“One man was there who had been disabled for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and realized he had already been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to get well?’” (John 5:5-6)
The topic of this article is habitual sin—an uncomfortable topic which can take many different forms. When it comes to habitual sin, we really should ponder Jesus’ question. In this story from the Gospel of John, there was a man that had been disabled for 38 years. Every day he lay there hoping to get into the healing waters of the Bethesda pool.
The belief was that an angel came down and stirred up the waters. When the waters were stirred up, that is when the healing power was present. He kept waiting for the water to stir and for someone to carry him to the water. No one came. And when Jesus saw him there, he asked him what seemed like an obvious question.
But for someone who waited for decades for what clearly wasn’t working, perhaps it wasn’t such a redundant question. Do you want to get well?
When it comes to confronting habitual sin, we should not want minimize sin’s addictive nature. There is a lot of scientific research that backs up the reality of addiction. For example, while engaging in pornography, the brain releases chemicals that make an effect similar to the use of heroin. I think we can all agree that chemical craving on that level would be powerful. Habitual sin can become addictive and that’s why we continue in our sin. Because we can get addicted to our sin, it becomes all the more important to keep Jesus’ question front and center. Do you really want to get well?
The human mind is notoriously capable of rationalizing our decisions. We are experts at making our sin seem reasonable. For example, we might tell ourselves that, it’s okay, because this will be the last time we will stay up late to live our secret life on the computer. Or, even when our drinking has become a noticeable problem to others, we might tell ourselves that we only drink to take the edge off from a stressful day. Sometimes we look at sin as a reward. We worked hard this week and deserve this.
All of this brings into clear focus our need to take Jesus’ question seriously: When it comes to our habitual sin, do we really want to get well?
As someone who has wrestled with habitual sin myself, and has walked with others through surrendering theirs to Jesus, I would like to share four principles that help us allow Jesus to heal us from habitual sin.
#1 – Open your eyes to what your sin does to others.
We like to think that our sin is our own. One way we rationalize our sin is by telling ourselves that it affects only us. But this is a lie that our enemy wants you to reassure yourself with.
The book of Joshua gives an example of how sin has consequences for an entire community. As part of entering the Promised Land, Israel went to battle against a city called Ai and the Israelite army was surprisingly crushed. The Israelite leader Joshua was at a loss for words. He prayed to God asking how this could have happened. What Joshua didn’t know was that one of his soldiers, Achan, had stolen gold items from Jericho after the fall of Jericho, hiding them in his tent. This was against the express command of God to destroy everything from Jericho. I know Achan didn’t think his sin of taking the gold would lead to disaster, but it did.
If you are a father or husband, you are the spiritual leader of your family. While your secret life of hidden sin may flood your brain with chemicals, I want you to think about the devastation it can have on more than just yourself. I have struggled with pornography since I was 13. While God’s word convicted me of my sin, a breakthrough came when I learned that, by viewing these websites, I was contributing to sex slavery and abuse of women. When I looked up the stats on how destructive that industry is, God changed my heart. My sin had contributed to the overall destruction of the community.
Now think about drinking a few beers. Even if you only drink enough to take the edge off, what you are showing your children is that it is okay not to deal with stress or feelings. It is okay to numb yourself. This normalizes this behavior for your kids. And alcoholism runs through generations. Thankfully, the love of God also runs through generations.
#2 – Align your standards with God’s standards.
God has standards for our lives. Rather than blazing our own moral paths, we need to align our standards with the ones He has already given us. This means loving what He loves and hating what He hates.
So, what does God love and hate? For starters, because He loves us, He hates sin. Because our God hates sin, we ought to flee from sin as fast and as far as possible. And the best way to flee from sin is to replace our desire for sin with better desires. This is where it is so crucial that we keep reminding ourselves of the two most important tasks we can spend our time doing: loving God and loving people.
If we are putting our time and focus into loving God and loving people, then immoral desires get crowded out. When we are tempted, it is important to capture those thoughts and go to our Heavenly Father. We reaffirm our trust in him, receive his grace, and align ourselves with his standards.
#3 – Watch what you’re taking in.
What you take into your mind is what you are going to be thinking about.
One of my go-to verses when it comes to saying no to sin is Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” If we are not renewing our mind with the Spirit of God, we will by default conform to the way the world does things.
This is why Bible study is so important for every believer. I have written about it before but reading the Bible needs to be like breathing. The number one way that God speaks to us is through the Bible. Therefore, refresh your mind daily, multiple times a day, with the cleansing power of the Word.
In addition to filling our minds with God’s Word, we need to be careful with what we are intaking from the world. If you are on social media, which most of us are, you are probably being flooded with advertising that is designed to get you off track from the holy life. You’ll want to be careful with the type of entertainment that you consume and how much of it you consume. For example, if you struggle with lust, stay away from rated-R movies. Your integrity is more important than missing out on the latest binged show.
#4 – Reinvest your energy into something good.
Finally, a fun way to stay away from habitual sin. Think about the energy you put into sin. What if you turned that energy into something positive?
One of the many reasons that I love Jesus is that, when He came from Heaven, He went on the offensive. He didn’t just tell us what we shouldn’t do. He didn’t just add sins to the list of things we weren’t supposed to do. Rather, Jesus spent His time doing good things. He modeled an intentional life of purposeful action. He did the will of the Father and never once shrank back from God’s mission for His life. It is time for you to go on the offensive.
What if, instead of spending hours searching on immoral sites, you spent that time writing a book? What if you took the brokenness of your sin and created a small group based on helping people that struggle with the same sin find God? There are no new sins; sin just takes on different packaging. And I promise you that someone is struggling with the same thing you are struggling with or have overcome. Go on the offensive and find those people, and together work back toward God.
Turn that shame of sin around, accept the brokenness, and repent. Once that has happened, then it’s time to go out into the world on mission for Christ.
If we are putting our time and focus into loving God and loving people, then immoral desires get crowded out.