People have been making New Year’s Resolutions for 4,000 years. Before Jesus walked the earth, men and women were resolving to make changes around the turn of the new year.
Since the advent of Christianity, plenty of Jesus-followers have adopted this practice. After all, resolutions appear to be a healthy way to create sustainable new habits and goals after the holidays.
But is it Biblical to make New Year’s Resolutions?
New Year’s Resolutions Around the World
Before asking if New Year’s Resolutions are Biblical, let’s look at the tradition in different cultural contexts. It might surprise you to know that New Year’s Resolutions are not an exclusively Western tradition. They’re not limited to mainstream culture, either.
A study found that people in different countries were more likely to make certain kinds of New Year’s resolutions.
In the United States, many people resolve to be healthier around the start of January 1st (no surprise there). But the same also applies for people in Egypt. In India, many people set goals related to work. And in Japan and Australia, people have resolutions concerning love and romance.
Another interesting study conducted several decades ago observed New Year’s Resolutions in an Amish context. It found that Amish children are more likely to focus on the process of achieving a goal, while non-Amish American children are more likely to focus on the end result. For example, a non-Amish child might resolve to get straight A’s on their report card; an Amish child might resolve to spend more time on homework.
New Year’s Resolutions might say a lot about who we are, and what we prioritize. But that doesn’t answer the question: Is it okay for a follower of Jesus to set New Year’s Resolutions?
The Roots of New Year’s Resolutions
To help us answer that question, let’s look at the origins of New Year’s Resolutions.
Four millennia ago, the ancient Babylonians are said to have resolved to do two positive things around the new year: return what they’ve borrowed, and pay off debt.
Those two practices do align with Biblical principles concerning money: avoiding debt and borrowing money (Proverbs 22). Generally speaking, you should always resolve to pay off your debt and give back what you’ve borrowed as quickly as possible!
The ancient Babylonians certainly weren’t a picture of godliness, however. In the Bible, Babylon is synonymous with idolatry, sexual sin, and pride. Even in popular culture today, Babylon stands as a symbol of excess.
Because of their sin, the prophet Jeremiah said, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: The broad wall of Babylon shall be leveled to the ground, and her high gates shall be burned with fire. The peoples labor for nothing, and the nations weary themselves only for fire.” (Jeremiah 51:58)
In the New Testament, John has a vision of the future, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.” (Revelation 18:2)
Clearly, we’re not meant to imitate the Babylonians.
Do we throw out New Year’s Resolutions because they have their roots in an ancient Babylonian habit? Or is there a Biblical basis for starting fresh at the New Year?
What Does God Say About Resolutions?
New Year’s Resolutions don’t have Biblical origins, but there is Biblical justification for the ideas of resolve, change, and transformation.
There is also a Biblical basis for the New Year.
Let’s take a look.
Bible Verses About Resolutions
The Bible encourages us to strive for godliness. It also advises us to develop healthy habits. Here are some Bible verses about resolutions.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31)
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14)
Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in forced labor. (Proverbs 12:24)
Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. (Proverbs 6:6-8)
The Bible tells us to strive to love others, get rid of sin, avoid debt, and work hard. In one sense, these are resolutions.
What Does the Bible Say About the New Year?
The Biblical new year doesn’t start on January 1st. Instead, it starts during Rosh Hashanah, which typically falls in either September or October. Meaning “head of the year,” Rosh Hashanah is the name for the Jewish New Year.
The Biblical new year marks a time of introspection and awe. Rosh Hashanah kicks off a 10-day period where practicing Jews are meant to repent for their sins and find renewal. Professor Steven T. Katz at Boston University says, “The mood of the whole 10 days is….very much in keeping with the Jewish notion that it’s not just a matter of God’s grace, but a matter of human energy.”
As followers of Christ, we believe that it’s only by grace that we can find true repentance and change. But the Jewish foundation for Rosh Hashanah does tell us something significant about the New Year from a Biblical perspective: It’s an opportunity to start fresh.
A Final Word on New Year’s Resolutions and the Bible
There’s no simple answer to the question, “Are New Year’s Resolutions Biblical?”
You might have personal convictions about the non-Biblical roots of New Year’s Resolutions. Or, you might feel that there’s redemptive value in setting resolutions.
Whatever you decide about the New Year, it’s never the wrong time to create new habits like reading your Bible every day, regularly praying for a family member, or even exercising and eating healthier.
To read more about the New Year on the Tithe.ly blog, check out these articles:
- 3 Ways to Make a Christ-Centered Start in the New Year
- 4 Sermon Ideas to Start the New Year Right
- 20 Bible Verses for the New Year
- 7 Ideas for Your New Year’s Church Service
To learn more about how Tithe.ly can help your church get off to a great start in the new year, click here.