Unpacking “New Year, New Me”

This article is part of the Unpacking Culture series in which we examine a well-known axiom and weigh any true or positive aspects of it against any negative or misleading connotations of the phrase.

Resolutions Gone Wrong

I like to make New Year’s resolutions as much as anyone. I declare with many Americans every January, “New year, new me.” My resolutions, like most, surround my physical and spiritual health, as well as investing more time in things that matter (like family) and avoiding spending time on things that don’t (like my iPhone screen).

Studies show that almost 40% of American adults make New Year’s resolutions.1 We’re all captivated by the flip of the calendar and a fresh start. New beginnings pull like gravity.

Enough about Me

Jen Oshman

This book calls women to look away from new self-improvement strategies in order to find the abundant life and joy God offers them in Jesus.

Exercising more is the top New Year’s resolution for Americans, with 48% of resolution makers setting that as their primary goal. The next top five resolutions are eating healthier, losing weight, saving more money, pursuing a career ambition, and spending less time on social media.

While our collective declaration of “New year, new me” is powerful on January 1, it loses strength and steam quickly. The second Friday in January is known as Quitters Day because so many of us give up by then. Only 9% of us successfully carry our goals to completion.

What’s True behind “New Year, New Me”

The desire to remake ourselves is universal because, being made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), his truth resonates with us. It’s innate within us. And especially here in the US, where our culture and values have been historically shaped by Christian influences, we have a collective worldview that borrows biblical truth. Here are three examples of Biblical truth hidden inside “New year, new me.”

We understand our lives are limited. Americans declare, “YOLO!” You only live once. We know and feel the brevity of life. Whether we acknowledge it or not, that’s a biblical truth. James puts it this way, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). Our God has impressed on each of us that this life is short, and we each only have one.

We want to spend our lives well. Living in the reality that our lives are brief, we want to make them count. While many Americans fall short of wanting to make their lives count for the sake of Jesus, most sense that they’re meant to make an impact, to help others, or to somehow leave a mark on this world. The psalmist says, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). Whether for God’s glory or our own, we want to spend our lives well.

We understand we have a purpose. We ask even very young children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As adults we ask one another, “What do you do?” There’s a universal awareness between us that we have a purpose, that we’re all meant to be busy about something that matters. While the non-believer may not acknowledge it, we Christians know “we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

These truths are universal because they are from the very heart of the Creator who made us. But when we separate these truths from the foundation of our Maker, who also desires to be our Savior, it leads to destruction. Untethered from God in heaven, the drive behind “New year, new me” leads to the idolatry of self.

“New Year, New Me” in the Age of Self

In the 21st Century we claim we are self-made and self-sufficient. Everything from online college degrees to bathroom renovations is DIY—do it yourself. For most of us, when we say, “New year, new me,” we mean that we will pursue self-improvement via self-help and self-control. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps is as American as apple pie. But when our New Year’s resolutions are rooted only in ourselves, we discover some tough truths about our human condition. Here are just three, which reveal the flimsiness of depending on ourselves rather than on the God who made us.

We find we are finite. Humans are limited creatures. We don’t have endless motivation, energy, and will. Everyone who has ever made a resolution has hit a limit. In our own strength, we simply cannot go on forever. It takes more than sheer force of will to make a real change.

To pursue the good life outside of Christ is futile.

We find we need infinite affirmation. When we determine our own identity, our own goals, our own purpose—when our values are self-made and not rooted in something outside of ourselves—we must hold ourselves up and convince ourselves that we are enough. When we insist on being self-made, the source and supply of our motivation must also be self-made. We depend on endless affirmation to know we are doing it right.

We ultimately defeat ourselves. The self-help cycle of self-empowerment fueled by self-praise ultimately proves self-defeating. The primary reason people give for failing in their New Year’s resolutions is losing motivation. To be self-dependent is just too much. We are finite and fallen and fragile. While it may feel like we have what it takes on January 1st, we all know from personal experience that our own determination runs out. Self-help ultimately leads to self-defeat.

Being Made Truly New

Desiring to become a new version of ourselves is not a twenty-first century idea but a biblical idea. It’s precisely what happens when we embrace the gospel. The apostle Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Jesus loves us and gave himself for us so that we might become new creations, reconciled to our Father in heaven. Created by God and for God, it is his kindness and mercy alone that make us new from the inside out. “For by grace [we] have been saved through faith. And this is not [our] own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9).

The process of being made new is initiated and completed by our Maker and Savior—not you or me. Our God is at work within us, “for those who love God, all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:28–29). The Lord is growing us and changing us, making us more like Jesus every single day.

This New Year’s Day, let’s not settle for “New year, new me.” Let’s not settle for self-will and self-help and self-control. Let’s not settle for quick fixes and superficial changes because New Year’s resolutions will not satisfy or sustain if they are rooted in ourselves. Rather, Christ in us is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27).

Here’s what’s true this New Year’s Day and every other day: you and I and all humans were made by God and for God (Col. 1:17). Therefore, we will not find purpose, peace, or satisfying soul-deep change outside of God. He is the source of our lives, the goal of our lives, and the substance of our lives. To pursue the good life outside of Christ is futile.

By all means, “New year, new me” this year and every year. But may the new versions of you and me be truly new. Together let’s pray, God in heaven, make us new, day by day, more and more in your image, for your glory. Help us to settle for nothing less.


  1. All research in this article comes from https://insideoutmastery.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/

Jen Oshman is the author of Enough about Me: Find Lasting Joy in the Age of Self.

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