Human beings are creatures of habit. Many of our practices become automatic; we are sometimes unaware that we do certain things or that we do them in a specific way.
The designation “Bad Habits” covers a wide range of negative behavior and could be defined as anything that inhibits Christian growth or offends others. We may be speaking of the so-called sins of the spirit, such as envy, jealousy, malice, gossip, lying, criticism of others, selfishness, impatience, quarreling, or procrastination. Or, we may be speaking of various compulsive behaviors: overeating, drinking, smoking, overspending, reading and viewing pornography, excessive working, fantasizing and evil thoughts, masturbation, or swearing.
The subject of bad habits assumes special importance in the light of the scriptural demand that Christians “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). As we surrender to the Lord, asking Him to search our hearts and reveal all that is displeasing to Him (Psalm 139:23-24), we will begin to see many ugly things that need to be dealt with. The most important thing to remember with regard to bad habits is that they displease God, but that with His help the bad habits can be broken and replaced with more wholesome alternatives.
None of us is immune to change. The Gospel specializes in change (2 Corinthians 5:17). We know that God can work in our lives in order to bring our conduct into line with what pleases Him: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV).
1. Commend the inquirer for being sufficiently interested in spiritual values to seek solutions to problems related to bad habits. Change is possible for anyone, regardless of age or other limitations: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). His help and the prospect of breaking the shackles of the bad habits should provide the motivation for achieving ultimate victory.
2. Ask if the inquirer has ever received Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord. One might assume that someone inquiring about conquering bad habits would be a Christian, but don’t take it for granted. Is the inquirer confident about having experienced that abiding relationship with Christ which will provide the power promised by God to bring about change? Share Christian Biblical Counsel: STEPS TO PEACE WITH GOD.
3. Suggest that the bad habit or habits (sins) be faced in specific terms. It is necessary to identify those areas that need changing. It is a challenge to be faced realistically, because habits are hard to break. They cannot be “wished” away. The use of pious phrases is of little help. We must work at it. The apostle Paul put this in perspective when he said, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). Cures are neither instantaneous nor easy.
4. Encourage the person to confess his or her bad habits to the Lord as sin, and to seek forgiveness. At the same time, help the person to make a covenant with God to work through to victory. A definite commitment at a given place and time will set the stage for change. Take a stand; be an overcomer. (See Joshua’s statement in Joshua 24:15.)
5. Tell the inquirer that bad habits can be broken by practicing the principle of replacement or exchange—what the apostle Paul speaks of as the “put off—put on” principle: “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” (Ephesians 4:22-25, NIV). And, “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work . . .” (Ephesians 4:28, NIV).
Memorized Scripture can be a great help in practicing the “put off—put on” principle of exchange. For the Christian afflicted with the inclination for swearing or bad language, a “replacement Scripture” such as the following would be helpful: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29). At other times, one might use a word of praise, such as those found in Psalm 34 or 103.
Assure your inquirer that there is a wholesome replacement for each bad habit which is broken!
6. Suggest that daily Bible reading, study, Scripture memorization, and prayer are of great value. As God’s thoughts invade our minds, things must begin to change.
7. Suggest that a fellowship link be established with another Christian for mutual sharing of problems, prayers, and victories. This sort of “buddy system” has helped many people.
8. Suggest seeking opportunities to serve Christ. As we begin to share ourselves, our experiences, and the fruit of our Bible study and personal victories, we are “fortified in the inner man.”
9. If the inquirer is not already a member of an active Bible-teaching church, he or she should seek such a relationship. This will give opportunity for fellowship, prayer, Bible study, and opportunities for service.
10. Suggest selecting one bad habit to overcome, and setting some immediate goals.
11. Pray with the inquirer for victory over the bad habit, to the glory of God.
“Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11).
“Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me’” (Luke 9:23).
“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 the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:11–14, NIV).
“In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
“For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose . . . so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:13, 15, NIV).
“Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:7–8).
Other suggested Scriptures:
Jeremiah 17:9–10, NIV
2 Timothy 2:15, NIV
The Billy Graham Christian Worker’s Handbook; World Wide Publications, 1984, 1996