On this first day of 2015, do yourself a favor: don’t make any resolutions. Don’t make any promises. And repeat that favor tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and the day after that – and the whole year. And, really, your whole life.
Just don’t do it.
Here’s why: your vows, promises, and resolutions are worthless. Indeed, they are powerless. This is because, as possessors of weak, sinful flesh, our bodies can’t cash the check that our mouths write. Feelings, sentiments, passion, and excitement we feel today inevitably wear off tomorrow – and we can’t keep the momentum going.
And all this wreaks havoc on our spiritual lives.
Ellen White lays it all out beautifully in one epic paragraph in Steps to Christ:
Many are inquiring, “How am I to make the surrender of myself to God?” You desire to give yourself to Him, but you are weak in moral power, in slavery to doubt, and controlled by the habits of your life of sin. Your promises and resolutions are like ropes of sand. You cannot control your thoughts, your impulses, your affections. The knowledge of your broken promises and forfeited pledges weakens your confidence in your own sincerity, and causes you to feel that God cannot accept you; but you need not despair. What you need to understand is the true force of the will. This is the governing power in the nature of man, the power of decision, or of choice. Everything depends on the right action of the will. The power of choice God has given to men; it is theirs to exercise. You cannot change your heart, you cannot of yourself give to God its affections; but you can choose to serve Him. You can give Him your will; He will then work in you to will and to do according to His good pleasure. Thus your whole nature will be brought under the control of the Spirit of Christ; your affections will be centered upon Him, your thoughts will be in harmony with Him. (p. 47)
Making promises that we can’t keep is one of the unhealthiest things a Christian can do. It results in great discouragement, remorse, guilt, and shame – and, as she says, causes us to question our own sincerity, and to “feel that God cannot accept” us.
What we need to understand, instead, is that there is a great Promise-Maker who alone is the great Promise-Keeper. His name is Jesus. He is Him of whom it was written that “all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 1:20). And the amazing thing about Him is that whenever He says something, it necessarily becomes reality. Christ never writes a check with His mouth that His actions can’t cash. Whereas we have to add our works to our words, Christ’s words are His works. They are necessarily so. Indeed,
“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
This distinction is, at its core, the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. The Old Covenant is man’s promises to God, of saying “all that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8), not realizing, of course, that we are actually powerless to do what we say. The New Covenant, on the other hand, is based upon “better promises” (Hebrews 8:6), that is, God’s promises – of forgiveness, mercy, and grace, and victory in our lives.
Thus, the New Covenant claims God’s “exceedingly great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:4), instead of trying to make grandiose promises and trying to accomplish them ourselves.
But how on earth can I ever experience victory in my life if I’m not vowing to God I’ll do better and then exerting earnest effort to accomplish it? Remember: righteousness is by faith, not by making promises and exerting self-propelled effort. Claiming God’s promises is actually the very thing that empowers us to accomplish that which is impossible for us to do ourselves. I can’t explain exactly how it works, other than to say that when we realize it’s God’s job to accomplish anything good in our lives, this liberates us, reconciles our hearts to Him, and gives us the spiritual energy to propel us into victory and obedience. Indeed, it becomes a “faith that works by love” (Galatians 5:6).
So why not try it? Why not claim God’s promises and resolutions, instead of making your own? You know the do-it-yourself-plan never works. You know you’ve experienced discouragement, doubt, and guilt because of past failures.
So this new year, why not lay hold of those “better promises”? Why not rely upon Him whose promises can never fail?