Dear members and friends of VP,
January is the time of the year for making resolutions. Unfortunately, statistics on keeping resolutions are not good. The percentage of people who are actually successful in achieving their resolution is eight percent according to statisticbrain.com.
A “resolution” is defined as “a firm decision to do or not to do something.” It is actually an important part of life with serious implications for all of us. Our daily and long-term plans inform resolutions that, if kept, will contribute to our health, education, life experiences, formation of life skills, nurturing of healthy relationships, building a career and other things. People who evaluate what they want to do in life and make resolutions are, in general, among the more productive and successful people in life.
The Bible actually offers us instruction related to the difference between resolutions and promises. Jesus taught us not to make promises but he did encourage resolutions.
“But I say, do not make any vows! …Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.” Matthew 5:33-37
Promises (vows) are different than resolutions. Resolutions are more equivalent to simply saying “Yes, I will” or “No, I won’t.” Jesus is affirming the value of resolutions in this passage but discouraging promises. There are several possible reasons for this.
First, we are unable to know for sure whether we will be able to keep promises. The fact that we are prone to errors in judgment which are part of our fallen nature means that we may make promises foolishly, compulsively or with poor judgement. Promises should be reserved for things we honestly and sincerely intend and expect we can do, no matter what happens in life (such as marriage vows, vows to adopt a child or repay a debt).
Second, we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. James writes:
“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money. ”Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15
James is instructing us to be cautious in our commitments because there is a lot of stuff that can happen tomorrow that could interfere with our ability to keep a promise (such as getting sick or having our car break down).
Promises involve making a commitment we cannot guarantee because we cannot control everything that happens. A broken promise damages our Christian witness. Thus, Jesus says promises are “from the evil one.” This means a promise made and unkept destroys our Christian witness. We should be cautious about making promises because they demand from us 100% faithfulness.
…..At the same time Jesus instructs us to keep our word by doing whatever we say we are will do. There is the same obligation involved but our faithfulness is tied to our character rather than to use of words such as “promise” or “vow.” The fact that we might choose to use words like “promise” to legitimize our commitments suggests our word is not as reliable if it is not a promise. This is a problem with getting used to using the word promise. It opens us up to diminishing the value of our words when they are not qualified by the word “promise.” It becomes a slippery slope the devil uses to damage our Christian witness. We earn a reputation for not keeping our word and being unreliable and untrustworthy. Jesus wants us to prove our character by being people who keep our word without appeal to the words “vow” and “promise.”
A healthy New Year’s Resolution in 2017 might be to avoid making promises and to start considering our word as simple resolution. We resolve to do whatever we say we will do and to say “no” to resolutions we might not be able to keep.
Our MasterLife Discipleship curriculum identifies four healthy resolutions to which we should say “YES” in 2017. The fruit of these four resolutions helps us “abide” in Jesus and produce a healthy witness for Jesus until He returns.
- Yes to studying God’s Word so that we will know the heart and will of Jesus.
- Yes to time spent in prayer where we talk to and listen to God.
- Yes to time spent in fellowship with and service of Christians in the family of God.
- Yes to time spent telling people about Jesus.
Resolutions can be very good for us if they are reasonable and we are committed to keeping them. Spiritual disciplines are reasonable because they will nurture our hearts toward becoming more like Jesus Christ. Let’s consider a resolve for 2017 to practice these disciplines, when we are able, so that we will grow as children of God. This is different from making promises we cannot always keep. It is simply a resolve to nurture healthier habits. It is overshadowed by grace and liberty with flexibility to allow for both inconsistency and times of commitment.
Happy New Year,