Habitual Sin: How to Overcome
Habitual sins enslave us. We desperately need God’s help to defeat them, but we feel ashamed to go back to Him. How can we overcome habitual sin?
There are certain sins that seem to grab hold of us, dig in 9-inch nails and hold on for dear life no matter how much we twist and turn. These are the persistent, habitual sins that we are ashamed of and try to keep secret from others, even our closest loved ones. Is it possible to stop something that is so entrenched in our daily lives?
Society will say that this is just the way we are and that we shouldn’t go against what comes naturally to us. Society will plead its case that all morality is relative and that there is no set definition of what is right and wrong.
But whatever society says to encourage us to continue in sinful behavior, those who believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God know that there is a definite law that we are to follow: God’s.
Sin and habitual sin
Sin is defined as lawlessness (1 John 3:4). This applies to sins that continually rear their heads time and time again even after we repent.
The situation may sound familiar: We know exactly what part of God’s law we are breaking; we tell our Creator that we’ll never do it again. We succeed for a while, but temptation comes, and we fail again. Certain sins come immediately to mind, but habitual sin truly could be anything that it appears we “just can’t” overcome, from addictions to destructive attitudes.
God expects those who truly believe in Him to overcome sin—even persistent, habitual sin. He understands that we are human and will “miss the mark,” but continuing in what we know to be sin is destructive to the kind of character God wants us to be building. Yet with sins that have truly become bad habits, compared to sins that are truly accidental, some extra determination and sacrifice must be involved.
How much longer?
To start the long process of overcoming a habitual sin, we have to ask ourselves a very personal and embarrassing question: “How much longer will I continue to break God’s commandments?”
The fact that we have not overcome this particular sin makes us want to say that we “can’t” and that “it’s just too hard.” As many motivational speakers point out, many times we have to ask ourselves if it is truly a matter that we can’t—or that we won’t. More times than we’d like to admit, we won’t do what is necessary to overcome a particular sin.
Therefore, the first step is to resolve that we have lived long enough with this particular hindrance to our spiritual growth and are basically not going to take it anymore.
The next step is to determine who is going to know about any future “relapses.” God and Jesus Christ will be our first and foremost accountability partners. The secretive and shameful aspect of unresolved habitual sin perhaps has made prayer difficult or even embarrassing. We must commit ourselves to always humbly repenting. God should be the first one to hear about any relapse immediately afterwards. He is our most valuable accountability partner because He is fully able to help us overcome our sin, and He fully understands our human weakness.
Next, find a loving and merciful human accountability partner. Whether it is a spouse, close friend, minister or family member—another human being can help us if he or she knows about what we are struggling with.
This can be the hardest thing in the process, due to shame or embarrassment over the sin. Still, it does wonders in destroying the secrecy and “cover-up” that our habitual sins love to live in. The extent and frequency of what we tell this person is up to us, but we have to remember that the person is there to help us.
Choose this person carefully! The person must be loving, supportive and understanding. Some people, even some who claim they are Christian, will literally “cast the first stone” if they find out about your sin.
Christ, when confronted with a woman caught in the act of adultery, said, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” He soon after told the woman to go and sin no more (John 8:2-11). This is the kind of accountability partner we want to find: someone who is rooting for us without enabling us to sin. We need someone who will be there for us and never give up on us as long as we are committed to change.
Persistence and sacrifice
Just as the habitual sin was so persistent in our lives, the replacement behaviors for that perpetual sin should be just as consistent once we have gotten control of the problem. Taking one day at a time, we will continue in positive, God-approved behaviors instead of the destructive behaviors we have left behind.
To do this, we may have to sacrifice some things in our lives, such as former routines, entertainment criteria, friendship circles or things that are a “trigger” for that particular sin. These sacrifices may make us angry and frustrated, but we must remember why we are making them.
By the very nature of deeply entrenched habits, there will likely be “relapses,” but what counts is what we do after those relapses:
- Repent to our first accountability partner, God, and pray for strength to not sin again. Diligently study the Bible for instruction on overcoming and avoiding this sin in the future.
- Talk with our human accountability partner to discuss what went wrong and how to avoid it next time.
- Pray every day for God’s power and strength to help overcome the sin.
Hard road ahead
Overcoming is not easy. However, it can be done. It all starts with understanding how much God hates sin and how much He loves us. This should lead to a determination to live the way that God intends for us to live—now and forever!