WIPWhen did you stop making New Year resolutions? For me, it must have been sometime the last 10 years. It must have been a time when life was so demanding that one year just slipped into another. Which is not to imply that I have anything against New Year resolutions. Anything that makes us slam the brakes for a while for any sort of reflection should be welcomed. And so are attempts to improve one’s self. I would expect most people’s resolution list would include items like:

Lose weight. Be more consistent with quiet time. Get more exercise. Take up journaling. Quit smoking.

Hard to fault lists like these. It’s just that they often neglect God’s primary goal for His people — their holiness (1Peter 1:13-16). Or as Paul reminds us in 1Thessalonians 4:3a, “This is God’s will for you, your sanctification” ESV.

Sanctification is a complex truth. It means to be set apart for God’s ownership. It also means bearing God’s character. In one sense it happened the day we accepted Christ. When we decided to become a follower of Jesus, we became a new creation, set apart for God’s ownership, adopted into His family. When we leave this life and see Jesus face to face, our sanctification is complete.

But there is also a progressive dimension to sanctification as well. With the passing of time we become more and more of what we were meant to be. With the passing of time we become more like Jesus, our elder brother and model. Indeed it can be argued that that is God’s primary agenda for His people, that they bear the image of His Son. Again in the words of Paul:

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn of among many brothers (and sisters).” Romans 8:29

Therefore our constant resolution till we see Jesus, should be this:

“Lord, by the end of this New Year, please help me to be more like Christ then when the year started.”

(Implicit in a resolution like that is a commitment to cooperate with God’s work in our lives, for example through our commitment to maintain some basic spiritual disciplines.)

Daily we are reminded that the welfare of the world hinges upon people of integrity, people who are ethical and compassionate. Grateful as we are for all the good that technology has brought us, our hope lies with better people not with cleverer people. Take a long hard look at all the pain in the world. Natural disasters aside, we can track most human tragedy to people who are unethical and/or uncompassionate.

We preach that the gospel is humankind’s only hope. We preach that Jesus can save us from our sins and make us into new people. The world is waiting to see evidence of this in the lives of believers and the lives of our churches. Yet how many churches are aligned to God’s primary agenda of nurturing a holy people?

As I look around I see many churches whose New Year resolutions revolve around one or more of the following. To be:

A bigger church. A better managed church. A church with better facilities. A more effective church. A church with a bigger budget.

Nothing wrong with any of these things. But I really would like to hear from anyone whose church has intentionally set out to help its members become more mature in Christ likeness in 2004.

I can understand why people and churches find it hard to put holiness as a growth goal. It’s hard to measure for one thing. And a person’s growth in holiness is often three steps forward, two steps back. Kinda hard to plot on a projected time line. Besides any leader who talks about holiness will have to confront his or her maturity in Christ. Much easier to stick to “bricks, budgets and bodies”.

I am finding it a bit harder to settle for this at mid life. It’s true, time passes faster as you get older. Energy levels drop. You need to be a bit more selective as to what you want to do with your life. You ask again what it’s all about. And it all boils down to this. What kind of person am I becoming? What kind of people am I helping others to be?

May 2004 be a year of significant growth for you and yours.

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan