With the New Year upon us many are thinking about making another list of resolutions. Often these resolutions are positive, but morally neutral, changes in lifestyle, like: I will eat healthier this year; I will save more money each month; I will read more. Many resolutions, though, have to do with issues of right and wrong. Resolutions to beat an addiction, be a part of a church, be a better parent and others like them fall directly into categories of Biblical truth. In moral issues, how does a person go about changing their life to be a better, more righteous person.
Before answering the question, two important realities must be understood. Being a better person does not make you a better person. External changes to life do not change the moral uprightness of your heart. Doing what is right is good, but external change will never change the heart. As a result, being a better person will not gain entrance into heaven. Despite popular opinion, heaven is not gained by being a basically good person. Heaven is only gained by being a perfect person. (Matthew 5:48) A single failure in one tiny point is fatal. (James 2:10) The only way any one will enter heaven is by being covered in the righteousness of Jesus. Moral behavior is not enough, only the eternal righteousness of Jesus applied to the heart is sufficient to bring one into heaven. (John 14:6)
For those who desire to do what is right, the question still remains, how do you make positive changes in your behavior? Changed behavior begins with the recognition that the Bible is sufficient for every habit and choice of life. This does not mean reading or learning a Bible verse will magically make you a better person. This means the instructions of the Bible, when rightly understood and obeyed, will lead you into behavior that is right and pleasing to God. To begin making positive changes, find out what the Bible says about how you are supposed to behave. When combatting a specific sin, learn from the Bible exactly what God thinks about that sin. Let the Bible teach you how to think about behavior. However, reading the Bible is not enough. True change is impossible for anyone to accomplish in his own ability. As mentioned above, external change will never change the heart, and unless the heart is changed the behavior will not genuinely be changed for the better. To change, you must depend on God to change you through His Holy Spirit. You must depend on God to give you the desire and ability to do what is right. (Ephesians 3:16) You must know what the Bible says about your behavior and you must rely on God to change the desires of your heart then you must work diligently to do what is right. Change does not happen only by reading and prayer, change happens by intentional work to do what God has said.
A practical example may serve to illustrate the principles. Geoff is an angry man. Geoff has finally recognized the damage his anger is doing to his relationships, his family, his work and his own health. Geoff resolves to conquer his wicked anger and so he turns to the Bible and begins to understand the Biblical truths about his anger. He realizes that he is like a city without any defenses (Proverbs 25:28), is a regular perpetrator of oracular homicide (Proverbs 18:21) and is in general a fool (Proverbs 14:29; 29:11). He discovers that his anger must be replaced with gentleness, kindness and other fruits of the Spirit. He cries out to God, confesses his sin and pleads for God to give him victory. He then sets out to fill his mind and heart with the BIble so he will think rightly in tense situations. He pauses before speaking to think about how his words will affect others. When he does get angry, he confesses his sin to God and those who were affected by his anger. He diligently works to do what he ought and relies on God to change his heart, attitude and actions. Change is produced by knowing the Word of God and being diligent to obey it in full reliance on His Spirit to make the change in you.