Summary: We overcome bad habits and neuroses by the power of His Spirit
I will praise You, O Lord, for I am awesomely and wonderfully made. Your works are marvellous, they move me to the very depths of my soul. (Psalm 139:14)
Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which God has given you? You have been entrusted with His Spirit, you are no longer free to do whatever you want. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
By His divine power He has given us every grace and gift that contributes to a fulfilled and godly life. We obtain all these things through knowing Him, the One who has called us to glory and virtue. What He promises to give us is exceedingly great and precious: His grace enables us to share in His divine nature, and to escape the corruption that is in the world through lust . (2 Peter 1:3-4)
The Lord takes great satisfaction and joy in His creation which is His masterpiece. When we abuse His creation, it causes Him great pain – just as we feel great pain when the fruit of our effort and intellect is disdained and despised. When we defile nature and mar its beauty, He is grieved. When we waste resources which He has provided, it causes Him anguish. When we abuse our own bodies, it’s the same as abusing the body of His Son – for our bodies are no less His creation than Jesus’ body was. Spiritually, we are crucifying the Son of God afresh.
How then should we deal with our bad habits? Should we feel condemned and worthless that we cause our Father so much pain? The Bible assures us that Jesus died to take the weight of condemnation from our shoulders, to remove the stain of guilt from our defiled consciences. But should we then continue in our wayward behavior, trusting Him to bear the brunt of our self-destructive behavior?
From the Scriptures, we can find several guidelines for dealing with bad habits:
1) Prostrate yourself before God, and cry out to Him continually. (Luke 18:7)
2) Depend on the grace of God rather than your own strength of will. (Matthew 26:39-41)
4) Aim for progress, not for perfection. (Psalm 84:7, 2 Cor. 3:16).
Often confusion and double-mindedness accompany bad habits. Sometimes we feel awful for what we are doing, while at other times we feel that our behavior is perfectly justified and appropriate – like the smoker berates himself for his addiction, but when placed under stress he lights up to “calm his nerves”. Sometimes our self-condemnation is indeed falsely based -- like the anorexic who cannot eat normally without imagining herself gluttonous. How can we distinguish false excuses from true reasons? How can we separate genuine conviction from counterfeit guilt? In fact, our God-given tastes and appetites have become corrupted through contact with a sinful and corrupt world. The only antidote is to withdraw from the world for a period of time (be it minutes, or hours, or days – however long it takes), and seek His presence.
James tells us what to do when we are double minded. First he says, “Ask in faith, without wavering”. He also instructs us to, “Purify your hearts”. What this amounts to is a single-minded pursuit of Him, an all-absorbing quest to see His face, to touch Him, to know His heart within yours. And this pursuit must continue unabated until you catch hold of Him, and bring the brightness of His presence into the inner chambers of your heart, into the very core of your being. Just so did the king’s lover in Song of Solomon pursue her beloved:
By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loves: I sought him , but did not find him. Now I will get up, and go about the city streets and avenues, to seek the beloved of my soul. Yet though I searched for him , I did not find Him. When the cithy watchmen found me, I asked them, “Have you seen my heart’s beloved?” Just a little while after I left them, I did find Him. I clung to Him , and would not let Him go, until I had brought Him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me. (Song of Solomon 3:1-4)
Once our appetites have been corrected, our new, wholesome habits become easy and enjoyable. They fit us like slimmer clothes after we’ve lost weight. We do not need to wage perpetual war against our own appetites – for we were created good, in the image of God. Once we return to our proper image, we find beauty and balance in our God-given desires. Nonetheless, we must maintain vigilance that we are not once again drawn into perversity. The best preventative is a vivid, rich, intimate love-life with God: for if we are enjoying Him to the fullest, Satan’s cloying counterfeits hold no attraction for us.