It’s tough to hear it said that bluntly, isn’t it? We’d prefer to think we’re just victims of forces more powerful than ourselves and while we know we probably could do better, here’s where I think most of have landed.
Most Christians have come to terms with an acceptable level of sin in their lives and feel it is either unnecessary, too difficult or too costly to do much better.
And we often find it much easier to substitute religious activities and services to others, to assuage our guilt and balance the scales we feel ourselves standing on before God. If, intuitively you know this is true in your life, then where do you go from here?
Your life and mine organizes itself around our heart. This is exactly what Jesus meant when he said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21
Our “heart” is the control center of our will – it is what gives orientation to everything we do. If our heart wants something or, someone bad enough, whether good or evil, it will compel us to make choices which help us get that which we want and reject choices which hinder us in that quest. But here’s the dilemma for Christians; often we “want” two opposing things which fight for our allegiance – the thing we really want, and the thing God, wants us to really want.
Habitual sins are a perfect example. Whether it’s substance or alcohol abuse, materialism, pornography, foul language, anger, or simply wasting time on the internet, they’ve become our “pet sins”. In The 10 Second Rule book I define them as “the sins or bad habits we’re not sure we can live without, or believe we could ever be as happy again, if we did.”
Once we’ve set our heart on something that we know is wrong, or strongly suspect is not the will of God, our minds go full swing setting up a justification logic for the sole purpose of sweeping guilt out of the path to the thing we want. It’s been my experience that most people subconsciously form a theology or a belief system to accommodate the desires of their heart, rather than God’s heart and it morphs into new “truth” for them.
We can actually come to believe these pet sins are either, not wrong, “it’s just the way I’m wired”, or not very wrong, compared to other sins. But unless you have the courage to take them on, this won’t be the last compromise with sin you’ll make, which will cripple your spiritual growth.
So how do we break the hold habitual sin has on us?
When we were truly born again or “made new” by the power of the Holy Spirit we received both the power and ability to do the will of God – that is to stop doing the things that displease God and begin doing the things that please him. Why is it then that we find ourselves still so prone to sin? It is because we are still not fully intentional about doing away with certain habitual sins.
Dallas Willard says this, “To begin with, we must have it clearly fixed in our minds that what dominates us is not some invincible, overpowering cosmic force of evil. If we believe sin is irresistible it will invariably lead to giving in and giving up. If you convince yourself that you are helpless, you can stop struggling and just 'let it happen.' That will seem a great relief – for a while. You can once more be a 'normal' human being, but then you will have to live with the consequences."1
This is the truth: nothing has the power to tempt us to wrong action except we give it that power.
This is true of any habitual sin. No one can make me sin – it’s my choice. The real problem is, you and I enjoy some sins – that’s why we do them and we’re not really sure we want to stop! And until we do – we won’t. Everyone knows that the AA program would be powerless to help anyone who has not decided to stop drinking.
Three dangerous questions.
If I’ve been forgiven, why not just do what I want anyway?
Doesn’t God want me happy?
How obedient do I really have to be to be saved?
The wrong answer to any of these three questions can distort God’s grace and weaken your resolve to resist sin.
The way to break the habit of sin is to understand exactly what sin is and what Christ wants us to do about it -- this we get from serious and regularly study of Scripture. Study the Bible regarding the root cause of your specific sin, not just the general nature of sin, but why do you continue in it? Meditate on how much of your life revolves around this sin. Second, ask the Holy Spirit to empower you to resist sin and to remind you of what pleases and displeases God.
Third, meditate on your habitual sins and make specific plans regarding what you will do differently the next time you are tempted (a pre-decision). Fourth; if necessary, remove yourself from tempting places, people, and activities. (Stop and think about your friends for a moment; there’s a very good chance you’ve chosen your friends because you share a common habitual sin, or they have other sins that make you feel more comfortable in yours.)
Fifth; get godly counsel from your pastor, or the most spiritual person you know. Sixth; make the decision now to resist the impulse to do the next thing you know or suspect is sin, even “small sins." This is the time to obey a 10 Second Rule impression!
I believe it’s the sum total of the dozens of smaller spiritual battles won or lost every day that most shapes our character. Both disobedience and obedience are cumulative. Obedient believers grow more bold, obedient, fruitful, and more confident in God – disobedient “believers," just the opposite – more disobedient and distant from God.
Finally, Willard states, “Trying to serve any other passion and God and hoping to have the best of both worlds is nonsense, and in any case you cannot imagine God would endure it.”2 He won’t and doesn’t.
My questions for you: Do you have any other ideas for breaking the habit of sin? Share them with us.
Please read these verses this week and let the Holy Spirit speak to you:
Romans 6:12-14; Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 3:5-8; James 1:13-15; I John 2:15-17; Matt. 26:41; I Cor. 10:12-13; II Cor. 10:5
1. Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (New York: Harper San Francisco Publishers), pages 342, 343.
2. Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, page 207.