The Habit Of Sin
© 09.22.2015 By D. Eric Williams
I was speaking with a young man the other day who told me that certain ungodly characteristics he possessed were not his fault but just "the way he is." I explained to him that every behavior we manifest is actually learned behavior in that it is a habitual manifestation of submission or rebellion toward God. In other words, everyone is born into sin and each person learns to express the ungodly characteristics of the natural man in their own way. Some people learn by experience that an outburst of temper will get them what they want. Others learn that the "passive aggressive" expression of anger is effective. In either case a person develops a habitual behavior when provoked. Unfortunately, many of these people maintain their ungodly habits even after they've been born again. Yet, no one can claim their ungodly behavior is "just the way they are."
Don't misunderstand me; I'm not talking about behaviorism or something that would deny free will. Instead, I am saying that each of us learns to do what we do by trial and error in our early years. We then latch onto a particular behavior and cultivate that behavior until it becomes a habit. Finally, when provoked the person with a "bad temper" reacts without even thinking. They began to rage out of (sinful) habit. Moreover, it is willful rebellion to say we cannot change our behavior. It is a denial of the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our life. It is a self-centered protection of the ungodly behavior we have come to know and love. For instance, the young man who told me he had to learn things the hard way was actually saying he preferred to put himself in the place of God and was unwilling to learn a godly approach to life. He was essentially saying that God's word isn't good enough and he preferred to come to conclusions about life on his own.
Paul speaks to the issue of habitual behavior in his letter to the church in Ephesus when he says, But that is not how you learned about the Messiah, assuming you heard about Him and were taught by Him, because the truth is in Jesus. You took off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires; you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds; you put on the new self, the one created according to God's likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth. Since you put away lying, Speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, because we are members of one another. Be angry and do not sin. Don't let the sun go down on your anger, and don't give the Devil an opportunity. The thief must no longer steal. Instead, he must do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need. No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:20-29).
Paul is telling the Ephesian believers that they should get rid of sinful habits and replace them with godly habits. And this is a critical point we need to understand if we hope to modify our behavior according to the example of Jesus Christ. It is not enough to simply stop doing one thing; we must take the next step and do the opposite. In other words, we need to break the old habits and replace them with new habits. The person who is a liar (exaggerates, embellishes, tells white lies) needs to break that habit and replace it with the habit of truthfulness. The angry person needs to break the habit of rage (or withdrawal) and replace it with the habit of speedy reconciliation. The thief needs to break the sinful habit of stealing and replace it with a godly habit of work, thrift and generosity. The bad mouthed person needs to stop using degrading language and cultivate the habit of pure, uplifting speech.
Far too many believers consider the Christian walk a life of emotion and feeling. Nothing could be further from the truth. The true Christian life is one of understanding, trust and action - with feelings bringing up the rear. For instance, faith (to borrow from Martyn Lloyd Jones) is nothing more than the refusal to panic (setting aside the ungodly habit), the recalling of God's truth and Holy Spirit guided action in light of that truth (putting on a new habit). Likewise, love is not a warm fuzzy feeling but the action of self-sacrifice - doing what most benefits the other person. It is the same with forgiveness, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control - all of the fruit of the Spirit must be cultivated until they become habit - after first putting off their ungodly counterpart.
I challenge you to start breaking and replacing a sinful habit this week. If you aren't sure where to begin, ask your pastor for his input. Or better yet, ask your spouse. Your reaction to their input may just give you the answer you seek.