New Year's Resolution 2011: Quit Sinning

Whether you set any or not, I'm sure that "resolution" is a word we hear more in the week before and after January 1 than in the rest of the year combined. I have no idea why there’s a page on the U.S. Government's official website about New Year’s Resolutions, but here it is. These are the ones it lists: Drink Less Alcohol, Get a Better Education, Get a Better Job, Get Fit, Lose Weight, Manage Debt, Manage Stress, Quit Smoking Now, Reduce Reuse and Recycle, Save Money, Take a Trip, Volunteer to Help Others... pretty much the normal list. If those are the resolutions that everyone sets, I thought I would do something different. So, after much deliberation, I am about to share with you my list of New Year’s Resolutions for 2011. Actually it isn’t a list. (The dictionary said I had to have more than one for it to be a list.) So, instead of my list of New Year’s Resolutions for 2011, here is my bullet point of New Year’s Resolution for 2011:

  • Quit Sinning.

Just incase you didn’t get all of that. I’ll give you my bullet point again:

  • Quit sinning.

Some of you may think I’m being silly, and I'll grant that this may take me more than a year, but it is my hope and my plan that anyone who knows me well enough to know the difference will be able to say when this year ends that I have made significant progress toward completely getting rid of sin in my life.

If I can convince you that I mean this, I am sure that many of you, especially those of you who know me well, are thinking, “...Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.” Or maybe your reaction is even a little more aggressive, like, “Who does he think he is?” Or perhaps aren’t convinced that I’m not joking or playing some kind of word game. But I mean it. I intend to quit sinning, and nothing else is coming in the remainder of this blog post to let me off of the hook on this one.

And I’m not just talking about the big, obvious sins that come to our minds, but I’m talking about completely giving it up: everything that in any way reflects anything less that complete, whole-hearted love for God and love for other people, I intend to stop.

I can’t take credit for coming up with my bullet point of New Year's Resolution all by myself. I had some very good help. In fact, I pretty much stole it (which may have been a step in the wrong direction if I’m talking about giving up sin, since stealing is high on the list of obvious ones). But Dallas Willard talks about this, and it’s so good that I'll quote a few paragraphs directly. He says:

If one day I assure my Christian friends that I intend to “quit sinning” and arrive at a stage where I can perfectly follow Jesus Christ, they will most likely be scandalized and threatened- or at least very puzzled. “Who do you think you are?” they would probably say. Or they might think, “What is he really up to?”

But if, on the other hand, I state that I do not intend to stop sinning or that I do not plan ever to follow my Lord in actuality, they will be equally upset. And for good reason. How can Jesus be my Lord if I don’t even plan to obey him? Would that really differ in substance and outcome from not having him as Lord at all? My Christian fellowship circle will allow me not to follow him and even not to plan to follow him, but they will not permit me to say it.

Yet, I must do one or the other. Either I must intend to stop sinning or not intend to stop. There is no third possibility. I must plan to follow Jesus fully or not plan to follow him. But how can I honestly do either? And does not planning to follow him really differ, before God and humanity, from planning not to follow him? (From The Spirit of the Disciplines, pp. 12-13)

Now, brothers and sisters, it’s not just me on the hook for this. We’re all on the hook for this. Most of us have likely never considered the possibility of just quitting sin, because if we realize it is part of our lives at all, we know how deeply ingrained in us it is. Yet that does not change his point: that we cannot become free of its domination without a grace-dependent plan for doing so.

There are plenty of good things to look at incorporating into our plans, but one that I've enjoyed focusing on during the past week has been the old Methodist practice of renewing our covenant with God at the beginning of a new year. If you're interested in using a modern version of part of the service for your own commitment, click here.