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A new goal for the new year

Let’s fight for this noble and neglected cause in 2023


A new goal for the new year

I understand the criticism of new goals for the new year: “They never stick. They are legalistic. They rely on will power.” I get it, there are dangers with new year’s resolutions (like there are dangers with everything). But I like the fresh start of the new year. I like the opportunity to establish better habits. And I like that resolutions concentrate my head and heart on the one person I have most control over in my life and on the one person who causes me the most problems: me.

Like most people, I spend a fair amount of time reading things online, and what I see there can be ugly. People are often mean, nasty, proud, braggadocious, petty, spiteful, defensive, sarcastic, and angry. The internet has lots of people like that, simply because the world has lots of people like that. And if we’re honest, sometimes we are like that.

It is easy to get fired up by grand plans to change the world, or to take back the country from the libs, or to overthrow the patriarchy, or to denounce the misdeeds of famous Christians, or to tear down the evil cabal known as white evangelicalism. We can labor long to exercise dominion in the world, while at the same time doing little to exercise mastery over ourselves, our sins, and our worst impulses.

Several weeks ago, I stumbled upon an old video of John Piper warning what seemed to be a group of pastors or students about our culture’s addiction to television. The clip looked to be 20 years old or more. Some Christians might roll their eyes and mutter “typical fundamentalist,” or they might wax eloquent about all the artistically beautiful and culturally significant new shows we need to see. But I found the clip refreshing, not only because Piper is right about our entertainment addiction (and if he was right two decades ago, his admonition is even more needed today), but because his exhortation was, in a manner of speaking, a call to personal greatness.

Many of us—especially when we are young, and especially men—are looking for a great evil to overcome and noble cause to be a part of. That’s good, and we don’t have to choose only one evil to battle or only one noble cause to pursue. But here’s what I don’t hear nearly as much of as I did ten or 15 years ago: Go hard after the sin in your life and run hard after God.

There are many worthwhile battles to fight in life. The most important, most necessary, and most dangerous is the war we must wage against sin, flesh, and the devil.

To be sure, we do not have to choose between public and personal transformation, but the Bible seems much more concerned about the latter. After all, “what will it a profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). People can justifiably have multiple passions and many loves. But I worry for the person who strives to put everything in place in our world and strives to put everyone in their place online and never seems to strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

Over the past month I’ve been reading through Aquinas’s little book (excerpted from the Summa Theologica) on the cardinal virtues. How many modern Christians, let alone modern people in general, are pursuing and praying for prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance in their lives? Prudence: the ability to deliberate and reason well. Justice: a right relationship to others. Fortitude: controlling fear and moderating anger in acts of bravery. Temperance: restraining inordinate desires and unlawful pleasures of the senses.

Are the people we listen to and follow marked by these virtues—and not just one, but each of them in cooperation with the others? Are the books and blogs we are reading pushing us toward these virtues? Are we interested in acquiring these virtues as much as we are interested in social, cultural, and national change?

Even better than the cardinal virtues, read through the Ten Commandments, or the Sermon on the Mount, or the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13, or the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. There are many worthwhile battles to fight in life. The most important, most necessary, and most dangerous is the war we must wage against sin, flesh, and the devil.

I don’t know God’s plans for America or for Western Civilization. I do know his plans for the Christian and for the church. He who began a good work in us will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). Of all the goals you may have for the new year, at least make some of them about the things that God has promised to work in us, through his word, by his Spirit, with our faith-filled effort.

In other words, let’s go hard after the sin in our lives and run hard after God.

Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church (PCA) in Matthews, N.C., and associate professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte). Prior to the summer of 2017, he pastored at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich. Kevin holds a Master of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and received his Ph.D. in early modern history at the University of Leicester. He is the author of several books, including The Biggest Story, The Hole in Our Holiness, Crazy Busy, and Just Do Something. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have nine children.

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