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Two-faced gods and New Year's resolutions

“He’s a two-faced liar.”

A dramatic image of human inconsistency. The two-faced individual. The heart of hypocrisy and dubious intentions. The opposite of truthfulness, honesty and integrity.

Dr. David Zuccolotto is a former pastor and clinical psychologist. | Courtesy of David Zuccolotto

Unfortunately we all struggle with the two-faced nature of life. We would like to be perfectly true to ourselves and others, but we haven’t mastered that challenge.

I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:18-19)

Even those who don’t think they have a two-faced problem.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)

It is the disharmony of the soul, but celebrated cure of the New Year’s resolution — a new me, a “do over,” the chance to try again. An ancient tradition of hope and renewal.

In 4000 B.C., the ancient Babylonians celebrated their new year by making promises to their gods. They believed that if they kept their word, the gods would look favorably on them for the year ahead.

In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar established January 1 as the beginning of the New Year. Named after Janus, the two-faced god, January had special significance for the Romans. The two faces of Janus each looked in different directions. Backwards into the previous year and the other face looking into the future. The troubles of the past and hope for renewal. Romans offered sacrifices to Janus, making resolutions for the New Year.

The appeal to the gods illustrated the underlying conflict of a New Years resolution. The need to be true to oneself and others, versus the harsh realities of our inconsistencies and weaknesses.

There is another option. Consider the words of Jesus.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.' But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37)

In the verse above Jesus contrasts the legalism of the Pharisees with a deeper spiritual transformation. The Pharisees believed adherence to God’s law was the gymnasium of the soul, able to transform one into the person intended by God; just as an athlete trains at the gym to develop the body of a champion. Pharisees added vows to give weight to one’s promise.

Instead Jesus said, “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.”

My Dad was one of those guys. A simple “Yes” or “No” man. A man of his word. Growing up I frequently heard people say, “If Zuccolotto gives you his word, that’s enough. No contracts needed.” Sometimes my Dad may have over shot the target, promising more than he could deliver. But it never mattered because people knew my Dad was committed, gave it 100% and would do what he could, even when he himself had to take a loss. It wasn’t that he kept his word perfectly, but that his heart was perfectly committed.

It is similar to Jesus answering the question, “What is the greatest commandment?” Was it the top three Ten Commandments, with a special vow thrown it to cement the deal? No! Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:3)

Does loving God mean we don’t follow His law? To the contrary, to love God with all our heart is the motivation to obey his Word:

If anyone obeys His word, love for God is truly made complete. (1 John 1: 5-6)

Christians don’t keep God’s word perfectly, but are perfectly committed to His will. The tension is still there.  The desire to be true to one’s word and to others, versus our shortcomings and weaknesses. But in Christ the conflict has been solved. Perfection comes through the crucifixion and grace of God, not from our personal vows and resolutions. Living a life of grace gives us the confidence and desire to obey God’s Word, not the ability to keep it without sin.

In Christ we don’t need a two-faced god. We do not need to swear by heaven or earth, or vow before the Holy city of Jerusalem. Jesus is our New Year’s resolution.

Dr. David Zuccolotto is a former pastor and clinical psychologist. For 35 years he has worked for hospitals, addiction treatment centers, outpatient clinics and private practice. He is the author of The Love of God: A 70 Day Journey of Forgiveness

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