It’s the first week of the new year — a time when everyone takes a moment to reflect on last year and make a list, at least mentally, of things they would like to do differently this year. Most of us call these lists our new year’s resolutions.

Up until today, I had decided that I wasn’t going to make any new year’s resolutions, because I was tired of making lists of goals that I already knew I was going to fail at. I had decided that no matter how much I wanted to change and no matter how hard I tried, I was just going to continue to screw up and fail to live my life the way that I wanted to and knew I should. Why bother starting a diet for the 100th time just so I could be disappointed in myself again? Why bother getting excited about all the remodeling I will get done on the house this year just to fail again? And why bother setting all these wonderful goals for Bible study, Scripture memorization and prayer just to end this year being the same disobedient child of God that I was last year? Seriously. Why bother?

If wanting to change and trying to change doesn’t ever seem to work, then why bother? If I were truly able to change myself, I would have done it by now.

So, what is the secret to changing?

I know everything would be all right if I could just figure out how to make one change in my life: if I could become obedient to my heavenly Father. If I could just learn to obey him, I know everything else in life would work out. That’s the only change I really need, but I just can’t figure out how to change myself.

So I ask again, what is the secret to changing? How can I become an obedient child of God?

Did you know that God answers that question in his Word? Let me warn you though, the answer might surprise you.

For the longest time, I thought that the way to become an obedient child of God was to learn how he wanted me to behave and then do my best to obey him. Did you know that’s not what God wants from you? He doesn’t want you to learn all his rules and then do your best to obey them.

God didn’t create you to obey him. Let me say that again, so it can sink in. God didn’t create you to obey him. Now, I didn’t say that he doesn’t want your obedience. I just said that he did not create you for the purpose of obeying him. God created you so that he could love you and you can love him in return. God created you to love him. He did not create you to obey him.

And you shall 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 12:30 (ESV)

Here is the key to understanding this: love produces obedience. If a person loves God, they will obey him. Their obedience to him will flow from their love for him.

Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome.
— 1 John 5:3 (NLT)

You see, God created you to love him, knowing that if you loved him perfectly, you would obey him perfectly. Love produces obedience, and perfect love produces perfect obedience. The failure of mankind was not a failure of obedience, but a failure of love. All of mankind, starting with Adam and Eve, have failed to love God perfectly, which has resulted in a failure to obey God perfectly.

To any of you that are parents: would you be satisfied with your child hating you, as long as they obeyed you perfectly? Would their perfect obedience please you so much that you didn’t care about the fact that they didn’t love you at all? I don’t think so. Of course you want your child to obey you, but it is their love that you truly desire. Perfect obedience in the absence of love could never satisfy a parent, but perfect obedience that flowed from perfect love would result in the ultimate satisfaction for a parent.

That is what your heavenly Father desires from you. Not your obedience, but love that produces obedience. God commands us to love him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. So, ultimately, any attempt at obedience that doesn’t flow directly from love is not really obedience, is it?

Here is the main point of all this: love produces obedience. So, if you desire to be a more obedient child of God this year, you will only accomplish your goal by growing to love God more this year. Not by making resolutions or by focusing on obeying the rules better. Your obedience to God will grow as your love for him grows. There is no other way. This is the secret to changing.

Focusing on obeying never leads to obedience. Focusing on God leads to obedience. So, if you must make a new year’s resolution, the only resolution you need is to spend more time getting to know God and falling in love with him.