“What is your New Year’s resolution?” My former response? I’ll just say my inward reaction to the matter of New Year’s resolutions was akin to a poison pill of cynicism and self-inflation. The question itself made me bite down on the cynicism capsule like a cornered international spy caught without hope for escape. How foolish of me. And, boy, was I wrong. Now, I say, “Lord, forgive me.”
While I once, indeed, looked skeptically on these annual “to do” lists, I have amended my ways. While I was once concerned with making lists of aspirations that I could do anytime, not just at the start of a new year, I believe, now, that there is a “theology of time” that recognizes and appreciates the cycles of life. And that includes the idea of a fresh start. It is actually quite Biblical, isn’t it?
But what if you fall short? “No worries.” You see, it doesn’t matter if you end up falling short of going to the “Y” every day, or actually using that bullet journal to chronicle your daily reflections or composing a love letter to your wife once a month. As the old adage states it so accurately, “Aim low and you will undoubtedly hit your target.” So, I am all for renewal.
Spiritual New Year’s Resolutions
In a sense everything is spiritual. There is no area of life lived apart from God. The Bible is filled with admonitions to turn from old ways and to “renew our minds” in order to reorder our world. The Church, in its many colors of the mosaic, is also replete with examples of resolving to follow God in new ways.
So, what do we do? First, and this is the concern in this article, recognize that resolving to follow God more closely is a good thing. It is a good thing because it is a biblical thing. In fact, I would say that it is “vital.” Resolving to follow God (at the first of the year or anytime) is good for the soul (and the heart and the mind). Your resolutions should aim to increase the spiritual blood flow to the main organs of your spiritual life in Christ. What are they? From three places in Scripture, consider what a godly resolution must include:
1. A Revival of the Heart
This is the prayer of David after he fell in sin:
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalms 51:10).
A resolution without a revival in our hearts—the source of our wills—is of no use and will have no eternal value. A resolution without heart will wither into a brittle act of compulsiveness. The heart provides needed “blood flow” to the rest of our spiritual organs. God does not ignore the heart. Nor should we.
2. A Renewal of the Mind
We must as God’s people recognize that it is not only the heart, the seat of emotions, but the mind, the seat of intellect, that controls our behavior. Thus, Paul calls for the Roman Christians to do intellectual inventory. Do your thoughts follow God’s thoughts revealed in His Word or the thoughts of the ungodly world?
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12.2 ESV).
The renewed heart pumps spiritual life to the mind. Thus, we are able to grow by reading good books, good articles, and conversations that nurture the life of the Christian mind. Resolving to “Think thoughts after God” leads to a strong, healthy mind, able to better discern matters of good from evil, better from best, and now or later. Solomon would ask, “Who is seeking wisdom?” You and I should resolve to answer, “I am.”
3. A Refitting of the Soul
When your heart is revived, your mind is renewed, you are ready for your soul to be refitted. How? As an outflow of God’s grace, through a deep, personal relationship with Jesus, constrained by His love, you dedicate yourself to spiritual disciplines.
We know this because Paul taught it to Pastor Timothy:
“Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).
Here is the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases this wonderful passage:
“Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever” (1 Timothy 4:7-8 The Message).
Wherever you are wanting to go in this new year, remember that God’s Word teaches us that our resolutions, if they are to have eternal significance, must include:
- A Revival of the Heart;
- A Renewal of the Mind; and
- A Refitting of the Soul.
But what does this kind of spirituality of resolve look like in real life?
The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards
One godly practitioner of these biblical truths was Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). Edwards, a New England Congregationalist-turned-Presbyterian minister, has been called America’s greatest philosopher, as well as one of the most erudite theologians in the world since the Apostle Paul. Edwards was a pastor in Northampton, Massachusetts, leader of the First Great Awakening revival in America, and, later, President of Princeton. Edward’s “Resolutions” (made in 1722-23) are great reading for those making resolutions of their own. The remarkable pastor began his seventy resolutions with this inscription:
“Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him, by his grace, to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.”
Thus, the seventy personal resolutions affecting heart, mind, and soul began:
“Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but
to improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance
in eating and drinking.
Resolved, never henceforward, until I die, to
act as if I were any way my own; but entirely
and altogether God’s.
Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to act as
I think I would do, if I had already seen the
happiness of heaven, and the torments of hell”
(for his complete resolutions, click here).
There will be many who will put off tomorrow what they could do today. Why delay? Begin today to resolve to follow the Lord more closely in heart, mind, and soul. You don’t have to be a Jonathan Edwards to order your life for the better. And you don’t have to be OCD! You just need to order your life according to a pattern of personal spiritual growth that makes sense for you.
I pray God blesses you with a Happy New Year that is complete with a personal spiritual growth plan that will truly bring you not only eternal life, but spiritual disciplines to ignite the promise of abundant life, in 2019 and, well, into eternity. This is not really a resolution as much as it is a rededication of faith: to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Michael A. Milton, PhD (University of Wales; MPA, UNC Chapel Hill; MDiv, Knox Seminary), Dr. Milton is a retired seminary chancellor and currently serves as the James Ragsdale Chair of Missions at Erskine Theological Seminary. He is the President of Faith for Living and the D. James Kennedy Institute a long-time Presbyterian minister, and Chaplain (Colonel) USA-R. Dr. Milton is the author of more than thirty books and a musician with five albums released. Mike and his wife, Mae, reside in North Carolina.
Edwards, Jonathan. Resolutions and Advice to Young Converts. ReadaClassic.com, 2011.
Gerstner, Edna. Jonathan and Sarah: An Uncommon Union. Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1997.
Pratt, Jr., Richard, ed. NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.
Marsden, George M. Jonathan Edwards: A Life. First Edition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.
Murray, Iain H. Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1987.
Noll, Mark A. The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys. Reprint edition. IVP Academic, 2018.
Peterson, Eugene H., trans. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Numbered edition. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2005.
Sproul, R. C. Reformation Study Bible (2015) ESV, Leather-Like Charcoal. 2015 Edition. Orlando: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2016.
Stout, Harry S., ed. The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017.
“The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University.” Accessed January 3, 2019. http://edwards.yale.edu/.
Photo credit: ©Unsplash/AaronBurden
Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales; MPA, UNC Chapel Hill; MDiv, Knox Seminary) Dr. Milton is a retired seminary chancellor and currently serves as the James Ragsdale Chair of Missions at Erskine Theological Seminary. He is the President of Faith for Living and the D. James Kennedy Institute a long-time Presbyterian minister, and Chaplain (Colonel) USA-R. Dr. Milton is the author of more than thirty books and a musician with five albums released. Mike and his wife, Mae, reside in North Carolina.