How can I overcome a bad habit?
A bad habit is usually connected to wrong beliefs and attitudes. We should not want to change a habit only because it is embarrassing, expensive, unhealthy, or makes us feel guilty–rather we should want God’s perfect will for our lives to be fulfilled. Until we deal with the underlying wrong beliefs that weaken our resistance to the bad habit, we will not be successful in overcoming it.
The believer must see that bad habits are ultimately spiritual issues. We must not hesitate to call them sins. Don’t play games with God. We need to realize that daily time in the Word of God and prayer are absolutely essential for overcoming any bad habit.
We are responsible for our own sin–including those sins “which so easily beset us.” The fact that we do something wrong habitually does not relieve us of responsibility. On the contrary, it may make the sin all the worse. So we must take personal responsibility for our own sinful habits and not makes excuses for ourselves.
Sinful habits are not insurmountable problems for believers. After all, the Holy Spirit indwells us and is working to conform us to the image of Christ. And if God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31) Furthermore, Galatians 5:16 says that if we “walk by the Spirit, we will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” And 1 Corinthians 10:13 is a promise that God will not permit us to be tempted beyond our ability. If we make use of the resources provided by God through His Spirit and His Word, we can attack any habit knowing that we will win. Bottom line: we do not have to be a slave to any bad habits!
Let me make some practical suggestions for overcoming bad habits that I think you will find helpful.
First of all, remember that sin begins in the mind. James 1:14-15 compares a person falling into sin to a fish or animal that is caught with bait. It sees the bait, desires it, and is trapped in the process of grabbing it. Likewise, sins that ensnare us begin in the mind. The person who steals first thinks about the thing he wants. He then thinks of a plan for getting it. After he has schemed in his mind, he takes it. He could have stopped the sin in his mind before it became completed in his action. That’s why Scripture commands us to renew our minds (Romans 12:2), to think about good things (Philippians 4:8), and to meditate on the Word (Psalm 1:2).
Defeating a habit also requires changes in lifestyle. We are to make no provision for the flesh (Romans 13:14). The person who wants to stop smoking should throw away all his cigarettes and not buy any more; the person struggling with sexual sin should get rid of any suggestive materials in his possession. Avoid the company of those who have the same problem (1 Corinthians 15:33), and avoid the places and circumstances which tempt you.
Finally, don’t try to battle a bad habit alone. Develop relationships with more mature believers who will encourage and support you (Galatians 6:2). Spend time in prayer with them. Ask them to “check up on you” regularly, and be honest about your failures (James 5:16). By doing this you make yourself accountable, not only to God, but also to some one else.
Repentance (Biblical change) is not just turning away from sin; it is turning toward God and practicing righteousness. The person who lies must speak the truth (Ephesians 4:25). One who steals must not only stop stealing, he must work and give to others (verse 28); and one who uses profanity must learn to edify others (verse 29). Do not just stop sinning–start doing what is right. The good habits you build will replace the sinfulones!
How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart?
Cleanse me from these hidden faults.
Keep me from deliberate sins!
Don’t let them control me.
Then I will be free of guilt
and innocent of great sin.
May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart
be pleasing to you,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
Psalm 19:12-14 (NLT)