Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. – 1 Timothy 4:7b – 8
A common phrase heard this time of year is “out with the old, in with the new.” Accountants take inventory and “close the books” on the old year and start the new year with a clean ledger. Metaphorically we do the same across many areas of our lives. If we’ve had a particularly difficult and trying old year we are eager to make a fresh start in the new year. Resolutions are very popular this time of year, whether it be to lose weight, start exercising or get organized. Unfortunately it seems few of these resolutions are kept. Anyone who exercises at a gym on a regular basis knows the swelled crowds of January will return to normal levels by February. I personally experienced this phenomenon today when literally every locker at the gym was taken because of the “resolution crowd.” Because of our poor track records in keeping our resolutions, we do not even challenge the creativity of ad agencies. Retailers simply spruce up old ads and promote the latest versions of their exercise equipment and weight loss systems each new year.
You might be getting the sense by now that I’m anti-resolution. I am not. Resolutions like most things in life are agnostic, neither good nor bad. It is the intent and motivation behind the resolution that makes the difference. I believe we as Christians must be especially careful to distinguish between merely good resolutions and resolutions that are godly.
First there is the issue of motivation. All cultures at all times have had various biases. As an outside observer, it is easy to spot others’ cultural biases. Today we may marvel at how godly men of the Old Testament such as Abraham, and David had multiple wives or mistresses. This practice was culturally acceptable at the time as a way produce more offspring to retain family wealth, but God never endorsed polygamy. Instead, a careful read of the Old Testament reveals the turmoil created by multiple wives and mistresses in the same household. Consider the strife between Sarah and Hagar, Leah and Rachael, and Hanna and Peninnah.
It is far more difficult to see the biases in our own culture. Writer and Pastor Tim Keller makes the point in his book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, that “the highest value in modern western society of the freedom and autonomy of the individual self.” We seek to maximize happiness and personal fulfillment while eradicating all unpleasantness. This value of individual freedom underpins our consumption oriented economy. You and your spouse don’t like the same sort of mattress? Don’t worry. Each of you can program your individual side of the mattress with your own “sleep number.” Some newer vehicles have separate cabin climate controls for drivers and passengers.
Our cultural biases have seeped into the spiritual tap water of even Christians, so that many of our resolutions may differ little than those of non-Christians with a focus on self-exaltation and consumption. Say for example, you want to lose weight and get in better shape. If you are currently overweight it would be difficult to argue this is not a “good” resolution and in fact it can even be a godly resolution. The Bible describes our bodies as the temples of God and warns against excess in all areas of our lives including eating. Obesity is epidemic in the United States and is a major contributor to diabetes and heart disease. Being in better physical shape often translates into more energy and stamina and can even improve our mental health. In this instance, the resolution to improve our physical health is a God honoring one as we become more “fit” to serve the kingdom of God. I am reminded of Caleb’s declaration at the age of 85 when he had finally entered the Promised Land to claim his inheritance after wandering in the wilderness for 40 years as a result of his fellow Israelites disobedience. Caleb told Joshua, “I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then.” (Joshua 14:11).
But suppose your worth as a person is tied to your outside appearance? Your resolution to lose weight could really be the manifestation of a narcissistic pursuit moving from the realm of even being a “good” resolution to a potentially dangerous one. We have all seen or heard of people jeopardizing their health through performance enhancing drugs, surgery or extreme diets in the quest of an Adonis body.
Looking to set godly resolutions? I’ve listed a few questions to ask to distinguish merely good resolutions from godly resolutions.
- Can I achieve this resolution through mere willpower and self-effort or must I rely on God’s power and his divine enablement? (Phil. 4:13)
- Will the realization of this resolution draw me or others closer to God?
- Who is the chief beneficiary of this resolution, me or the body of Christ? (James 4:3)
- Will achieving this resolution have only temporal benefits, or will it also have eternal benefits? (1 Tim 4:8)
- We will all be judged by God (1 Cor. 3:12-15, 2 Cor. 5-10). Ask yourself, would God consider the achievement of this resolution gold, silver or costly stones or wood, hay or stubble?
Have you made resolutions you’re willing to share? Simply leave a comment. I’d love to hear about them.