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I have ofte(Photo: Unsplash)n uttered the phrase, “New year, new you” in early January. I love it because it’s catchy, and it captures the idea that when the clock rolls over into a new year, I have a new chance to put off bad habits and put on new better ones. I love to plan and set goals, so the notion of a new me in the new year is exhilarating.

As I reflect on the previous 365 days (or 366 on leap year!), I often look back with sadness and negativity. Some people view the world through rose-colored glasses—not me. It’s not that I’m a complete pessimist who can’t see the good in a situation or season. It’s that I often battle seasonal depression, and my year end reflections are often grey and cloudy like the December skies I see when I peer out the window.

Far more often than I’d like to admit, melancholy and self-deprecation haunt my year-end reflections and stimulate me to pursue radical change going into January 1. Have you figured out yet how this could be destructive for me moving into the new year? Self-examination is vital for the Christian life, but only when the gospel is in full view and the lens we use is accurate (2 Cor. 13:5).

Deadly Resolutions

New year goals and habits are deadly when the gospel is missing.

Don’t breeze too quickly past that last sentence. Let me lean in, look you in the eyes, and say it again.

New year goals and habits are deadly when the gospel is missing.

When we only give lip service to the gospel, we may say that we create our goals and resolutions for the glory of God, but if we actually achieved them and stayed true to our words, who would get the credit first in our hearts and minds? Would attaining your goals in the next 365 days cause you celebrate the goodness and grace of God more?

I’m hoping your answer is that God would get the credit first and foremost. I hope that would be my answer too. But if you’re afraid it won’t be, the Word of God has some encouragement for you today:

”…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose.” -Philippians 2:12–13

Work Out Your Own Salvation

At first you may be wondering, “Where’s the hope in this?! If I have to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling, I better get to work!” However, don’t miss the gospel bomb in the passage: “For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose.”

When Paul says, “Work out your own salvation”, he isn’t calling for Christians to save themselves. Some scholars argue that Paul is calling the Philippians corporately to work out their salvation by pursuing unity. Other scholars argue that the call to work out your own salvation emphasizes the individual call to pursue godliness. The big picture seems clear: putting on the mind of Christ and caring more for others than ourselves is a powerful way to work out our own salvation (Phil 2:3-4).

This is a call to radical obedience. To love others is to fulfill the entire law of Moses (Rom. 13:10, Jam. 2:8). It is the call to love our neighbors as ourselves—the second greatest commandment (Mat. 22:39). It means refusing to be irritable or resentful toward others (1 Cor. 13:5). The call to put on the mind of Christ and forfeit our desires, preferences, and opinions for the good of others is a monumental task.

Who is fit for this work? God is.

God is at Work

As a man who has been able to dunk a basketball since I was in 9th grade, it has been painful to reach my early 30s and not be able to bounce like I used to. I now have fight to get a clean dunk, and if I go a few months without working out, it will take me several weeks of training to be able to dunk again. Yet for many, slamming a basketball through the rim has never been attainable, and no amount of strength or willpower can get them to the rim. Hearing “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” is like trying dunk at 5’2 with a 30-inch vertical.

Not only is it impossible for us to work out our salvation on our own, but we reach the frustration point pretty quickly when we try. Paul knows this because when his eyes were opened to the gospel, he realized that his pharisaical ways were futile with regard to true righteousness. We can only be right with God in and through Christ. He reminded the Galatians that as our faith walk began with the Spirit, it must also continue by the Spirit. We are not perfected by the flesh but by the Spirit (Gal 3:1-6).

Therefore, Paul says to the Philippians, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling… for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2: 13). Christian, our great hope is that God will work in us to both will and work for His good pleasure! This doesn’t mean that we sit back and relax, waiting for the impulse to do good. Not at all! Rather, we strive with all of Christ’s strength to live fruitful and godly lives (Colossians 1:29). Yet, we give Him all the glory because it is He who works and wills the good that we do! This is encouraging and exciting!

For His Good Pleasure

Let us not move too quickly or we will miss a key phrase in this passage: for His good pleasure. God stirs up desires and brings fruit from those good and glorious desires in us for His good pleasure. Far too often, when the road gets rough we can feel as though God is against us rather than for us. Compare this mentality with Romans 8:31.

Our Bible reading plan gets to Leviticus and Numbers and the New Year’s energy has worn off. We yawn and doze as we try to our work our way through the passages. Then we hear the self-pity and mockery. You lousy person! How can you call yourself a saint when you can barely wake up and read the Bible each day! You’ll never reach your goals because you might not even be saved. God despises you because you don’t delight in Him or His Word!

Yet what does our text say? When we are pursuing the love of God and the love of others, it is God who is at work in us to will and to work for His good pleasure. This includes our Bible reading and prayer times! He is pleased to see us complete our Bible reading plan. He welcomes us to the throne of grace in prayer. He rejoices to see husbands love their wives. He gets glory when fathers love and lead their children. He delights to see His saints worship together.

When we believe that God works in and through us for His good pleasure, we have wind behind our sails that allows us to keep pushing when the going gets tough. When the days are hard and we don’t feel like working out our salvation with fear and trembling, God is still at work in us for His good pleasure. He’s not helping us begrudgingly, either! He is ready and willing to help us because our sanctification brings Him glory from start to finish.

God’s Grace in the New Year

In light of Philippians 2:12-13, here are three ways to glorify God as you plan your year and fight to meet your goals:

1. Prioritize obedience to God over personal preferences and goals. Setting goals for our jobs is good if our aim is to work heartily as for the Lord and not for men (Col. 3:23). Developing an exercise habit glorifies God if we are caring for our temple (1 Tim. 4:8). However, if you’re neglecting the time needed to cultivate love for God and others, you should consider prioritizing your spiritual goals first and foremost. It’s not that the others are unimportant. Rather, we are called to work out our salvation with utmost seriousness and reverence for God. Let today’s habits be reasons for rejoicing a million years from now.

2. Pray frequently and fervently for God to work in you. Too often we fail to reach our goals and keep our habits because we simply don’t pray. He have not because we ask not (James 4:2-3). We need to be often asking God to strengthen in order to persevere in our goals and habits. And if He is not granting us success, we may need to search our hearts, goals, and habits to see if God is truly at the center of our plans for the new year. James 4:2-3 says, “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” Let us ask for help, and seek God’s help for the right reasons.  ​

3. Praise God regularly when you see success in your life. If we aren’t diligent in developing hearts that look often for opportunities to praise God, we will find ourselves excited as though we achieved righteous works in our strength. Jesus is clear that apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). By reflecting on our goals and achievements, we are able to see successes and failures. When we see failures, we can draw near to God in humility and earnest prayer. When we see successes and check off all the boxes, we can draw near to God in praise for His transforming and empowering grace.

As the new year begins, don’t neglect to establish good goals and habits. We are called to make the best use of our time (Eph. 5:18). Set grand goals! But in this new year, fight to obey God, rest in His power, and give Him the glory in your successes! And never forget that He’s working in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure and glory (Ps. 115:1).

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