Loving Our Country

Each Wednesday morning I send out to our congregation a revival prayer letter. A small group of our members use this every Thursday morning, and others privately, to pray for revival in our church, and in our community.

This morning’s Wednesday’s-4-Revival prayer letter addresses the topic of our nation and the church. While there is not any profound insights in this letter, it does (I hope) offer a biblically ordered and coordinated way of praying for our churches and communities, to the end that both the Kingdom of Christ is advanced, and our nation is blessed.

Given our focus today, I thought I might share it a bit more widely.
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Wednesdays for Revival #64
July 4, 2018
Reed DePace

Loving Our Country

A Weekly Prayer Devotional Seeking God to Pour Out His Spirit in Revival on Us.*


Historically Amazing

 

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photo: jeff hamilton, unsplash

As a fan of history (double undergrad degree in American History and geo-political science), I appreciate how blessed America has been in her short time on earth. She is rightly to be considered among the top ten world-spanning empires in history. This is not just in terms of her power. Yes, in comparison to other nations in her own time, America is the most powerful militarily, economically, and even to some extent, socially. Even today, in the midst of signs of her decline, and the rise of enemies (both old and new), America is the single largest exporter of cultural influence, the ‘currency’ which is a key component of an empire.

Yes, she has her problems. There is (once again) a terribly large and growing gap between her richest and her poorest. As well, real expressions of injustice continue to plague her. Yet, even in these areas of negative assessment, America stands head and shoulders above the rest of the world. America’s poor are at least equal to, and in most cases, more materially blessed than a majority of the poor in the rest of the world. There are even many countries where their middle classes enjoy less material comforts than America’s poor enjoy.

When it comes to justice, yes, any injustice is a stench in God’s nostrils. Yet there is far less injustice in America than in just about any other country in the world. And even where there is injustice, the American system provides a better chance of rectifying and restoring justice than do the vast majority of the rest of the nations that currently fill the earth. What’s more, the level of personal freedom in America, the degree to which the individual can go where they want, when they want, to do what they want, without being questioned, is still among the greatest ever seen.

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photo: frank mckenna, unsSplash

Compared to the rest of the Top Ten Empires, America has seen greater prosperity, greater freedom, and greater justice, for a greater percentage of her citizens than all the other world-dominating empires, and by a large margin. If God could tell the Israelites going into captivity under the tyrannical Babylonian Empire that would rape, pillage, and destroy their beloved homeland to:

… work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Jer 29:7

How much more do we citizens of the Kingdom of God have greater reason to praise God and seek his blessing on the nation of our earthly citizenship?

Dangerously Ill

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photo: andrew ruiz, unsplash

In spite of her great blessings, it is true that America is in some ways dangerously ill. Given the state of our social discourse, it is almost impossible for me to give examples. For each example I give, some will think they’re hearing me agreeing with them on their list of “America’s Worst Problems.” Still others will take offense, thinking I’ve dissed their list of what they think is wrong with America. The truth of the matter is I just have an opinion, more or less  informed than yours, depending on the topic at hand. But that we can’t even begin to civilly discuss such things possibly demonstrates just how ill America is.

Jesus knew their thoughts and replied, “Any kingdom divided against itself is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart.” Mt 12:25

History shows that any nation in which democracy is the driving political principle is in danger of self-destruction when the majority will not allow for any social (i.e., public) disagreement with their opinions. That is, a democracy is always in danger of dissolving into a mobocracy, the rule of the mob (e.g., think: the French Revolution). While America was founded as a modified expression of democracy (i.e., the will of the majority filtered through and diluted by representative government), our government has more and more moved toward unfiltered, pure democracy. Worse, in our social discourse, our public discussion, and debate of our differences, the mob already rules. Just stand up and offer an opinion that the majority disagrees with. Overnight social hatred will form into an opposition in which its kindest and gentlest will utterly silence you. Worse, and increasingly more commonly than we care to admit, social opposition from the majority-mob threatens to remove your enjoyment of any dream for material comfort in this world, let alone the American Dream.

No nation in this world can achieve a state of perfection in which even a majority of her citizens experience the best of life all the time. In other words, Utopia is a fantasy that may sell books, but it is never going to be a blueprint for a viable nation. That America has come closer than most in achieving the utopian pipe dream is also a danger. It leads us into a dangerous pride in which we think we just need to try a little harder to get our point across to our opponent. We end up just arguing more angrily and then dividing further. And truly raw, no restraints mob rule creeps closer and closer to taking over our dreams for a better America.

Glorious Hope

So, is there any hope for America? Even though she will follow all the other secular empires and succumb to the King of Kings, is there any hope that America might find more grace and mercy from God? Yes. For within her midst is  a source of salt and light that God promises to use to bless her:

You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world– like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. Mt 5:13-15

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photo: james bloedel, unspalsh

In every nation and in every generation the Church (those who through Spirit-born living faith are united to Christ) is the hope of real blessing to that nation. Today this hope in the Church in America is still real. No, I’m not ignoring that America is increasingly treating real Christlike Christianity as the one enemy to be completely eradicated from her land. God is still sovereign though. And Jesus is still the victorious King of Kings and Lord of Lords who sits on the throne over all nations. This means that the Church in America can still be the blessing our nation is so desperately looking for in all the wrong places.

So, what do we do? We follow Jeremiah’s advice to the Jews who went into captivity in Babylon. We pray for God to bless America with the only blessing that will make any real lasting difference. We pray, in other words, for God to send a revival across our land. We work for the peace and prosperity of America. This is not the earthly peace and the material prosperity that will disappear when Jesus destroys the nations that follow the great enemy empire described in Revelation 18. Instead we work for the advancement of the gospel. We give ourselves to our own worship and discipleship under the Spirit’s enabling. And then we go back to our communities and tell them that Jesus has something better, and more satisfying, than even the American Dream.

Let your conversation be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you will have the right response for everyone. Col 4:6

Prayer Advice

Dear Lord, forgive our nation for her many rebellions against you. Forgive your people in America where they have cared more for their lives in this world than your glories. Heal your church. Restore hope in America that Jesus is the only answer needed. Restore to us the years the locusts have eaten. Pour out Your Spirit in revival on us. To Your glory, together with Your Father and Your Spirit, we ask, Amen.

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* This weekly prayer devotional focuses our attention on some aspect of our need for the Holy Spirit to bring revival to our church. Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you (Ps 85:6)?  For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams (Isa 44:3-4).  Pick a 15 to 30-minute time-block in your schedule over the next week and use this devotional to focus your prayers. As you can, consider fasting from a meal and using that time to pray for revival in our church.

Reed DePace

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Lessing’s Ugly Ditch

G.E. Lessing (1729-1781) is famous for his “ugly ditch” that he drew between the events of the past and the present. We supposedly cannot have any certainty about whether events of the past occurred, because of the chronological distance between us and those events. The main implication of this for theology and philosophy is that, “accidental truths of history can never become the proof of necessary truths of reason” (see Lessing’s Theological Writings, ed. H. Chadwick; London: Adam and Charles Black, 1956), 51-56, quoted in Murray Rae’s article, “Creation and Promise: Towards a Theology of History” in ‘Behind the Text’: History and Biblical Interpretation, edited by Craig Bartholomew (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003, 267-299, esp. p. 274). This would, of course, also rule out any kind of historical foundation for faith. If not even reason can be historically founded, then how much less faith and theology! There are several answers to this ugly ditch.

The first answer is that, on this argument, Lessing could never be sure that he had himself said these words, because the ugly ditch exists between the time of his writing those words and the time when he seeks to implement that position. Total skepticism about the past must inevitably result in skepticism of the skepticism.

Secondly, as Murray Rae points out, “May it not be that the contingent truths of history are reliably mediated to us through the faithful testimony of tradition?” (ibid.). In other words, can’t something fill in the ditch? Why does the ditch have to be complete discontinuity from the past to us? Isn’t there a trail of people and writings that connects us to the past?

Thirdly, again from Rae, having knowledge about a thing does not mean that we have to be absolutely certain about that thing. To require such a rigid absoluteness of certainty forgets that we are very limited creatures, and depend a great deal on other things and other people. We depend on testimony all the time.

Fourthly, Lessing’s formulation rules out revelation by definition. If, however, God did in fact reveal to us things that He has done in history, then God himself bridges the gap between the past and our own time with all the certitude that the Holy Spirit can give us.

On Confessing Specific Sins

I have heard many people confess sin in an exclusively generic way: “Lord, forgive me for my sins.” While it is certainly a good thing to acknowledge that there are sins that we have committed that we don’t know about directly, either because of our ignorance, or because of an underdeveloped conscience, or for some other reason; nevertheless, it is not healthy at all to confess this way all the time. Confessing specific sins to God comes with the following benefits (which can also be viewed as reasons to do so):

1. It helps develop our conscience. The work of the Holy Spirit is a gradual one in the Christian life. He sharpens our conscience, so that sins that we were committing unwittingly before become conscious later on. This process can have the incidental effect of tempting us to think that we are worse sinners later in the Christian life, when what is actually happening is that we are becoming more sensitive to our sin. Confessing our specific sins is integral to this process of discovery. We start to see the interconnected nature of our sins, and how one sin leads to another. Confessing only generically will actually deaden our consciences over time.

2. We develop a far more accurate picture of who we are in relationship to God and to other people. Confessing only in a general way tempts us to think that we are far better people than we actually are. There is an epidemic of self-satisfied Christians in the world, who might, on a theoretical level acknowledge that they are sinners, but who become extremely perturbed when told of a supposed actual sin that they might possibly have committed. Whereas, if we are confessing specific sins to God, we will not be so surprised to find out that other people have noticed some of our faults. Confessing only generically will grossly distort our own self-portrait.

3. Confessing specific sins helps us to empathize better with other Christians and with those whose consciences have been awakened to a realization of their sin. All Christians struggle with sin. All Christians fight the good fight. Isn’t that fight hard enough without other people constantly telling us how inadequate we are? Of course we are inadequate! If we were adequate, it would be because we were in heaven. But it seems clear enough that one of the reasons why some Christian lack empathy is because they rarely confess specific sins, and therefore think of themselves as only theoretical sinners, and not actual sinners, and thus better than their struggling church family members. In this way, point 3 connects very closely with point 2. Confessing only generic sin will result in a serious lack of empathy and love for other believers.

4. Confessing specific sins will sharpen our understanding of the law and its requirements, which will in turn hone our understanding of the gospel. The gospel cheapens in our minds when we think we have less need of salvation.

So, with all of this in mind, how do we confess specific sins better? For this, a study of God’s law is indispensable. We must understand the proper rubrics that WLC 99 so eloquently lay out: 1. that the Ten Commandments always lay out the most extreme form of the sin or duty in view. 2. that all sins of the same category are included under the most extreme form (as well as all sins which lead to the most extreme form); 3. that not only outward behavior, but also our inner thoughts are included; and 4. that where the law commands something, the opposite is forbidden, and vice versa; as well as that if something is promised, then the opposite is threatened, and vice versa. It is only as we understand the perfection that the law demands that our consciences will become more adept at self-judgment.

However, a growing understanding of the gospel is also essential, because if we forget the gospel with regard to the confession of sins, then we will simply lose all desire to confess our sins. We will forget the cleansing power of Christ’s blood, and we will therefore think that it is better to live with the burden than to try to rid ourselves of it through Christ. The gospel is the promise of the clean slate, due to Christ’s blood and righteousness, and the promise that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.

Thoughts on the Revoice Conference

There are lots of places a reader can go to get information on the Revoice Conference, to be held in St. Louis at a PCA church in late July. The conference website is available here. Rick Phillips’s opinion, Denny Burk’s opinion, Kevin DeYoung’s opinion, Al Baker’s opinion, Greg Johnson’s response to Al Baker, Chuck Williams’s opinion, Robert Gagnon’s opinion, and and a lengthy PB thread including more links to more articles should give readers a basic perspective on what’s happening.

I want to point out a couple of things, mostly in summary of things that have already been said. As Rick Phillips pointed out, there is no need to get hysterical over the conference. I have no doubt that many good and helpful things will be said. I also have no doubt that the intention of the conference is to promote biblical understandings of sexuality. They have said that their purpose is to uphold an orthodox Christian biblical ethic of sexuality. We should believe that.

However, questions remain, most especially about terms and phrases. I have grave concerns over some of the descriptions of some of the workshops, concerns that overlap with what has been said by others. I agree with Kevin DeYoung, for instance, that the phrase “sexual minority” implies something that is not very helpful. Robert Gagnon unpacks that a good bit in his post: by putting homosexuality in the same category as racial minorities, the term can leverage the same amount of emotional reaction against opponents of the LGBTQ agenda as it can against those who are deemed racist, whereas racism and LGTBQ are not even the same kind of issue. What race someone is born into is a genetic and providential thing controlled by God, having precisely zero moral agency involved with the person in question. Homosexual desires are not genetic, and are the result of choice and lifestyle. I agree with Rick Phillips that the desire for same-sex relationship is in itself sinful, not just the acting out of those desires. Therefore, since words can convey identity, I agree that this is an identity issue, and that some of these terms are being used in ways that make those of us versed in the biblical narratives and commandments very uncomfortable. They are being used in ways that incorporate LGBTQ in the very identity of the person. For Christians, this is not an option.

As several of the authors have noted, identifying oneself as gay or lesbian has serious consequences. Rather than saying, for instance, that a person is a Christian struggling with same-sex attraction (which is my preferred way for such people to describe themselves, acknowledging that it is a war against ungodly desires), to say that a person is a gay Christian is to affirm that their gay identity is just as important to them as their Christianity is, or that it is just as irrevocable as their Christianity is. This is just as problematic as saying that a person is a Christian adulterer, or a Christian pedophile, or a Christian rapist. It implies compatibility between Christianity and sin. It implies that Christianity and sin can work together to accomplish some great treasure that will last for all eternity. The simple answer is no, and whether people believe it or not, that is actually the most loving thing a Christian can say to the LGBTQ community. How can we encourage people along a path that is so self-destructive?

On the “And’s”

For most translations that lie within the genealogy of the KJV (which would include the KJV, the RV/ASV, RSV, NKJV, NRSV, and ESV), the normal translation practice is to translate the Hebrew vav and Greek de and kai with the English word “and.” It was thought that the English “and” was the closest equivalent to those connectives. This has resulted in less than felicitous translation choices, the absolute worst being the ESV’s use of “and” at the beginning of the second table of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5. It reads:

You shall not murder. And you shall not commit adultery. And you shall not steal. And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s (emphasis added).

This is quite simply hideous English. Any English teacher will state unequivocally that starting consecutive sentences with conjunctions (especially the same one!) is not good English style. For some reason, however, the ESV translators and English style specialists believed that the practice was fine when it came to translation.

The problem is this: Hebrew vav and Greek de and kai have a far more flexible range of meaning and application than English “and.” We usually reserve the English conjunction for joining together two specific thoughts. However, the Hebrew and Greek conjunctions often say no more than, “I’m continuing the narrative.” Printing in paragraph form is often quite adequate for Hebrew narrative vav’s. What I could wish for earnestly is a new revision of the ESV that takes this difference between English and Hebrew/Greek into account.

New Book on Theistic Evolution

This book looks to be the definitive critique of theistic evolution. It is a massive tome, weighing in at just over 1 kilopage. It looks exciting for those of us who have been waiting for a more or less thorough critique of theistic evolution, which has begun to invade even the more conservative NAPARC denominations. The critique comes from scientific, philosophical, and theological directions. And it is on sale right now at 50% off!

The Covenant of Works in Isaiah 24

I used to think that Hosea 6:7 was the clearest passage outside of Genesis 2-3 describing the covenant of works as a covenant (hereafter CoW). However, I no longer think that is the case. Isaiah 24 now takes pride of place. For one thing, although I believe Warfield’s arguments on Hosea 6:7 are correct, it is still a disputed passage with more than one possible interpretation. I do not believe there is nearly as much wiggle room in Isaiah 24.

The key verse here is verse 5: “The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant” (ESV). The question is simple: what is the identity of the בְּרִית עוֹלָם, the “eternal covenant”? Well, it cannot be the Abrahamic covenant, or the Mosaic covenant, since the scope of the people involved goes well beyond Israel. This is proven in the context by the repeated references to the earth in verses 1-4, capped by a reference to the תֵּבֵל (world). The use of this term in 1 Samuel 2:8 certainly points in a universalizing direction. While one could argue that the nations are involved somewhat in the Abrahamic (“all the nations of the world will be blessed through you”), this does not make the nations of the world direct parties to the Abrahamic covenant.

The only other universal covenant in the OT besides the CoW is the Noahic covenant. However, this possibility is ruled out by the presence of sanctions in verses 2 and especially 6. There are no sanctions in the Noahic covenant whatsoever. The only other possible reference, then, is to the Adamic situation. This has some very important ramifications.

Firstly, John Murray’s misgivings about the terminology of the CoW can now be put finally to rest. The Adamic administration is a covenant. Period. If it isn’t already clear in Hosea 6:7, it is now abundantly clear in Isaiah 24. Secondly, just because Adam and Eve broke the CoW doesn’t mean that the CoW is now somehow defunct. Surely, this is explicit in the use of עוֹלָם to describe the covenant: it is eternal. The sanctions are still being applied, and the nations are still violating the CoW. Thirdly, the CoW cannot be purely a covenant of grace if the sanctions fall on the earth because of the violations (and this is the implication of the move from verse 5 to verse 6). Obedience -> blessing; disobedience -> cursing. This is the very structure of the CoW. Fourthly, the terms of the CoW are here obviously so much more than refraining from eating an apple. The nations are not punished here for eating an apple. It is assumed that the basis for a just society on earth is tightly related to the terms of the CoW. This might relieve the misgivings of those who claim that Adam and Eve got more punishment than they deserved. For Adam and Eve had far more sin going on than merely eating a forbidden fruit.

Male and Female Souls?

Posted by Paige (Yes, I’m still around sometimes!)

Here is a set of crowdsourcing theological research questions for my scholarly minded brethren:

Are you familiar with the teaching that men and women have gendered souls? That is, the idea that the differences between us (and perhaps the roles we are to play) are so essential that they are located originally in our souls as well as in our biology?

Can anyone give me the historical pedigree of this idea? What religions or sects have emphasized this teaching since ancient times? (Googling it brought up kabbalist and New Age spiritism, but I’d like to go deeper than blog posts if anyone knows of a decent resource.)

How have Christians historically interacted with this teaching? How does it comport with generally orthodox Christian teaching on the imago Dei, gender, and gender roles? What Christian thinkers, if any, have engaged or taught this idea?

Finally, how do you personally react to the idea that men and women have distinctly gendered souls as well as bodies? Do you think this is compatible with an orthodox anthropology? Would you teach this to your congregation? What would be your biblical supports?

I have encountered this idea in Christian teaching only recently, so I am not familiar with how it fits into the historical context of biblical and Reformed thought. I’m presently doubtful that it does, and I wanted to see if I could locate the idea in the history of theology and other religions in order to understand it better. 

Thanks abundantly in advance for your thoughts and any resources you can point me toward.

What do you do with your guilt?

Lots of people have been raised on guilt like it was their bread and butter. If they didn’t measure up in any way, guilt! If they transgressed in any way (whether the Bible defined it or the parents defined it didn’t always matter), guilt! Guilt was made to seem like the way of the Christian. If you weren’t feeling guilt, then you wouldn’t stay in line. Guilt was the fence to keep people from going crazy.

This guilt came from fear, because Christian homes were afraid of the world out there, and the hedonism it advocated. They felt that they needed to erect barriers against the world’s influence. Guilt is a powerful weapon in the hands of scared parents. Of course, since many parents never told their children what to do with the guilt (since, if they did, they would lose their best weapon, and the children would go berserk!), the children learned to find ways to cope. Unfortunately, these ways of coping did not take away the feeling of guilt.

The various ineffective ways of dealing with guilt include distraction (food, entertainment, fun events, idealistic crusades, feverish workaholism), self-atonement (making oneself feel really bad, and even guiltier than before, even wallowing in it, so that one can atone a bit and feel a bit less guilty afterward), projection (if I make everyone around me feel guilty, then I will feel less guilty: one suspects this the real origin of the “Jewish mother” caricature), and ignoring it (this never works very well even temporarily).

Feelings of guilt can come from two sources, and these two sources must be handled quite differently. 1. Feelings of guilt can come from actual sin. There is only one way to deal with this kind of guilty feeling: take it all to the cross, to Jesus. Burdens are lifted at Calvary, as the hymn says. However, some people have a proud streak in them, and they won’t let go of their guilt feelings even if their actual guilt before God is gone. Here is it vitally important to make a distinction between actual guilt and feelings of guilt. After all, it is possible to feel guilty even when one has done nothing wrong. It is also possible, through a seared conscience, not to feel guilty even if one has actually sinned. If a person is not letting go of their guilt even after taking it all to Jesus and repenting, then the theological point must be made: this is pride speaking. The person is saying that Jesus’ blood isn’t really good enough to cover all my sins. I need to “double atone” by feeling guilty, even after I read that Jesus has forgiven me. This is a deep theological problem, which can only be answered by stressing the divinity of Christ, and hence the infinite value of Christ’s sacrifice.

2. The second source of feelings of guilt arise out of things that are not sins, but which the person has been duped into thinking are sins. These would be man-made additions to God’s law. The answer is different: education must take place about what God actually requires and what He doesn’t. Here we can think easily of the questions of alcohol, smoking, and other things that fall within the realm of Christian liberty. Of course, Christian liberty is always bounded in these matters by the weaker brother: we never want to make someone else stumble. However, and teetotallers seem to be especially prone to instigating this, we can easily be made to feel guilty by someone who believes in “not a drop.”

The million dollar question that remains is this: if we were to shed all this extra, unneeded guilt, how in the world will we stay in line? Several things need to be said here. Firstly, guilt does not keep people in line! If a person feels guilty, they are most likely to think, “Well, since I’ve already done this, what’s a little more sin?” They are not likely to think that they do not want to become more guilty. Secondly, the cross of Christ has resources not just for forgiveness and the removal of guilt, but also the removal of sin’s power in our lives. we have the Holy Spirit! Remember our theology: justification never happens without sanctification coming along for the ride! Actually, what we need to know is that the beautiful feeling of a clean slate is much more motivating to holiness than guilt is. For then we can plug into the gratitude that we know when we are forgiven. We then have a good thing: we wouldn’t want to damage it. This is a far more effective way of dealing with guilt than the ineffective ones listed above.

A Resolution on New Year’s Resolutions

by reed depace

A Weekly Prayer Devotional Seeking God to Pour Out His Spirit in Revival on Us*

[This is a weekly prayer devotional I write for our church. It focuses on some aspect of our need for the Holy Spirit to bring revival to our church. Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? (Ps 85:6;Isa 44:3-4) Each week, we ask our members to pick a 15 to 30-minute time-block, and use this devotional to focus their prayers for our revival.]

Image courtesy of Norwood Themes, Unsplash

Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions

I talked with a brother this week who noted that he and his wife were not going to make their traditional New Year’s resolutions. They find the process only results in greater pressure and frustration in their lives. My response to him was, “Praise God!” Not that the custom of New Year’s Resolutions is inherently wrong for a Christian to engage in, yet this secular rooted custom presents some painful missteps for the child of God trying to learn to walk by faith.

The making of New Year’s resolutions goes at least back to the earliest period in the Babylonian kingdom, in the third millennium BC (around the time of the Tower of Babel, Gn 11:1-9). The Roman Empire also had a custom of making New Year’s Resolutions (around the time of Jesus’ birth). This ancient secular custom is basically the same as our secular custom. We make resolutions about making our lives better. Typically, about 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions.* Almost all of them can be categorized as self-help commitments to make one’s life better. Most of these resolutions are abandoned quickly: 25% after one week, 40% after one month, and 55% after six months. By year’s end, only 9% of people who made resolutions say they fulfilled them. As we might expect with efforts based on a resource that 100% of the time dies, New Year’s resolutions are but another example of the futility of life without a saving relationship with God (Eccl 12:1-8).

While the practice of making resolutions can be found in Church history, the adaptation of the secular custom goes back to John Wesley’s Covenant Renewal Service (1755), usually held on New Year’s Day. This was a service in which Christians recommitted themselves to discipleship. Notwithstanding the theological differences we have with Arminian Methodism, the liturgy for this service is Christ-focused. If informed by a specific commitment to the doctrines of grace, this adaptation might have some discipleship benefit.

Nevertheless, as is usually the case when the church adapts a secular idea, many Christians who make New Year’s Resolutions actually follow the secular practice. Being gospel presumptive, they’ve forgotten or were never taught that not only is salvation by the gospel alone, but so is growth in the Christian life (Col 2:6-7). Relying on self-help effort to grow in Christ, they’ve forgotten or never learned that there is no power for lasting change in their own efforts (Joh 6:63). Even with Jesus’ name on their lips and the intention to serve him in their hearts, Christians who rely on self-help techniques such as New Year’s Resolutions have forgotten or never learned that the Christian life is only lived by faith through the Spirit, not by flesh through self (2 Cor 5:7).

So, with my brother, I say, “Praise God! And good riddance!” to the custom of making New Year’s Resolutions.

Do Make New Year’s Prayers

Now, lest you think I’ve left the poor baby hanging by his fingernails on the window ledge in throwing the New Year’s Resolution bathwater out the window, I do think making a biblical resolution is a healthy discipleship practice. For example, Daniel and his three friends resolved not to break their faith in God by disobeying through eating King Nebuchadnezzer’s food (Dan 1:8). Paul made a resolution to travel to Jerusalem (Acts 19:21), a resolution he kept even after being told he would face persecution (Acts 21:10-14). Finally, the Scriptures themselves urge on us the practice of making resolutions as part of our discipleship:

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Th 1:11-12, emphasis added

If we begin with a firm commitment to the sovereignty of God, recognize that our role is to express our God-given repentance and faith, want to achieve something which will glorify God, and rely on the Holy Spirit to be the presence whose power transforms us, then resolving to grow in Christ is actually a very spiritually healthy thing. Indeed, as we consider Paul’s admonition here for resolutions that are good works of faith by the Spirit’s power, and as we consider the generally weak and anemic condition of many Christians’ lives, we might even conclude that we need to make more such resolutions (1 Pt 4:7)!!

But what makes such resolutions expressions of faith-by-the-Spirit, instead of flesh-by-self? It is found in Paul’s words at the beginning of these verses, “To this end we always pray for you.” The difference between a secular resolution and a Christian resolution is found in believing prayer.

It is not found merely in prayer. A Christian who prays, “Lord, this year I promise I am going to do such and such …” is basically telling God what they intend to do this year, in their own flesh-based, self-help power. The only difference between that and the atheist who doesn’t pray, or the goof who prays to the Spaghetti God is, well, nothing. A self-help prayer does not honor God. Instead, it simply builds on “The Waterboy” lie Satan told our first parents, “You can do it!” (yourself)!+

The potency of biblical resolution making is found in believing prayer. Trusting in God’s sovereignty, wanting to show God’s glory, relying on the Spirit, it is through such believing prayer that we express our repentance and faith. So, instead of New Year’s Resolutions, let me encourage you to make New Year’s Prayers. Jot down a handful of sinful traits or habits you know are dishonoring God. Pray for these each week. Write down the four or five godly habits you want to develop (e.g., Bible reading, weekly worship – personal, family, and church, being discipled, regular witnessing, etc.). Then pray these each week as well. Don’t worry if you forget to pray for these in a given week. Just repent the next week and pray for them again! What you will find is that the Spirit will do exactly what Paul prayed for the Thessalonians (and us!). The name of Jesus will be glorified in and through you this year in more powerful ways, with a more lasting glory than even the most potent New Year’s Resolution could achieve!

Prayer Advice

Dear Lord, we confess that too much of this past year has been given to self-indulgence. Be it wicked sins we don’t want anyone else to find out about, or the common sins we excuse every day, because Jesus is the Resolute One who never wavered in his commitment to face the cross for your glory and his and our joy, forgive and cleanse us.

Then Holy Spirit, who love us enough to resolve to complete the work of holiness in us until we are perfect like Jesus, guide us to what we should be praying for this year. Show us the sins we need to regularly pray the promise of repentance upon. Show us the obedience we need to regularly ask for in faith that hears only Yes and Amen from our Father. Use us this year that your glory in and through us might draw others to yourself. We long for your glory!

Restore to us the years the locusts have eaten. Pour out Your Spirit in revival on us. To Your glory, together with Your Father and Your Spirit, we ask, Amen.

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Photo courtesy Olivia Snow, Unsplash

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* Statistics on New Years’ resolutions found at: https://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/.

+ “You can do it!” is a line from the movie Waterboy (1998), epitomizing our culture’s belief in the power of self-help to overcome anything.

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