We can’t help ourselves. There’s just something about December becoming January that summons in a haze of sentimental reflection mixed with resurrected positive thinking. And it’s impossible to vaccinate against this disease. No matter how much cynical immunity we build up over the year, the allergen of New Year’s resolve always succeeds in breaking through our defences.

And it’s great for a while; four days healthy, one week dry, two months toned — they all have their immediate benefits and make for good conversation topics over January.

But does seeking after a ‘good thing’ make it a good venture?

The writer of Ecclesiastes doesn’t mince his words with regards to some people’s pursuits of happiness, wealth, status and sexual satisfaction. I guess you could also pencil in health, body shape…

‘“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” What do people gain from all their labours at which they toil under the sun?’ (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3)

Having been exposed since young to a naturalistic worldview that describes everything as meaningless anyway, I have always thought that New Year’s Resolutions (NYR) are for motivated and optimistic creatures to pass away time until their resolve breaks (I tried it only once!). But now sitting in the undeserved seat of God’s grace, I’ve started to question whether seeking after these kinds of things, in the wrong way, could actually be an unhelpful venture?

My argument, I hope, is not coming out of a reluctance to make changes. I know for a lot of us there’s a hesitation to encourage change, for fear of sounding ‘religious’, but I don’t really buy that. Nowhere in Scripture do I see nervousness from the prophets or Apostles to emphasise change in behaviour.

My argument instead comes from the lack of one very vital ingredient in nearly all of our NYRs, which I believe 1) detaches them from God, thus edging them very close to vanity; and 2) gives them almost no chance of long-term success.

In Colossians 3, Paul gives us an incredible list of things: compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. And every single one of these would make for a brilliant resolution this year. But he doesn’t fall into the trap of simple New Year’s optimism — he has a much greater hope for us. And it starts with one thing, repentance!

When Paul talks about repentance it is vivid, it is dramatic and extremely provocative. It’s not simply saying sorry and going on as positive thinkers until things get too hard. For Paul it’s about death and life. ‘Put to death’ all of these things that are of your old self, so that we can ‘put on’ all of the incredible things, which are of our new life. Our attitude towards the bad attributes of our lives should not be as a gazelle to a lion, but as a lion to a gazelle. We must go at them ferociously, with no intent other than termination.

How do we do it? Well John’s first letter tells us simply, ‘if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ (1 John 1:9) Then and only then can we walk in the light, in fellowship with Christ, living the life He desires us to live.

I wonder how ferociously you confess your sins? Is it the most powerful weapon that you wield in this battle to live a holy life? Can you start a day without dropping on your knees and confessing every possible thing that might hold you back? My strong feeling is that sometimes, we forget what it means to truly die to ourselves. Looking at the change in Paul after his Damascus road experience and lining Saul, a murderous religious extremist, up against Paul, the most humble and dedicated servant, we see what it actually is to mercilessly ‘put to death’ and eradicate the sins in our lives.

“Yes, but what’s this got to do with me going to the gym for a few months?” If that question or a similar one has popped into your mind, then I ask: Why are you going to the gym? Why the healthy eating? Are we not supposed to do everything to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)? As the writer of Ecclesiastes makes clear to us, anything we do that is detached from glorifying God is totally meaningless. Without God at the centre of our New Year gym memberships, diets and creativity projects, we have sadly entered into 2015 with a basic resolution of time wasting. Therefore, the sooner each resolution fails, the better!

But what if it were being done for God’s glory? Then suddenly we’re playing a totally different ball game.

Repentance must go hand in hand with resolve. If you’ve let your body, the temple of God’s Holy Spirit, get out of shape, then repent. Confess to him your sins of gluttony and laziness, put them to death and put on your trainers! If you’ve not made the most of the creativity God has given you, then repent. Put to death your time wasting and your low view of the gift He’s granted you, and grab the paintbrush!

The problem with the positive thinking model is the same problem that legalism brings. You try, you fail, you give up. It’s a cycle of pride-fall-pride-fall. When you’re doing well you feel better than all those fat slobs on their sofas and you become puffed up. But then when you get home tired from work and miss a run, you suddenly feel condemned by your own standards; you’re a self-defined failure.

My simple exhortation is that we don’t live our day-to-day lives under different principles to the ones we talk about on Sundays. As Paul explains in Philippians 3, we’ve got a goal that we’re pressing on towards, not by being perfect but by getting better. We live under grace, knowing that by Jesus’ death we are not condemned by our failings, but can get back up and keep going. And so we don’t start in our own strength, but in His; we don’t keep going by our strength, but by His; we don’t finish under our own strength, but under His!

This 2015, my challenge to us all is to not hide behind a façade of mild self-improvement, but to be hidden with Christ, knowing that perfection awaits us. This means doing on a Monday what you sing about on a Sunday. As a family, let us go forward this year, not by human resolve but by humble repentance.

Happy New Year!