Now, three weeks into the New Year, it might be time to ask how you’re doing in keeping those New Year’s resolutions you made. Researchers say that 23% of us will have quit our resolutions by the end of the first week and 43% quit by the end of January. It may not surprise you that only 9% of those making resolutions complete them. Why is keeping these well intended resolutions for positive change so difficult?
Part of the problem can be that our resolutions are unrealistic, but even then, why is following through with our desires so difficult? The simple answer is that we lack the ability to do the very things that we want to do. While we can push ourselves to reach certain goals by mere willpower, we will find this unsustainable.
In the New Testament book of Romans, Paul expresses a tension that might resonate with us, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” (7:15) In the previous verses Paul has said that he knows what is right because of the law, but because of sin that “dwells within him” he continues to fall short and does the very things he hates.
The battle that Paul is expressing is between his desire to live rightly for God and his failure to live out these desires. He says that, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” (Romans 7:18) We fail to fulfill our resolutions because having a desire to change is not enough to empower us to “do what we want.” Like Paul, what we need is something greater than desire alone.
Zechariah 4 testifies of how change comes not by desires but by depending upon the Spirit, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty. “What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground.” (6–7a) The Lord assures Zerubbabel that they wouldn’t finish the Lord’s temple by might or strength; they would finish by God’s Spirit removing the obstacles, the mountains, they faced.
While military strength and human willpower could not accomplish the task, the impossible would be done by His Spirit. The promise that we can hold onto is that just as the Lord would level these mountains before Zerubbabel, He will remove the spiritual opposition we encounter as we seek change - if we will fix our eyes on Him. As Paul lacked the ability to carry out his desires in his own strength, neither can we apart from the “spirit dwelling in us.”
So what is the answer to our dilemma? Paul goes onto say, “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” (Romans 7:25–8:2)
Faith not only enables us to walk with God, but makes it possible for us to do the things we desire to do. To find freedom from the sin that causes us to stumble, we need to trust in the promises that Paul has given us here in Romans and other promises that remind us of the hope that the Lord gives. Promises like, “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
Should we have an opportunity to talk in the New Year, I hope to hear how you are soaring on the wings of eagles in a newness of life. That where you once were incapable of making the changes you desired in your life, that now, relying on the Lord’s strength rather than your own, you are seeing victory. Changes that are greater than eating better and exercising more, but heart changes that allow you to love your enemies and live the victorious life that come from knowing the hope and peace that is ours in Christ.