Who Exactly is Allowed to Perform Baptisms?
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Who Exactly is Allowed to Perform Baptisms?

New Year’s Resolutions: What They Get Right (And What They Get Wrong)

The Christmas decorations are packed away. The gingerbread house is left to crumbs. The browning tree lies out on the curb. The holidays are over and we’ve now switched our attentions to a new year. A fresh calendar awaits appointments and plans. Commercials and ads invite us back to the gym. And everyone is talking about their resolutions for 2023.

Setting goals in the new year is a practice humans have been doing in one form or another for centuries. The ancient Babylonians held an annual celebration at the start of their new year to make promises to their gods. If they kept their word, they believed the gods would bless their year. The Romans rearranged the calendar year, establishing the start of the year as January 1, named after the two-faced god Janus, whom they believed looked back to the past and into the future. They too made promises to this god for how they would live during the coming year.

Such commitments were not limited to pagans. In the 1700’s, John Wesley wrote of a practice in Methodist Societies called the Covenant Service. Often held on New Year’s Eve, this service centered on people confessing sin, giving thanks to the Lord, and committing the coming year to God. The Puritan Jonathan Edwards, at the age of 19, wrote a list of resolutions to guide his life. His list included resolutions related to honoring God, doing good to others, time management, and his growth in holiness. By the 1800’s it was common practice in the U.S. for people to make resolutions at the start of a new year. And we’ve done so ever since.

Why Make Resolutions?

It’s no wonder we look at the new year as an opportunity to make changes in our lives—to start a new habit; to stop a bad one; to cut out the things that hold us back.

Resolving to make a change is never a bad thing. It acknowledges that there is a problem that needs fixing, a new rhythm we need to foster, or that we need to change the direction we’re headed. Some resolutions simply reflect our desire to grow and learn. All these things are admirable and worth striving toward.

As Christians, we know we’re sinners and that there are things in our lives that need uprooting—things we need to “put off” as the apostle Paul admonished in Ephesians 4:22. Perhaps we’re convicted of idolatry—of the ways we’ve looked for life and hope in something apart from Christ—and we resolve to remove the idols we worship. That’s a good thing. There are also things we realize we need to “put on” as Paul charged in Colossians 3: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Col. 3:12). Perhaps we’re convicted that as a steward of God’s good gifts, we need to take better care of our bodies or our finances and so we resolve to “put on” or develop new habits to that end. This too is a good thing.

Making resolutions and then setting goals to help bring about those changes are worthy endeavors. After all, we don’t move forward without having a destination in mind. Desiring to grow and mature and taking steps to do so is also a good thing. But as we all know, it’s easy to make resolutions; it’s another thing to keep them.

What’s the Problem with Resolutions?

What’s the longest you’ve gone in keeping a resolution? According to a research study that tracked those who made New Year’s resolutions, 77% kept to their goals for a week after making them. After three months, 43% were still committed to their resolutions. January 19th is considered the date that most people drop their intentions for change. All those things we resolve to do on January 1st fade away a mere few weeks later.

The problem with many resolutions is that they fail to consider our fallen human nature. They fail to account for sin. We think our life is in shambles because we haven’t worked hard enough, we haven’t tried that new program everyone raves about, or we just haven’t set the right goals. So, we make resolutions with the hopes that this year, things will be different. But if change were simply a matter of making a list of goals and checking them off each day, we would have conquered our problems long ago. If change was a matter of good intentions, we’d all make it past January 19th.

The reality is, we live in a fallen world where sin cuts into our plans and goals, where our own sin or that of others creates barriers to success. We also forget that it’s “God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). We forget it’s the Spirit who transforms us from the inside out. And when we fail to remember this, we depend upon our own strength and wisdom to make changes in our lives, rather than God. In so doing, we fail to abide in him and use the means of grace he’s provided to transform us.

So what to do with resolutions? By all means, let’s make them. Let’s take an honest look at our lives and at the things that need changing. Let’s identify those things and name them, considering and mapping out the steps involved in moving toward our goals.

But as we work toward our goals, let’s also remember the impact of our fallen human nature. Let’s yield to the Spirit, entrusting our resolutions to his purposes in our lives and depending upon him for the result. While some of us may drop our resolutions by January 19th, we can be confident of this: “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).

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Christina Fox

Christina Fox is a counselor, retreat speaker, and author of multiple books including Idols of a Mother’s Heart, Tell God How You Feel, and Like Our Father: How God Parents Us and Why that Matters for Our Parenting. She serves as editor of the PCA women’s ministry site, enCourage. You can find her at www.christinafox.com.