“New Year’s Resolutions”
- When our Lord Jesus Christ said, “Repent” [Matt. 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
- This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.
- Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortifications of the flesh.
Above are the first three points of Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses, the posting of which is often identified as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in 1517. I bring this quote up not for its historical significance, but its timely contemporary encouragement.
At the beginning of the year, people often make “New Year’s Resolutions.” I do not always appreciate the cultural trend, but this year I am changing my tune. I am encouraging you, fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, to New Year’s Resolutions. And, I am making that encouragement based on Luther’s view of “repentance.”
If repentance is to be a life-long endeavor, than certainly we need occasions to reflect, evaluate, identify persistent sins, and set goals to work on uprooting those sins from our lives. And Luther would remind us that if we think we are without sin, we must surely not know we are alive. This exercise is not merely something we do in our head, “inner repentance,” but also affects the actions in our lives which arise from sin, the elimination of which Luther calls “outward mortification of the flesh.”
So, the question we pose ourselves is, what are the sins which trouble us, which hang tenaciously to our soul? And what bitter fruit do those sins produce in our lives? As we pray for God’s strength and forgiveness of the root of sin, let us also cut off the branches that might produce the fruit. Those behavioral, concrete plans to eliminate unhealthy and troubling actions in ourselves is exactly part of repentance.
In all of this we are strengthened and encouraged by the promise of God’s mercy and grace revealed through the cross of Jesus Christ. Who would want to grow in the likeness of Christ and who would dare think it possible to be God’s holy people, who did not believe that God makes it possible through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? So, the first resolution which I encourage is “to believe more boldly still.” But do not stop there, for those who believe cannot help themselves but follow after Christ, and when they stumble or stray, resolve to return to the Way.
God bless you in this New Year, and in your New Year’s Resolutions.
Yours in Christ,