It’s the beginning of February and most of us have probably already broken those New Year’s resolutions that we made in such good faith a month ago. Maybe it was to eat healthier, to give up sweets, to exercise more, to stay off social media, to pray more, to waste less money, to save more money… It could have been anything. But yet, it probably hasn’t lasted even to the end of the first month.
My goal for the new year was to waste less, be it money, food, resources, time. I chose it call it a goal instead of a resolution because I wanted it to be something I could progress toward through the year instead of fail at right away. I’m not sure that worked, but I’m still striving for this goal.
But what happens when our New Year’s Resolutions, like eating better and cutting out sugar, start to confuse us about what makes us ‘a good person’? Our current culture magnifies our diets, our bodies and healthy living to such a degree that they start to be the rulers by which we measure ourselves. While I am at least grateful that our culture is now celebrating healthy bodies and healthy body image, I’m also concerned about how much of our personal worth is wrapped up in our physical bodies.
We want to earn our ‘goodness;’ when complimented on our weight-loss, our cooking skills, our arm muscles or our marathon time, we respond with something that puts our ‘goodness’ in perspective, the long road it took to learn to love our bodies and the struggle to overcome our health issues or our personal hurdles. There’s nothing wrong with this– if anything, it can be inspiring to others to know that amazing changes can be made in our lives and we are not permanently condemned to our current situation.
But the thing is, we can’t earn our righteousness. Keeping our resolutions doesn’t earn us any righteousness points when we meet our savior. Even when our resolutions are spiritual resolutions, about spending more time with Jesus or giving more of our time to ministry or increasing our tithes, these actions are not enough to earn us salvation.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9
No matter how well we keep the law and our resolutions, even when our resolutions are to keep the Sabbath and to stop coveting and to love our neighbors, our works cannot save us. We are fallen creatures and no matter how humanly good we are, we cannot possibly do enough good works to earn us our salvation.
No amount of kale will get you into Heaven.
Instead, because we are so desired by God, our iniquity is covered by the grace of God. In this way, we are all leveled in his eyes, our failures and our successes covered and substituted by Jesus Christ.
So why don’t we believe it? Why do we keep trying to earn our goodness with works?
Put simply, that’s how the rest of the world works. The secular (or, at least the Western secular) world works completely on the basis of just deserts. We believe that we get what we deserve, and if we don’t, we should! It’s how we were raised; it’s how our frame of reference on justice is defined. It’s how we define our success– what we had to do, what we had to endure, to get here. Our lives weren’t easy; we worked hard for what we received!
But here’s the thing: you may have worked hard to earn the love of Christ. You may have dedicated your life to proving your worthiness for love and forgiveness. But you can’t. No matter how hard you try, no matter how perfect you are, you cannot earn that love, you cannot earn that forgiveness.
This is for two reasons: one, forgiveness is innately undeserved. If you don’t deserve the blame you are receiving, then you cannot be forgiven. To illustrate, think of a time that you were blamed for something that was not your fault. Maybe you were a little kid who got in trouble for hitting another kid on the playground, or for eating all the cookies in the cookie jar. Or maybe you were an adult, accused by a friend of having crush on your friend’s significant other. But you didn’t do any of those things; you were falsely accused. Now imagine that your accuser came to you to forgive you. You wouldn’t accept that– you were never at fault! That isn’t forgiveness; it’s injustice, and we know that God is just (Acts 17:31). Conversely, there is no earning forgiveness, because then it wouldn’t be forgiveness.
Two, even forgiveness could be earned, our sins are too great to be outweighed by our deeds. Remember that our very being is fallen. We are, by nature, sinful (Ephesians 2:3). It’s why we find that we must teach children to be good, not to be bad. It’s why we, left unchecked and undisciplined, descend into selfishness and hatred. Even our very, very best, we will never be able to outweigh a single sin. Only Christ’s perfect mercy and perfect grace can cover our iniquity.
So no, you won’t earn ‘righteousness points’ by keeping your New Year’s Resolution. Jesus won’t love you more if you keep it or love you less if you break it. Good things for your character and your Christian walk may come by keeping a New Year’s Resolution, but your salvation won’t be one of them. Our works, our ‘goodness’ isn’t enough; only Jesus is enough.
You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. – Galatians 5:4