At the end of every year, most of the people I know work on their New Year’s resolutions. They have a desire to start out the new year making their changes. Like most of us, they want to improve their person, character, abilities, add hobbies, and enrich their lives.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these goals. The problem comes when we implement them for the new year. If you’re like me, you go overboard. You make so many new goals that you become overwhelmed within a couple of weeks.
Some people have begun trying one theme for the year instead of setting new goals and habits. That way if you don’t finish all of your new projects and goals or find yourself overwhelmed, you’re just doing your best.
We try very hard to change who we are and what we are like. We try to improve ourselves with sheer willpower and a lot of self-help books. But many times we find ourselves almost exactly the same at the end of the year. What went wrong? Is it possible to truly change?
Bad habits and addictions lead us to the person we don’t want to be. But once these habits become ingrained in us, it’s very hard to change. An iron will may help for a while, but it won’t get us to the finish line.
Self-help books on multiple subjects are produced every year. I have found some of them helpful, but only if I am able to keep up implementing their suggestions. They give me things to think about I don’t come up with on my own.
The novelty of these approaches wears off, for me about a month into the new year. Then I find myself pushing back the goalposts for my projects. Only one or two things sticks for longer than that.
Addictions are even harder to kick. First, they provide a pleasure factor that incentivizes us to keep doing them. Second, they become ingrained because they may have a chemical incentive to not stop, like drugs. Third, some addictions even change our brain patterns so we don’t want to stop.
Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and detox options may help for a while. But just like our habits, addictions become part of our routine. You must want to stop before you can accomplish it. People have different personalities and levels of willpower.
Some psychologists suggest that our habits and addictions will never change. You will always be addicted to whatever you’re addicted to. The question is how much you can control it. One of the best tools for true change is the ability to replace a bad habit with a good one and repeat it regularly.
Alcoholism is a good example. An alcoholic cannot have one drink. The moment they get a taste for alcohol again, they drink many more. I have the same problem with potato chips, but that is not to trivialize what an alcoholic goes through.
Is there another solution that can change us for good? Even some Christians I had met in my ministry say they can’t stop their habits and addictions. We grasp for the solution, the silver bullet that will help us get away from these bad habits and addictions.
When a person comes to Christ the Bible says they are a new creature in him (2 Corinthians 5:17). Jesus changes us from the inside out through the power of his Holy Spirit indwelling in us. It used to be that preachers and evangelists made it sound like life was rosie when you meet Christ.
I always hated this approach because it promises things we can’t deliver. The Bible presents a very different picture from what you often hear in an altar call. We’ve tried to make the gospel of Jesus a cure-all for every problem.
But that’s not what Jesus taught, and that’s not what the Bible says. Jesus told us that when we serve him, we will run into trials and persecution in this world. But then he gave us the assurance that he overcame the world (John 16:33).
The gospel doesn’t say life will be perfect after you begin serving Christ. It says that when you have trouble in trials, you are not alone. Jesus walks with you through every situation you face in your life.
But I have always had a problem with people who say they can’t stop sinning, can’t change their bad habits, and can’t shake their addictions for good. Am I perfect? Have I arrived in my personal life? No. Every Christian must continue to contend with the flesh of the past.
We live in a sinful and wicked world. Temptations are everywhere if we look for them. Even when they come looking for us, we must rely on the power of Christ to overcome them. I am not some starry eyed, too heavenly minded Christian to understand the battlefield.
But I contend that every Christian can experience freedom and victory over these things. Temptation and our desires promise more than they deliver. But the gospel delivers everything it promises.
Paul reminds us that Jesus died to give us freedom from sin, addiction, temptation, our flesh, and every other desire we have had before we met him (Galatians 5:1-2). But it’s not some kind of magical thing we don’t have to do anything with.
What I mean by this, and people will misunderstand me as they misunderstood Paul in the first century, is that Jesus gives us power, but we must wield it. He died for our freedom, and it is ours when we come to him.
But we must enact that freedom in our lives. We don’t do it through works at save us. But in our sanctification, we listen to the Holy Spirit as he directs us. He takes up issue after issue in our lives and tells us what to do. But we must obey.
Think about it this way. Jesus died for every person that has ever lived. Only those who follow him in obedience receive his forgiveness and freedom. He died for all, but not all accept him. Those who accept him experience everything he promised. Those who don’t experience God’s judgment.
In the same way, Jesus offers this freedom and all who choose him experience his freedom. But what good is it to trust in Christ and continue in sin? He offers all the hope in the world but we must grab a hold of it.
It is freely given to us though it cost him his life. The Bible spends just as much time talking about how to walk with Christ blamelessly and obey him to show our select live as it does talking about the free gift of salvation through faith by grace.
Walking the Christian life requires us to accept the freedom Christ gives, but live in obedience to his Spirit. Coming to the altar and accepting Christ as your personal Lord and Savior is the beginning, not the end of your walk.
His freedom is ours and we take it freely. But he also has a program of transformation in place for those who follow and obey him (Romans 8:29). We must conform to Christ, not maintain what we already are.
Jesus declares us righteous, but we obey the Holy Spirit to walk in righteousness every day. Jesus calls us to hard tasks like picking up our cross daily (Luke 9:23) and crucifying the flesh with its desires (Galatians 5:24).
He calls us to show our love for him by obeying his commandments (John 15:10). He has given us salvation. But he is working a new thing in us through sanctification. Jesus loves us enough to start where we are when we come to him, but he loves us too much to leave us there.
The Power of Christ
I mentioned that I have a problem with people who say they can’t stop there sinning, bad habits, and addictions even after they come to Christ. I believe the gospel holds more power than that. I believe Jesus’ sacrifice is greater than that.
When Jesus says we will become like him, he gives us the power through his Holy Spirit to change. This includes addictions, temptation, sin, the desires of our old flesh, and the like. Jesus’ name is greater than anything we encounter.
Jesus sits on the throne (Ephesians 1:19-22; Colossians 2:8-15). Because he has suffered in his crucifixion and death but was raised to life, he is king over the universe. He reigns over everything in all of creation, including addictions, sin, and the flesh.
Everything bows to Jesus. If we don’t believe that then we didn’t hear the gospel right. What kind of power flows from the blood of the cross if Jesus died to save your soul but not finish the work of making you like him?
If Jesus powerfully changes lives, why do Christians think they are still stuck in their old ways? The Bible teaches the exact opposite of this idea. We don’t follow Christ to the cross just to go to heaven.
Jesus offers much more than a quick fix or a way to stay out of Hell. He offers his Spirit who dwells in us. He offers becoming like him in his death so we can enjoy true friendship. And he offers life change that matters in the real world.
We’re not just waiting for our glorification with Christ. He wants to change our character and person now. He wants to demonstrate his power in us to the rest of the world. What good what are witnessing be if Jesus saved us spiritually but didn’t change our lives now?
Let us believe in the power of the gospel and the sacrifice of Christ to truly change us. Let us believe in freedom and victory here and now, not just later in heaven. Let us trust the process Jesus puts in motion the moment we commit to following him in obedience.
Jesus has real power to change us in this life. He has a program of holiness in place. But we must follow through and obey when he speaks to us through his Spirit. He wants to change us, not just declare it. He wants what he has declared to become reality for us.
I’m very passionate about Jesus’ ability to change us from the inside out. After salvation, we must join in the process of sanctification, becoming holy like Christ so we can dwell with an eternity.
After the altar call comes the altering of who we are to align with him. He doesn’t leave us where we are when he meets us. He makes us like him so we can have a relationship with him. Let’s not stop short of victory in Christ for our everyday situations. Let’s embrace the full Gospel and its power to change each of us.