Best estimates tell us that nearly 40% of the population engages in the annual practice of setting New Year’s Resolutions. Those same statistics tell us that fewer than 8% of people actually fulfill their resolutions and that the majority have failed by the time February rolls around. There a number of reasons people make – and fail – their personal goals. Despite the high rate of failure, many of us recognize the importance of setting goals because we understand that "if you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time." The setting of and striving towards certain goals is a critical part of personal development and professional achievement.
When applied to personal sanctification, however, this old maxim still rings true. Godliness doesn't just happen—you must be proactive in pursuing it. That is why we are given commands throughout Scripture towards that end. At the end of the day, there is a single resolution that matters before the Lord and it has to do with selecting the pathway your life will follow. For those reading this article who know and fear God, we know that righteousness is required from all of God’s people. With that in mind, as we look towards setting our priorities for the new year, how do we, as people who desire godliness, plan for righteousness? To help us answer that question let’s take a look at Psalm 1.
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish.
Psalm 1 is profound, but it is not complex. It is a text that is fundamental to any discussion on Christian commitment or resolution because it gives us an equation for success in the pursuit of godliness. The equation is this: a life of godliness equals the pursuit of righteousness plus flight from wickedness. You cannot pursue righteousness without fleeing wickedness. You cannot flee wickedness without pursuing righteousness. If either of those two elements are missing, the pattern of your life will not be godliness. The Psalmist impresses this equation upon us by vividly using the imagery of a pathway to help us understand the necessity of and consequences from your resolutions towards righteousness.
The Path of Righteousness Results in Stability | Vv. 1-3
The text tells us right out of the gate that the righteous man is the blessed man. In Hebrew, we call this the petrified condition—it is always the case. The one who is righteous is always blessed. That might not mean that you have the nicest car in the driveway or the biggest house on the block, but the righteous man is blessed in that he knows his heart is pure and he is able to stand before a holy God in right relationship with him. Jesus reiterates this point in Matthew 5:6 when He says, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...." We are blessed as we make progress in becoming more like our Master.
Stability Comes From Rejecting Wickedness
The author of this Psalm takes us by the elbow and escorts us down a very dark path, educating us on exactly what the way of wickedness looks like. If we're not aware of what the path of the wicked looks like, how are we to avoid it?
The progression of the Psalm moves through walking with the wicked to standing with the sinners until it ends with sitting with the scoffers. The hard truth here is that if you're not moving forward in Christlikeness, then you're moving back towards your sinfulness. If you're not progressing in sanctification, then you’re progressing in sinfulness.
The blessed man, the righteous man, flees from this path of the wicked, for he understands where it ends. This person started out by merely listening to bad counsel that had thrust itself upon him. Yet when he gets to the end of this dark path, he ends up in total rebellion against God. Scripture tells us that to be friends with the world is to be the enemy of God (James 4:4).
Stability Comes From Seeking the Truth
In contrast with what he is not, the psalmist now tells us what the righteous man is. The righteous man meditates on the law of the Lord day and night. The righteous man is entirely different from the wicked man. Rather than scoffing at truth, he views God's Word as a treasure that is to be pursued at all costs. The term the psalmist used here is the word for strong desire. It's the word used to describe a desire for costly jewels or treasure. He's saying that if you are to be righteous, if you are to be blessed, you must pursue, at all costs, the Word of God. You must spend your life in search of the vast fortune found within its pages. The righteous man is intent upon seeking his Savior in the pages of Scripture.
The first half of the Psalm has demonstrated that the man who resolves in his heart to forsake wickedness and pursue the knowledge of God results in that man being firmly planted in his life and flourishing in his product. In short, as the text says, “in whatever he does, he prospers.” Resolving to follow the path of the righteous results in a life of stability that is deeply rooted in its knowledge of God.
Standing in direct contrast to the stability of the righteous man is a second pathway that is revealed in the second half of this Psalm.
The Way of Wickedness Results in Destruction | Vv. 4-6
There's a powerful contrast between verses three and four. In verse three, we see the righteous man firmly planted with roots driven deep into the soil, and no storm is able to uproot him. Yet the wicked, the text says in verse four, are not so. The same wind that proves the strength of the righteous man turns to destroy the wicked man.
Wickedness Results in Instability
When you wanted a loaf of bread in the ancient world, you couldn’t just drive down to the local grocer and buy one. You had to start with the raw materials—the actual grain. Yet, if you've ever tried to eat a raw piece of grain, you'll know that it doesn't taste very good. It has to be threshed first. There are kernels of wheat within a husk, and that husk has to be removed. To accomplish this, they would take large stones or pieces of wood and roll them over a threshing floor filled with wheat. Once crushed, the floor would be covered with the grain and chaff. Then they would use a pitchfork and throw the mixture into the air. The chaff would blow away, and the heavier kernels of wheat would fall to the ground.
In Verse 4, the psalmist tells us the wicked are not like the tree, which can't be blown away. The wicked are like chaff which the wind drives away with slightest of breezes. It's the most transitory, unstable, miniscule comparison that the author can give to us. If the resolution of the righteous results in stability, then the waywardness of the wicked ends with instability and destruction.
Wickedness Results in Weakness
Beyond a simple lack of stability, the terrifying reality in Verse 5 is that the way of the wicked ends in catastrophe. Here we see that the wicked man is weak before the Lord: “the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous." The connotation of the text focuses upon the inability to pull oneself upright. The wicked man ends up bowed low to the ground, unable to actually stand. Because of this person's moral worthlessness in the face of God’s worthiness, he is forced into a position of submission. He's no longer hotly scorning the righteous, or arrogantly ignoring God. Rather, he ends up crushed, destroyed, and fit only to be burned as chaff. The end of the wicked man is disaster.
What path are you on?
This is the question posed by the final verse in the Psalm and is the very question that every person must confront as they enter the new year. Resolutions are nice and they can be helpful tools, but the only resolution that matters before God is the resolution of the wise individual to know God and pursue the righteousness found only in relationship to Jesus Christ.
Because of the work of Christ, we are now able to rely upon Him in our pursuit of righteousness. That is the joy of being filled with the Holy Spirit. He is our helper, convicting us of our sin and strengthening us to pursue the path of the righteous.
And yet, if the reader resolves in his heart to ignore righteousness and pursue wickedness apart from Christ, he will be completely destroyed. The futile and fragile resolutions he makes to better himself or make his external life look good will be burned up as chaff before the fire of a holy God. As 2019 dawns, do not deceive yourself or those around you; God is not confused about which path you’re on.
Therefore, the vital question for each of us as we look at the next year is very clear from this text: "Are my resolutions for 2019 the resolutions of a righteous person who seeks to pursue the blessing of God by walking in His way, rather than the way of the wicked?”
The path of the righteous and the path of the wicked stretch out before us into the new year and the resulting fork demands a decision: Will you follow Christ down the path of the righteous, or will you become the unnamed scoffer, sitting in the middle of the wrong path, on a path to nowhere of any value? As you make your resolutions for 2019, the challenge of God’s Word to you is that you would resolve to strive after godliness by pursuing the kind of righteousness you see in the life of Christ, and by fleeing from the wickedness that He hates.