This article was originally published in The Worshiper, winter 2006. For more great articles like this one, subscribe today.
Reflecting on the idea of “living better in the new year” has revealed, unfortunately, just how much the early history of my New Year’s Resolutions, as a believer, mirrors the history of my pre-Christian dating life: Too much ado about me!
For more years than I care to number, guilt, self-sufficiency and pride compelled me to finish each annum with an earnest commitment to try harder to please Jesus in the upcoming year. But now that I think about it, most of my resolutions had more to do with personal vanity and self-righteousness than anything else. “Taking better care of the temple” through diet and exercise was a thinly veiled way of wanting to fit into my favorite pair of jeans again. New regimens of rigorous spiritual disciplines were usually short-lived and sorely ineffective in dismantling the idol structures of my heart.
How I thank God for the day I heard my newly adopted spiritual dad, Jack Miller, say, “I’m too big of a sinner to be tricked by a celebration of discipline. What I need is accountability to believe the gospel more and more. My biggest problem is not a lack of discipline, but a lack of believing the gospel. The grace of Jesus is alone sufficient to change somebody like me!”
The odd thing about Jack’s statement is that I never knew a more disciplined believer. In time I realized that his discipline was fueled by God’s grace and not by performance-based spirituality. He loved reading the Scriptures; he loved to spend hours in prayer; he loved to worship Jesus and share Him with anybody, anytime—all because of a deeper understanding and experience of the gospel. The longer I knew Jack the more he became allergic to self-reliance, abhorrent of legalism and allured and compelled by the hope of the gospel.
Jack modeled for me what nineteenth century Scotsman Thomas Chalmers called “the expulsive power of a new affection.” How does God change us? What is the way of the gospel? We don’t become more like Jesus through new commitments to live for Him, but through new affections cultivated for Him. We will love other things less idolatrously by loving Jesus more consumingly.
What then have I come to accept as appropriate New Years Resolutions because of having had Jack Miller as a spiritual dad and mentor for 21 years? Here are a few to ponder:
- I resolve not to trust in the power of resolution, but in the faithfulness of my Savior, Jesus.
- I resolve to become as familiar as possible with the lyric and the music of the gospel of God’s grace—its content and its beauty. May God give me an informed mind and an enflamed heart for Jesus.
- I resolve to take greater advantage of the “means of grace,” the conduits of the grace and truth of which Jesus is full—the Bible, prayer, the sacraments, fellowship, the worship of God, missions, etc. I repent of using these things to fuel my pride and to gain a greater opinion of myself.
- I resolve to trust in Jesus alone, plus nothing, not only for the forgiveness of my sins, but also for the transformation of my heart, and for the gathering of His people from every nation, and for the ultimate restoration of His broken universe.
- I resolve, by the grace of God, to become more preoccupied with Jesus’ preoccupations. I want to enter more fully into God’s story, for God’s glory, with God’s joy.
Scotty Smith is the founding pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee. You can follow him on Twitter.