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The Law-Gospel-Law Nature of New Year's Resolutions (And Why You Should Resolve To Do Away With Them)

New Year's Day. Today, I'm reminded of some key truths.


"The Law is for the proud and the Gospel for the brokenhearted."
*- Martin Luther


It's interesting to look back at my time spent in Evangelicalism in all its variations over the years. The one common denominator? The emphasis on a Law-Gospel-Law style of "preaching Biblical truth" and "putting it into practice" too.

That's one of the reasons why Lutheran doctrine is so refreshingly wonderful to me -- we offer the proper distinction of Law and Gospel. In short, we offer G-R-A-C-E for all the times throughout the New Year (let alone the first week of the New Year!) when we will fail to keep our resolutions.

It's not that we preach a "license to sin" or even a gospel of "hyper-grace" either, but we just preach what the Bible teaches.

Of course, I'm sure that many of you are already familiar with the reasons why Christians shouldn't concern themselves too much with the traditional New Year's Resolutions (by the way, that brief Bible study is a great one for today -- even if it does come from an ELCA Pastor!).

This quote summarizes my own feelings about New Year's Resolutions quite nicely I think...


"This year I am taking a different approach to New Year’s Resolutions. I’m calling it: New Year’s Repentance Resolutions. The Christian life is one of repentance; so any resolution should be based on repentance and a total dependency on God’s mercy."
[Via]


My gosh, if I've learned anything in 2013, then it's my need for CONSTANT REPENTANCE along with A TOTAL DEPENDENCY ON GOD'S MERCY AT ALL TIMES since the last 12 months have exposed what a wretched sinner I am (HINT: I'm even worse than I thought I was!).

It's really something though, because one of the things I would read each and every New Year's Day for the last 2-3 years is a famous list of 70 -- yes, 70! -- New Year's Resolutions by the equally famous Jonathan "Sinners In The Hands of An Angry God" Edwards.

If you're unfamiliar with Edwards, then perhaps this will help some...


Jonathan Edwards is truly among the best known and most gifted theologians in the annals of church history. He was a prodigious writer whom God blessed with a prodigious intellect, a keen sense of discernment, and a pastor's heart. Beginning at the tender age of nineteen and continuing over the course of about a year from 1722-1723 Jonathan Edwards penned his now famous "Resolutions" which are as fresh and challenging today as they were when he first wrote them some 288 years ago. How many nineteen-year olds are writing material like this today? Twenty-nine year olds? Forty-nine year olds? Eighty-nine year olds? And according to legend Jonathan Edwards did, in fact, read through his resolutions as a sort of altimeter in order to gauge his spiritual trajectory and altitude at least once per week.


Hopefully, you already notice the Law-Gospel-Law guilt trip present in that introduction (one that was included with the following list that I would read each year on this day).

Now that the formalities are out of the way...



The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards
[Resolutions 1 through 21 were written by in one sitting in New Haven in 1722]

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God's help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ's sake. Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.


1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God's glory, and my own good, pro t and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad's of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever diffi culties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new invention and contrivance to promote the aforementioned things.

3. Resolved,
if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

4. Resolved,
never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suff er it, if I can avoid it.

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most pro table way I possibly can.

6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

8. Resolved,
to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

10. Resolved,
when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.

11. Resolved, when I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances don't hinder.

12. Resolved, if I take delight in it as a gratifi cation of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by.

13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fi t objects of charity and liberality.

14. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.

15. Resolved,
never to su ffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings.

16. Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.

17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

18. Resolved,
to live so at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.

19. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.

20. Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.

21. Resolved,
never to do anything, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him.

22. Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.

23. Resolved, frequently to take some deliberate action, which seems most unlikely to be done, for the glory of God, and trace it back to the original intention, designs and ends of it; and if I fi nd it not to be for God's glory, to repute it as a breach of the 4th Resolution.

24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.

25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.

26. Resolved, to cast away such things, as I find do abate my assurance.

27. Resolved, never willfully to omit anything, except the omission be for the glory of God; and frequently to examine my omissions.
28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

29. Resolved, never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.

30. Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.

31. Resolved, never to say anything at all against anybody, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said anything against anyone, to bring it to, and try it strictly by the test of this Resolution.

32. Resolved, to be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that in Prov. 20:6, "A faithful man who can find?" may not be partly fulfi lled in me.

33. Resolved, always to do what I can towards making, maintaining, establishing and preserving peace, when it can be without over-balancing detriment in other respects. Dec.26, 1722.

34. Resolved, in narration's never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.

35. Resolved, whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved. Dec. 18, 1722.

36. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it. Dec. 19, 1722.

37. Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year. Dec.22 and 26, 1722.

38. Resolved, never to speak anything that is ridiculous, sportive, or matter of laughter on the Lord's day. Sabbath evening, Dec. 23, 1722.
39. Resolved, never to do anything that I so much question the lawfulness of, as that I intend, at the same time, to consider and examine afterwards, whether it be lawful or no; except I as much question the lawfulness of the omission.

40. Resolved, to inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking. Jan. 7, 1723.

41. Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better. Jan. 11, 1723.

42. Resolved, frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have solemnly re-made this twelfth day of January, 1722-23.

43. Resolved, never henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God's, agreeable to what is to be found in Saturday, January 12. Jan.12, 1723.

44. Resolved, that no other end but religion, shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it. Jan.12, 1723.

45. Resolved,
never to allow any pleasure or grief, joy or sorrow, nor any a ffection at all, nor any degree of a ffection, nor any circumstance relating to it, but what helps religion. Jan.12 and 13.1723.

46. Resolved, never to allow the least measure of any fretting uneasiness at my father or mother. Resolved to su ffer no e ffects of it, so much as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eve: and to be especially careful of it, with respect to any of our family.

47. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good, and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peace able, contented, easy, compassionate, generous, humble, meek, modest, submissive, obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable, even, patient, moderate, forgiving, sincere temper; and to do at all times what such a temper would lead me to. Examine strictly every week, whether I have done so. Sabbath morning. May 5,1723.

48. Resolved, constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or no; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of. May 26, 1723.

49. Resolved, that this never shall be, if I can help it.

50. Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world. July 5, 1723.

51. Resolved, that I will act so, in every respect, as I think I shall wish I had done, if I should at last be damned. July 8, 1723.

52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.

53. Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and con fide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I con fide in my Redeemer. July 8, 1723.

54. Whenever I hear anything spoken in conversation of any person, if I think it would be praiseworthy in me, Resolved to endeavor to imitate it. July 8, 1723

55. Resolved,
to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven, and hell torments. July 8, 1723.

56. Resolved,
never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

57. Resolved, when I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether have done my duty, and resolve to do it; and let it be just as providence orders it, I will as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty and my sin. June 9, and July 13 1723.

58. Resolved, not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation, but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness and benignity. May27, and July 13, 1723.

59. Resolved, when I am most conscious of provocations to ill nature and anger, that I will strive most to feel and act good-naturedly; yea, at such times, to manifest good nature, though I think that in other respects it would be disadvantageous, and so as would be imprudent at other times. May 12, July ii, and July 13.

60. Resolved, whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination. July 4, and 13, 1723.

61. Resolved, that I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it-that what my listlessness inclines me to do, is best to be done, etc. May 21, and July 13, 1723.

62. Resolved, never to do anything but duty; and then according to Ephesians 6:6-8, do it willingly and cheerfully as unto the Lord, and not to man; "knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord." June 25 and July 13, 1723.

63. On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true luster, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: Resolved, to act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time. Jan.142 and July '32 1723.

64. Resolved,
when I find those "groanings which cannot be uttered" (Romans 8:26), of which the Apostle speaks, and those "breakings of soul for the longing it hath," of which the Psalmist speaks, Psalm 119:20, that I will promote them to the utmost of my power, and that I will not be wear', of earnestly endeavoring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness. July 23, and August 10, 1723.
65. Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, di fficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance; according to Dr. Manton's 27th Sermon on Psalm 119. July 26, and Aug.10 1723.

66. Resolved, that I will endeavor always to keep a benign aspect, and air of acting and speaking in all places, and in all companies, except it should so happen that duty requires otherwise.

67. Resolved,
after affl ictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.

68. Resolved, to confess frankly to myself all that which I find in myself, either in firmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to God, and implore needed help. July 23, and August 10, 1723.

69. Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it. Aug. 11, 1723.
70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak. Aug. 17, 1723.


Keep in mind that not only did he write those 70 Resolutions, but he also read through this list once a week too, and suggested all Christians do the same!

Sorry, but even though each Resolution is a noble pursuit for sure, I now hear more Law, Law, Law than Grace, Grace, Grace in that above list and the further instruction to read through it once a week.

The words "at all times" and "never" are what seal the deal for me. It's perfume is piety, isn't it? Yep, there's a ton from that list of Resolutions that is problematic for us Lutherans.

See, this is the Law-Gospel-Law nature of New Year's Resolutions though. I'm not suggesting that Christians should never set goals for themselves or that we shouldn't examine ourselves honestly in light of the Gospel. The Holy Scriptures make it crystal clear that we should (2 Corinthians 13:5; Philippians 2:12).

I'm just trying to point out how I now realize that there needs t be a proper perspective (a.k.a Biblical perspective) involved here from start to finish. For instance, Ligonier Ministries published a solid commentary on Jonathan Edwards' Resolutions that's worth a quick look for that reason.

Far too often, we say we're going to do this and we're going to do that in the New Year, and we say it with such conviction, eagerness, and enthusiasm, which is great. But let's not ignore the fact that it is also often the kind of conviction, eagerness, and enthusiasm born by a spirit of independence and self-reliance, and not of humility and submission to the Lord like they should be.

That's funny too, because we're then surprised when we invariably fail in "our goals and plans for ourselves" in the New Year because we either fail to accept God's sovereignty and will for our lives, we forget that we were created for His pleasure and not our own (Colossians 1:16; Revelation 4:11), or both.

In a Lutheran Layman's terms, we need to remind ourselves that any "resolutions" we set in our hearts and minds today are ultimately up to God's grace and will for our lives and they should be for His glory, His honor, and His praise as we serve others more than we serve ourselves (Proverbs 16:9; Ephesians 1:11; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:12).

What should you do not if, but when you fail at your own personal resolutions?

Have faith in the Lord and His Word! He is faithful and true!

He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He is the same in 1722, 2013, and He will be the same in 2014. Let that be a comfort to you in this time of extreme chaos and uncertainty. The Lord and His Word never changes!

Grace and peace to you and yours! Happy New Year!

[NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with Lutheran doctrine -- in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word -- so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray. Thank you in advance for your time and help. Grace and peace to you and yours!]


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About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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