A story is told of a teacher who wanted to show her pupils the power of habits and how they are formed through repeated actions or thoughts. Taking a roll of thread, she wrapped it one time around a student’s wrists that were placed together. “That,” she said, “represents your doing something one time. Can you break the thread?” The student did so easily.
Then she wrapped the thread around his wrists, two, three, four, five or more times. The effort to break the thread became more and more difficult until finally the child was unable to free his hands. “That,” she said, “is what happens when acts are repeated until they become habits.”
We all have them, and perhaps you already know what your bad habit is and you want to break it. Here are seven things you can do to break free from that bondage.
1. Call That Bad Habit a Sin, and Put It Under the Blood of Christ
I think it helps us to realize we aren’t just trying to break a bad habit—we are endeavoring to root out and overcome a sinful tendency in our lives.
Colossians 3 and 4 teaches we are to put off our previous way of living, which is corrupted by sin, and to take on our new life in Christ, which is clothed in righteousness and holiness. So we have to stop lying, getting angry, and speaking unwholesomely; avoid any hint of sexual immorality, impurity, or greed; and we have to clean up our language and learn to choose our words carefully.
All these items are sinful habit patterns that God wants to deal with in our lives. He views these “habits” as sin, and they need to be confessed and put under the blood of Christ. Then He will replace them with a new set of behaviors.
2. Walk in the Spirit
Second, memorize and obey Galatians 5:16, which teaches us to walk in the Spirit in order to not fulfill the lust of the flesh. I had a professor once who said that many Christians read this verse backward. They think if they are not fulfilling the lust of the flesh they can walk in the Spirit. And so they try with all their might to overcome their addictions and lusts and they try to do it in their own energy. But we can never overcome our besetting sins by ourselves. We must come in full surrender to Jesus Christ, confessing our sins, and yielding ourselves to Him so that by His grace we can walk in the Spirit. And as we walk in the Spirit, the indwelling Jesus Christ, by the power of his Spirit, begins to live His own life through us. And when that happens, we find we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
3. Make No Provision for the Flesh
Now, we certainly need to cooperate in the process because the same Bible that tells us to walk in the Spirit also tell us in Romans 13:14 to make no provision for the flesh. In other words, with the help of our indwelling Christ, we need to make strategic changes in our lives that will starve the bad habits and encourage the new ones.
Some time ago while we were on an extended vacation, I asked a friend to water and spray my rose bushes. When I returned I couldn’t see the rose bushes because of the weeds that had sprung up. I told my wife Katrina, “I don’t know where those weeds came from. They’re taller than the rose bushes.” Well, my friend saw the weeds starting to come up, and thinking they were bedding plants of some sort that I had planted among the roses, she had fertilized and watered them!
Our lives are very much like a flower garden. Too many of us water and fertilize the weeds.
I’ll give you an example. I have a friend who has struggled in the past with a habit of watching pornography. He came to Christ, but so far he has refused to clean out the little locked drawer in his entertainment console where his pornographic videos are kept. He said, “Well, I just don’t know what to do with them. I paid a lot of money for them, and I hate to throw them away, but I don’t feel that I should give them to anyone else, so I just have them locked up in that drawer that I never open.”
He should do with them what the Ephesians did with their sinful books and occultish materials: burn and destroy them (Acts 19).
4. Launch a New Habit as Strongly as Possible—Then Stay With It
I once read something interesting about the launching of a spacecraft. In order for a spacecraft to be successful, it literally has to break out of the tremendous gravity pull of the earth. More energy is spent in the first few minutes of liftoff than is used over the next several days to travel half a million miles.
Our bad habits are just like that gravitational pull. And just like that spacecraft has to work hard during the initial stages of liftoff to break free from gravity, we also have to exert a tremendous amount of effort to break free from a bad habit. But once we do, we are able to experience unbelievable freedom.
How long does it take to establish a new habit? There’s a little couplet that says, “A bad habit takes 21 days to break; a good habit takes 21 days to make.” However, I’ve read recently that it takes 90 days for an old habit to be broken and a new habit to be formed. Whatever the case, stick with it and don’t let yourself grow discouraged. The Bible says to put your hand to the plough and don’t look back.
5. Develop a Support Group
It is also important to have a support group to encourage you and with whom you can be accountable. When I was in college, my roommate in the dormitory was a military brat, and his father had spent a lifetime in the armed forces. He had taught Bill to clean off his desk after every project. Bill’s desk was always clean and tidy, every pencil and paper in its place. Mine was a mess, and I couldn’t find anything.
One day Bill gave me a military style lecture about the efficiency of keeping one’s desk clean. “After every project,” he said, “put everything back in its place, file things carefully, and clean your desk for the next project.” I made a decision to do just that, but I can tell you that my motivation for the longest time was knowing that Bill would pass my desk several times a day in the room. So launch your new habit as strongly as possible, and get a support group going.
6. Memorize 1 Corinthians 10:13
I don’t know of a better verse for people who are trying to break free from a besetting sin than 1 Corinthians 10:13, which teaches there is nothing we will be tempted with that someone else hasn’t already experienced. God will never allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to resist, and He always provides an escape route, if we will just take it.
Dr. LaVerne Miley was a missionary physician in the Ivory Coast for many years. One day he was greatly disturbed to learn that four of his prime converts had fallen into sexual sin. One of them, Benjamin, spoke for them all when Miley confronted them. “Monsieur,” Benjamin said, “I believe the Bible, but some parts of it only work for you white folks. Black men have a stronger sex drive than you.”
Dr. Miley turned in the Bible to 1 Corinthians 10:13 and asked Benjamin to read it. Then he asked, “Benjamin, does that promise specify skin color?” The young men were silent; then they began to weep. They confessed their sins as the doctor prayed with tears in his own eyes.
7. If You Fall, Don’t Give Up, Get Up
Proverbs 24:16 is a verse I frequently give out to people who are trying to overcome deeply entrenched negative patterns in their lives. It encourages them that though they may try and fail seven times to eradicate a sinful pattern in their life, if they stick with it they will eventually be victorious.
So we need to lay aside those bad habits, those sins, that are weighing us down and creating havoc in our Christian life, and patiently run the race the Lord has set before us, looking to Jesus, who is, after all, the author and finisher of our faith!