TXAB: The Christ Almighty Blog

30 December 2016

Resolutions: Our stabs at self-control.

Of course, making too many at once multiplies your difficulty level.

Speaking for myself, I’m not into new year’s resolutions. I make ’em the year round: If I see changes I need to make in my life, I get to work on ’em. I don’t procrastinate till 1 January. I may procrastinate just the same, but here’s the problem with stockpiling lifestyle changes till the new year: Come 1 January, you’re gonna have a vast pile of changes to make. It’s hard enough to make one change; now you have five. (Or 50, depending on how much of a trainwreck you are.) Multiplying your resolutions, multiplies your difficulty level.

But hey, it’s American custom. So at the year’s end a lot of folks, Christians included, begin to think about what we’d like to change about our lives. What we really should change. Too many carbohydrates? Too much time frittered away on non-productive hobbies? Too much money wasted?

Since our culture doesn’t really do self-control, you might notice most Americans’ resolutions don’t have to do with breaking a bad habit so much as adding another one—good or bad.

True, a lot of us will vow to diet and exercise. But just as many of us will choose to learn gourmet cooking, or resolve to eat at fancier restaurants more often. (Well, so long that the fancier restaurants provide American-size portions. If I only wanted a six-ounce piece of meat I’d go to In-N-Out Burger.)

True, a lot of us will vow to cut back on our screen time, whether it’s on computers, tablets, phones, or televisions. But just as many will decide time isn’t the issue; quality is. They’ll vow to watch better movies and TV shows. Time to binge-watch the shows the critics have been raving about. Time to watch classic movies instead of whatever Adam Sandler burps up. Sometimes it’s a clever attempt to avoid cutting back on screen time—’cause they know they won’t. And sometimes they honestly never think about it; screens are now just a fact of life.

As Christians, a lot of us will resolve to be better Christians. We’ll pray more. Meditate more. Go to church more consistently; maybe join one of the small groups. Read more bible—perhaps all the way through. Put more into the collection plate. Share Jesus more often with strangers and acquaintances. Maybe do some missions work.

All good intentions. Yet here’s the problem: It takes self-control to make any of these resolutions stick. It’s why, by mid-March, all these resolutions were likely abandoned. So if we’re ever gonna stick to them, we gotta begin by developing everybody’s least-favorite fruit of the Spirit.

Growth takes effort.

As I wrote elsewhere, a lot of Christians presume the Spirit’s fruit grows spontaneously, without any effort on our part. So we don’t even try to make serious lifestyle changes. We figure they’ll happen on their own, ’cause that’s how it works now that we’re new creations in Christ. 2Co 5.17

Hence I’ve run into an odd Christian practice: We’ll make resolutions. Might be for the new year; might be the result of some really good preaching. “I’m gonna do that from now on.” And now that we’ve stated our intention, we really do expect we will do that from now on:

  • Gonna share our testimonies more often.
  • Gonna believe for miracles more often.
  • Not gonna live in fear anymore.
  • Not gonna believe lies anymore.
  • Not gonna suppress our emotions using food anymore.
  • Gonna pray more often, read bible more often, do good works more often… you know, the usual.

But nothing changes. Because we expect spontaneous, miraculous change. We make no plans to put in any effort. We’ll even teach if we do make an effort, it’s not really of God; it’s works-righteousness. It’s not really faith; it’s works.

It’s certainly not really change.

If we wanna grow in Christ, we have to work at it. Grace only means God does all the saving: He’s arranged it, through Christ, so we don’t waste our time striving to be good enough to enter his presence and enter his kingdom. And he helps our efforts so they actually get stuff done, and don’t entirely go to waste. (Provided we’re actually working with God, and not taking his approval for granted.) But if we wanna grow, we’ve gotta give God something to multiply. He gave us the talent; quit burying it in a hole as if it’s a seed! Mt 25.14-30

I know popular Christian culture doesn’t think this way. We say, “Jesus, take the wheel!” even though he’s trying to teach us to drive. We preach, “Let God be in control,” and ignore the self- part of self-control. We think it’s faith. On the contrary; it’s laziness disguised as faith.

Okay, so how do we work on our self-control? Stop sinning.

The first step is to recognize we have a problem: We sin. We’re sinners. It’s built in. But if we’re gonna follow God we need to be rid of it. No more keeping a toe in both light and darkness.

Sin looks like a massive, insurmountable problem. But you know how we tackle such problems: Stop looking at the size of it, and start chipping away. Tackle sin one moment at a time:

  • Are you sinning right this moment?
  • If so, stop.
  • If not, good!—keep it up.

It’s hardly all that complicated. Like they say in 12-step meetings, handle it one moment at a time. The hard part is remembering to keep it up.

And the hard part is resisting temptation. Particularly when we want so much to give in to them. We figure—as sinners will—it’s way easier to give in, then apologize to God later; to turn God’s abundant forgiveness into cheap grace. Instead we need to cry out to God, and fellow Christians, for help. It’s available, but too many of us try to fight sin alone, and we were never meant to.

This is how we grow in self-control: The moment-by-moment, minute-by-minute, day-by-day battle with sin.

If you’re not yet doing this, ditch all those other resolutions. (They’re never gonna come to much without self-control anyway.) Just focus on only this. Your only resolution is to fight sin. Concentrate on that for a year. And next year you’ll so be able to tackle new-year resolutions.

And now that you know this…

Ever notice those people who casually admit they have no self-control?

  • “Oh, I don’t bother with new year’s resolutions anymore. I can never keep any of them.”
  • “I can never finish a bible-reading program.”
  • “I never go to my gym. I’ve been paying dues six months, and I’ve never set foot in there all that time.”
  • “Whenever I find a TV show I like, I just binge-watch all the episodes. I even go without sleep. I have to call in ‘sick’ to work the next day.”

As if that’s clever of them. Some of ’em’ll even say this with pride.

You realize every time they admit, “I have no self-control,” what they’re also admitting is all the other stuff related to a lack of self-control: “I don’t bother to resist temptation. I just sin, and ask forgiveness after. I only look like a good Christian because I don’t sin right in front of you. Get to know me better, and you’ll find out how much of a pagan I really am.”

Yeah, that sounds harsh of me. It’s totally true though.

A lack of self-control in the small areas, means a lack of self-control in the big areas. Or in everything. Especially sin.

So whenever we joke about our lack of willpower, or brag about how we just can’t say no when it comes to chocolate, coffee, money, or sex: This is what we’re really telling everyone. We’re confessing our sins.

Which ain’t necessarily a bad thing. ’Cause people can help! And you can offer to help right now.

  • “Oh, you never go to the gym? Me either. Wanna start going together?”
  • “I can never finish a bible-reading program either. Wanna be study buddies?”
  • “I can never say no to cocaine either. That’s why I’m in Narcotics Anonymous. Ever been to a meeting?”
  • “Tell you what: Next time you start binge-watching a show, call me and I’ll get you to stop when it’s bedtime.”

These reminders let ’em know they can control themselves. They just gotta make the effort, and ask for help. From others, and from the Holy Spirit as well. God helps those who follow him. So start following.