If you’re anything like me, you’ve already failed on your New Year’s resolution. It’s my usual practice, either before I go to bed on New Year’s Eve or when I wake up on New Year’s morning, to get on my knees for a time of reflection, repentance, and resolution before the Lord.
In my view, this is a healthy thing to do as believer. While all kinds of resolutions have their own merit, I’m particularly thinking of spiritually significant ones: maybe it’s enacting or cementing a spiritual discipline or resolving to fight against some sin in your life.
Yet more often than not, these resolutions can turn out to be more spiritually defeating than spiritually helpful. Perhaps you’ll relate to me in this. You resolve to start or stop something that is good, you last for a few days, and then you slip up. This leads to a flood of feelings: you feel defeated by sin, you feel like a disappointment to God, and you want to stop with this whole resolution business altogether.
Maybe, you feel a lot like the nation of Israel. All across the Bible, we see this pattern revisited: The people of Israel see some amazing work of God and vow to follow him. Not long after that, some need shakes their faith, whether it’s a lack of food and water in the wilderness or the encroachment of an enemy nation’s army. Instead of turning to God, they turn to idols or to themselves to fix their problem.
Their idolatry only makes things worse and, after an incredibly long time of stubbornness for the people, they finally cry out to God in their distress. God delivers then, and the cycle starts all over again. This is the pattern Samuel shows the people of Israel in 1 Samuel 12:7-12.
This pattern begins after their first steps out of Egypt and lasts to the very last page of the Old Testament. Maybe that’s how you feel about your resolutions. You resolve to follow God in some way, you fail at it shortly after, and you revert back to your old way of life. Then something bad happens or some big challenge comes into your life, and you turn to God again and resolve to do better.
At a time when I was about ready to give up on the whole enterprise of resolutions, I found help from an unlikely source. In 1 Samuel 12:20-25, we find three reasons to renew our resolutions.
1. Renew your resolution because God’s grace overcomes the reality of failure.
The first reason that Samuel gives the people of Israel to renew their commitment to the Lord after sinning against him is this: God’s grace overcomes the reality of failure. Here is what Samuel says to the people of Israel:
Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn from following the LORD…for the LORD will not forsake his people, for his grates name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself. (1 Samuel 1:20, 22)
On what does Samuel base his call for Israel’s renewed commitment to follow the LORD? He tells them their spiritual reality. Yes, they’ve done evil and they’ve sinned, but they ought not fear, for God will not forsake them. He was pleased to make them his people. This is the reality of grace even present in the Old Testament.
As believers, you and I need not fear our failures when they come, for we know that God will not forsake us and that he was pleased to make us his people by the startling reality that he gave his only Son for our sake. There is no greater demonstration of God’s faithfulness to his people.
2. Renew your resolution because your old way of life is empty.
Here’s the second reason: Your old way of life is empty. This is something that we need to keep in mind constantly. Samuel reminds the people,
And do not turn aside from following the LORD after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. (1 Samuel 12:21)
Whatever the sin is that you might be seeking to forsake, keep in mind that it is empty. At its best, it never does what it promises. At its worst, it draws you away from the true fullness of life that comes from following after God and sends you into the misery of God’s chastisement.
3. Renew your resolution because the Son of God is your intercessor and teacher.
Here is the third and most striking reason: The Son of God is our intercessor and teacher. This is the greatest encouragement I gained from this passage. Samuel promises that in verse 23,
Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.
As Samuel steps down from his public post (this is his retirement speech of sorts), he vows not to give up on praying for the people and instructing them.
If such was the role of Samuel to the people of Israel then, how much more can we take comfort in the fact that Christ is doing that for us now? This is the great reality of the new covenant. We are not the people of Israel, but we have been given a new heart by our teacher and intercessor, one that yearns to follow God and has his very commands written on it.
Romans 8:3-4 promises us that Christ’s work will produce the righteous requirements of the law in us when it says,
But God has done what the law…could not do. By sending his own son…he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us.