Christian Biblical Counsel: Habits & Addictions

Habits & Addictions

Success in Self-Control

June Hunt

“The thrill of victory … and the agony of defeat!”™ This is the universal experience of the athlete … the heart-racing thrill of finishing first … the gut-wrenching angst of finishing last. But before athletes can even enter competition, they must first train the mind … tighten the muscles … toughen the body.

However, even athletes—considered models of self-control—can allow harmful habits to slip into their lives and sabotage their valiant efforts for victory. Self-control must not only be regained, but also sustained. And as it is with athletes, so it is with us—if we are going to win in the game of life, glorifying the God who created us by cultivating His character within us—we must have strict discipline.… We must develop strict habits.… We must enter strict training. The apostle Paul made that point clear.…

“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.”

(1 Corinthians 9:25)



Have you ever watched athletes competing in the Olympics—almost in disbelief—and thought, How on earth can they do that? It seems impossible! Whether it’s a figure skater performing a “quad” (a jump with four complete revolutions) or a young girl in gymnastics on a narrow, four-inch balance beam doing a series of back flips, one after another, we ask with amazement … “How can they possibly do that?”

The answer isn’t rocket science. It’s practice, practice, practice. Developing the habit of doing a simple half turn again and again and again until it feels natural … until it can be done, in essence, without thinking.

Consider, for example, the “biathlon.” (In Greek, bi means two and athlon means contest.) It’s a curious combination of events—cross-country skiing and rifle sharpshooting. One is aerobic, requiring speed, strength, and stamina. The other is stationary, requiring stillness, sight, and a steady hand. These carefully honed skills developed by the Scandinavians in hunting and winter warfare led to the inauguration of this skiing and shooting sport in the 1960 Winter Olympics.

Training for the biathlon can be treacherous, particularly because of the hazardous effects of continuously cold weather … therefore specialized physical conditioning is absolutely mandatory. A 31-year-old policeman from Norway developed highly productive habits to prepare himself for the 1968 Winter Olympics. And his disciplined fitness regimen got the world’s attention.

Those who tenaciously train in this way can identify with these figurative words spoken by the apostle Paul …

“I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave.…”

(1 Corinthians 9:27)

  1. What Are Habits and Addictions?

He was a dark horse on the glistening white snow.…

Magnar Solberg was far from being a favorite to win a medal at the Olympics in Grenoble, France. In fact, he wasn’t even considered a serious competitor in the winter biathlon. But he developed all the necessary habits to train and qualify for the event, habits that included building leg and upper body strength, exercising in high-altitude environments, and sharpening precision skills in shooting.

But there was one habit that set Solberg apart from all the other skiers and shooters, and this particular exercise was conducted in blistering heat rather than blustery cold!

When we have a major challenge, a necessary change we must make, then these words are most appropriate …

“Let us discern for ourselves what is right; let us learn together what is good.”

(Job 34:4)

In your quest for knowledge and discernment, it is critical that you learn the all-important differences between habits and addictions … because you control the one while the other controls you.

  • Habits are learned patterns of behavior or attitudes repeated so often that they become typical of a person. (In the New Testament, the Greek word manthano means “to learn” [in any way] or to “get into the habit.”)

“Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good …” (Titus 3:14).

—  Habits are based on thinking, and they reflect the heart. (The Greek word hodos, meaning a “natural path or way,” is used metaphorically in Scripture to mean “a course of conduct or way of thinking.”)

“Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways” (Hebrews 3:10).

—  Habits, when based on trusting God, result in being consistently on the right path. (The Hebrew word derek, usually translated as “way” or “road,” means “habit or habitual way of behavior.”)

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5–6).

  • Addictions are a compulsive, enslaving dependence on something, resulting in detrimental patterns of thinking and behaving. There are “substance addictions” (for example, alcohol, tobacco, heroin, inhalants) and “process addictions” (for example, gambling, eating, shopping, sex).

“… people are slaves to whatever has mastered them” (2 Peter 2:19).

—  Addictive habits, when based on deceitful desires, result in a corrupt way of life. (The Greek noun anastrophe, usually translated “life” or “way of life,” means “one’s conduct or behavior.”)

“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” (Ephesians 4:22–24).

—  Dual- or poly-addiction refers to dependence on two or more addictions at the same time. (When used in reference to addiction, the Greek word poly means “many” and indicates being dependent on multiple behaviors or substances.)

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.… For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:10, 12).

Typically, strugglers have multiple addictions because one addictive “high” firing in the brain makes them highly susceptible to another addiction. Each addiction impacts the brain, training it to want the same chemical effect again and again. For example, when sexually acting out, dopamine (the “feel good” chemical) is released in the brain, then soon after, the body craves more. Both alcohol and crack cocaine can increase dopamine. When the high of one addiction begins wearing off, the high of another replaces the craved chemical effect in the brain.

The thought is: If one addiction feels good, two will feel better.… If two are better, three will feel great. Do anything to keep the highs coming! Thus goes the logic of those who have given control of themselves over to mood-altering addictions.

“Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.… What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of?… But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.”

(Romans 6:19, 21–22)

Habit vs. Addiction

Question: “What is the difference between a common habit and a compulsive addiction?”

Answer: With any behavior, repetition leads to the forming of a habit that then can develop into an addiction. The difference between a repeated habit and an enslaving addiction is the amount of time it takes from your everyday life, the power it has over your life, and the negative impact it has on your life.

If the behavior has mastery over your life rather than you having mastery over it, then it is an addiction. But if you are determined to allow only God to have mastery over you, He will give you the power to either gain and maintain mastery over the behavior or to have victory over it and stop it.

“Sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.”

(Romans 6:14)

  1. What Is the Avenue to Addiction?

Solberg’s coach for the biathlon was inclined to use a bizarre training technique. In Solberg’s own words: “On purpose, my coach placed the shooting stand right in the middle of an anthill. When I shot from this stand on hot summer days, my legs were immediately covered with ants. This was very disturbing, especially when they reached my face.”

Solberg’s coach wasn’t trying to torture the initially befuddled biathlete, he was trying to toughen him. He thought that if he could learn to shoot precisely with hundreds of ants crawling all over him, “distractions” would be the least of their worries during the Olympic sharpshooting event.

And if we need to build a new habit in life, we too are called to not be distracted, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

The natural inclination of the average person lying in an anthill would be to quickly get up and begin feverishly brushing off the tiny, troublesome insects. But Solberg overcame his natural inclination, first in his mind and then in his behavior. He ignored the pesky little critters and focused on the target. He trained his mind to check his natural inclination so that he would develop the habit of blocking anything that might distract him from his goal. An unchecked, natural inclination generally follows this avenue of progression …

•     Inclination


A natural desire compelling a person to act a certain way under a given set of circumstances. The Bible says everyone comes into this world with natural inclinations to sin.


“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5).


•     Impulse


A sudden, spontaneous inclination to act impetuously.


“Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart …” (Ecclesiastes 5:2).


•     Habit


A pattern of behavior acquired by frequent repetition.


They would not listen, however, but persisted in their former practices [habits]” (2 Kings 17:40).


•     Obsession


A persistent, disturbing preoccupation with an unreasonable idea.


“I was so obsessed with persecuting them [Christians] that I [Paul] even hunted them down in foreign cities” (Acts 26:11).


•     Compulsion


An irresistible, irrational impulse to act against one’s own will.


“The man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will … this man also does the right thing” (1 Corinthians 7:37).


•     Addiction


A compulsive, overpowering dependence on an object, an action, or a feeling, resulting in major life problems.


“Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good” (Titus 2:3).


Addictions and the Tendency to Sin

Question: “When I became a Christian, shouldn’t that have changed my addictions and my tendency to sin?”

Answer: When you put your trust in Christ, you did indeed receive a new life.… The Spirit gave you new life at the moment you received Him as your Savior! The Spirit of God inside you now enables you to overcome sin. While you have been saved from the penalty of sin (eternal separation from God) and while the power of sin over you has been broken, you still have tendencies to think, feel, and act in sinful ways. You must still choose to not sin when you are tempted.

You must choose daily to put off your old self (also referred to in Scripture as “the flesh”) with all its bad habits and inclinations and not be controlled by it. Instead, you must put on your new self and be controlled by it—your new self—which was created to be like Christ.…

“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.”

(Ephesians 4:22–24)

  1. What Are Signs That Habits Have Become Addictions?

With their eye on the gold medal, winter biathletes like Magnar Solberg cover a predetermined distance on skis, carrying bolt action .22 rifles with non-optical sights. Then they stop at a target range and lie down in the prone position while firing five shots. Missed targets are penalized with additional time to overall performance or extra ski laps. The skiers then race around another lap and return to the range to shoot five more rounds, this time while standing up. The pattern is repeated, depending on the format of the race and whether the competition is for individuals or a team. Typically, those who regularly train and exercise receive compliments and admiration. But what about those who overtrain or overexercise? For those struggling with anorexia athletica and those who are obsessed with their body shape—what is their reward? Their training has gone beyond a positive, productive habit to a compulsive addiction. They are controlled, not by God, but by their addiction. The Bible says …

“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

(1 Timothy 4:8)

And what about you? Is it possible that a habit of yours in some area has developed into an addiction? If you suspect so, ask yourself these ten questions to help clarify the truth:

“Have I stopped the habit in the past, only to consistently relapse?”

“Have I become abnormally preoccupied with the habit?”

“Have I continued the habit in spite of suffering its negative consequences?”

“Have I engaged in the habit more and more often over time in order to achieve the same mood-altering experience I had in the beginning?”

“Have I practiced the habit primarily because it changes my mood or comforts me?”

“Have I persisted in the habit even though it is harmful to me?”

“Have I begun hiding the habit from those closest to me?”

“Have I neglected relationships in order to accommodate the habit?”

“Have I considered getting help for the habit?”

“Have I ever experienced problems at work because of the habit?”

If the answer to any one of these questions is yes, you are on the way to forming an addiction. If the answer to all of them is yes, you are already wrapped up in the web of addiction and are powerless to free yourself. Your only recourse is to seek help in order to regain control of your life. You can walk in the freedom Christ died to provide for you.…

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”

(Romans 5:6)

Addictive Personality

Question: “What does it mean when someone is said to have an addictive personality?”

Answer: The term “addictive personality” is generally applied to individuals who are prone to form multiple addictions. They are believed to possess certain genetic and psychological influences that make them vulnerable to developing substance or behavioral addictions. The apostle Peter’s instruction to first-century Christians is pertinent to all of us today, and especially to those suffering with addictions.…

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

(1 Peter 5:8)

  1. What Is God’s Heart on Habits … and Addictions?

Although Magnar Solberg’s practice of standing in an anthill while shooting initially appeared to be a destructive habit, it ultimately proved to be a constructive habit. At the Grenoble Olympics, the Norwegian hit all 20 targets in his event and his stringent training habits paid off with a gold medal. He competed again four years later at the Olympics in Sapporo, Japan, and, at age 35, won another gold medal.

Solberg made a place for himself in the record books as the only Olympic biathlete to defend and keep his title in an individual event. And he’s the oldest athlete to win a gold medal in an individual event at the winter Olympics.

Obviously, some who have disciplined habits to sharpen their skills will win. But the apostle Paul—who frequently used sports analogies—refers to those who go into strict training.…

“They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

(1 Corinthians 9:25)

God’s Heart on Habits … and Addictions

  • Habits can be beneficial and profitable.

“… blessed are those who keep my ways” (Proverbs 8:32).

  • Habits can be evil and destructive.

“They get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to” (1 Timothy 5:13).

  • Habits can be passed down from generation to generation.

“The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the ways of his father David before him” (2 Chronicles 17:3).

  • Habits can reflect devotion to God and God’s character.

“His heart was devoted to the ways of the Lord; furthermore, he removed the high places and the Asherah poles from Judah” (2 Chronicles 17:6).

  • Habits can increase consistency and strengthen character.

“The righteous will hold to their ways, and those with clean hands will grow stronger” (Job 17:9).

  • Habits are a choice—therefore, they are a function of the will—but they can be influenced by the mind and emotions.

“What you decide on will be done, and light will shine on your ways” (Job 22:28).

  • Habits can be a positive witness to others.

“… let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

  • Habits of a godly nature can result in God’s forgiving and healing a nation.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

  • Addictions are not just a choice, but are the result of a bad choice that has been repeatedly made over an extended period of time.

“They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sought omens and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger” (2 Kings 17:17).

  • Addictions lead hearts astray and hurt the cause of Christ.

“Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute” (2 Peter 2:2).

  • Addictions hold people captive and cover them with a canopy of darkness.

“I will keep you and will make you … to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42:6–7).

  • Addictions enslave people, but freedom can come from the Lord, who delights in breaking the yoke of slavery.

“They will know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them” (Ezekiel 34:27).

  • Addictions hold mastery over us, but God is to be our only Master.

“ ‘I have the right to do anything’—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).

  • Habits and addictions can both be overcome through Christ.

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one [Jesus] who is in you is greater than the one [Satan] who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).


“Lazy” … “Complacent” … “Settle for mediocrity” … “Last guy in the building [before a competition] … first guy out.”

You’d hardly expect an athlete with these self-described habits to succeed in a game of flag football, much less catapult to the pinnacle of the National Football League. But Michael Vick’s career has been full of sad surprises.

Endowed with spectacular, innate athleticism, Vick discovered as a boy—playing pickup football in the gang-infested housing projects of Newport News, Virginia—that athletic achievement came easy for him. Sadly, so did a later life of habitual bad choices, moral shortcuts, and, eventually, serious crime.

But the shocking truth about Vick’s character was carefully concealed from his fans. During his ensuing glory years, the NFL’s number-one draft pick Vick earned a reputation as one of the most electrifying players in professional sports … and one of the highest paid, with a $135 million contract. As quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, Vick led his team to the playoffs twice, ranking second among quarterbacks of all time in career rushing yards.17

Vick’s skyrocket to stardom led him to believe that he could live life on his own terms, immune from the baggage of bad habits and destructive choices and unwilling to embrace the biblical instruction to …

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

(Ephesians 5:15–16)

  1. What Is Characteristic of All Addictions?

In 2007 the hidden habits of Michael Vick exploded into public view. A police raid on Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels in rural Virginia turned up gruesome evidence of a savage dogfighting operation. Investigators alleged that, for six years, Vick and friends from childhood bought, bred, and sold pit bulls, which fought to the death in kennel matches with gambling purses as high as $26,000.

Ghastly reports of barbaric cruelty began to emerge. Dogs that lost fights or didn’t perform well had been tortured mercilessly—beaten, shot, drowned, or electrocuted. International media pounced on the news with the ferocity of Vick’s own vicious pit bulls. The public outcry was deafening—the revulsion palpable.

In truth, pit bull terriers simply behave as they are trained. They develop learned behaviors and, consequently, can become brutal killers … or beloved pets … or brilliant service dogs for law enforcement, search and rescue teams, and therapy. In the same way, a habit is learned behavior that becomes a powerful force in your life, whether for good or bad … for virtue or vice. And, in the end, all wrong habits—whether perceived as good or bad—lead to death.…

“There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”

(Proverbs 16:25)

All Addictions Are

H—Habitual: They occur with regularity.

A—Automatic: They happen without thinking.

B—Behavioral: They outwardly reflect inner morals and character.

I—Intense: They grow stronger and more ingrained with repetition.

T—Tenacious: They persist and become hard to change over time.

S—Satisfying: They are purposeful and provide a degree of pleasure.

Your habits reflect your heart and communicate your devotion either to God or to the things of this world.…

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

(Luke 16:13)

  1. What Constitutes 4 Categories of Habits?

Upon being indicted by a federal grand jury for dogfighting and other charges, Michael Vick’s impulse was to habitually … lie. He lied to the media, the public, teammates, team owners, and, eventually, to a federal grand jury and judge. Especially heartbroken by the immense betrayal was Atlanta Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank, who had “bet the future of the franchise on the young quarterback, awarding him the largest contract in the history of the NFL … and stood by him as the charges piled up and Vick fell from grace.”21

Still Vick had no intention of halting his harmful habits, daringly defiant of the lifelong consequence that lay in wait. Michael was like those described in Romans 1:21.…

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Scripture uses words like “strongholds,” “slavery,” and “bondage” to paint a picture of being a prisoner to sin. Although you may not be enslaved to the more visible vices (for example, drunkenness, gambling, or gluttony), you may be held captive to a seemingly “acceptable activity.” Even behavior that appears “good,” such as church work, can be overindulged to the degree that it goes beyond God’s will and thus becomes sin.

No behavior, whether viewed as harmless or helpful, is to have mastery over us. If it does, then it has enslaved us. The Bible clearly states …

“… people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”

(2 Peter 2:19)

Harmless Habits

Some habits are common to many but cause injury to none. They are at best innocuous and at worst irritants (for example, nail biting and hair twirling, cracking knuckles and popping gum, belching and bellowing). The Bible offers this insight … “Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult” (Proverbs 12:16).

Heart Habits

The heart that is not right in God’s sight produces wrong attitudes and emotions that result in ungodly “heart habits” (for example, envy and jealousy, prejudice and pride, ungratefulness and unforgiveness). The Bible directly states this truth … “Out of the heart come evil thoughts …” (Matthew 15:19).

Hidden Habits

Some habitual actions are often not recognized as harmful addictions because they are not recognized as being habitual or regarded as being negative. However, “good behaviors” done to excess become “bad” behaviors and “hidden habits” (for example, excessively … helping and rescuing others, working and cleaning, apologizing and procrastinating, shopping and spending). The Bible cautions against such excessiveness.… “Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes” (Ecclesiastes 7:18).

Hard Habits/Addictions

Destructive habits create a damaging climate for everyone, making them “hard habits” (for example, verbal and emotional abuse, drunkenness and divisiveness, vulgarity and violence, stealing). The Bible explains …

“There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”

(Proverbs 14:12) (See also Galatians 5:19–21.)

  1. What Characterizes Those Controlled by Addictions?

Alone in prison, Michael Vick began considering the vast weight of his wrongdoings … and the gracious God of his youth. He contemplated his high school years—when he’d given his life to Christ and had first begun reading the Bible. Finally, his future became clear: “The only thing I could do in prison was fall back on God,” he said. “I wanted to do things right.…”

As Vick yielded to Christ, his life began a remarkable transformation. Tony Dungy, retired coach of the Indianapolis Colts, began mentoring the imprisoned athlete. After his release, Vick began working with The Humane Society, traveling the country, speaking at churches, schools, and community events, imploring would-be dogfighters and gamblers to shun the gruesome sport that savaged his life.

In 2009 Vick was reinstated into the NFL, playing for the Philadelphia Eagles. The following year he became the Eagles’ starting quarterback. In 2010 he played in his fourth career Pro Bowl, was named the Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year, and received the prestigious Ed Block Courage Award for steadfast commitment to sportsmanship and courage.

Bad choices replaced by good ones led Vick to finally achieve what God had in mind for him all along … a yielded life … a life not controlled by addictive behaviors but by God. Certain characteristics are common among those who, like Vick, repeatedly practice addictive behaviors. These characteristics become so automatic that those who have them are often oblivious to their destructive damage.…

“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”

(Romans 8:5–6)

Those controlled by addictive habits:

  • Become mastered by multiple bad habits

Even though the Bible says … “ ‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).

  • Don’t obey the law or those in authority

Even though the Bible says … “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities …” (Romans 13:1).

  • Think their addictions resolve their problems and give them peace

Even though the Bible says … “If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river …” (Isaiah 48:18).

  • Don’t keep their bodies pure or treat them with respect

Even though the Bible says … “… let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit …” (2 Corinthians 7:1).

  • Don’t practice self-denial, self-discipline, or self-control

Even though the Bible says … “The grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age …” (Titus 2:11–12).

  1. What Is a Harmful Habit Checklist?

During the course of his fall from football fame—and reinstatement to the sport—Michael Vick lost many previous fans … but also gained many new ones. Still others remain in “wait and see” mode, skeptical his conversion may be one merely of convenience. Neither fans, detractors, nor skeptics, however, are nearly as important to Vick as the peace he says he has made with his Lord. “The main thing is, I don’t want to disappoint God.”

Though the details of your life will differ from Michael Vick’s, most of us, like him, become adept at justifying our negative habits. So proficient are we at rationalizing that undesirable habits can remain hidden … even from ourselves!

Nevertheless, consider this probing question: “Is there a habit that has mastery over you?” According to God’s Word …

“Sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.”

(Romans 6:14)

How do you know if you have a destructive habit or a hidden addiction controlling you?”

Desire to be accountable before God and take an honest look at your thoughts and actions. Ask yourself whether you have any habits or desires that would cause you to answer yes to the following questions:

The Harmful Habit Checklist

Are my thoughts consumed with it?

Is my time scheduled around it?

Could my health be harmed by it?

Does my guilt increase because of it?

Are my finances affected by it?

Am I defensive when asked about it?

Are my relationships hurt by it?

Am I upset when I can’t do it?

Is my spiritual growth hindered by it?

Have I been asked to stop it?

Would I discourage my children from doing it?

Do I hide it from others?

Would Jesus avoid doing it?

Does it diminish my witness for Christ?

Let David’s prayer be your own personal prayer.…

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

(Psalm 139:23–24)


At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Marion Jones won three gold medals in the 100-meter, 200-meter, and 1,600-meter relay, as well as two bronze medals in the long jump and 400-meter relay. Her strong, athletic build and speed, along with her sweet smile, charmed the world and challenged young women to pursue their Olympic dreams.

But seven years later, those medallions of achievement no longer hung from the track and field queen’s neck.… They were taken by the International Olympic Committee, leading to Jones’ painful admission that “… making the wrong choices and bad decisions can be disastrous.”

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

(Hebrews 12:11)

  1. What Causes the Cycle of Addiction?

From September 2000 to July 2001, Marion Jones trained more intensely than ever and had attained improved running times and faster recovery periods. But the peak performances weren’t due only to modifications in diet and exercise—Jones had gotten swallowed up in the performance-enhancing promises of steroids, and they were paying off.

Her former coach originally told her that he was giving her flaxseed oil, but she later realized it was an illegal substance, something Jones emphatically denied publicly for years. In 2004 she made the following statement: “I have never, ever used performance-enhancing drugs.” However, misguided choices … marred her reputation.…

“Anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.”

(2 Timothy 2:5)

The Cycle of Addiction

Just as Marion Jones did not enter the world of track and field intending to use steroids, no one enters this life with even the slightest thought of engaging in behavior that will develop into an enslaving addiction. Nonetheless, many develop addictions later on through simple repetition of behavior that appears, at least temporarily, to satisfy a deep desire or meet a neglected need. The progression of this “cycle” that both leads to addiction and then perpetuates it generally looks something like the following:

  • Past Pain … motivation for finding a way to ease the continual hurt of past experiences

—  “I can no longer cope with what happened in my past unless I find something to ease the pain.”

“Even in laughter the heart may ache, and rejoicing may end in grief” (Proverbs 14:13).

  • Mood-altering activity … attempting to temporarily relieve emotional or psychological pain

—  “I hate the way I feel and the tormenting thoughts I have—I must escape them if only temporarily.”

“How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13:2).

  • Addiction … unbridled participation in mood-altering activities on a regular basis

—  “I am compelled to keep increasing my participation … to better mask the pain I feel.”

“When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!” (Romans 6:20–21).

  • Violating values … breaking your own personal convictions by engaging in mood-altering addictive behaviors

—  “I will do whatever I have to do in order to attain this feeling—I must have it!”

“Our parents were unfaithful; they did evil in the eyes of the Lord our God and forsook him. They turned their faces away from the Lord’s dwelling place and turned their backs on him” (2 Chronicles 29:6).

  • Guilt … feeling conscience-struck for having wrong attitudes and committing wrong actions

—  “I realize I have been wrong and have committed wrongful acts.”

“My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear” (Psalm 38:4).

  • Shame … believing that you are a bad person who is without worth or hope because of your addictions

—  “I know I have no value and there is nothing good in me, only bad.”

“I live in disgrace all day long, and my face is covered with shame …” (Psalm 44:15).

  • Present Pain … motivation for finding a way to ease the continual pain produced by the shame that accompanies addictive behaviors

—  “I hate living with this painful shame. I must do something—anything—to feel better.” And the cycle is complete … only to be repeated again and again and again.…


Once an addictive behavior is developed, the cycle that accompanies it becomes established and is common among all who engage in addictive behaviors. The “antidote to past pain” (the addiction) produces present pain and so it then becomes the antidote to the present pain as well. This cycle then keeps going around and around until past and present pain become so convoluted that they seem inseparable and indistinguishable from one another. It’s a vicious cycle that ensnares and enslaves … but it’s a cycle that can be broken!…

“We have escaped like a bird from the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

(Psalm 124:7–8)

What Bad Thoughts Bolster Bad Habits?

Her misplaced dependency on performance-enhancing drugs led to catastrophic consequences for Jones. The need to excel … to maintain an edge over her competitors … to retain her five Olympic medals drove Jones not only to lie to the public for years about her habitual steroid use but also to federal investigators.

In 2008 she served a six-month federal prison sentence for those lies as well as for her involvement in a check fraud scam. Before the sober-faced judge, Marion Jones called herself what she believed was her new identity: a liar and a cheat. But what she felt she had become didn’t have to be permanent. Change is always possible—forgiveness is always available.29

Following her court appearance, Marion made the following statement: “It is with a great amount of shame I stand before you and tell you that I have betrayed your trust. I have been dishonest and you have the right to be angry with me. I have let them [her family] down, I have let my country down, and I have let myself down. I recognize that by saying I’m deeply sorry, it might not be sufficient to address the pain and hurt that I’ve caused you; therefore, I want to ask for your forgiveness for my actions, and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. I have asked Almighty God for … forgiveness.” What “music” to God’s ears.…

“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

(Psalm 51:17)

As with Marion Jones, behavior springs from beliefs, and what you tell yourself greatly influences your actions. If you are struggling with trying to overcome a bad habit but having little success, it may be that you are entertaining self-defeating thoughts. You need to be aware that …

“The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

(Hebrews 4:12)

Check the list of wrong beliefs below to see whether your thoughts are helping or hurting your efforts to rid yourself of an unhealthy and sinful habit.

“I cannot control this habit. It’s simply too strong for me.”

“It shouldn’t be this difficult to change; something must be wrong with me.”

“I don’t have what it takes to overcome this habit.”

“I’ll never be able to overcome this habit without God’s supernatural healing.”

“It’s unfair that I have to deny myself the enjoyment of this activity.”

“My desires are too strong for me to ever deny them.”

“I can’t stand going without the pleasure this habit gives me.”

“I’m not worth all this trouble, effort, and pain anyway, so why try to change?”

“God knows I am too weak to overcome this habit.”

“I’m just a loser anyway.”

“God won’t help someone like me.”

“I’ve been doing this far too long to try to change now.”

“This has just become a part of who I am.”

God understands that this is too difficult for me to change.”

Habitual, self-defeating thoughts will continue to keep you in bondage if you fail to change your faulty thinking.…

“Stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.”

(1 Corinthians 14:20)

  1. What Excuses Keep You Hooked?

Steroids seemingly surrounded Marion Jones. Everyone else seemed to be doing it.…

Marion’s ex-husband, C. J. Hunter, was busted for using performance-enhancing drugs, and the father of her son, Tim Montgomery, was stripped of his world record in the 100-meters, not to mention other famous athletes. But she ultimately realized that there were no excuses to be made. “I am responsible fully for my actions. I have no one to blame but myself for what I’ve done.” Her words reflect the heart of God’s Word.…

“Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

(Hebrews 12:1–2)

Marion no longer made excuses for her wrong choices … but she fully understood the rationalizations others used. Just as behavior comes from beliefs, so do the excuses we make to justify our behaviors, our habits, and our addictions. It logically follows that the lies you believe also generate the excuses you give for not breaking bad behaviors.

What Excuses Are You Giving?

“This makes me feel better and, besides, I deserve it.”

“A lot of people do this; after all, no one is perfect.”

“This habit is caused by my past. I really can’t help it.”

“It’s useless to try to change or quit.”

“I can control this anytime. I’ll change when I’m ready.”

“I don’t want to try to quit and risk finding out I can’t.”

“Doing it one last time won’t make any difference.”

“What I’m doing is not really that bad. A lot of people do worse things.”

“I’ve not been able to change before, so why try now?”

“Everyone needs at least one vice.”

“If I give this up, something worse will just take its place.”

“This is not a good time for me to try to change.”

“I don’t have the time to focus on this right now.”

“As soon as I have a sign from God, I’ll change.”

Ultimately, you will lose the war with wrong habits if you continue to make excuses for prioritizing yourself or others over pleasing the Lord. Take heed lest you become like those the prophet Jeremiah describes.…

“… they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward.”

(Jeremiah 7:24)

  1. What Is the Root Cause?

Marion Jones recognized her need for change … and others recognized her need for a second chance. Marion became one of the most popular basketball players in the Women’s National Basketball Association, signing a multi-year deal as a point guard with the Tulsa Shock in February 2011.

More importantly, Marion maintained a spirit of humility and repentance. Once her thinking changed, her life changed. Why do some people change and others do not? They are able to change because they rid themselves of their wrong beliefs.

The deepest longing of the human heart is to have intimacy with God through a loving, personal relationship with Him. God created each of us with this desire to seek Him. He knows that He alone can fulfill us, and anything less will ultimately fail us! Everything and everyone except God is subject to death or decay, destruction or dissipation.…

“You, Lord, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations.… ‘your years go on through all generations. In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.’ ”

(Psalm 102:12, 24–27)

Like Marion Jones, uncontrolled habits often represent our own attempt to meet our God-given inner needs for love, significance, and security through unhealthy dependencies on people, things, or activities.

As you examine your habits, honestly answer the following questions:

  • Are you seeking to meet your inner need for unconditional love through sensual pleasure?

—  Sexual activity

—  Pornography

—  Drug use

—  Overeating

The Bible says, “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity.… Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:3–4).

God created you to have a loving, personal relationship with Him.…

“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness’ ” (Jeremiah 31:3).

  • Are you seeking to meet your inner need for significance through achievement?

—  Performance

—  Popularity

—  Position

—  Power

The Bible says, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

God created you to find your significance in His relationship with you.…

“ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11).

  • Are you seeking to meet your inner need for security through acquisitions?

—  Possessions

—  Property

—  Money

—  People

The Bible says, “Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge” (Proverbs 14:26).

God created you to be secure in His relationship with you.…

“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ ” (Hebrews 13:5).

Unfortunately, many of our own efforts to meet these three inner needs have little or no connection to the provisions and promises of God! If you have developed behavioral patterns that make you dependent on anything or anyone other than your heavenly Father, you can find freedom by seeking Him now!…

“ ‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity.’ ”

(Jeremiah 29:13–14)

The Ultimate Need-Meeter

Why did God give us these deep inner needs, knowing that people fail people and self-effort fails us as well?

God gave us these inner needs so that we would come to know Him as our Need-Meeter. Our needs are designed by God to draw us into a deeper dependence on Christ. God did not create any person or position or any amount of power or possessions to meet the deepest needs in our lives. If a person or thing could meet all our needs, we wouldn’t need God! The Lord will use circumstances and bring positive people into our lives as an extension of His care and compassion, but ultimately only God can satisfy all the needs of our hearts. The Bible says …

“The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”

(Isaiah 58:11)

The apostle Paul revealed this truth by first asking, “What a wretched man I am. Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” and then by answering his own question in saying it is “… Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24–25).

All along, the Lord planned to meet our deepest needs for …

  • Love“I [the Lord] have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3).
  • Significance“ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11).
  • Security“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

The truth is that our God-given needs for love, significance, and security … can be legitimately met … in Christ Jesus! Philippians 4:19 makes it plain … “My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

  • Wrong Belief—The Rebel:

“I really don’t want to change—what I’m doing is not that bad!”

Right Belief—The Rebel:

“I really need to change and take responsibility for my behavior. Instead of choosing to please myself, my deepest desire needs to be to please the Lord, yielding control of my life to the supernatural control of Christ.”

“Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness” (Romans 6:12–13).

  • Wrong Belief—The Repentant:

“I really want to change, and I’ve tried … but I can’t.”

Right Belief—The Repentant:

“I can have success by yielding my bad habit to Christ’s supernatural control. My new habit is this: With Christ living in me, I will submit to His leadership so that His character can be clearly seen through my life.”

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 NKJV).

  1. What Is God’s Primary Plan for Setting Captives Free?

God sent His beloved Son, His only Son, into the world that He might pay the ultimate price to secure our complete freedom from the control of sin over our lives … and in that marvelous, redemptive act, to empower us to break free of any bondage we may have developed to destructive habits and addictions.

4 Points of God’s Plan

#1  God’s Purpose for You … is Salvation.

—  What was God’s motivation in sending Jesus Christ to earth?

To express His love for you by saving you! The Bible says …

“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16–17).

—  What was Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth?

To forgive your sins, to empower you to have victory over sin, and to enable you to live a fulfilled life! Jesus said …

“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10 NKJV).

#2  Your Problem … is Sin.

—  What exactly is sin?

Sin is living independently of God’s standard—knowing what is right, but choosing what is wrong. The Bible says …

“If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (James 4:17).

—  What is the major consequence of sin?

Spiritual death, eternal separation from God. Scripture states …

“Your iniquities [sins] have separated you from your God.… The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Isaiah 59:2; Romans 6:23).

#3  God’s Provision for You … is the Savior.

—  Can anything remove the penalty for sin?

Yes! Jesus died on the cross to personally pay the penalty for your sins. The Bible says …

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

—  What is the solution to being separated from God?

Belief in (entrusting your life to) Jesus Christ as the only way to God the Father. Jesus says …

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.… Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved …” (John 14:6; Acts 16:31).

#4  Your Part … is Surrender.

—  Give Christ control of your life, entrusting yourself to Him.…

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross [die to your own self-rule] and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?’ ” (Matthew 16:24–26).

—  Place your faith in (rely on) Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior and reject your “good works” as a means of earning God’s approval.…

“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).

The moment you choose to receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior—entrusting your life to Him—He comes to live inside you. Then He gives you His power to live the fulfilled life God has planned for you. If you want to be fully forgiven by God and become the person God created you to be, you can tell Him in a simple, heartfelt prayer like this:

Prayer of Salvation

“God, I want a real relationship with You.

I admit that many times I’ve chosen to go my own way instead of Your way.

Please forgive me for my sins.

Jesus, thank You for dying on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins.

Come into my life to be my Lord and my Savior.

Change me from the inside out and make me the person

You created me to be.

In Your holy name I pray. Amen.”


What Can You Now Expect?

If you sincerely prayed this prayer, look at what God says about you!

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

(John 5:24)


911 Operator: “911, do you have an emergency?”

Caller: “Yeah, we have a shark attack.”

911 Operator: “And the person is still in the water?”

Caller: “They’re still in the water, yes. I think her arm might be gone.”

By age 13, Hawaiian surfing prodigy Bethany Hamilton had quickly risen through the ranks of amateur surfing in pursuit of her lifelong dream of turning pro. She had sponsors interested in endorsing her and a tight-knit family of surfing enthusiasts staunchly supporting her. And now, in a matter of seconds—while paddling to catch the next wave off Kauai’s North Shore—she had an arm savagely severed from her tiny frame by a 14-foot tiger shark.

In response to the 911 call, emergency responders rushed Bethany to the hospital as they radioed ahead to alert the staff. Bethany’s father, Tom—prepped to undergo knee surgery that same morning—was quickly removed from the same operating room table his daughter would occupy minutes later as doctors raced to save her life.

After surgery, Bethany awoke to find more than her left arm missing. Gone, too, were her dreams and her identity as a surfing phenomenon. But not for long. Within days, an undeniable desire to surf the world’s wildest waves came flooding back. Was such a feat physically possible, she wondered. And, if so, how? What new habits and skills would be needed? Bethany had more questions than answers. But of one thing she was completely certain: As soon as her stitches were removed, she’d be heading straight back to the water … with surfboard under her right arm … her only arm.

Strength of spirit is something we cannot inherit or imitate or learn, but it is essential to have when faced with situations that test our spirit to its very core. And like the apostle Paul, Bethany rallied and rose to meet that challenge head on.…

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”

(2 Corinthians 4:8–10)

  1. Key Verse to Memorize

For as long as Bethany could remember, her parents emphasized having true faith in Christ and, indeed, she had received Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior, entrusting her life to Him. Never in the ensuing years, however, had her growing faith been tested so severely as on October 31, 2003—the day of the attack—and in the grueling months to come.

Uncertainty over how to live life as an amputee—and a surfer—was a constant companion. How could she tie her swimsuit top much less tunnel through world-class waves balanced atop a bobbing board? Since the “Handbook of Habits for One-Armed Surfers” didn’t exist, Bethany turned to the only book she could trust to guide her—the Bible.

She had learned it in church and at home, committing so many verses to memory. Now hundreds of Scriptures came flooding back, reassuring her that …

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

(Philippians 4:13 NKJV)

  1. Key Passages to Read

“My mom and I were praying for God to show me His will,” said Bethany. “I wanted to be a light for Him in everything I was doing. And then, a couple of weeks later, the shark attack happened.” At that point, had Bethany questioned God’s plan for her life, few would have blamed her. To be sure, she grappled with at least two more critical questions: Would she spend her life in fear—of whether God could be trusted—or choose a life of faith?

Of all the questions that crowded into her mind, Why? became the one she asked herself the most … but with a faith-filled twist. “I have this thought every second of my life,” she said. “ ‘Why me?’ Not necessarily in a negative way—like, ‘Why did this horrible thing have to happen to me?’ But more, ‘Why did God choose me and what does He have in mind for me?’ ”

By habitually training her mind to focus on the promise of God’s plan rather than fearing the possibility of future peril, Bethany discovered the freedom to pursue her dream.…

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

(Galatians 5:1)

Freedom!… People live for it and die for it … cherish it and curse it. But what does it mean? How do you gain it? How do you keep it? Some say freedom is being able to do and say whatever we want. Others are more restrictive, adding “as long as no one else’s freedom is violated.” Freedom—from God’s perspective—is not being able to do whatever we want, but rather being able to do whatever is right. And that which is right from God’s perspective is to love Him first and then to allow His love to flow through us to one another … to love one another even as ourselves. For those controlled by harmful habits, freedom means having the ability to choose how they will think and behave, which involves breaking the power of whatever habits might be controlling them.

According to God’s Word, the solution to a bad habit is not just replacing it with a good habit but also examining what first made us susceptible to develop that bad habit and then dealing with it head on. The Bible says that we are all sinful and the natural inclination of our hearts is to do things our own way rather than God’s way. It’s a struggle we all have in common—a struggle we all can win—as long as we are empowered by the Spirit of God to say no to our will and yes to God’s will. Truly, there is no real freedom apart from Him.…

True Freedom:

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”

(Galatians 5:13–17)

  • You are called to be free …

—  Choosing to not indulge your fleshly desires or satisfy your selfish wants

—  Choosing to serve others with true humility out of genuine love for them, v. 13

  • You are commanded to love others …

—  Loving others as yourself is the foundation on which all laws are based.

—  Loving others summarizes the entire Law of God., v. 14

  • You are warned about failing to love …

—  Not loving each other can lead to fighting and devouring one another.

—  Not loving each other will ultimately lead to destroying one another., v. 15

  • You are told how to live …

—  Being fully yielded to the power and control of the Holy Spirit within you

—  Being victorious over your natural sinful desires in the power of the Holy Spirit, v. 16

  • You are engaged in internal conflict …

—  Understanding that your natural inclinations are in conflict with those of the Holy Spirit

—  Understanding your need to choose to obey the Spirit and oppose the flesh., v. 17

  1. How to Have Success in Self-Control

Along with determination and a strong spirit, another factor in Bethany’s success at remounting a surfboard was her enormous self-control. To have self-control you must first know what self-control is NOT. It is NOT “pulling yourself up by your own boot straps.” It is NOT overcoming one bad habit only to replace it with another bad habit. It is saying no to a negative habit so that you can say yes to a positive habit. Self-control is a gift from God, empowering you to fulfill the will of God. It is what the Holy Spirit does in you when you yield your will to His will.…

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

(Galatians 5:22–23)

Steps to Self-Control

  • Start with a commitment to truth, admitting what habit God wants you to change.

—  Believe: God wants only what is best for you.

—  Believe: God has the desire and power to help you.

—  Believe: God doesn’t punish you, but will discipline you.

—  Believe: God is faithful, perfect, good, and just.

Personalize: “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4).

  • Separate your sinful habit, writing out what it’s costing you.

—  Repent (change your thinking) and confess your habit as sinful.

—  Realize that yielding to your habit makes you a slave to sin.

—  Review the negative consequences of your habit regularly.

—  Read and memorize Psalm 1.

Personalize: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1–2).

  • Set a new goal, picturing yourself establishing the new habit.

—  Make it your goal to be empowered by God.

—  Make it your goal to please God.

—  Make it your goal to depend on God.

—  Make it your goal to do the will of God.

Personalize: “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:9–10).

  • Stand on the truth, setting a time to begin.

—  Know: In Christ you are set free from the penalty of sin.

—  Know: In Christ you are set free from the power of sin.

—  Know: In Christ you are “dead to sin.”

—  Know: In Christ you no longer have to be a slave to sin.

Read Romans chapters 6, 7, and 8, and write down every verse in which Paul indicates your freedom from sin.

Personalize: “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin …” (Romans 6:6).

  • Substitute God’s thoughts for your thoughts, identifying your weak points.

—  When you are tempted by a habit, remember …

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

—  When you think you are powerless over a habit, say …

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:29).

—  When you think you’ve had the habit too long to change, claim …

“If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

—  When you begin to rationalize that the habit is okay, admit …

“Since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1–2).

—  When you think no one will know about the habit, understand …

“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).

—  When you have given in to a habit, realize …

“The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down” (Psalm 145:14).

Personalize: “… in view of God’s mercy … offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:1–2).

  • Surrender your will to God and seek out an accountability partner.

—  Acknowledge that you belong to God.

—  Acknowledge that God has authority over all your thoughts, words, desires, time, money, actions, relationships, and possessions.

—  Acknowledge that the decision to change is yours.… You are making a choice!

—  Acknowledge that you have the actual presence of God’s Spirit in you to help you make the right choice!

Personalize: “Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness” (Romans 6:19).

  • Stay on track, practicing your new habit daily for three months.

—  Avoid taking pride in gaining victory over your habit.

—  Avoid thinking you have control over what caused your habit.

—  Avoid thinking it will be okay to occasionally indulge the habit.

—  Avoid moving out from under God’s grace into self-sufficiency.

Personalize: “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:1–2).

  1. How to Have a Transformed Life

Despite her strong faith and spirit, determination and courage, the possibility of another shark attack is not lost on Bethany Hamilton. She answers the inevitable question, “What about sharks?”

“To constantly dwell on what might happen would totally suck the joy out of the sport. Besides, it’s like asking, ‘What if the roller coaster comes off the track?’ (It has happened.) What if the horse throws you?… Life is full of what-ifs. You can’t let it hold you back. If you do, you’re not really living at all … just kind of going through the motions with no meaning.”

Rather than dwelling on all the reasons she shouldn’t don a swimsuit … shouldn’t get back in the water … shouldn’t surf, Bethany focused on her purpose, priorities, and plans. The key was learning what to focus on and what not to focus on.…

Have you ever said to yourself, I’m not going to eat that chocolate pie … and then all you can think about is chocolate pie? In the battle with temptation, you will shoot the arrow through your own foot if your thoughts are aimed downward. Understand that you hit what you aim at! Don’t dwell on the negative. Rather, focus on the positive.

Realize that training and disciplining the mind to think victoriously and to reject even the possibility of failure is critical to winning in the Olympics, competing in professional surfboarding events, and in developing godly character and strength of spirit. Set your thoughts high on God’s character-building truths, then with Christ’s strength, you can reach the target every time.…

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

(Philippians 4:8)

Reaching the Target: Transformation!

Target #1—A New Purpose: God’s purpose for me is to be conformed to the character of Christ.

“Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son …” (Romans 8:29).

—  “I’ll do whatever it takes to be conformed to the character of Christ.”

Target #2—A New Priority: God’s priority for me is to change my thinking.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

—  “I’ll do whatever it takes to line up my thinking with God’s thinking.

Target #3—A New Plan: God’s plan for me is to rely on Christ’s strength, not my strength, to be all He created me to be.

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 ESV).

—  “I’ll do whatever it takes to fulfill His plan in His strength.”


The Freedom Formula



A New Purpose




A New Priority




A New Plan


A Transformed Life


My Personalized Plan

Living under the “law” never changes you. If you focus only on what you shouldn’t do, you will be pulled more powerfully to do it because …

“… the power of sin is the law.”

(1 Corinthians 15:56)

Just three weeks after the attack, Bethany Hamilton waded into the Pacific Ocean—her parents and brothers verbally encouraging her, though inwardly unsure of what to expect. Rather than the long board she had become accustomed to using, Bethany started over with a beginner board. Never would she forget what happened next.…

“In some ways it was like learning to surf all over again. I had to learn how to paddle evenly with one arm.” Her initial tries didn’t work. Discouraged … she thought it would be easier. “Then it happened.… It’s hard for me to describe the joy I felt after I stood up and rode a wave in for the first time after the attack. Even though I was all wet, I felt tears of happiness trickling down my face.”

Bethany had taken the first step toward her dream. Determination and strength of spirit helped her to lift her body atop the surfboard that November day … but another power was also at work. “It was what God had taught me growing up that helped me overcome my fear and get back on the board,” she said. …

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

(Joshua 1:9)

How to Break the Habit of Smoking Missing the Target

Smoking cigarettes is one example of a hard-to-break habit. The principles that empower you to overcome smoking can also be employed to kick other bad habits.

Check out your thoughts and self-talk to see if they are causing you to miss the target.…

“I must quit smoking!”

“I’ll never pick up a cigarette again.”

“Christians look down on smokers.”

“I will stop thinking about cigarettes.”

“God is ashamed of me for smoking.”

“God will punish me for smoking.”

Those who break the habit of smoking either “taper off” or go “cold turkey.”

“Tapering Off”

  • “I will give Christ increasing control of my life … and my smoking habit in order to taper off gradually by …

—  Carrying a limited number of cigarettes for each day along with a gradual cutback schedule

—  Limiting buying cigarettes to only certain days of the month

—  Buying only one pack at a time

—  Entrusting my cigarettes to a friend so that I have to ask for one or by keeping them in an inconvenient place

—  Setting restrictions on when, where, and around whom I will smoke (outside, when I take a walk around the block, not around loved ones, etc.)

—  Breaking patterns of when I would normally smoke (not smoking while on the phone, immediately after a meal, in the car, before going to sleep)

—  Making myself accountable to someone who is willing to help

—  Memorizing and personalizing 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 and dwelling on it when I want a cigarette.”

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).

Going “Cold Turkey”

  • “I will give Christ total control of my life and my smoking habit in order to quit ‘cold turkey’ by …

—  Refusing to purchase cigarettes

—  Avoiding looking at cigarette ads

—  Choosing not to dwell on the ‘comfort’ of smoking

—  Doing another preplanned activity when I desire a cigarette (especially doing something with my hands)

—  Finding a substitute for wanting something in my mouth (chewing gum, hard candy, ice, or a toothpick)

—  Eliminating the unnecessary activities that cause me to want to smoke

—  Memorizing Romans 14:21 and 1 Corinthians 6:12.”

“It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall” (Romans 14:21).

Negative Reinforcement

Question: “What is negative reinforcement?”

Answer: Negative reinforcement is presenting negative truths or reasonings to aid with decision making. For example, “What is the truth about tobacco?”

Tobacco smoke contains more than 200 known poisons. Those who smoke two packs a day shorten their life expectancy by eight years. TOBACCO …

  • Is the most common cause of lung cancer
  • Is a major cause of hardening of the arteries, which in turn causes strokes and most heart attacks
  • Is a major contributor in mouth and throat cancers, which can disfigure a person for life
  • Causes emphysema, making breathing very taxing, which in turn causes death
  • Produces chemicals that erode the lining of the stomach, which in turn causes gastric ulcers
  • Increases the risk of bladder cancer
  • Slows down physical healing
  • Produces carbon monoxide and retards the growth of a fetus in a mother who smokes, which also increases the risk of premature birth and infant death
  • Contributes to heart disease, the leading cause of death in men

The Bible addresses the need to consider whether an activity is beneficial and constructive when we are deciding whether or not we will engage in it.…

“ ‘I have the right to do anything’ … but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive.”

(1 Corinthians 10:23)

Chewing Tobacco

Question: “Isn’t chewing tobacco better than smoking tobacco?”

Answer: Absolutely not! Tobacco remains tobacco whether it is consumed by chewing it or smoking it. Apart from the obvious yellow teeth stains and unpleasant taste (especially for the spouses of users), SMOKELESS TOBACCO …

  • Causes excessive cavities and tooth decay due to high quantities of sugar
  • Possesses coarse particles that damage gums and erode tooth enamel
  • Can lead to gum and tooth disease
  • Is a common cause of mouth and throat cancer
  • Can cause leukoplakia
  • Contributes to increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Increases the incidents of heart disease and heart attack

The American Academy of Otolaryngology states that spit, chewing, and smokeless tobacco are “not a safe alternative to smoking. You just move health problems from your lungs to your mouth,” providing a more potent nicotine rush to the blood.

The Bible offers this poignant observation …

“The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.”

(Proverbs 27:12)

Smoking Tobacco

Question: “What does God think about smoking?”

Answer: According to 1 Corinthians 6:19–20, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies,” smoking is a sin against the physical body because it causes sickness, disease, and possibly early death.

However, your salvation is not contingent on whether you smoke or not. Romans 10:9–10 says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” God’s desire for us is that we walk in freedom from any addiction or unhealthy habit. His plan for our lives is good. If we choose to shorten our lives as a result of this kind of vice, we may miss opportunities of ministry and the privilege of touching the lives of some whom He could have used us to touch had we walked in victory over our bad habits. Scripture makes this appeal …

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”

(Romans 12:1)

  1. How to Break a Bad Habit

Before releasing her from the hospital, Bethany Hamilton’s doctor summarized her prognosis this way: “The list of what Bethany will have to do differently is long; the list of what she will be unable to do is short.”

Prior to the attack, her routine workout was simple: Surf … and watch videos of herself surfing … in order to improve her technique. Those habits would hardly suffice now, when training to compete against elite athletes possessing endurance, strong core muscles, tremendous upper-body strength, and … two arms.

To compensate, Bethany added workouts to her regimen of grueling physical therapy that were nearly twice as hard as before. Because her spine began curving toward her stronger right side, she incorporated spinal realignment exercises into her routine. Instead of swimming (it’s too hard on her arm), she runs, does push-ups (one-armed!), hikes, lifts weights, and, of course, surfs—between two to eight hours a day when the waves allow.

When she found it too hard to duck under water while paddling out to catch a wave, she formed a new habit—riding a custom-made board with a handle she can hold on to. She also learned to use her legs more efficiently to compensate for her slower paddling.

“She’s working at a huge deficit with only one arm,” Bethany’s trainer said. “Yet the things she is able to do … like competing in paddle battles, out maneuvering two-armed surfers for waves, or getting whipped around in 25-foot surf … it’s just amazing. She copes incredibly well with her disadvantage and makes it seem like it doesn’t exist.”

Breaking free of an old habit is not a quick or easy task. Just as it takes time to develop a habit, it takes even more time to break it and establish a new habit. If it is true that we are creatures of habit, as the familiar saying goes, then we are establishing new or practicing old habits on a continuous basis—and sadly do so often on a subconscious level.

No wonder the psalmist beseeched God to examine him … something we all need God to do on a daily basis so that we do not unwittingly develop dangerous addictions.…

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

(Psalm 139:23–24)

As you seek to replace the old way with the new way, remember to …

  • Will to do God’s will.

—  Commit your will to God.

—  Regularly remind yourself of your heart’s desire to do God’s will.

“I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8).

  • Ask God for wisdom to know and accomplish His will.

—  Discern God’s priorities and plans for breaking the bad habits in your life.

—  Seek God’s will regarding the best strategy for breaking each identified habit.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).

  • Accept by faith that God has already given you the wisdom you need.

—  Reject any thoughts that suggest you may not be able to break your habit.

—  Believe that God is guiding and enabling you to succeed.

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14).

  • Write out the strategy that God has placed on your heart.

—  Write down the first particular habit you plan to change and make a list of the reasons you want to change it.

—  Detail the steps you will take and the various strategies you will employ.

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

  • Identity the wrong beliefs supporting your habit.

—  Recall the time, circumstances, and your internal dialogue surrounding the starting of this habit.

—  Replace each wrong belief with a biblically accurate belief.

“The simple believe anything, but the prudent give thought to their steps” (Proverbs 14:15).

  • Plan ways to remove possible reinforcements of your bad habit.

—  Make a list of the physical, emotional, and mental rewards reinforcing your habit.

—  Negate rewards for the bad behavior by replacing them with negative repercussions and instituting rewards for engaging in a desired behavior.

“The faithless will be fully repaid for their ways, and the good rewarded for theirs” (Proverbs 14:14).

  • Share your plan with an accountability partner.

—  Enlist the help of a mature Christian to help strengthen and support you in your efforts and to correct you when you veer off course.

—  Commit to being completely honest and forthright about your successes and failures.

“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22).

  • Resolve to stay the course.

—  Have no expectation that your fleshly desires will die or will accept defeat quietly, quickly, or easily.

—  Put on the full armor of God on a daily basis as you wage war against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11).

Saying “No”

Question: “I’m an overeater. What do I say when someone offers me food I really shouldn’t have?”

Answer: As with any addictive behavior, it is essential that you say no to those things that trigger your addiction, whether it be sugary food, alcohol, a drug, a cigarette, or even an invitation to join in a shopping excursion. Of course, the best means of escape whenever possible is to simply avoid people and situations where you might be tempted. However, to be prepared for facing your weakness, you must practice saying no … and mean it!

Some ways to say no politely, yet firmly …

  • “While I appreciate your making such a beautiful dessert, I’m afraid I must say no. I’m working hard to make good food choices to improve my health.”
  • “No thanks. I don’t drink anymore.”
  • “Thanks, but I quit smoking.”
  • “I’ve stopped using drugs, so no thanks.”
  • “Thank you for inviting me to shop, but I’m trying to curtail my spending. Maybe we could meet for lunch or a cup of coffee?”

Remember that it is not in your own strength that you are able to say no, but it is God’s grace operating within you, empowering you.…

“It [the grace of God] teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.…”

(Titus 2:12)

  1. How to Stop Compulsive Spending

In January 2004, just over a year after the attack, Bethany won the first national title of her career. In 2008 she began competing full-time, placing third in a contest against many of the world’s best female surfers. She had successfully stopped every habit she had established that served her well as a two-armed surfer and replaced each one with a new habit that would serve her well as a one-armed surfer. She evaluated every little behavior involved in her surfing style to determine which ones would benefit her in the future that she envisioned for herself and which ones would hold her back from her dream.

Have you formed a habit you once thought beneficial but has now turned into a compulsion that is destroying you? Could it be that you found spending money eased the emotional pain in your life; therefore, you began to spend more and more until you found yourself in debt that resulted in death to financial freedom and possibly even a relationship?

If you are wanting to stop your habit of compulsive spending, you must first discover the need you are trying to meet through your compulsive behavior. What is the driving force behind it? Examine it closely and determine how it is serving you. Then you must commit to trust God to meet your needs and determine to please the Lord in the way you manage the financial resources He gives you. Rely on Him as you seek to heal from the emotional pain and other factors that may have precipitated your spending compulsively. The truths that applied to the Israelites when they were enslaved to the Philistines apply to you today. God desires to deliver you but you must cooperate by taking action to rid yourself of the things in your life associated with that which enslaves you … to your “Philistines”!…

“If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.”

(1 Samuel 7:3)

Before you purchase anything, ask yourself:

“Is this purchase a true need or just a desire?”

“Do I have adequate funds to purchase this without using credit?”

“Have I compared the cost of competitive products?”

“Have I prayed about this purchase?”

“Have I been patient in waiting on God’s provision?”

“Do I have God’s peace regarding this purchase?”

“Does this purchase conform to the purpose God has for me?”

“Is there agreement with my spouse (if you are married) or accountability partner about this purchase?”

“Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

(Luke 12:15)

Don’t be caught off guard or fall into deeper debt. Make a plan that includes some of these practical steps that will enable you to develop healthy spending habits.

The Plan for Present Purchases

  • Avoid preferred shops and choose new stores to make your needed purchases.
  • Check with stores before leaving home to ensure they have the things you need.
  • Confine orders from catalogs, the Internet, and TV shopping channels to only those items already on your shopping list.
  • Divert your attention to another enjoyable activity when you feel the desire to go shopping.
  • Keep only one credit card and use it just for emergencies.
  • Limit your window shopping to after hours or when you have no means of making purchases.
  • Never shop when you are tired, depressed, excited, or lonely.
  • Plan your shopping trips to tempting locations late in the day so that you will arrive with just enough time to purchase your items before the doors close.
  • Put off buying anything you are hesitant about purchasing.
  • Shop only when you have a shopping list and purchase only items that are on the list.
  • Tell your spouse, friend, or shopping buddy just what you plan to buy when shopping.
  • Use cash, check, or debit card when purchasing. Use mail-order catalogs for purchasing specific items only, not for browsing or compiling a list of items for purchase.

When thinking about purchasing an item, ask yourself: Do I really need this? Can I afford it?

The Plan for Future Purchases

  • Formulate a realistic weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly budget with the help of a financially responsible person. Stay consistent.
  • Develop and implement a savings plan.
  • Enter purchases in your checkbook and deduct them from your balance on the day they occur or within the next few days.
  • Start a list of any expensive items you would like to purchase in the future, do three cost comparisons on each item, and then determine when you can realistically save the money to purchase each item.
  • Disclose all of your purchases and the cost of each to your spouse, friend, or accountability partner.
  • Purchase and wrap gifts early for loved ones you will be visiting throughout the year in order to avoid making superfluous or more expensive purchases during your visits.

Pray before walking into a store to purchase an item and ask: “Lord, is this a hasty decision or a well-planned decision? Is this just my will or Your perfect will?” Remember …

“The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, but those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty.”

(Proverbs 21:5 NKJV)

  1. How to Develop and Demonstrate Good Habits

In 2010 Bethany Hamilton ranked 20th on the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) Women’s Tour. A legend in water sports circles, her accomplishments may one day be eclipsed only by her efforts to minister internationally to the needs of those who, like her, have suffered a major setback in life.

On a ministry trip to Thailand, for example, she helped traumatized orphans regain their courage to enter the water, which years before had devastated their country through a deadly tsunami.

Her foundation, Friends of Bethany, supports shark attack survivors, traumatic amputees, and other charitable efforts.

A movie about Bethany Hamilton’s life, based on her book, was released in 2011, providing a platform for this star surfer to tell her story and share her faith around the world. To those struggling to understand and overcome, she says:

“I don’t pretend to have all the answers to why bad things happen to good people. But I do know that God knows all those answers, and sometimes He lets you know in this life, and sometimes He asks you to wait so that you can have a face-to-face talk about it.

“What I do know is that I want to use what happened to me as an opportunity to tell people that God is worthy of our trust, and to show them that you can go on and do wonderful things in spite of terrible events that happen.”

This habit of sharing her faith will benefit Bethany all the rest of her days … along with thousands of others who will hear it and believe it!

Many habits are the result of childhood experiences. Family and friends have a powerful influence on us. But as we grow older, like Bethany Hamilton we decide for ourselves the values and behaviors we want to incorporate into our lives. No longer a child, you do not have to be controlled by the attitudes and actions of others. You can choose to develop and demonstrate good habits that are desirable and pleasing to God.…

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”

(1 Corinthians 13:11)

Develop and Demonstrate

  • Moral Sensitivity

—  Study the Scriptures daily so that you will know God’s standards.

—  Write out the Ten Commandments and apply each one to your life (Exodus 20:1–17).

—  Consider what it means to “have no other gods before me.”

—  Memorize the Beatitudes and rehearse in your mind ways to apply them in your life (Matthew 5:3–11).

—  Measure all of your behavior with the yardstick of Scripture.

“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).

  • Accountability

—  Be open to the truth when others criticize you.

—  Say with appreciation, “It takes courage to point out where a person needs to change. Thank you for taking the risk.”

—  Think about how your negative attitudes impact your life and the lives of others around you.

—  Confess your failures to God and ask forgiveness from those you have offended.

—  Daily or weekly, talk with a friend who will help you “kick the habit” that plagues you.

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other …” (James 5:16).

  • Gratefulness

—  Memorize Psalm 100, meditate on its message, and think of ways you can apply it to your life.

—  Acknowledge the gifts that God has given you, gifts for which you can be grateful.

—  Keep a prayer journal and give thanks for answered prayer.

—  Always express gratitude to those who are helpful to you.

—  Thank God for what He is teaching you through each trial that He allows in your life.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).

  • Forgiveness

—  Know that forgiving others is required for you to receive the forgiveness of God.

—  Forgive by releasing that person into the hands of God.

—  Choose to forgive others even when you feel justified in your anger.

—  Remind yourself of the many times God has forgiven you.

—  Realize that forgiveness is often a process of forgiving again and again—not a onetime act.

“If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14–15).

  • Selflessness

—  Set a high standard for yourself, but allow others to set their own.

—  Ask God to shine a spotlight on your acts of selfishness.

—  Avoid talking about yourself or bragging about your endeavors; rather, encourage others to talk about themselves and praise them for their godly qualities.

—  Resist the urge to criticize or to give unasked-for advice.

—  Perform an unsolicited act of kindness toward someone else each day.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

  • Communion with God

—  Spend time alone with God every day.

—  Eliminate preventable noise and remove other distractions.

—  Slowly say from your heart, “Lord, I do love You.”

—  Close your mind to invading thoughts and focus on God’s presence and His character.

—  Be quiet in your spirit and wait on God to reveal Himself to you.

“May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord” (Psalm 104:34).

  1. How to Help … with Accountability Questions

Bethany Hamilton would be the first to say that she has not made the journey from shark-attack victim to national surfing champ alone. It would be difficult to imagine a more supportive family than hers. Along with her family, there are many friends, fans, and a close-knit church community who have cheered for this surfer continuously.

Encouragement is important. But when it comes to shedding old habits, learning new ones, and achieving goals once thought unobtainable, nothing is more critical than accountability. For Bethany, that has come, first and foremost, in the form of her surfing coaches.

She admits, “There are times when the last thing I feel like doing is running another mile.…” And that is why she has a coach who pushes her “farther and harder than I ever think I (or any human!) can go.”

Through a caring, supportive network, God has shown Bethany that …

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”

(Ecclesiastes 4:9–10)

Many who have struggled with temptation say today, “I couldn’t have made it without someone holding me accountable. God knew that’s what I needed!”

But at times, having an accountability partner hasn’t been effective. Why? Realize, many strugglers hope no one will ask them specifically how they are doing in the area of their habits and addictions.

Asking specific questions is a key component of effective accountability. Strugglers need to know that they are going to be asked a series of targeted questions. They also need to know that they will have someone trustworthy to hold them accountable. The Bible says …

“If someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.”

(Galatians 6:1)

Accountability Questions

Since we last spoke:

#1   Have you done anything that pricked your conscience?


#2   Did you practice any undisciplined behavior?


#3   Did you engage in any addictive behavior? Have you performed any other additive behavior?


#4   Have you done anything to violate any boundary? Have you set a boundary and kept it?


#5   Has anything caused your thought life to stray? What steps will you take to avoid justifying the habit?


#6   Have you found yourself in a compromising situation? How did you respond?


#7   What beliefs about yourself and others have been conveyed through your recent habits (bad or good)?


#8   What area of your life do you think God most wants you to change? What steps have you taken to make that change a reality?


#9   What good habits do you believe God wants to develop in your life? What steps have you taken to see those habits become a reality?


#10   Is there a part of your life that you need to surrender to God?


#11   Is there something you hope I won’t ask about?


#12   Is God telling you to do something? What is it and what will you do about it?


Memorize this admonition from Scripture …

“Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”

(Proverbs 28:13)

Additional Questions

#1   In what areas do you sense a need for change?


#2   Have you been pure in your thought life?


#3   Do you need to confess any sin?


#4   How has your spiritual life been? Have you been praying regularly?


Note to Mentors: Any of these questions can be deleted or exchanged with other questions. During the first session, ask the one who wants victory to select three or four questions most appropriate for their struggle.

—  Ask, “Are there specific areas where you know you need to be held accountable?”

—  After several sessions, ask, “How is this accountability working for you?”

—  “If our positions were reversed, what would you do differently if you were me?”

Remember, Christ is shaping and maturing both of you through this time of accountability, …

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

(Proverbs 27:17)

The Game of Life

For each of us, the entry fee has been paid, and we are in the race—a race that must be run. How we develop our habits determines our personal outcome. When your life is yielded to the Lord—when you complete the race He has laid out for you to run with Him, in His strength, and for His glory—you can echo the following words.…

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

(2 Timothy 4:7)

Even with missteps and false starts, what satisfaction to hear the heavenly Father say, “Race well run … race well done.”

Your habits will either make you or break you

—depending on your priorities.

They will break the potential of what God has planned or make it possible for you to fulfill His plan.

Be strong and you can’t go wrong when all your habits are right in God’s sight!

—June Hunt


Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked “NKJV™” are taken from the New King James Version®.

Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked “ESV™” are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The information and solutions offered in this resource are a result of years of Bible study, research, and practical life application.

They are intended as guidelines for healthy living and are not a replacement for professional medical advice.

JUNE HUNT and HOPE FOR THE HEART make no warranties, representations, or guarantees regarding any particular result or outcome. Any and all express or implied warranties are disclaimed. Please consult qualified medical, pastoral, and psychological professionals regarding individual conditions and needs. JUNE HUNT and HOPE FOR THE HEART do not advocate that you treat yourself or someone you know and disclaim any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the information in this resource.

We acknowledge that mistakes or omissions could occur in our many Scripture references, writings, and citations.

Although the editors have sought to avoid all errors, some may have been overlooked, for which we take full responsibility.

The considerate reader would render us a great service by calling our attention to any such error.

To order CDs, resource books, and additional Biblical Counseling Keys on Alcohol & Drug Abuse, Codependency, Overeating, Perfectionism, Sexual Addiction, Temptation, Workaholism, and other related topics, contact Hope For The Heart • P.O. Box 7 • Dallas, TX • 75221 or call toll-free 1-800-488-HOPE (4673).

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2014.4.30/9 (NIV)


Anderson, Neil T. A Way of Escape. Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1994.

Backus, William D. Finding the Freedom of Self-Control. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1987.

Chapel of the Air. Reversing Self-Destructive Patterns. Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1990.

Crabb, Lawrence J., Jr. “The Sin in Self-Discipline.” Discipleship Journal, no. 44 (1988).

Crabb, Lawrence J., Jr. Understanding People: Deep Longings for Relationship. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987.

Crabb, Lawrence J., Jr. Understanding People: Deep Longings for Relationship. Ministry Resources Library. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987.

Gillham, Anabel. The Building Up & Tearing Down of Strongholds. Fort Worth, TX: Lifetime Guarantee Ministries, na.

Hart, Archibald D. Healing Life’s Hidden Addictions: Overcoming the Closet Compulsions that Waste Your Time and Control Your Life. Ann Arbor, MI: Vine, 1990.

Hunt, June. Counseling Through Your Bible Handbook. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.

Hunt, June. How to Forgive … When You Don’t Feel Like It. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2007.

Hunt, June. How to Handle Your Emotions. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.

Hunt, June. Seeing Yourself Through God’s Eyes. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.

Kelfer, Russell. Tough Choices: Secrets to Bringing Self Under Control from the Book of Proverbs. San Antonio, TX: Into His Likeness, 1991.

LeSourd, Sandra Simpson. The Compulsive Woman. Old Tappan, NJ: Chosen, 1987.

Lutzer, Erwin W. How to Say “No” to a Stubborn Habit: Even When You Feel LIke Saying “Yes.” Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1986.

Lutzer, Erwin W. Seven Snares of the Enemy: Breaking Free from the Devil’s Grip. Chicago: Moody, 2001.

May, Gerald G. Addiction and Grace. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1988.

McGee, Robert S. The Search for Freedom: Demolishing the Strongholds that Diminish Your Faith, Hope, and Confidence in God. Ann Arbor, MI: Vine, 1995.

McGee, Robert S. The Search for Significance. 2nd ed. Houston, TX: Rapha, 1990.

Moore, Beth. Breaking Free: Making Liberty in Christ a Reality in Life. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2000.

Moore, Beth. Breaking Free: Making Liberty in Christ a Reality in Life (workbook). Nashville: LifeWay, 1999.

Ryan, Dale, and Juanita Ryan. Recovery from Shame: 6 Studies for Groups or Individuals. Life Recovery Guides. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1990.

Walters, Richard P. Counseling for Problems of Self-Control. Resources for Christian Counseling, ed. Gary R. Collins, vol. Waco, TX: Word, 1987.

Wilkes, Peter. Winning the War Within: How to Stop Doing What You Don’t Want to Do. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1995.

Wilkinson, Bruce H. Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs. Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1999.

Wilkinson, Bruce H. Personal Holiness in Times of Temptation. Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1998.

Wilkinson, Bruce H. Personal Holiness in Times of Temptation: Course Workbook. The Biblical Manhood Series. Atlanta, GA: Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, 1997.

The World’s Best Anatomical Charts: Diseases and Disorders. Skokie, IL: Anatomical Chart Company, 2000.

Wright, H. Norman. Making Peace With Your Partner: Healing Conflicts in Marriage. Dallas: Word, 1988.

Luke 16:13 (NIV)

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Ecclesiastes 7:18 (NIV)

“Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.”

1 Corinthians 6:12 (NIV)

“ ‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but I will not be mastered by anything.”

1 Thessalonians 5:24 (NIV)

“The one [God] who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”

1 Peter 1:13 (NIV)

“With minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.”

Romans 6:1–2 (NIV)

“Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”

Philippians 4:13 (NIV)

“I can do all this through him [Jesus] who gives me strength.”

1 Corinthians 6:19–20 (NIV)

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

Galatians 5:16 (NIV)

“Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

Psalm 139:23–24 (NIV)

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

If we’re totally forgiven by God’s grace, can we go on sinning?

Habits & Addictions




Who can give me the strength to change my harmful habits?

Habits & Addictions




As Christians, our bodies are our own responsibility. Why be obsessed with a lot of talk of how to honor God with our bodies?

Habits & Addictions




How can I not gratify the desires of my flesh? How can I break the sinful habits that serve to meet those desires?

Habits & Addictions




How should I pray so that I may know what is in my heart—to reveal anything offensive in me?

Habits & Addictions




Is it possible to serve two masters? Can I be devoted to God, yet be mastered by money?

Habits & Addictions




How do I avoid all extremes … especially all bad habits?

Habits & Addictions




If I have the right to do anything, why must I be concerned with what society says is beneficial?

Habits & Addictions




What if I don’t have the self-discipline to be faithful to do what God calls me to do?

Habits & Addictions





[1] Hunt, J. (2008). Biblical Counseling Keys on Habits & Addictions: Success in Self-Control (pp. 1–47). Dallas, TX: Hope For The Heart.