Many still observe the New Year tradition of making resolutions to improve their personal lives, by losing weight or whatever. Most such resolutions usually involve steps they will take to make them feel better about themselves and their lives. They usually want more patience, or better relationships, or just plain more joy in daily living.
Resolutions-making is a good test of motivation. Usually, the resolution-maker is not highly motivated; their thoughts are more wishful thinking. This is apparent when they make the same resolutions year after year. The desire to bring about changes in their lives is apparent in the huge market for self-help books. There are so many because very few work. Maybe the newest one will be better.
The issue is whether sheer will power can change much of how you live. The problem is described by Jesus in the older King James translation “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” Habits are deeply ingrained and hard to change. Yet how many sermons imply that by willpower you can become a better Christian.
We’re talking about motivation. Some coaches are described as good motivators. But they can’t actually change the motivations of someone else. Motives come from within. What coaches can do is to provide opportunities and rewards that appeal to a player’s inner drive and bring out the best in him or her.
The Apostle Paul understood the special motivation available to believers. Instead of appealing to their existing inner drives, he showed how those drives themselves can be changed for them. Help comes from the outside. This helper is the Holy Spirit. Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit influences human spirits.
God’s grace was central to Paul’s thinking. But the Holy Spirit was even more central. The Spirit delivers the grace God offers in Christ. Christ’s Spirit is the deliveryman for God’s promises. He activates the personal faith that leads to eternal salvation. More practically, the Spirit delivers a better grace-filled life now.
What does this Spirit-shaped life look like? Paul describes what the Spirit produces with words like love, joy, peace, patience, along with five other outcomes called the fruit of the Spirit. This Galatian’s list is not definitive. To the Corinthians, he added faith, hope, and, again above all, love.
These fruit are the inner drives, the motivations, the Holy Spirit changes. Often these fruit are treated as virtues we should strive for. But this traditional approach puts the emphasis back on us to live a more God-pleasing life. Rather, what the Spirit influences are a believer’s feelings, his or her inner drives. What is the result? We experience more love, joy, peace, and patience in our daily lives. We are saved by grace eternally to live better by the grace the Spirit delivers now.
These results are what the self-help books promise but can’t deliver. Will power alone goes only so far, usually a couple of weeks.
How do we get more of what the Spirit wants to deliver? By deliberately putting ourselves where the Spirit can do his life-changing work. He does that best in the context of church life focused on God’s Word and shared among believers who describe their experiences of what God has done in their lives.
Traditionally the new year is a time to look forward to a better life and how to get there. Instead, try looking backward at how your personal life has been changed for the better. See if you can identify how the Spirit did that, how he brought about greater love, joy, peace, and patience in your life.
The best part about a Spirit-shaped life is that it gets better year by year. In the power of the Spirit, the best is yet to come.
How good are you at changing your behavior by will power alone? Where do you look for help?