Beliefs Culture Ethics Institutions Jonathan Merritt: On Faith and Culture Opinion

Billy Graham’s grandson warns against New Year’s resolutions

Image courtesy of Tullian Tchividjian
Image courtesy of Tullian Tchividjian

Image courtesy of Tullian Tchividjian

Tullian Tchividjian is no stranger to controversy. As a prominent pastor and the grandson of Billy Graham, he has taken Christians to task for their legalism, indicted them for their political partisanship, and had a public tiff with The Gospel Coalition, a web community for Calvinist Christians. As 2015 dawns, he is picking a new fight–with New Year’s resolutions.

Here, we discuss why he thinks they can be spiritually damaging, why it matters, and how these ideas relate to his newest book, It is Finished: 365 Days of Good News.

RNS: Why do so many people make New Year’s Resolutions when they all fail anyway – what do you think is driving this? 

TT: It’s not so much New Year’s resolutions themselves but what lies underneath the seemingly innocuous act of making them that needs to be re-evaluated. Down deep, every one of us longs to be loved, accepted, appreciated, respected, and so on. We want our lives to count. And we conclude that if we’re going to experience these things, we have to make it happen by doing more, trying harder, losing weight, behaving better, etc. In other words, underneath our New Year’s resolutions is the drive to save ourselves by generating our own value, significance, meaning, and security by what we do and by who we can become.

RNS: You write that making New Year’s Resolutions puts undue pressure on us. How so?

TT: When it’s up to you to go out and get the love you crave, create your own worth, or work at becoming acceptable to those you want to impress, life gets heavy. [tweetable]New Year’s Resolutions are a burdening attempt to fix ourselves and make ourselves more lovable.[/tweetable] But here’s the good news: God loves us as we are, not as we should be.

God’s love for me, approval of me, and commitment to me does not ride on my resolve for God but on God’s resolve for me. God always meets my messes with his mercy, my failures with his forgiveness, and my guilt with his grace. The Gospel of Jesus Christ announces that because Jesus won for you, you’re free to lose; because Jesus was strong for you, you’re free to be weak; because Jesus was extraordinary, you’re free to be ordinary; because Jesus succeeded for you, you’re free to fail.

RNS: Do you think rigorously setting New Year’s resolutions can be spiritually damaging then?

TT: Let me be clear: making changes in your life is not a bad thing. But these things become damaging, spiritually or otherwise, when we see them as ways to justify ourselves. Robert Capon once said that “the greatest temptation is to think that it is by further, better, and more aggressive living that we can find life.” Thinking that we can save ourselves by our works, in other words, is not just a bad theological idea, it’s a terrible way to live.

finishedRNS: What is “performancism” and how is it driving us to make bad decisions? 

TT: Performancism is the mindset that equates our identity and value directly with our performance. It says that how I look, how intelligent I am, how my kids turn out, what people think of me is synonymous with my worth. To all of us performancists, success equals life and failure equals death. This, of course, smothers our freedom. Instead of living life from love, we live life for love. Rather than living life from acceptance, we live life for acceptance. This dictates all of our decisions regarding what we pursue, who we “let in”, and how we let people see us.

Performancists have to pretend, hide their flaws, accomplish, please, and manage. The Gospel is good news because it announces that Jesus came to set us free from the demand to measure up, from the burden to get it all right, from the obligation to fix ourselves and others. He came to relieve us of the burden we feel to win, to get ahead, to be on top of everything. He came to set us free from the pressure to be right, regarded, and respected. We don’t have to live under weight of making all our dreams come true if we’re going to matter. The Gospel of Grace announces that Jesus came to satisfy the deep judgment against us once and for all so that we could be free from the judgment of God, others, and ourselves.

RNS: What if someone made a New Year’s Resolution to read It Is Finished for the next 365 days? Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

TT: It could be. As long as they don’t think that reading a devotional every day will make God love and accept them more. My hope and prayer is that God would use these daily readings to make our lives lighter, to relieve us, and to set us free.  Because the truth is, that the nagging internal voice that is constantly whispering  “Do this and live” is only silenced by the external voice that shouts “It is finished.”

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.

ADVERTISEMENTs