Have you made your New Year’s Resolutions yet? I wrote mine down in November. Like many people, I indulge in calendar induced optimism every January. New Year’s Resolutions can be fun and useful, but contrary to everyone who’s trying to sell you something this time of year, they will not save you.
I love self-improvement practices. I work to form habits that overtime will increase my capacity to live the life I want. I get up at 4:50am to go to CrossFit. I track my steps and make time to read everyday. I eat a lot of vegetables. I use a Bullet Journal to keep myself organized, and I schedule my tasks in advance. I’m a complete sucker for online classes. I love learning and growing so that I can thrive and help people around me thrive.
These habits have made my life better. CrossFit has improved my physical strength, and helped me cope with Northeast winters. Instead of drowning in sticky notes and forgetting appointments, I put everything in my handy little BuJo. But in the midst of all this I can loose sight of the fact that these things are not my salvation. They are good gifts from the Lord, but they will not save me. They will not fix me. They will not make me whole.
No matter how much improvement we make, we remain broken apart from the saving grace of Jesus. Without him taking on our sin and shame and giving us his righteousness, we would still be held captive to sin.
Things like exercise, healthy food, and good organization systems are part of the Common Grace of God, his gifts to all of humanity whether or not an individual worships him as Lord. They can and do improve lives. My Bullet Journal helps me manage my time better, but it cannot change a sinful heart that desires to use my time for myself rather than for other people’s good and flourishing. Regular exercise improves my physical and mental health, but apart from finding my worth in Christ, my arrogance will increase with my physical strength. Healthy food can quickly become an outlet for my desire to control rather than good stewardship of my body.
The Lord has given us the ability to learn, grow, and improve. The countless resources available for these purposes are gifts from the Lord, and we should avail ourselves of them to the degree that they are helpful. However, they will not fix the brokenness in us. Only Christ can change our bent toward sin.
If we hope in the trappings of self improvement culture, then we will always come up empty. The story of Scripture teaches us that no matter our effort, no matter the systems in place — even the Mosaic Law — we cannot fix the brokenness in ourselves or society.
But Christ. For those who trust in Christ, he takes on our sin and shame and places it on his own head. In its stead, we receive his righteousness. He pays our debt, and we receive his inheritance. Before God, it is as if we have perfectly obeyed the law with a joyful heart. From that position of right standing before God, we get to enter into a transformative relationship with him. In his grace, he doesn’t leave us in sin, but invites us into greater holiness. He transforms our hearts so that we bend toward obedience rather than rebellion. All of our self improvement efforts cannot change the states of our hearts — but grace upon grace — God gives us a new heart.