Following a year of living in old familiar ruts, we welcome January with renewed hope for self-improvement. After carefully evaluating our lives and planning appropriate changes, we confidently make our New Year’s resolutions. Enthusiasm runs high for the first few weeks, but before long, our old habits beckon us to relax and slide down into those comfortable patterns. By February, most of us are right back where we started, wondering why we couldn’t stick with it.
There’s nothing wrong with having a desire to become a better person, but have you tried asking God what He wants to do in your life this year? Isaiah 55:8-9 says that His ways and thoughts are higher than ours. As proof of this, just consider these common recommendations on how to improve your life: Put yourself first, believe in yourself, create your own reality, and follow your heart. These are nothing like the instructions found in God’s Word. The only way to become the best we can be is by following His recommendations.
READ Luke 6:39-49
At first glance, this passage seems to be a compilation of unrelated illustrations, but verse 39 introduces it as a single parable. In the previous verses (vv. 17-38), Jesus was explaining the blessings and responsibilities of discipleship. Our passage is simply a continuation of that theme. It begins with a warning that a blind man is a terrible guide who will lead you into a pit (v. 39). Since Satan has blinded the spiritual eyes of the unbelieving (2 Cor. 4:4), all their recommendations for self-empowerment won’t help you become a better person. Instead, you will end up in a pit of self-centeredness. Christians are called to walk as children of Light, trying to learn what pleases the Lord (Eph. 5:8-10). We should never live as if we’re spiritually sightless, following a blind guide’s advice.
Jesus’ next illustration features a pupil who becomes like his teacher after being fully trained (Luke 6:40). This is the ultimate form of self-improvement and should be the goal of every believer—to become like our Teacher, Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29). However, this transformation requires that we cooperate with His training program. His lessons involve studying Scripture, getting to know Him intimately, learning to pray according to His will, serving and loving one another, and even taking some field trips into suffering. Some of His lessons are painful, but they are the only way to become like Christ.
The next step in our quest for transformation is honest self-evaluation (Luke 6:41-42). Jesus described a self-deceived person as one who walks around with a log sticking out of his eye and yet believes that he is able to take a speck out of someone else’s. He’s totally unaware of his sin, which is very evident to others. Although the picture is humorous, the reality is not. If we truly desire to become Christlike, we must identify and overcome the sins that are blinding us.
Jesus tells us that true transformation begins internally, not externally. He uses the example of good and bad trees that can produce only fruit that corresponds with their nature (vv. 43-45). Before reforming our behavior, we must deal with sinful thoughts, attitudes, and desires, because everything we do and say flows from whatever fills our hearts (v. 45). As we become more like Christ inside, it will become apparent externally.
Jesus’ final word picture was of two houses representing two lifestyles. One is built on a foundation of obedience to God, but the other is not (vv. 46-49). The lesson is obvious. If you want a self-improvement program that really works, it must be based on obedience to God’s Word. Without that, everything you build your life upon will crumble in the storms of life.
REFLECT + EXPLORE
Reflect on the following insights from supporting scriptures. If you have the time, explore the suggested passages and journal your responses.
• The apostle Paul was a man who strived for excellence in his life.
Read Philippians 3:7-11. What were his goals? Are these your goals as well?
• Paul demonstrated tenacity in his walk with Christ.
Read Philippians 3:12-14. What did he do to reach his goals? Is your life characterized by this same persistence?
• Paul left us a pattern to follow.
Read Philippians 3:15-21. What advice and hope does he offer as you strive to follow in his steps?
• At the end of his life, Paul had no regrets about the course he’d chosen.
Read 2 Timothy 4:6-8. How did he describe his accomplishments? What changes will you have to make in your life to finish well, as Paul did?
Answer the following questions, journaling your thoughts if possible.
• If you asked the Lord how He plans to work in your life during 2014, what kind of New Year’s resolutions do you think He’d want you to make?
• Have you ever tried to change a bad habit or overcome a sin without first dealing with the heart issue that fuels it? What were the results?
• Does your life resemble the house that stands firm or the one that falls apart in the storms of life? What practical steps can you take to build upon a foundation of obedience this year?