Did you make any goals for 2023? Statistically, the answer to that question is probably no. According to statista.com, less than 25% of Americans made resolutions in 2022.1And even if you did make a goal for 2023, statistics (and experience) tell us about 9 out of 10 people will fail anyway2. No wonder so many people have called it quits on resolutions. But whether you’ve written you’re your goals or not, you probably have habits, sin-patterns, or weaknesses that you’d like to change in 2023 and beyond. Some of those changes may be purely external, but be careful this year that your change isn’t only skin deep.
Telling Yourself to “Stop It”
Some New Year’s goals resolve to stop doing a particular thing. Maybe you’re like me and a little more sarcastic than you should be (okay, a lot more). So you may have the goal to stop being sarcastic in 2023. Or perhaps you want to stop eating that unhealthy food or stop watching that show or indulging in that vice. Maybe you want to stop fearing people, stop swearing, stop yelling at your kids, stop nagging your husband, sleeping in on Saturdays, or smoking. These are all admirable goals, and if you’ve made one like this, I sincerely hope that you are able to keep it. With the right amount of willpower and self-discipline, you might just make it. Or, you may be back to your old tricks by Valentine’s Day. I don’t know. But I do know that if you’ve made a goal to merely stop doing something, you’re believing a theology of behaviorism. That is, you think that by changing your behavior, you’ll experience lasting change and please God in the process. Or, to put it another way, you think that a cleaned-up outside equals a cleaned-up inside.
Telling Yourself to “Start It”
On the flip-side, maybe you want to pick up a good habit. Working out, eating clean, drinking more water, reading through the entire Bible, learning how to crochet, downsizing your closet, praying more often, attending church more regularly, or making a new friend—these are all excellent goals for the new year. There’s nothing wrong with adding something to your life or changing up your lifestyle. However, the problem comes when we equate that type of lifestyle change with sanctification. True heart change may result from attending church more often this year than last, but the mere act itself does not equal Christlikeness. Likewise, getting rid of some stuff in my house may contribute to growth in contentment, but it’s only a piece in the puzzle.
It’s wise to set measurable, specific goals. That necessitates that they be outward and tangible things: x-number of pounds shed or y-number of books read. Don’t shy away from those goals, but don’t stay there either. Otherwise, the change is only skin-deep.
Address the Heart
After you’ve made your goals for the year, take time to consider your heart—the epicenter of what makes you you. The Bible tells us the heart is the origin of our thoughts (Prov. 23:7) and the source of our words (Luke 6:45). From the heart flows “everything you do” (Prov. 4:23, NIV). That means that you cannot change who you truly are without first changing your heart. This was the problem of the Israelites throughout the Old Testament. They repeatedly claimed that they would serve and obey God (Ex. 24:3; Josh 24:16-18), yet they still forsook Him. The author of 2 Kings sums up their disobedience this way:
They rejected his statutes and his covenant he had made with their ancestors and the warnings he had given them. They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves, following the surrounding nations the LORD had commanded them not to imitate. (2Ki 17:15)
The prophet Ezekiel claims that they had hearts of stone (11:9). Rocks are not very pliable. They’re hard, inflexible, and cold. Try to mold them, and they break. Such was the condition of our hearts as well until a great transaction took place. When Christ came and instituted a new—and much better covenant—He came to change hearts. Ezekiel prophesied about this change as well:
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Eze 36:26)
The bottom line is this: if you are going to change, your heart has to change. And the only way that can happen is through the Gospel, which gives us new hearts that can now be molded into the image of Christ.
If you want to tackle heart change this year, first remember that it’s a work of the Holy Spirit, not a matter of your own willpower (that’s behaviorism again). However, it’s not only a work of God within us. We’re responsible to work at it too:
Therefore, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, 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. (Phl 2:12-13)
Seek God and ask Him to continue to do the work He has promised to complete (Phil. 1:6). Then, prayerfully consider the following questions.
What Am I Serving?
Our hearts serve one of only three idols: comfort, approval, and control. (If you want a more thorough explanation, you can click here.) If you want to start pinning down where your heart has been splintered away from worship of the true God, consider some of these questions3:
- What do you love? Hate?
- What do you want, desire, crave, lust, and wish for?
- Where do you bank your hopes?
- What do you fear? What do you not want? What do you tend to worry about?
- What makes you tick? What sun does your planet revolve around? Where do you find your garden of delight?
- Where do you find refuge, safety, comfort, escape, pleasure, security?
- What or whom do you trust?
- Whom must you please?
- What do you see as your rights? What are you entitled to?
- What do you pray for?
- What do you think about most often?
As you consider the answer to these questions, patterns may start to emerge and your idols will start to come into focus.
What Lies Am I Believing?
We hear voices all the time: television, ads, social media, news, coworkers, family members, blogs, tweets, posts, etc. Some voices are inside our heads—remember, our hearts are the origin of our thoughts. While we may be listening to the truth, in many cases, we’re hearing lies all throughout our day. Listen to them long enough, and you may start believing them. Maybe some lies are even reflected in the goals you’ve chosen for this year.
Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44), so the list of potential falsehoods is endless, but consider these few4:
- God doesn’t really love me.
- God is not really enough.
- I need to learn to love myself.
- I can’t help the way I am.
- I have my rights.
- Physical beauty matters more than spiritual beauty.
- I cannot walk in consistent victory over sin.
- Sometimes divorce is a better option than staying in a bad marriage.
- If I feel something, it must be true.
- I can’t control my emotions.
- If my circumstances were different, I’d be different.
Of course, identifying lies isn’t enough either. We must renew our minds with the truth of God’s Word. When the Holy Spirit opens your eyes to the lie you’ve been believing, talk with a trusted friend, counselor, or pastor to help you find resources to help fill your mind with truth instead of lies.
Don’t settle for superficial, skin-deep change this year. By God’s grace, may 2023 be a year of true change in your life—change of heart.
3 These are taken from David Powlison’s excellent article, “X-Ray Questions,” published in the book Seeing with New Eyes.
4 These are taken from Lies Women Believe by Nancy Leigh DeMoss.