Resolution Against the Don’ts
By Anthony Casperson

It’s a new year. So, we all know what that means. New Year’s resolutions.

With intentions of bettering themselves, many people have begun some new routine in their lives. Eating better. Exercising more. Spending less money. Getting up earlier to accomplish their many goals. Quitting a particular vice.

Some might even make resolutions that are more spiritually aligned. Reading from the bible everyday. Starting a prayer journal—or just praying regularly. Starting a weekly fast. Making sure to have a Sabbath rest every week. And oh so many other possibilities.

One of the reasons, though, that many followers of Jesus start to perform these spiritual disciplines—whether or not it’s the New Year—is because someone impresses upon them the idea that “real Christians” do whatever discipline is the speaker’s pet project.

It’s not that the spiritual disciplines are bad. Or that there’s not value in following them. No, the problem lies in the idea that a person has to add something to faith in the cross and resurrection of Jesus in order to be a “real Christian.”

The specific additional thing that’s added has changed throughout the ages. Though, the spiritual disciplines are a perennial favorite. Other past examples have included: being a member of a certain denomination, dressing/looking a certain way, and holding a particular less-than-essential theological belief to be true and excluding everyone who doesn’t hold that view. One of the modern additions is having the perspective of love which says that we can’t ever tell anyone that their actions are wrong, or else we’re being mean and unloving. A love that leaves people in their sins—which is antithetical to the bible’s definition of the word.

Even during the time of the Apostles, there was a group who tried to add something to the gospel of Jesus. This group—called the Judaizers by modern theologians—told Gentile followers of Jesus that they also had to add the Law of Moses to their actions. Things like having males be circumcised, keeping the Sabbath, and following the dietary restrictions of Israel.

Quite a few of the letters of the Apostles spoke against this heretical teaching. Though, one in particular helps us see the difference between letting certain actions naturally flow out of our relationship with Jesus and enslaving ourselves to some doctrine that latches onto the gospel like some life-sucking parasite. The difference between a natural outgrowth of life and a leech that steals one’s essence. We find this in the book of Colossians.

In the second chapter, Paul reminds the Colossians that the record of debt which stands against us has been dealt with through the cross. Metaphorically nailed right alongside our Savior. And so in verse 16, he tells us to not let any person pass judgement on us regarding what we eat or drink, or what festivals or Sabbaths we celebrate/keep. He says in the next verse that these are all shadows that represent something good. Something real. Jesus.

And so, no one should invalidate our saving relationship with Jesus just because we don’t hold to some sort of asceticism, or a doctrine that elevates something other than Jesus to the level of worship he’s due. Their visions of what it takes to be a follower of Jesus are just an ego trip inflated by their selfish and fleshly desires to be the important prophet in the faith.

Rather, Paul says that we shouldn’t be like them. We should hold fast to Jesus, the head of the body. The One through whom the whole body is nourished. The place where life in the body actually comes from.

There’s no point in submitting to regulations of the “don’ts.” “Don’t reach out for ______.” “Don’t take part in ______.” “Don’t even think about doing ______.” Such things might have a seeming sense of wisdom or feeling of good spirituality, but they have no value in actually growing in holiness.

Restraint doesn’t necessitate godliness and spiritual maturity.

This isn’t to say that growth in holiness won’t achieve some of the same results, but that there’s a motivation which will promote the value of holiness without feeling like it’s all a bunch of arbitrary rules.

As Paul moves into the words of Colossians 3, we see what that motivation is. Jesus, the Christ, our Savior.

He tells us not to look at the things of this world, as if we can find the answers to spiritual holiness in this physical existence. Instead, we should look to Jesus. Set our minds on the things above. Look to the things of God so that we can grow to be more like him in holiness. Then we can put to death those earthy desires such as sexual immorality, impurity, lustful cravings of evil, and covetousness. And also put away anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from our mouths.

We followers of Jesus don’t keep ourselves from these things because “that’s what required of ‘real Christians.’” No, we look to Jesus, witness the mercy and grace that he extended out to us on the cross, and then—as a natural outflow of that relationship—grow into the holiness that makes us look more and more like our sinless God.

The motivation for holiness is a thankfulness and growing closeness to our loving Savior, rather than shame for not keeping a list of seemingly arbitrary do’s and don’ts.

So, as we think about New Year’s resolutions—or just growing spiritually in general—let’s not focus on the “don’ts” of worldly religiosity, but on the Founder of our faith. When we keep him in the forefront of our minds, we won’t be able to help but grow more in holiness.

Let’s resolve to be motivated by his love, not the don’ts of “real Christians.”