Every year millions of Americans make a New Year’s resolution, and this year will be no different. Still, have you ever wondered what makes resolutions so popular, especially when most of us struggle to keep them? Inevitably, as each year rolls around, we tell ourselves that this time will be different.
Stop and consider something. Resolutions generally revolve around a decision to alter bad habits and undesirable activities. This intent often focuses on goals such as: losing weight, becoming more active, not wasting money, eating healthy, getting off social media, stopping drinking or smoking, and reducing stress.
Whether or not you made a resolution this year, let’s be honest. We all recognize habits, tendencies, or behaviors that need to change. Whether it’s outbursts of anger, poor time management, habitual overeating, or an inability to get off social media, everyone can pinpoint areas of needed improvement. Still, have you ever pondered the deeper question: why are bad habits a common experience?
When so many of us fail to keep our resolutions, we’re left with another question: why is our inability to consistently change bad habits so universal?
Why resolutions are nearly impossible to keep
The universal nature of bad habits, character flaws, and inconsistent actions attest to the reality of sin and the sin nature that corrupts every one of us—men and women, young and old. Now I’m not saying resolutions are always made to address sin, but they do entail altering behavior. This need for behavior change should drive us from relying on our own strength and resources to looking to God.
Because of our sin nature, try as we might to be good or do good, on our own we still fall short of being good enough. Scripture speaks to this reality. God’s Word tells us that all people have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Even our “righteous” acts are filthy rags before God because our sin condition taints everything (Isaiah 64:6). Plus, if we fail at just one point in keeping the law, we are condemned as guilty of all of it (James 2:10).
One manifestation of sin is this inability to be consistent, steady, or intentional in doing what is right or good. This explains why resolutions rarely stick. On our own, we will fail at anything that demands pure motives, right thoughts, and best practices.
Transformational life change requires something outside yourself—faith in Christ alone.
Through Christ’s perfect life, death, and resurrection, God reconciles and presents us holy in his sight (Colossians 1:21–22). But he doesn’t stop there. He continues to provide assistance by supplying us with everything we need for life and godliness, to escape the corruption of the world and participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3–4). We are given the ability to keep his commands, live for him, and progress in sanctification.
The indwelling Holy Spirit serves as primary means by which he equips believers for faithful living, for if we live by the Spirit, we will not gratify our flesh (Galatians 5:16). The Spirit helps us in this battle against inconsistent obedience by imparting his fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). While each of these is important to cultivate, I want to focus on self-control, a critical component in behavior change and resolution-keeping.
Self-control is key
The Holy Spirit enables the practice of self-control in believers, whichis key to fighting sinful desires, controlling our tongues, combatting wrong thoughts, struggling against the flesh, and striving to be obedient. It may seem obvious, but displaying self-control first requires the recognition that we have been enabled by the Spirit to make redemptive choices. Only then are we able to exercise this fruit in our lives and consistently change the bad habits we seek to relinquish at New Year’s.
Practically speaking then, how can the fruit of self-control help you keep your resolutions past February?
As an example, if your resolution is to cut back on the amount of time you spend on social media, the following steps may be helpful.
First, humbly admit your dependence on the Lord and his all-sufficient grace to change your online habits. You can’t hope to change in your own strength or muster up enough willpower to deny those temptations.
Second, express gratitude for the gracious provision of the Holy Spirit, who convicts, guides, prompts, and empowers believers to change. By his fruit of self-control, you are able to combat any thoughts or behaviors that reveal sin.
Third, recognize that while you are supplied with divine power, you still face the choice of whether or not to open the Instagram app or continue scrolling through Twitter. In the moment of decision, remind yourself that you can choose to put the phone down because you possess the necessary ability through the Spirit’s fruit of self-control.
Fourth, when tempted to watch yet another TikTok video, pray for the strength to deny the impulse. Rely on the Spirit’s enabling power, and trust that his strength is sufficient for you to have victory over temptation. Set down the phone and follow through with your goal of spending less time on social media.
What does all this mean for your New Year’s resolutions? It means go ahead and make them. We should absolutely acknowledge areas in our lives that need attention and change. But this year, avoid the failure of resolutions that rely on fleeting willpower. Rather than trying in your own strength, depend on the power of God by the Holy Spirit to be self-controlled and to take steps toward change.