Let’s talk habits. Do you know someone who has a bad habit? Do you have one? Or let’s ask the question in a different way: Do you know anyone who doesn’t have a bad habit? This subject has a universal application to both adults and children. Most of our bad habits are developed in early childhood and continue to affect us throughout the rest of our lives.
Perhaps there comes a time in people’s lives, after earnest evaluation, when they realize they don’t want to keep a particular bad habit. They want to make a change but find that they are locked into that habit because habits are very difficult to change.
Here’s a simple example: What would happen if I were to climb to the very top of the roof of a building and then jump off? Someone might say, “Well, if you prayed hard enough, maybe you wouldn’t get hurt too bad.” Is that a reasonable expectation?
We do this all the time. We violate certain physical or spiritual laws and then expect the Lord to deliver us from the resulting pain and suffering. But God cannot answer this prayer, because He would be condoning the violation of the very laws that He has established. So, when we study about how to deal with bad habits, and study the laws that are involved, then we can know how to escape them.
And, friends, there is an escape. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into this world because we were in bondage to something that we could not free ourselves from, and Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, … He has sent Me … to proclaim liberty to the captives and … to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Luke 4:18
This is, in part, liberty and freedom from our guilt. But it is also liberty and freedom from our bad habits. Jesus came to set you free from your bad habits.
Spiritual, mental, and physical components are all involved in this escape, and in the forming, maintaining, and deliverance from them or we’ll never be free from them.
Let’s start with the spiritual and mental components and then we’ll take up the physical component.
Just how did we develop bad habits when we were children?
Children develop bad habits because their minds are not trained. As children grow up in their parental home, parents are to cultivate, train, and develop the good habits a child should have to lead a healthy, spiritual life.
Children should not be idle. A busy child has no spare time to engage in bad habits. Children without anything to do spend more time getting into trouble, and bad habits are the results. This has been a great curse in society.
Children need to have a balance of physical and mental activity. Parents must consider if their children are occupied enough to keep them busy all day.
Inappropriate associations can also result in bad habits. Who are your children’s friends? Do they love and obey their parents? Do they love and keep the ten commandments? Associates who are immoral or idle will encourage the development of bad habits in your children.
“With the present plan of education the door of temptation is open to youth. Although they generally have too many hours of study, they have many hours without anything to do. These leisure hours are frequently spent in a reckless manner. The knowledge of bad habits is communicated from one to another and vice is greatly increased.” Testimonies, Vol. 3, 148
Parents need to be aware of who their children go to school with and with whom they spend a lot of time. As parents, we need to place our children in God’s hands, asking Him to tell us where we should send our children to school and to protect them from the things that they will learn, see, and hear that could have a negative effect on their future.
Neglect also facilitates the development of children’s bad habits. When parents are so busy that they really don’t have time to raise their children, then the children are left to fend for themselves, and bad habits are sure to be the result.
Our home life should be one of order. There should be a schedule that tells children when to get up and when to go to bed, when to eat, when to do home chores and school work, and when to play.
So, these are three ways that children develop bad habits. What about those of us who now are adults with bad habits that we can’t seem to do anything about? The Bible clearly states the condition we are in.
“Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Then may you also do good who are accustomed to doing evil.” Jeremiah 13:23
“And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. … But no man can tame the tongue, it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” James 3:6, first part, 8
How many people can change the color of their skin? None. Can the leopard change its spots? No. Who can tame the tongue? No one. The Bible is saying that we have a habit, and though we do not want to keep this habit any longer, we are finding it impossible to change.
The first thing we must understand about firmly-ingrained habits is that there is no one who can break or change them. This is one of the reasons people become so discouraged when they try to “kick” their habits, or make resolutions that they don’t keep.
Someone might think that if it’s an impossibility for a man to break his bad habits, then why are we even talking about it?
We want to talk about it because what we need to know most of all is that there is a way, a miraculous power, that will aid us in overcoming our bad habits. That way is Jesus. Changing anything in our lives just won’t happen without Divine help. It is only after He comes into our lives that we can then be set free from the things that hold us captive.
“When the soul surrenders itself to Christ, a new power takes possession of the new heart. A change is wrought which man can never accomplish for himself. It is a supernatural work, bringing a supernatural element into human nature. The soul that is yielded to Christ becomes His own fortress, which He holds in a revolted world, and He intends that no authority shall be known in it but His own. A soul thus kept in possession by the heavenly agencies is impregnable to the assaults of Satan. But unless we do yield ourselves to the control of Christ, we shall be dominated by the wicked one. We must inevitably be under the control of the one or the other of the two great powers that are contending for the supremacy of the world. It is not necessary for us deliberately to choose the service of the kingdom of darkness in order to come under its dominion. We have only to neglect to ally ourselves with the kingdom of light. If we do not cooperate with the heavenly agencies, Satan will take possession of the heart, and will make it his abiding place. The only defense against evil is the indwelling of Christ in the heart through faith in His righteousness.” The Desire of Ages, 324
What is the only defense against evil? The indwelling of Christ in the heart. How do we receive the indwelling of Christ in our hearts? By yielding ourselves completely to Him.
“Unless we become vitally connected with God, we can never resist the unhallowed effects of self-love, self-indulgence, and temptation to sin. We may leave off many bad habits, for the time we may part company with Satan; but without a vital connection with God, through the surrender of ourselves to Him moment by moment, we shall be overcome. Without a personal acquaintance with Christ, and a continual communion, we are at the mercy of the enemy, and shall do his bidding in the end.” Ibid.
Without this vital connection with Jesus, unless He is dwelling in the heart by faith, we will be under the control of the devil, and even if we leave off many of our bad habits, he will still be our master.
A union with the Divine still requires supreme human effort.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Philippians 2:12
There are two mistakes that most people make. Some want to do it all themselves until they find out it’s impossible to do alone. Or others, realizing it is impossible, decide to just depend on the Lord and let Him do it all. They don’t even try.
God is going to do a miraculous work in each of us, but we have a work of our own to do in this partnership with Him. We see that in Philippians 2:12. But verse 13 makes it clearer just what God intends to do in our lives.
“For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” I wish we had a stronger English word for “to do.” In Greek, this means to energize or to empower. You could read it like this: “… works in you to will and to empower [you] for His good pleasure.” God wants to give you the power to overcome your bad habits, and then with that power at your disposal, you do your part of the work with fear and trembling. To overcome the wickedness in our lives, it takes two: our complete surrender and God’s miraculous power.
“To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.” Colossians 1:29
The Greek word Paul uses that we translate as striving, agonizomai, means to fight or to contend or to struggle. It is the word from which we get the English word agonize. This is an all-in struggle. Then the words “works in” mean, just like in Philippians 2:13, energizes or empowers.
We can struggle, fight, agonize over our bad habits. We can desperately labor and strive for our entire life to be free from them, but unless we cooperate with God so that He can work with great power a change in our hearts, we will fail.
I am reminded of the somewhat famous quote by Mark Twain regarding his smoking habit, “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.”
God doesn’t want me to give up a habit only to repeatedly pick it back up again, never truly gaining the victory over it. He wants to give me the power to be completely and fully done with it. Only then will it never have control over my life again.
Moving to the physical effects of our bad habits, Mrs. White writes:
“Any habit or practice which will weaken the nerve and brain power or the physical strength disqualifies for the exercise of the next grace which comes in after temperance—patience.” Our High Calling, 69
“For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He ponders all his paths. His own iniquities entrap the wicked man, and he is caught in the cords of his sin. … He shall die for lack of instruction, and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray.” Proverbs 5:21–23
This text shows us how a person becomes bound up with his bad habits and can’t get loose. He may pray and pray, but simply cannot get free of them. He begins to think that there is something wrong with Christianity, but the truth is, it’s not the religion at all, rather he is violating certain physical laws that make it impossible for him to overcome his bad habits.
In order to overcome, we must first have willpower. The prefrontal cortex of the brain, right behind the forehead, is responsible for our “I will, I won’t, and I want powers.” A more medical explanation of the responsibilities of this area of the brain is that our abstract thinking, thought analysis, and keeping our behavior in check all occur here. The left side of the prefrontal cortex handles the “I will” power, which helps us start and stick to things that aren’t so much fun or are stressful. The right side handles the “I won’t” power, which keeps us from acting on every impulse or craving that we have. And the center, lower area is responsible for the “I want” power, which helps us keep track of our goals and desires.
There are two facets of willpower: yes and no. Exercising our willpower isn’t always about saying no. It is just as important to use our willpower to say yes for the right things as it is to say no to the bad things.
Now let’s consider morality. Do you know what part of the brain is responsible for our morality? We’ll call it our conscience. The prefrontal cortex. Morality is the ability to determine right from wrong.
Spirituality is also located in the prefrontal cortex. It is from here that you talk to God and ask Him to help you.
But what if something has impaired your willpower and skewed your ability to make right decisions? Medical research shows us that when a person’s frontal lobe is damaged, he or she can completely change. A very religious person might no longer have an interest in church, religion, or the Bible at all. A person who was very conscientious and always doing what was right might begin to engage in very questionable behavior. But what if there was nothing wrong with the frontal lobe? Could our diet, a lack of sleep, fresh air, water, or appropriate exercise impair our ability to make sound decisions? Or what if we clouded our brains with alcohol, drugs, sugar, and other harmful substances? Anything that impairs the function of the frontal lobe will make it difficult to exercise our willpower to overcome any bad habit.
The reason people today are having so much trouble overcoming bad habits, much more so than they had 100 years ago, is because we are violating certain physical laws that are impairing the function of our frontal lobe.
Let’s look at some of the things that can impair your ability to exercise your willpower.
Drug use—illicit drugs, many prescription drugs, and social drugs. Social drugs include caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.
Introducing these substances into your body is like shooting yourself in the foot if you are trying to overcome a bad habit. They numb the frontal lobe and interfere with your ability to utilize your willpower.
Diet—is vitally important. Refined sugar must be eliminated and foods containing unrefined carbohydrates—starchy foods like whole grains and potatoes—should be included. Animal foods contain arachidonic acid which has been proven to harm the frontal lobe.
Mrs. White writes: “A meat diet changes the disposition and strengthens the animalism. We are composed of what we eat, and eating much flesh will diminish intellectual activity. Students would accomplish much more in their studies if they never tasted meat. When the animal part of the human agent is strengthened by meat eating, the intellectual powers diminish proportionately.” Counsels on Diet and Foods, 389
Medical research has shown that the brain functions better when dietary calories and the amount of food consumed are restricted.
If your diet consists of things that are not good for the health of the body, particularly the frontal lobe of your brain, then how will that affect your ability to overcome a bad habit?
Hypnosis—does not allow you to overcome anything. A person cannot overcome any bad habit using hypnosis because it bypasses the frontal lobe and utilizes other areas of the brain, placing them under the control of someone or something else. People who are in a hypnotic-like state are not in control of their own willpower.
There are two things that are done in this world, including in the church, that make it impossible for us to overcome our bad habits: watching television and movies and listening to rock music. There is significant medical data to support that both of these activities produce a hypnotic-like state. It is not a state of complete hypnosis because you are able to communicate and participate, but your brain is overwhelmed by the images and sounds that you see and hear.
All these things make it impossible for you to overcome your bad habits. They violate certain physical and spiritual laws that God has put in place, and He cannot help you overcome your bad habits if you choose to keep them in your life.
However, if you choose to lay all these things aside and come to the Lord for the power He is waiting to give you to overcome your bad habits, He will do it. There is no other way for you to succeed.
Somebody might think that it simply takes too much effort to give up bad habits. But if you are looking to follow Jesus, longing to one day join the saints in heaven for eternity, then you cannot hold onto these worldly things. Listen to what Jesus says: “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” Luke 14:33
Friends, are there things in your life that hinder you from overcoming your bad habits? Are you willing to remove everything from your life that stands between you and God? It’s a sacrifice, I know, but it is the price of eternal life.
Claim His promise of power, cooperate, struggle, contend, and you can overcome all your bad habits by His grace and power.
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.