New Years Resolutions and the Reformation of the Soul

Track of Life1Today is the day before the New Year, which entreats us to reflect back on the past year and hope for the year to come.  It is the day we make our resolutions, and oftentimes we merely make up our arbitrary list of vague ideals (i.e. “I want to read more this year), out of some tradition instead of conviction. But just as it is ceremonious to make a list of resolutions, it is equally ceremonious to break those resolutions. By February, most people who have made resolutions go back to how they were the year before, only now they’re a bit more discouraged.

Most of our resolutions have to do with changing things we do not like about ourselves. We may want to lose more weight, become more organized, or simply be nicer to our neighbor. There is this vague concept of progress in our mind—we believe that if we can get better at something, then we will be a better person and thus progress as a human. But the confusing thing about our idea of “progress” is that it doesn’t always have a specific destination, and without a destination in mind, we may find ourselves progressing in the wrong direction (in which case the most “progressive” thing to do would be to stop and turn around).

Therefore, when thinking and praying about our resolutions for this year, I think it will be helpful to think of “reforming” ourselves, rather than simply “making progress.” The reason is that “reform” implies that there is an ultimate form we are trying to achieve. If Michelangelo had not had an idea in his mind of what he thought David should look like, then he could have never sculpted one of his most famous works. In the same way, as we think about how we want to shape and change our lives, it is best to have a form in mind that we want our lives to resemble.

For every person, the Form and Image we must aspire to become is Jesus Christ. To be fully human, to “progress” in the only way progress can happen, is looking to Christ and submitting all our aspirations and goals under his lordship.

Of course, aspiring to be like Christ affects how we take care of our bodies, how we manage our lives, and how we treat one another because devotion to Christ encompasses every area of our lives. But these goals must be submitted to our main aim in life, which is to please God and be conformed into the Image of Christ. Therefore, we take care of our bodies and manage our lives more effectively so that we may be better servants of the King. We treat one another better because it pleases God, who is the creator of all persons.

The motto of the great Reformers of the 16th century was semper reformanda, which means “always reforming.” They wanted to reform the Church of their day, but they didn’t try to reform it aimlessly. They realized that they had to have an ultimate form in mind (i.e., the form found in Scripture) and then re-form the Church accordingly. Semper reformanda implies a continuity of activity and progress towards a directed end. The Reformers understood their task of Reformation could not be accomplished in a day so they made their resolution for a lifetime.

In the same way our sanctification will not happen in a day or even a year, but rather in a lifetime in resolved obedience until we will be fully and finally perfected in the image of Christ when he comes again. Thus, even if we have not obtained it or are not already perfect, we forget what lies behind and strive towards what is ahead (Philippians 3:12-14). We are always reforming, and thus we must be resolved to kill vice and build virtue, not only at the turn of the year, but also at the turn of every day. We must look to Christ and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, strive diligently to be like Him in all our habits and ambitions.

Therefore, let us make resolutions to change our patterns of life. Let us seek to make habits and be resolved in those new habits. (For a good practical guide to making new habits check out this article: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/dont-just-make-a-resolutionmake-a-habit.)

So this New Year, as you make new patterns for your life, meditate on the Person of Jesus Christ. Ask Him to give you the guidance and wisdom to kill vices and build virtues so that you may be a more glorifying and effective servant of the King all the days of your life.

And if you stumble today, do not lose heart. God’s grace is new every morning, and by His grace we can always be reforming.

Semper reformanda

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