New Year’s Resolutions: Start, Stop, Improve

2014Often when people make New Year’s resolutions, they begin with the words start, stop, or improve (or synonyms of these words) – start exercising, stop smoking, improve spending habits, etc. As we grow and mature, it is good to improve in all areas of our lives; but it is particularly important to improve our spiritual lives. So as we begin a new year, I want to suggest some resolutions for all of us to consider as we seek to please the Lord.

Start

Start your life in Christ – The most important decision that anyone can make is to become a disciple of Christ. If you are not yet a Christian, becoming one should take precedence over everything else for the new year. The Scriptures are clear – one gets into Christ by being “baptized into Christ” (Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:27). If you believe that Jesus is the Christ (Mark 16:16), are willing to confess that faith (Acts 8:36-37) and repent of your sins (Acts 2:38), you can be baptized to have your sins washed away (Acts 22:16) and look forward to salvation in Christ (1 Peter 3:21). If you have not yet done this to start your life in Christ, this is the first thing you need to do.

Start living like a Christian – Sadly, many Christians obey the gospel but continue (or go back to) living like the world. However, as Christians we are to be different from the world (Romans 12:2). Those who know us should see a clear difference between us and the world around us (1 Peter 4:3-4). Peter wrote, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). If you are a Christian who is not living like one, you need to start living in such a way that you can say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

Start being an active member of the local church – When Saul returned to Jerusalem after obeying the gospel, he “tried to join the disciples” (Acts 9:26, NKJV). In other words, he tried to become a part of the church that assembled in Jerusalem. Local church membership is important and includes responsibilities such as assembling (Hebrews 10:24-25), encouraging (Hebrews 3:12-13; Ephesians 4:16), and teaching (Acts 13:1; Hebrews 5:12). There is much work for the local church to do. That work will be done more completely and effectively as more members engage in it.

Stop

Stop sinning – Paul told the brethren in Corinth: “Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning” (1 Corinthians 15:34). Too many Christians have the idea that we should simply resign ourselves to the fact that we will sin. But while we have sinned in the past (Romans 3:23) and the possibility of sin will continue to exist – hence the reason why we have “an Advocate” in Christ (1 John 2:1) – we should never think that sin is acceptable or expected. We sin when we choose to sin, not because we cannot help but sin. God has promised a “way of escape” for every temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). We must always be looking for that way of escape, seeking to “be perfect, as [our] heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). If there is any sin in your life, whatever it may be, do not try to justify it in your mind thinking that “everybody sins.” Instead, “repent…and pray the Lord that… [you] may be forgiven” (Acts 8:22).

Stop comparing yourself with others – In Paul’s second letter to Corinth, he wrote, “For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12). In other words, Christians should not compare themselves to others as a way to justify themselves or look down upon others. Being “better” than others will not save us. The Pharisees prided themselves as being “better” than others (Luke 18:9-12), yet Jesus said that those with that level of righteousness “will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Our standard is not other men – it is the word of God (John 12:48). It may be easy to compare ourselves with worldly people or lukewarm Christians, but we must resist the urge to do this. Jesus is our standard and we must strive to live up to His example (1 Peter 2:21-22) rather than compare ourselves to the lives of others.

Stop serving idols – John closed his first epistle with these words: “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). An idol is not necessarily a “graven image” (Exodus 20:4, KJV) carved out of wood or stone. An idol is anything that we place before God in our hearts. Paul said that “greedamounts to idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). We need to be sure that we have our priorities in order. Jesus said we must “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Spiritual things must be of primary importance to us. Jesus also warned a few verses earlier, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24). If you have any idols in your life, stop serving them so you can serve the Lord wholeheartedly.

Improve

Improve your knowledge of God’s word – Christians are expected to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Our society places a great deal of emphasis upon secular education. While this is helpful, nothing will help us more than knowing the word of God since it is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16) and contains the “words of eternal life” (John 6:68). However, our growth in knowledge will not happen by accident, but through diligent study of the Scriptures (2 Timothy 2:15). We need to make personal reading and study of God’s word a regular habit and take advantage of opportunities to be taught and to study the Scriptures with others.

Improve your ability to teach – When the Hebrew writer rebuked those Christians for their lack of growth in the knowledge of God’s word, he said, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers” (Hebrews 5:12). The goal of our growth in the knowledge of God’s word is not just so we can serve the Lord better ourselves. It is also to equip us to be able to teach others. While not every Christian needs to devote himself to the public proclamation of the gospel (James 3:1), all Christians do need to be prepared to teach those they come into contact with and try to lead them to the truth (1 Peter 3:15). There will always be room for improvement in our ability to teach others the gospel.

Improve your practice of prayer – Often when Christians make resolutions to pray, they intend to devote more time to prayer. There is certainly nothing wrong with this. After all, we are told to be “constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12, ESV) and to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). But besides just increasing the quantity or duration of our prayers, we should also strive to improve the quality of our prayers. We must always pray “in faith” (James 1:6), while also recognizing that the prayers that are “answered” are those that are asked “according to His will” (1 John 5:14-15). Remember that this will always be in harmony with His word since that is where His will has been revealed (1 Corinthians 2:10-13). We should pray that God’s will be done in all things rather than our own (cf. Matthew 26:39).

Conclusion

There are many more we could add to each of these lists, but these are some ideas that will hopefully spur each one of us on to more faithful service to the Lord. Take these ideas and others you find in the Scriptures and make your resolution to be more like God and less like the world in the new year.


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Comments

  1. Wayne D. Teel says

    Thanks, Andy, for such good teaching on how we can improve ourselves in the new year to come. These are very encouraging instructions you have presented and I need to work on those things you mentioned every day.

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