To Resolve or Not To Resolve? The Yearly Existential Question

Once this entry posts it will be nearly a week into the new year. Most of us have already stopped going to the gym after resolving to lose weight. Many resolve to stop doing many things, yet very early on in the year certain habits are resumed. Most have earthly goals they wish to attain. Since I will be writing to a largely Christian audience, your experience may be less of an earthly goal and perhaps more of a heavenly or spiritual goal. But, let us pause here for a moment and consider why we make resolutions for the new year. Why do we even make resolutions at all? What are resolutions and are they a practice Christians should involve themselves with? If so, how should we go about approaching and making resolutions?

First of all, resolutions are actions in which we determine to do something.  Many of us don’t recognize the promissory nature of willing to do an action. We, in essence, vow or promise to undertake an action which we would like to pursue. It may not be an explicit promise to do something, but underlying it is a promise to oneself. Many have even sought to be public in their resolutions in order to fulfill them.  Historically, Babylonians made promises to their gods at the beginning of each year, as did the Romans to their god Janus (the god the month January is named after), medieval Christians, etc. The practice typically has to do with self-improvement and historically been a religious affair. The most well-known person in American Christianity to practice resolving is Jonathan Edwards. He made 70 of them from 1722-1723. They can be found at: http://www.digitalpuritan.net/Digital%20Puritan%20Resources/Edwards,%20Jonathan/Resolutions.pdf

We can see that many people throughout all religions, including Christianity, have taken up the task of resolution making. Is this something we should practice? The short answer is yes and no. As a Reformed Baptist, I hold to the 1689 London Confession of Faith. In chapter 23 the subject of lawful oaths and vows is taken up. In it the writers confess that a lawful oath or vow is a part of religious worship. I would submit to you this is how we should view resolutions: as a part of religious worship, whether pagan or Christian. It is a natural thing that fallen man does for we are creatures and were made for worship. Unfortunately, man is fallen and we must take appropriate measures to resolve appropriately. What measures should we take?

The measures we should take are laid out in the rest of the chapter on lawful oaths and vows. We should swear by God alone. We should swear with all holy fear and reverence. And we should not swear by any other thing for it is sinful. The writers direct us to Jesus’ and James’ words, “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No.’” (Matthew 5:34,37; James 5:12) Jesus and James tell us not to swear by any created thing, but to simply let our everyday speech by full of truth and no conceit or deceit. In my review of Edwards’ resolutions, my attention was caught by Resolution 34. Here is what he says, “Resolved, in narrations, never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.” He echoes the words and sentiment of our Lord and James.

Since we can see that this is a biblical and historic Christian practice we must approach our resolutions with great care. We should not resolve to do anything we’re not able to do or intend to do. Again the writers of the confession give us sound teaching: “An oath is to be taken in the plain and common sense of the words, without equivocation or mental reservation.” If you know you will break your resolution, don’t take it. If you think you might break your resolution, be careful. I can’t say don’t take it because we’re sinful and are prone to breaking our resolutions. Make simple resolutions and follow through.

In conclusion to our question “To resolve or not to resolve,” we see that it is a part of natural law to worship and that resolutions are a part of religious worship. We may and should resolve to carry out certain actions and that we should do so out of holy fear and reverence. We ought to carry out our resolutions if we intend them with great care. We should not resolve to do anything we cannot do or intend to do. You are free to make resolutions out of worship and only what you know to be true with God as your witness and your judge.

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