It’s 22 days into 2018 and broken resolutions litter the ground like tree branches after a windstorm.
I’m here to cheer for you to take them back up.
for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes. (Proverbs 24:16 NLT)
Not that you’re wicked if you don’t stay on the treadmill or something. And not that we have permission to sin or good reason to dump a healthy resolution.
But I have to say, as a professional faller myself, it’s mighty comforting to read this verse.
New Year’s resolutions are funny in that we often see them, sometimes without realizing it, as all-or-nothing. We think we have to clean up completely, hit perfection after January 1, to deliver on the resolution.
The commentaries on Prov. 24:16 say that the fall referenced here could be from either sin or from hardship and affliction, and they imply that only the righteous man has the ability to bounce back – that God keeps his hand around the righteous and pulls them back to their feet.
But many years ago, during a momentary retreat in my battle for righteousness in a certain area, a friend of mine gave me some advice: “When you slip up, don’t reset your streak to 0. That’s the biggest downer ever. Just get back up and start fighting again.”
I think he had a point. Cognitively speaking, it’s massively depressing and discouraging, on top of failure, to flip your internal calendar back over to “0 days since the last mistake” once you fall. Adding insult to injury. You look back at how hard you had to fight for that streak, and you can’t imagine repeating it. It’s an added burden.
In addition to the practical downside, there could also be a spiritual downside: faulty expectations.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12)
This is only one of many New Testament verses that make provision for the fact that Christians will still sin. It’s expected. It’s not good, but it’s expected. Our sanctification will be life-long.
But what a comfort to find God offering strength to retake our feet: the righteous rise again.
We balk at claiming to be among the righteous because it implies to us perfection, never sinning, and we know that is not true of ourselves. But to be a righteous man in Old Testament language does not mean to be perfect. God required that the saints be righteous in order to be saved (Psalm 1:6); he never made perfection a prerequisite of salvation. The whole sacrificial system was designed to impart forgiveness to sinners so God could save them.
The easiest way to see that being righteous did not mean being perfect in the psalms and to see what it did mean is to look at Psalm 32 . Note especially: 1) David sins and is forgiven; 2) he says there is a group called “godly” (v. 6); 3) the wicked are contrasted with those who trust in the Lord (v. 10); 4) these trusting, forgiven ones are called the righteous and the upright in heart (v. 11). So whenever you read about the righteous, think: those who trust in the Lord for their joy and repent of their sins in earnestness.
Now, there’s a galactic difference between accepting this reality and letting it make us complacent. I’ve known my sinful heart to twist this grace: “You’ll never be perfect, so go ahead and sin.” Paul hammers that sophistry in Romans 6. He’s still pressing on towards the goal. The holier your goal, the better your results will be. Compromise your goal and you compromise your results. Our goal should still be perfection.
But when we fall short and ache in our souls, God’s Word reorient our expectations – and encourages us to retake our feet. We repent and we end the retreat. We rise again.
Don’t toss your resolutions (spiritual or common) out the window because you failed today. Take them back up. God doesn’t care whether the first day of your permanent victory over (insert struggle here) is January 1 or not. He just wants to see you victorious, made so through his strength.