
- What step could I take to enhance my joy in the person and work of Jesus?
- What actions would help me celebrate the blessings God has given?
- What can I do to fight worry?
- What would help me consistently reflect on eternity?
- What actions would foster a sense of contentment in my life?
- How can I grow in service to those around me rather than expecting them to conform to my expectations?
- How can I model a heart that looks out for the interests of others above my own?
- What is a regular habit I can adopt that would communicate love for those closest to me?
- What do I need to remove from my life in order to have more time and energy to do good to others?
- How can I demonstrate forgiveness towards my enemies and love for those who have let me down?
- What hinders my single-minded devotion to God and to those I am called to love?
- How can I grow in consistently doing those things that honor God?
- What actions would foster a heart that Is known for its gentleness?
- How can I fight anger, cynicism, and harshness?
- In what aspect of my life am I out of control?
- What would need to change in order to bring that area of life under the control of the Spirit?
These questions and their corresponding answers help me determine what I need to resolve in 2017. Nothing on this list will be possible apart from abiding in in Christ because they are all the fruit of the Sprit’s work in our lives.
By the power of the Sprit, these resolutions are the type of worshipful obedience that is fitting for a follower of Jesus. What’s more, each of these steps—both big and small—has unlimited potential to change the trajectory of our lives and allow us to accomplish the good works that God’s prepared in advance that we should do (Eph 2:10).