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Breaking Controlling Habits

Breaking Controlling Habits

What do you do when you get bored, or angry, or stressed, or sad, or depressed? Many people have a controlling habit they turn to that will replace these unpleasant feelings with pleasure. It could be eating, drinking, drugs, shopping, pornography, gaming, or anything to divert their mind from the unpleasant reality. The pleasure we get from a controlling habit can be addictive and very difficult to break.

A controlling habit is usually connected to wrong beliefs and attitudes. We deceive ourselves by calling it a disease, or a genetic defect, or a weakness, instead of a sin of idolatry. We need to realize that we love these controlling habits more than we love God, which is what makes them an idol, and therefore sinful. Until we deal with the wrong beliefs that weaken our resistance to the controlling habit, and call it sin, we won’t have much success in overcoming it.

Controlling habits are ultimately spiritual issues. We are responsible for our own sin, including those sins "which so easily beset us." The fact that we do something wrong habitually does not relieve us of responsibility. On the contrary, it may make the sin all the worse. So we must take personal responsibility for our own habits and not shrink from calling them sin. We should not want to change a habit only because it is embarrassing, expensive, unhealthy, or makes us feel guilty, rather we should want God's purpose for our life to be fulfilled to bring Him glory. God never tells us to give up things just for the sake of giving them up, but He tells us to give them up for the sake of the only thing worth having, namely, life with Himself.

2 Peter 2:19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity--for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.

Fortunately, sinful habits are not insurmountable problems for the Christian. After all, the Holy Spirit indwells us and is working to conform us to the image of Christ.

Galatians 5:16 says, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

1 Cor. 10:13 “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man, 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 stand up under it.”

If we make use of the power provided by God through His Spirit and His Word, we can attack any habit knowing that we can win. Often when a message is brought about breaking free from habits, people think…well, this is for the drug addict and the alcoholic. But, many in this room today need to break free from something. Peter says, “You are a slave to whatever has mastered you.” We will never know the joy of freedom in the Kingdom of God as long as we remain enslaved by a controlling habit.

Some people are a slave to work, some are slave to jealousy, some are slave to gossip, and some are slave to anger, pornography, various drugs, and many other controlling habits that hold us in bondage. A controlling habit is something we find ourselves doing even though it is destructive physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually. It is something we consistently do that we wish we wouldn’t do, but we find ourselves doing it any way.

Rom 7:15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

We must understand many good people are bound by bad controlling habits. We are not less spiritual if we admit we have a controlling habit. That is the first step to victory over it. However, the sin of pride prevents us from repenting and getting free. The end result is not only pain and suffering, but separation from God. Spending eternity in hell is the result of prideful unbelief and unrepentant sin.

Therefore, be honest and confess your own sin and inabilities to make the necessary changes. Admit you don’t hate the habit enough to give it up and you like it more than you love God; that you love yourself too much to deny yourself of its pleasure. After you have admitted this and confessed it to God as sin, you are ready to ask God to deliver you and change your heart and mind; whatever embarrassment you must endure and however humbling it may be.

Why is it so hard to stop a controlling habit without God?

James 1:13-15 When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

First of all, remember that sin begins in the mind. The person who steals first thinks about the thing he wants. He then thinks of a plan for getting it. After he has schemed in his mind, he takes it. He could have stopped the sin in his mind before it was completed in action. That's why Scripture commands us to renew our minds (Rom 12:2), to think about good things (Phil 4:8), and to meditate on the Word (Ps 1:2). Consequently, what we focus on is what we will do.

Controlling habits are formed at a pace almost unnoticeable. They slowly bind us. Usually the person doesn’t even know they have formed a habit in their life. And if someone asks, they say, “I can quit at any time. This isn’t a problem.”

However, daily practices over time become habits that are strongholds in our life. Controlling habits are like comfortable beds: easy to get into, but hard to get out. They are formed through willful behavior. The person has given in so many times to this thing that they are now addicted.

Not only do they slowly bind, they break our will. Once we have allowed a habit to control us, that habit is our master. That habit breaks us down to the point where we don’t even try to resist because we feel like we can’t break free.

The attitude becomes, “Why should I try, I always go back to doing it again.” A habit will break our will to fight. Some of us are sitting here right now feeling helpless. We don’t even have the will to fight, because the habit has broken our will.

Bad controlling habits will destroy us and others around us. They destroy us in many different ways: physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and relationally. For example, how many marriages have been lost to controlling habits? How many families have been divided because of controlling habits? How many jobs have been lost? How many relationships destroyed? How many minds have been wasted? How many diseases are the cause of controlling habits?

Gal. 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery.

In every situation, with every temptation, Jesus Christ provides victory. Here are the steps we must obey to walk in victory with Christ.

1. Admit you have a sin problem. Many people are in a state of denial. They never admit they have a problem; therefore, they never break free. For example, alcoholics, who never admit they are alcoholics, won’t find freedom. People filled with anger, who won’t admit they have a sin problem, won’t get freedom. Freedom starts with confession.

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

2. Secondly, depend on God’s power to combat controlling habits. You’ve already tried to quit on your own and you know that doesn’t work.

John 15:5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

When it comes to being set free from habits that bind, Jesus can do more in a moment than doctors can do in a lifetime. The Holy Spirit must become your primary source of strength. Start your day off with God, and He will help you through the day to overcome and show you a way out. The more you allow God to be part of your life, the more you will see Him working in you. You have to stop trying to do this by yourself. God said, submit to Me. Submission to God means we enter into a relationship with God whereby we sacrifice our lives in obedience to Him. Then we have authority over the devil and power to resist temptation.

James 4:7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

3. Thirdly, controlling habits must be replaced by good ones. Repentance and transformation is not just turning away from sin; it is turning toward righteousness; that is, doing right things.

Eph 4:28-29 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

The person who lies must begin speaking the truth. One who steals must not only stop stealing, he must work and give to others. And one whose language is unwholesome must learn to edify others. Do not just stop sinning, start doing what is right. The good habits you build will replace the sinful ones.

Num. 33:55 But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides.

God told Moses that before the Israelites settled in the Promise Land, they should drive out the wicked inhabitants and destroy their idols. Like the Israelites moving into the Promise Land, to live in God’s Kingdom and enjoy His blessings, we must drive out the sinful thoughts and practices. We must drive out the temptations and destroy the idols in our life.

Romans 13:14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Defeating a habit also requires changes in lifestyle and thinking. We are to make no provision for the flesh. The person who wants to stop smoking should throw away all his cigarettes and not buy any more; the person struggling with sexual sin should get rid of any suggestive materials in his possession. We should also avoid the company of those who have the same problem, and avoid the places and circumstances that tempt us.

Colossians 3:1-3 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

As Christians, remember your baptism. At that time, you were born again of the Spirit to live a new life of faith and obedience to Jesus Christ. Set your mind on things above, not your desires. In baptism, you died.  A dead man cannot be tempted. Therefore, identify with the death of Jesus and consider yourself dead. Be filled with the Holy Spirit and live for the glory of Jesus.

4. Fourthly, find support from others. Don’t try to battle a controlling habit alone. Develop relationships with mature Christians who will encourage and support you. Spend time in prayer with them. Ask them to "check up on you" regularly, and be honest about your failures.

James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

Why do I need to drag another person into this, you may wonder? Why can’t I just pray about it and talk to God about it? Why do I need to tell another person?

Because God promises to heal us when we admit our faults to one another. The root of our problem is relational. We lie to each other. We deceive each other. We’re dishonest with each other. We wear masks. We pretend we have it together, but we don’t. We deny our true feelings, and we play games. We end up living with shame and it makes us insecure, because we think, if they really knew the truth about me, they wouldn’t love me.

Our sin gets its power from the darkness we hide it in. But once exposed to the light, it loses its power. When we come into the light, we become real and genuine. Deliverance begins. The amazing thing is, when we risk honesty with someone, all of a sudden, this feeling of freedom comes into our life. Then God turns our struggle into something useful, for after we are delivered, healed, and strengthened, then we are able to help others with the same help from God that we have received.

5. Fifth, take one day at a time. For example, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Likewise, we overcome a controlling habit with God’s grace one day at a time.

Phil 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Any victory, no matter how minor, thank God for it. Take one defeat, or one victory, one day at a time. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Don’t worry about a week. Don’t worry about a month. Don’t worry about a year. While it is still today, concentrate on Jesus Christ, and not your habit.

Jesus said, Matt 6:34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

6. Sixth, seek deliverance. The controlling habit could have a demonic attachment. The first thing a demon will do is lie to you and tell you it doesn’t exist. Pride is an associated demon that will prevent you from seeking deliverance. These demons form a stronghold in your life, but we have authority in Christ Jesus to break their stronghold and cast the demons out. However, prayer and fasting may be necessary. You will need help to rebuke these demons, so find another person with faith to also pray and fast with you for your deliverance.

Matthew 17:18-21 (NKJV) And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, "Why could we not cast it out?" So Jesus said to them, "Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting."

7. Seventh, if there is a total lack of self-control due to a chemical dependence, hospitalization may be necessary where the person is placed totally under control of a team of specialists to detoxify him. Then that person must learn to control himself and resist whatever has controlled him in the past. However, if  the first six points of this message are not addressed during the hospitalization, and afterwards on a daily basis, then the individual will soon fail again when he gets bored, or angry, or stressed, or sad, or depressed.

For the majority of us, we only need to confess our sin to God and to others, repent, and let the Holy Spirit renew our minds and change our hearts. We need a hatred for sin and greater love for Jesus Christ, who gave up Heaven, withstood all the temptations we experience, and took our punishment on the cross. We need to dedicate our life to obeying the Holy Spirit, instead of living to please ourselves. Then we will experience freedom and the abundant life Jesus came to give us.

Will you confess your sin and ask God to change your mind and heart today? Will you resolve to do that daily? Don’t be concerned with a week, month, or year. Commit your life to Jesus today. Jesus said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow.” When tomorrow comes, commit your life to Him again and be filled with the Holy Spirit again. Live daily with Jesus, for He is the Truth and the Truth will set you free.

If you want to be free, then you have to stop living your life your way, and live it God’s way. You will never be genuinely happy unless you do live His way. Yes, sin may seem pleasurable for a season, but you will still feel empty and enslaved to your passions. The only One, who can fill that emptiness and set you free to live an abundant life, is Jesus Christ. You were created to worship and serve Him and that is the only way to become fulfilled.

Aren’t you tired of just living to please yourself? You see, you have to be tired, because if you are not tired, you may never turn from the controlling habit, the sin, that has you bound. If you are not tired, I pray you will get tired now. I don’t want you to miss out on what Christ suffered on the Cross for—your freedom, your deliverance, and your eternal life.

If you have never given your life to Jesus but you believe that He is the Son of God, then repent of your sin and give your life to Him in water baptism. He will give you a new life, born of the Holy Spirit. Then you will have power to be His witness, power over sin, power over the devil, power over temptation, and power over controlling habits.