God Does Not Tell Us To Break Habits,
He Tell Us To Replace Them.
Whether we realize it or not, our lives are based on habits. These determine our morning activities, such as having a cup of coffee, and the first thing we read during the day. Our habits determine how we relate to our employer and employees, to our families, and to our hobbies. They influence, to a significant extent, how we spend discretionary time and finances. Our thought life is additionally largely governed by our habits.
In the scriptures we read of the life of our Lord in regard to habits as they influenced His life. “When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom (Luke 2:42). “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read” (Luke 4:16). We also see how habits (customs) influenced the life of the Apostle Paul. “As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the scriptures” (Acts 17:2).
Perhaps the clearest description of how to respond to our habits is found in Ephesians chapter four. “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4: 22-32).
In each of the examples given to us of the “old self,” we are told that it must be replaced by the “new self.” The old habits are not merely to be broken; we are to establish new habits. Jay Adams asks the following questions. “When is a thief not a thief? When he stops stealing? No! He is simply an unemployed thief!” He is not a thief when he does something useful with his hands so that he may share with others in need. Similarly, falsehood must be replaced by the truth. Unwholesome talk must be replaced by speaking what is helpful for building others up according to their needs. Bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander must be replaced with kindness, compassion and forgiveness. If there is no replacement of the old with the new, we are like the man described in Matthew 12:43-45. “When a evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.‘ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.” Our “house” must be occupied by new habits, lest we return to the condition in which we lived in our “old self.”
Ephesians chapter four deals with habits that are immoral. Many of our habits, however, are amoral, that is, not wrong in and of themselves. Jay Adams makes this remark about those habits. “Every habit in life needs to come under review. Check your habits regularly.” Some habits simply utilize time and resources. Other habits, under the Lord’s direction, will redeem the time and make an eternal difference in our lives as well as the lives of others. We are told the following in Ephesians 5:15-17. “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” There are three verses in I Corinthians that are helpful in checking habits as recommended by Jay Adams. They are as follows. “‘Everything is permissible for me’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’—but I will not be mastered by anything” (I Corinthians 6:12). “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall” (I Corinthians 8:13). “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31). These verses frame four questions that are beneficial in review of our habits. Are they beneficial? Am I mastered by them? How do they affect others? Do they glorify God?
Most of us are familiar with the saying as follows. “Sow a thought, reap an act. Sow an act, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.” The above quote is often used to emphasize the importance of our thoughts. It is also helpful to consider it in reference to our habits. II Corinthians 10:5 tells us that we must “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” If this is true of our thoughts, it is likewise true of our habits.
Do we have any habits that need to be brought to the Lord? Should some be replaced with other habits that redeem the time rather than simply use time? To sow a habit means that we are reaping a character. Are our current habits forming the character that the Lord desires for our lives? It is my prayer that your habits would bring glory to Him as they increasingly reflect the character of our Lord.
In Christ, Richard Spann