Well, we’re already two months into the new year. The virus is still with us, but now we have vaccines. We have a new President, but some politicians and factions in our country are still aggressively hating the former President. We’re still wearing masks, social distancing and washing our hands – at least most of us are. So 2021 is still looking suspiciously like 2020.
Which brings us to the question at hand: How are you doing on your New Year’s resolutions? Have you made the changes you intended to make? Are you making progress on losing those pounds you added over the holidays? Have you succeeded in breaking that bothersome habit? How about that hobby you promised yourself you would finally take up – have you done that yet?
If all or most of your answers to these questions are in the negative, take heart. We’re in good company, millions of fellow humans whose best intentions have yet to reach fruition. Resolutions – and even goals – seemingly are meant to be broken or disregarded. They make us feel good while making them, but lead to frustration when we fail to keep them.
When I said we’re in good company, I can cite none other than the apostle Paul, who admitted struggling with similar challenges. He said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). We’ve all been there, right? ‘Why do I do what I don’t want to do, but find myself unable to do the things I want to do?’
Right after this, however, Paul wrote something that at first glance seems like passing the buck, refusing to accept responsibility for his failures:
“And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.”
Then he concludes with the declaration, “Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” (Romans 7:16-20).
When I read this years ago for the first time (and a few times after that), I thought, “What in the world is Paul talking about?” It reminded me of the excuse often employed by the late comedian Flip Wilson’s character, Geraldine: “The devil made me do it!” Later I came to realize that comparison wasn’t far off.
The apostle wasn’t writing about shedding a few pounds, or not keeping a personal commitment to start building bird houses. He was referring to insidious, inescapable sin. The Bible speaks about our having a sin nature, one we’re born with and remains with us until we die. However, when we’re “born again,” as Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:3,7), we receive a new nature.
For whatever reason, even though we’re made “new creations” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), God chooses not to eliminate our sin natures. As a result, throughout our lives we wrestle with internal conflict, sometimes doing things we don’t really want to do and not doing things we sincerely desire to do. But there’s good news.
In another of his letters, Paul wrote, “I can do everything through [Christ] who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Speaking to His disciples, Jesus declared the importance of their dependence upon Him if they are to accomplish anything of eternal value: “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can overcome our old nature – which some translations of the Bible term, “the flesh.” So, unlike the disclaimer of the comic character Geraldine, the devil can’t make us do anything – if we are reborn in Christ. (But the enemy can make some enticing suggestions.)
Whether we’re striving to overcome besetting sins, or simply seeking to follow through on worthwhile resolutions or goals we embraced on Jan. 1, we have the Lord’s strength to persevere them until we’ve fulfilled them. ‘I can do all things – through Christ!’