What is Repentance?It is sorrow for sin, accompanied by a determination, with the help of God, to sin no longer.
A Brief Catechism of Bible Doctrine, James P. Boyce
2012 kicks off in a few days, which means the only thing more common than New Year resolutions will others saying how ineffective and superficial such resolutions are. I'll be one of the voices encouraging resolution, if not mere "resolutions."
Of course, a resolution isn't a bad thing. A resolution is essentially a determination to take an important and particular course of action. Resolutions are good (just ask Jonathan Edwards). The problems is that most of us conceive of resolutions too narrowly, and if we're honest, too negatively. "They never work," we say to ourselves even as we make them. But, a proper Christian resolution will always be connected to an ongoing spiritual revolution that is fueled by faith in Christ and repentance from sin. Any resolution that lacks repentance will prove to be a vain attempt at self-improvement. Any resolution without dependency on Jesus and an aim at his glory will prove to be little more than a whitewashing of a religious life. And yet, any Christian life without resolutions is sure to be both stale and static.
I pray that we will be a people who are not only characterized by resolutions, but by hearts of resolve that take sin seriously and seek the Lord continually. I believe this means resolutions should be made. As you feel led to make particular resolutions I would like to offer a few words of advice.
Identify, confess, and repent of your sin.
Most resolutions you need to make will require you to identify specific sins that have settled into your life. While some of your sins are obvious to you, others may be comfortably ignored. Prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit to lead you in repentance as you examine your life in light of the Word and seek to lay aside the sin that so easily entangles. Repentance includes knowing how to practically respond to these specific sins, replacing them with godly virtues.
Rest in, be encouraged by, and find power in the gospel.
Your resolutions should not amount to a self-powered moral reformation, but a spiritual transformation that is accomplished by the work of Jesus Christ. In all your repentance from sin you must also be looking to Jesus as your only hope of rest from sin, encouragement in growth, and power to live for God. To rest in, be encouraged by, and find power in the gospel you must prayerfully dwell on the person and work of Jesus. To do this demands a robust theology that is continually exercised by faith.
Focus on today, not the year.
In making resolutions we sometimes look so far out into the future, seeing how much ground we need to cover to ultimately "make it," that we grow weary before we even begin. But you don't need resolve for tomorrow, next week, or next month. You need godly resolve for today; for right now. Your resolutions are the specific, practical measures you must take to be obedient to Jesus, and that is an issue for today. This is the day God has given you, and he has not left you alone. He is with you and for you in his Son.
Your sanctification, your growth in grace, is essentially the ongoing revolution in your life. It is a revolution led by King Jesus, against sin and idolatry, and it is sure to succeed. You may fail. You will fail. But, He will not. When you stumble in your resolutions look to Jesus who has fulfilled all righteousness for you. Look to the Lamb whose death has atoned for all your sin. Look to risen Lord who gives you power to walk in newness of life.