2014 is here. The lists have started with various resolutions with the goal of somehow making us better. Improve at this or finish that project or live up to whatever standard we failed at in 2013.
Christians will likely go further and put a spiritual dress on it to be a better Christian than they were in 2013. More bible reading, more prayer, stronger church commitment, change that habit, less sin, more love, better relationships. Be better, do more, try harder. Strive to be a good Christian. Whew!
I don’t know about you, but it sounds exhausting. One of the reasons I’ve ceased with New Year’s resolutions is because no matter how motivated or sincere I may be at the beginning of the year, inevitably I fall off the wagon. Then the cycle repeats itself at the start of each year. It can get discouraging.
Now I’m not saying we should not have goals, not improve or tend to growth areas in our lives. I’m certainly not saying that we should be negligent or slothful about our Christian walk. But what I am saying is that I think the focus is wrong when we think that the way to improve our Christianity is create a list and turn into New Year’s resolutions to be better Christians.
At the heart of creating the ‘be a better Christian’ list, lies a sentiment that our Christian worth is tied up into meeting certain benchmarks. And let’s think about why those benchmarks are created – maybe because we think we need to achieve a certain ‘good’ status to be a good enough Christian? If we were good enough, we certainly wouldn’t need to create these lists for improvement on these deficiencies.
The problem is that these benchmarks don’t make us better Christians. They just make us feel better about how we’re tending to our Christian walk. The truth is we cannot be good enough Christians because the goodness of our Christianity is not bound up in our goodness but in the goodness of Christ. We cannot work harder to be approved by God because he has already approved those who genuinely belong to him because of the work of the Son.
It is by grace you have been save through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
So that gets to my proposal for a radical resolution. Rest. Rest in the promises of God and his redemptive plan. Rest in the sufficiency of Christ’s work in which sin of all times is absolved and meets us at repentance. Rest in the grace through which God works in our lives and provides sufficiency for our weaknesses (2 Cor 12). Rest in the power of the Spirit who gives us the necessary strength and conviction to change our practices as we learn to apply them (Hebrews 5:14). Rest in the reality that what God started, he will complete (Philippians 1:6) even if we don’t meet our self-imposed benchmarks for that year.
Because the reality is when our ‘do better’ fails, without this rest we will strive in our own merit and strength and encounter the tidal wave of self-congratulation and condemnation. We’ll pat ourselves on the back when we succeed and kick ourselves in the butt when we fail. Neither satisfies the heart of true Christianity because we haven’t placed trust and hope in the right place.
But that’s what makes this resolution so radical because it means we don’t rely on us and our sufficiency to be better. It’s radical because it says there’s nothing I can do better to gain God’s approval but receive what has been given. It is in the receiving and the being, that our doing flows as the Spirit works in our lives, growing and shaping us. We don’t grow because we have created a New Year’s list, we grow when our faith is fueled by God’s word and Spirit and genuine fellowship with his people. Our change happens in the 10,000 little mundane moments as we rely on grace and confront our affections as Paul Tripp indicates here in Ringing in the New Year.
See we have this problem inbred in our humanity that says to be better, we have to do better. It’s why the idea of rest is unsettling because it can’t rely on our doing better. This is why I think New Year’s resolutions to be better hold such appeal. It’s why we get intolerant of perceived slothful Christians because we think the way to better is to do more. God forbid if don’t look like we’re doing enough.
The beauty of Christianity is that our better has been done by someone else who perfectly satisfied the demands of perfect righteousness (Romans 8:2-4; Colossians 2:14). We walk according to that calling (Eph 4:1), working out our salvation, yes! But it because it is God at work in our lives (Philippians 2:12-13). He is the one who ultimately causes growth.
What that means is that instead of inward focus measuring up and striving to do better, our focus is on Christ. Again, that doesn’t mean we don’t have goals, but it means when we’ve failed to do the right thing, we turn to the One who is right and ask for help because he sits at the right hand of the Father, knowing our weakness and ever making intercession for us (Hebrews 4:15). It means that when we fall into the sin or self-sufficiency pit, we run to the sufficiency of the completed work of the cross, life in the resurrection and hope of final redemption. When apathy or inconsistencies or just not seeming to get it together sets in, we run and we rest. When we fail to meet the criteria on the list, we look up and cry out, Lord I need you.
So I challenge you with this radical resolution for 2014. Rest! And see what happens.