Real change is possible, but not by relying on our own willpower

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

The start of a New Year is often a good time to reflect back on the previous year, to consider ‘what was good?’ ‘what was bad?’, ‘what am I thankful for?‘ and ‘what do I want to do differently this coming year?’.  Perhaps there are things we wish we hadn’t done and really regret.  Perhaps we want to make New Year Resolutions to tackle bad habits we feel trapped in and desperately want to change.

Whilst New Year resolutions are popular, they’re unfortunately not that easy to keep.  One survey found that 25% of people gave up their new year resolutions after just a week and 50% had given up by the Summer.

So are New Year’s resolutions just a waste of time? Should we not even bother?

Well, resolving does have its place.   In the bible, the apostle Paul doesn’t dismiss resolutions, but instead says “ We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and fulfil every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power (2 Thessalonians 1:11)

Real change is difficult and sheer willpower is not enough.   Thankfully though, the bible tells us that we’re not alone when we resolve to do good; God is able to help us change – not because of a New Year, but because of a new heart.

So the Old Testament book of Ezekiel speaks of how God will one day bring his people to himself, and in Ezekiel 36: 26-27 God says

 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” 

If we trust in God, he is able to help us through His Holy Spirit.  And so in the bible we read of lives that are completely transformed by Jesus – of Zacchaeus the tax collector who gives all his extortion money away overnight, of the Samaritan woman at the well who leaves her immoral life to tell others about Jesus and, of course, of Saul of Tarsus, once a fervent persecutor of Christians watching as Stephen is stoned to death,  who becomes Paul the apostle who gives up everything to tell others the good news of Jesus.

In Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth, he wrote, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” ¹

Does that mean though that if we trust in God it’s all plain sailing thereafter? Can we expect to find it easy to do what is right?  Well no, it’s obvious Christians are far from perfect and even after we’ve put our trust in God it’s still a daily battle to do what we know to be right.  So Paul the apostle talks of this struggle in Romans 7:15-24 where he says,

 “…what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do…I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing…. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”

Those of us who would call ourselves Christians would probably recognise this in ourselves.   We want to turn away from our lack of self-control, impatience or selfishness, we want to forgive those who have hurt us and become the kinder and more caring people that we want to be.  And yet, it’s so hard to change.

Like Paul we think, “what a wretch I am…how can I ever change”?   Well, in verse 25 Paul goes on to answer his own question,

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  

It’s God who delivers us from our sin through Jesus Christ.  And if we trust in Him then we can have full confidence that our sins are forgiven.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”

Romans 8:1

The great news of the gospel is that if we trust in Jesus, the slate has been wiped completely clean of our past mistakes and we don’t just have to rely on our own strength to change.

Good though many of our resolutions are, ultimately the most important resolution to make is to resolve to seek God first and to depend on Him.  We can then resolve to do good knowing that when we fail sometimes – which we all do of course – we’re not condemned.

We’ve all made mistakes and we’ve all got things that we need to change.  How wonderful it is then to know that it really is possible to have a fresh start!  As part of this fresh start it may be helpful to prayerfully make one or two New Year’s resolutions, but make sure they are specific (for example don’t just say I’m going to use social media less” you might say “I’m going to switch my phone off by 10pm and leave it downstairs overnight”) and ask for help – share your goals with someone who can keep you accountable and pray for you.

  1. 2 Corinthians 5:17