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When the calendar turns to a new year, many people make resolutions to better themselves. Here are the most popular resolutions from a recent survey:

  1. Lose Weight/Exercise More
  2. Quit Smoking
  3. Eat Healthier
  4. Learn Something New
  5. Spend Less, Save More

A friend told me recently told me about a resolution success story – a resolution he’d kept for ten years in a row. I asked him what it was, preparing to be impressed. The reply: “I resolve to gain a pound or two every year.”

I had to smile at his perspective, but the reality is that resolutions take sustained effort and focus, and over half of those who make a resolution also break it after a few short months. Many people I know no longer make resolutions because they recognize that they will most likely fail– so why even start?

As a church pastor, I am also aware of many people who make spiritual resolutions each year. I met many people for whom this was the year when they were going to read through the whole Bible or take that discipleship class or find more time for personal devotions. I also encountered people of all ages who felt guilt and shame because they could not keep their spiritual resolutions.

One of my favorite Bible passages is Ephesians 2:8-10. The Apostle Paul is teaching the Ephesians about being dead and only coming to life in Christ. He then goes on to emphasize the all-encompassing power of grace.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

When counseling people who felt guilt and shame for breaking spiritual resolutions, I asked them whether they made the resolution to get something from God or to seek out God’s presence, and I usually got a raised eyebrow in response. I explained that if we make resolutions to make ourselves look better to God, we miss the point. God has already received us by grace as new creatures. When we understand Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, we don’t have to prove to ourselves, to Him, or to anyone that we have earned our salvation. Instead, we are free. We have the opportunity to live lives of gratitude in which good works are not owed, but spring from the joy grounded in His grace.

Please don’t get me wrong. I do still hope that people want to read through the Bible in a year or find more time for personal devotions, but I hope their heart’s motivation comes from gratitude, not guilt, and I hope the result will be an encounter with God rather than an attempt to impress Him.

May grace be the foundation of our lives and even of our resolutions!

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