Are New Year’s resolutions in Scripture?

Where do New Year’s resolutions fit in with Christianity? Is willpower a part of our Christian walk? Is strict self-discipline a part we play in our sanctification? If so, wouldn’t the New Year be a good time to get a grip on ourselves, resolve some niggling problems at last, and make a determined effort at spiritual growth?

And wasn’t that what Paul was recommending in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27? He compares himself in these verses to an athlete preparing for competition: “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training,” he writes in verse 25, and in verse 27, “I beat my body and make it my slave.” That sounds like a regime of strict self-discipline and bashing oneself into shape by willpower and resolve – like a New Year’s resolution, no less. And many Christians have interpreted these verses to mean exactly that too – that we must do our part in our spiritual formation by disciplining ourselves in various spiritual exercises, like prayer, meditation and Bible study.

But is that what Paul meant?

No, it wasn’t, as the context clearly shows. Paul’s talking about the job he’s been given of preaching the gospel, not describing life as a Christian. “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel,” he writes in verse 16. And talking of bringing his body into slavery, it’s in the context of verse 19: “I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible,” and in verse 22, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”

The context is clear, verse 23: “I do all this for the sake of the gospel.” And if we finish off verse 27, it says, “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” And what prize is he talking about? Verse 18, “What then is my reward? Just this; that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge.”

That was the prize he was “beating his body into submission” for. It was to get the gospel out effectively to win as many people as possible, without ever having to charge for it. He wasn’t talking about daily life as a Christian, nor was he even hinting at something like a New Year’s resolution as our part in our spiritual growth. Nor was he talking about strict self-discipline, or character-building exercises, or focusing on the strength of our own will to create changes in our lives. “The life I live in the body,” Paul wrote, “I live by faith in the Son of God,” not by human willpower, Galatians 2:20.


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