"How many of your New Year's resolutions have you broken so far?" I asked church-goers that question this past Sunday morning.

Church began only ten hours after midnight. Was I expecting folks to run wild and blow their New Year's resolutions so quickly? No, but I knew some folks had made a resolution to get to church on time and didn't achieve that goal the very first thing out of the box.

New commitments are hard to keep. However, we've come to expect the traditional first of the year sermons, articles, blog posts, news segments, and exercise/diet advertisements about resolutions. Unfortunately, after several decades of adulthood, many of us have become skeptical and opted out of "the whole resolution deal."

Yes, we know that if we are in Christ, each of us has "become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun" (2 Corinthians 4:17). Yes, we trust in God's faithfulness and daily depend upon his grace, love, compassion, and mercy: we know these can be "new every morning" (Lamentations 3:23). Yes, we know that our Father is the Creator and continually is "making everything new" (Revelation 21:5). However, we also know our all too proven limitations! We've tried in the past and didn't live up to our resolutions to:

  • Drop weight.
  • Get to church on time.
  • Not run up our credit card debt.
  • Quit talking about ourselves too much.
  • Listen more carefully.
  • Not spend so much time looking at Facebook, SnapChat, WeChat, Twitter, or Instagram.
  • Give more generously.
  • Read the Bible daily.
  • Stay away from pornography.
  • Not drink too much.
  • Not shop online beyond what we can pay.
  • Pray more passionately.
  • Not say unhelpful and unnecessary things.
  • Choose your own weakness and insert it here!

We want to want to do the right thing but something sabotages us from succeeding.

Paul kept a balance between not tolerating sin and still calling people to transformation.
Over decades of ministry, here are two tools in Satan's arsenal that derail many of us:

Untrue Excuses:
Many of us come up with all sorts of rationalizations in our moment of temptation. We let ourselves off the hook with thoughts like, "I'm too old... or too weak... or too addicted... or too busy right now... or have too many problems... or too young... or it's not that important right now... or lots of people do worse things than me... or I just don't feel like it today!" A follower of Jesus believes in the power of the Holy Spirit to help us become more than who we are right now. Our excuses and rationalizations are tantamount to saying we don't believe or want the Holy Spirit to be at work in our lives. It's time to ditch the excuses and rationalizations!

Unrealistic Expectations:
The opposite end of "letting ourselves off the hook" is to naively believe that we can instantly overcome our weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and addictions because the year changed on the calendar. A New Year and a new start don't negate the habits and processes that Satan has used to enslave us. A few good slogans are not going to keep us from stumbling. What's more, one failure or a period of weakness becomes our excuse to quit trying because we've "failed again!" A disciple follows Jesus pursuing transformation rather than being derailed by a moment — or even several moments — of imperfection. The example of Jesus' ministry with his apostles reminds us that it takes commitment over time to become like Jesus! Transformation is a lifetime journey so let's put in place friends, systems, practices, and grace that focus on transformation and not be derailed by momentary imperfection and self-incrimination based on unrealistic expectations.

In writing to the Corinthians, Paul kept a balance between not tolerating sin (1 Corinthians) and still calling people to transformation (2 Corinthians). He focused these people on the power of the cross, resurrection, and the Holy Spirit. Their transformation took time, but it happened. One verse gives us a powerful window into the balance and focus we need to follow our Lord and his example:

Whenever, though, they [Jesus' disciples] turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil [that hides his glory] and there they are — face to face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We're free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him (2 Corinthians 3:16-18 MESSAGE).

Notice three vital concepts to help us on our journey to becoming like Jesus and all that we want to be in him:

  1. We pursue Jesus above all else.
    More than just reading the Bible, we filter all that we read through the example and words of Jesus. Jesus is God's greatest and ultimate message (John 1:14-18; Hebrews 1:1-3). We ask the Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17) to help us know what Jesus wants us to know, feel, and do as we read these Scriptures (1 Corinthians 2:11-14; John 16:13; 1 John 2:20-27). Then, we put these insights into practice in our daily lifestyles (Matthew 7:21-27). As we treat people as Jesus did and as we obey what Jesus taught, our heart begins to beat with the will of our Lord (John 8:31-32). However, in our quest for instant spirituality, we often talk a great deal about Jesus but fail to pursue him in the Scriptures. We jump to conclusions about what Jesus wants out of our ignorance based on what seems best to us and not what Jesus taught (Matthew 7:21-23). Scripture is given to us to lead us to Jesus (Galatians 3:21-29), to know the foundation for his truth (Matthew 5:17-20), and to develop an appreciation for his commitment to honor the Father in all that he said and did (John 8:28; John 14:31).
  2. We seek transformation.
    Transformation takes a lifetime. Look again at the heart of our key verse from another translation. Paul says that as we both focus upon and reflect the glory of Jesus in our lives, we "are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory" (2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV). This metamorphosis doesn't happen overnight but occurs all through our lives as disciples. Events in our lives, both those that are easily identified as blessings and notes that are hard and difficult, are opportunities for God to shape us (Romans 8:28-29) and develop character in us (Romans 5:1-5; James 1:2-4). Even in our old age, we should be able to say that even though outwardly we are aging and "wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16). Transformation is a life-long journey, not a quick fix. It begins with a commitment to trust Jesus and make him Lord while taking us on a life-quest pursuing Jesus to become like him (Luke 6:40; Colossians 1:28-29; Galatians 4:19).
  3. We trust in the Holy Spirit's power.

  4. We believe that the power at work within us is greater than the power of the evil one in the world who is against us (1 John 4:4). This power, the presence of the Holy Spirit, is more powerful than the lure and pull of our flesh and helps us (Romans 8:13). What seems inconceivable to us now, becomes accomplishable through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:16, 20-21). This change is because the power at work within is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead (Ephesians 1:17-20). As we stay focused on Jesus and seek transformation, the Spirit chips away at the things in us that hold us back from being all God made us to be. (For more on the work of the Holy Spirit, check out our free daily devotional on the Holy Spirit called God's Holy Fire.)