If it hasn’t happened already, this week will see the rise of gyms, fitness studios, weight loss programs, nutrition supplements, financial advisors, and others capitalizing on the phenomenon of the new year’s resolution. You’ll be told that 2022 is a great time to make a change for a better you. You’ll be offered low introductory rates to induce you to start a new program or sign up for a new subscription. You’ll be enticed by the prospect of a fresh start and the possibility of a new you in the new year. ‘Tis the season, after all.
Now, according to my very brief and hardly thorough research into the history of new year’s resolutions, humanity has been making resolutions at the turn of a new year for thousands of years. According to one source, this can be traced back to the Babylonians who made promises to the gods at their celebration of the new agricultural year.1 This same idea is then seen in Rome in the 1st century BC as the Romans offered sacrifices and made pledges to the god Janus at the turn of the new year.
Interestingly, after surveying the roots of new year’s resolutions, the History.com article turns to our modern era with this thought: “Despite the tradition’s religious roots, New Year’s resolutions today are a mostly secular practice. Instead of making promises to the gods, most people make resolutions only to themselves, and focus purely on self-improvement (which may explain why such resolutions seem so hard to follow through on).”2
As I see it, the religious roots have never stopped yielding religious practices. Though new year’s resolutions today may not include promises to the gods of Babylon or Rome, the god of self is still appeased year after year by devotees who make promises to do better and try harder in so many different areas. Our modern era’s tendency to make a sharp distinction between the religious and the secular only serves to repackage the same old goods with a fresh look.
And that should serve as a helpful caution in getting too wrapped up in new year’s resolutions. There is nothing particularly special in the church that connects our reckoning of one year passing into another with resolutions towards greater holiness. To be sure, the church in the Old Testament had a rhythm of reckoning the mighty works of God that included periodic feasts and fasts, and the New Testament church observes a liturgical calendar to some degree or another. But the focus of these reckonings is not to appease the gods for the next year but to thankfully acknowledge what the one true God has already done for his people. So, be careful about getting caught up in new year’s resolutions if they take your focus away from God.
But at the same time, we need not be overly cautious and scrupulous. God’s people have always found it good to periodically recommit themselves to the Lord and to faithful service of him. God’s people in the time Joshua did it; God’s people in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah did it; the Lord Jesus calls for it as he addresses the seven churches of Asia in Revelation 2-3. Whether that happens in anticipation of January 1 or at any other time of the year is of no consequence. But since you’ll get a great introductory rate in January, it’s worth it to recommit this time of year to serving the Lord faithfully.
And I do want to point out that eating healthy, exercising, and managing your finances well, among other things, certainly fall under the category of faithfully serving the Lord. When these things are not gods unto themselves and when they are not harnessed to serve the god of self, they represent faithful stewardship of the gifts that God has given to us. For example, we follow the fullness of the 6th commandment when we take care of our bodies, and we follow the fullness of the 8th commandment when we take care of our finances.
So, look up that couch-to-5k program and get your budget in order, but also commit to prayer and reading of God’s Word. Commit to loving God and neighbor in a new way this year—not to appease God but to reflect your thankfulness that he has loved you immeasurably through his Son and our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ.