CROSSING OVER ♦ HABITS
A Christian term you need to understand now is sanctification. To sanctify something means to purify it or make it holy. This is what the transformation process we’ve discussed is called. In the last lesson we learned that God made you a new creature in Christ, that old things were passing away and all things were becoming new.
I mentioned that the soul and body still deal with sin. The Bible clearly explains that the Spirit of God in you grapples against the sin that tries to dominate your soul. You must surely know by now that all the sinful appetites and thought patterns about you didn’t completely leave. Thus, the removal of lingering sin is now a duty of yours, with the Holy Spirit’s help, as you take up your cross to follow Christ. It is your offering to God and proof of your willingness to die to sin.
Christians are followers of Jesus. Even non-Christians know that Jesus was a good man who did good works. There is an image about him we all expect of those who say they follow him. Moreover, God expects us to genuinely reflect the image of Christ, too. This is more than pretense or false humility. Remember, part of our salvation hinges on our belief in who Jesus was, which was a holy man and indeed God. If his life was so pure and his death so powerful that they conquered sin and death, we should want to produce in our lives what was in his life, and to this we have been called.
A major problem new Christians encounter living for God is an endemic one: their own bad habits. We never really expect them amidst the joy and excitement we feel about our new life. Often many of the godly people around us have not informed us that we should expect them, and converts get blindsided by their old ways. These habits are repeated behaviors that cause negative emotional and, sometimes, physical consequences.
Some habits are immoral, unethical, or defective to our character and cause us spiritual turmoil and inner conflict. I am not talking about picking your nose and chewing with your mouth open, although you certainly shouldn’t do these things! I speak of a host of behaviors that arise in our day-to-day living that may intrude on our relationship with Christ and hurt our witness for him.
Consider the “cardinal” or “seven deadly” sins of classical Christianity—wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. Think about how any one of these may be at the root of a behavior pattern in your life. Now you have some idea where your “soul work” begins.
What to Do When Habits Won’t Quit
Bad habits evolve from wrong motives, bad thoughts, and emotional dysfunction. When we start living for Jesus, we quickly feel the weight of our bad habits. They are indeed burdens that weigh us down as we run toward Christ. We now recognize them for what they are because we want to do what pleases God and we still can.
Let’s pause here for a moment. Do you recall that I expressed your salvation is the life of the coming kingdom in your present reality? I want you to grasp that, here at the start of your faith walk, your living for God will be comprised of much that you do that honors and pleases the Lord and much that needs work, all at the same time. But you are never a disappointment to God. You’ve placed your trust in him, and he greatly loves you.
Don’t get frustrated because you’re battling bad thoughts or can’t stop doing something. Living for God means turning mid-stream in the current and swimming against what we once allowed to carry us along. That’s hard and promises not to be easy, but call on the Holy Spirit to assist you and he will. God doesn’t strip you of your salvation because you fight with sin; instead, he fights with you.
I must also be candid with you that there may be some things in our lives so troubling and ingrained that we might wrestle with them all of our lives. So be it—just never stop fighting it. Again, God doesn’t condemn you. The apostle Paul describes his “thorn in the flesh” this way, something in his life that disturbed him or that he struggled to overcome. But God told him that sufficient grace, or enablement, was available for him and would lead the way. Grace is available to you, also. You must be diligent, however, to rid yourself of known sin within your power to eliminate. Not doing this can lead to broken fellowship with the Lord.
The Flesh and The Fruit of the Spirit
Sinful habits get in the way of us fully serving God. The Bible uses a term for the lower, deprave nature of humans: flesh. The flesh is the soul and its components under the influence of sin. This is the part of us at war with God and that doesn’t want to do his will.
Don’t let that be a surprise to you. These are the unlovable things about you that God wants you to put to death. Moreover, the life of God in us now gives us power to live above the demands of the flesh. We are no longer slaves to sin; instead, we can live as slaves to the will of God. His will is that we bear spiritual fruit in our souls. This is how we can begin reflecting the image of Christ to the world.
In Galatians 5, the apostle Paul explains the “fruit of the Spirit” to be the alternative to the “works of the flesh.” The fruit of the Spirit epitomizes the results of salvation integrated in the components of our souls. It is salvation worked from the inside out, the result of sin removed from our hearts and bad habits broken. Let’s read it: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (vs. 22-23). I love the part at the end explaining that we can have as much of these as we desire.
Spiritual Transformation: A Lost Art
Don’t you want this fruit in your life? I know you do. The presence of these characteristics in our lives (and others like them) leads to change in our personality, emotions, volition, and thoughts. Our lives become more honorable to God because sin and clutter is removed. It’s like clearing out a field overgrown with weeds and bushes and cultivating it so that it produces a lush garden.
Fruit proves that the process of transformation within us is working, and we become more credible witnesses for Jesus…proving how his life makes every difference in ours.
But how do we get these results? What’s interesting is that the Bible has little to say about the methods for producing the spiritual results we seek. It’s not because the writers had no clue about them; instead, the methods were assumed to be common knowledge and practice. Jesus said to his disciples “when you pray” and “when you fast,” not “if you pray” or “Do you know how to fast?”
It’s different these days when spirituality is very principle-centered and church-oriented and classic spiritual disciplines are overlooked. This is what many Christians—new and veteran alike—don’t see about their life in Christ: that there are so many tools to assist their spiritual growth.
Classic Christian Spirituality
In classic Christian spirituality and most other religions, there are certain practices used to eliminate vice and produce virtue. These spiritual disciplines are methods of sacrificially lifting a person up to God that he may transform the heart. Now before you get the idea that they are foreign to you, it may surprise you that you have probably performed many of them, just not consistently and with the intent of lasting transformation. We’ve mentioned two already, prayer and fasting, but have you ever meditated? Do you practice simplicity? Are you a generous giver? The list goes on—solitude, service, confession, worship, guidance, study, reflection, submission, celebration, and many more.
The beauty of these practices—and so much is written about them in historical and contemporary books—is that real attempts to serve God by them effectively chips away at the stubborn, sinful aspects of our character that oppose godly virtue. And the more we practice them, the more we give God the opportunity to work on our hearts and establish righteousness where vice once grew.
A practice of hospitality, done unto the Lord, forces us not to be selfish by causing us to look beyond our own needs and prefer another’s. Silence tames the tongue, kills our need to vindicate ourselves, gives us better perception, and teaches us to wait on God’s answers to our problems. Do you see how these practices uproot bad habits? Each of these disciplines, or godly habits, comes with multiple benefits. Consider them medicine for the soul.
The End Goal: Relationship
Also, don’t think that the only disciplines are those you read about. Let me explain what I mean. A habit is a behavior, and just about any habit you might (sensibly) undertake to build godliness can be called a discipline. For instance, in prayer we talk to God, but most of us don’t take the time to hear him talk to us. A practice of listening or quiet would help a person hear God’s voice, not just while on his or her knees, but also in the rush of traffic or the frenzy at the office. Now listening becomes a tool of godliness—a godly habit within another!
These habits break down the division between spiritual things and secular things. We tend to compartmentalize our lives this way, but these habits help us see that all of life is spiritual. God is concerned about our total life—our family, work, desires, needs, problems, and more. The habits draw God into the center of our daily lives.
It is imperative that you learn about these classic spiritual habits (Appendix B) and practice them. They mean everything to your transformation, now and for the rest of your life. If you desire a strong relationship with God, this is how it is built because the disciplines are central to Christian practice. They are indeed the core of any true religious practice. In Christianity, however, our approach to the disciplines not only transforms us, but also draws us beyond mere religious training into deep relationship with God.
Godly habits are a means to an end, which is God. So a Christian unaware of these disciplines may not be growing and developing in faith and may have no idea what being a Christian is about besides trying to be good and going to church. Don’t be that person!
God’s Purpose & Your Responsibility
God’s purpose is that you reflect the image of Christ. He desires that you eliminate sinful habits from your life and replace them with godly virtues. Your responsibility is to prayerfully examine yourself and see where sin may be controlling you. Rid yourself of bad habits by practicing godly habits that will produce godly virtues.
INPUT: Research one spiritual discipline and commit to practicing it diligently for one week. OUTPUT: Besides the direct benefits of the discipline, notice how the practice affects your old ways and how it enhances your relationship with God.
Daily Bread: Habits
Romans 6:11-13—“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.”
2 Peter 1:5-10—“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble.”
Isaiah 59:1-2; John 15:8; Romans 6; 12:1-2; Galatians 5; 6:8