Alas – we have entered that time of year again when many of us typically make resolutions of various kinds to change some aspect of our deficient selves. Some of us make grand declarations of our commitment to change over social media and others internally hold themselves to some new higher standard of doing life. No matter the expression and focus of our resolutions, it is not surprising that we make these resolutions in the first place. The ideas of “revival” and “renewal” are things every human longs for – that there is a brighter future ahead than what was. In fact, Christians ought to be a resolute people and resolute about renewal. “Your kingdom come; your will be done,” is not simply a passing request of the Christian life, it is a desperate plea that God would use a godly people to bring renewal to this degenerate world through the gospel.
Practically speaking, many Christians channel their “new year resolution” mentality into starting new Bible reading plans, committing to Bible studies, periods of fasting or vowing to spend more time praying and attending church more regularly. Essentially, many believers make “oaths” to engage in spiritual practices with the goal of seeing a richer and more intimate spiritual life with God. None of those resolutions are bad at all as we ought to desire a closer relationship with God. In addition, oaths are not unbiblical or sinful in and of themselves. A study of Jesus’ sayings on oaths and this verse in James would reveal that oaths made about significant life choices, such as marriage, are in fact God-honouring and appropriate and not the intended target of their statements. Jesus and James were warning about the oaths made in the spur of the moment to prove one’s genuineness, swearing by “heaven”, for example, as the guarantor. That is, that one would be so confident in his commitment, that he would accept any consequence from the heavens if he failed to honour that oath. This is dangerous territory and we risk taking the Lord’s name in vain if we falter. Yet, if we are honest, many of our “new year resolutions” likely fall into this kind of category of oaths – it is as if we have something to prove to God about our faithfulness or usefulness to Him.
So we begin to do just that. We start with hearts steeled and an optimistic attitude only to find that in time, the desire to fulfill that “oath” dwindles. As life “gets busy”, certain practices fall to the wayside and we get hit with a wave of discouragement. Wave after wave of discouragement breeds apathy and finally, the realization of the lack of fulfillment of our zealously made “oath” to grow spiritually feels like condemnation. And then, questioning of our faith ensues: “What went wrong? Was I irresolute? Was I pursuing the wrong spiritual practices or engaging with them incorrectly? Do I now lack favour with God? Have I incurred His wrath or punishment? Am I even saved?”
The devil relishes this devastating moment. It is the moment when he gets to condemn you for failing to prove faithful to Jesus. It is the moment when he wants to further seed doubt that you are loved by God because you failed to exemplify your love for Him. You couldn’t keep your part of the covenant relationship and Satan will do everything he can to keep you from seeing that God is still keeping His. Those moments of failure are devastating. And Peter, the apostle, lived that moment.
When Jesus foretold his death and that the disciples would scatter afterwards, in his zeal, Peter declared, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus tried to bring Peter to realize the foolishness of that oath only to be met with another one, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (Matthew 26:30-35). And then, a rooster crowed. Peter had broken his oath three times and Satan planned to condemn him for it.
It is providential that God includes the story of Peter’s oath and denial in the gospel accounts because it is a story that proves the wisdom of Jesus when He warned against brash oaths to prove our own faithfulness and trustworthiness. Moreover, it is providential to us because the denouement of that story is one of great hope and comfort for us whenever we deny Christ. For on that sandy beach, the resurrected Lord gently restored the broken disciple and charged him with the task of shepherding the church (John 21). Imagine the deep renewal that came into Peter’s life at that moment. Peter was not only forgiven by Jesus; by grace, Peter was also seen as faithful and trustworthy – enough, even, to be given the task of caring for Jesus’ own prized, blood-bought bride. Jesus did not demand a new oath or a show of greater resolve from Peter. He did not need Peter to prove that he was up to the task or to fulfill a set of remedial rules to prove a change of heart. He simply asked for an honest reply to the question, “Do you love me?” And Peter’s response was – “Yes.” For Jesus, who knows our hearts and is greater than our hearts, that is enough. He then says, “Follow me” and lets His grace carry us through. (John 21:19; 1 John 3:20)
Like Peter, Jesus knows that if we love Him, we will obey Him (John 14:15-21). He doesn’t desire a show of bravado; He desires relationship – that we know and love Him (Matthew 7:22).
Instead of getting caught up in the hype and momentum of the “new year resolution” mentality to prove our faithfulness to Him, Jesus wants us to say, “Yes” to His proven faithfulness to us and then unabashedly respond with love and obedience towards Him. So many of us want to know what grand work we can do for Him when instead, He simply asks us to be quieted by His love and then to say , “Yes, Lord – here I am.”
Listen then, beloved brothers and sisters, to what Jesus said He will do for you and I pray that you will say, “Yes”:
- To God working all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28)
- To never being separated from the love of God (Romans 8:35)
- To the Holy Spirit helping us in our weakness and interceding for us, according to the will of God, with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26-27)
- To Jesus being the author and perfecter of your faith (Hebrew 12:2)
- To God working in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13)
- To ensuring you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you (Philippians 4:13)
- To supplying every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19)
- To being our sufficiency and making us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant by the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:5)
- To being a new creation in Christ Jesus for good works and a ministry of reconciliation (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17-18)
- To being the recipient of the kingdom of God, given to you with good pleasure by the Father (Luke 12:32)
- To God ordaining peace for us and doing for us all our works (Isaiah 26:12)
- To being chosen by God, beloved by the Lord and sanctified by the Spirit to obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14)
- To be made worthy of his calling and have God fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power for God’s glory (2 Thessalonians 1:11)
- To the God of peace himself sanctifying you completely, being kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
We can say, “Yes” to all of these things and more because “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). So let us be a resolute people this year. Let us not be resolute in the lofty show of human strategy and willpower to advance spiritual maturity or intimacy. But let us be resolute in denying Satan the pleasure of condemning us for failing to carry out our “oaths.” Instead, let us be resolute in believing and receiving the love of God, the anchor of our souls, and saying, “Yes” to Him and what He wants to do for you in every moment. And even if you should falter, remember the tenderness of Jesus towards Peter and resolve to receive the gospel of grace with joy and freedom again and again.
And then, imagine the renewal in our world, if we were to have these kinds of resolutions.