Breaking Bad (Habits)

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“16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16

Bad habits are no surprise to anyone in life. We’ve all got them.  Those who pretend they don’t usually have a closet filled with them. In the verses leading up to Galatians 5:16, Paul declares that as Christians we have been set free.

A great friend of mine and Missionary Shane Couch said, “Christians are great at being forgiven but not at living free.” How many habits and hang-ups have we held onto after being forgiven? Freedom in Christ sometimes feels like an elusive goal that only the super-spiritual can achieve. Yet Paul and Jesus both declare that we are free indeed.

Our freedom does not come through will-power but the power of the cross experienced through the impartation of the Holy Spirit. Salvation brings to life a new nature fueled by the word of God and the Holy Spirit.

The flesh is the nature we are born with that pursues sin. This nature can turn good and pure things into bad and impure experiences. The flesh is governed by destructive desires and it opposes what the Holy Spirit wants to accomplish in your life.

Upon receiving the gift of forgiveness that Jesus makes available to all, our spirit is given life. It is this nature that God’s word and the Holy Spirit are in the process of transforming. The Holy Spirit breathes life into our spirit making us born-again. Salvation is not an end-all experience but the beginning.

As long as we are alive our two natures will be at odds with one another. Only death liberates us fully from the flesh. This is why we must die to ourselves daily,  take up our cross so that our spirit can thrive in God.

It’s a process that takes patience and persistence. Wouldn’t it be great at the point of salvation our old nature, with its desires just suddenly went away? Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen that way.

Here in Galatians Paul gives us important instructions on how to live free from our destructive human nature. First of all, this is not possible without from God.

What many people do to break a bad habit is they go directly to the habit and declare, I’m going to stop doing _____________(fill in the blank). They focus all their energy, time and resources into stopping the cycle of that bad habit.

They may go a few weeks or days, or even a couple hours without doing it but then they fail. Why? Because they are attempting to break a sinful habit in their own strength.

You can’t.

At best people exchange one bad habit for another lesser-bad habit. At worse, they quit following God or follow Him in defeat, trying to cover up their struggles.  Look at what Galatians 5:16 says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

Many of us do the opposite. We try to stop gratifying the desires of the flesh so we can walk by the Spirit. We have it backward and that’s why we fail. We need to first walk with the Spirit and then we will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

To walk by the Spirit is to go where He goes, to listen to His voice, to discern His will and to follow His guidance. The word “walk” is in the present tense and it indicates an on-going activity. How do we do this? We begin by studying God’s word for transformation and not just information.

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” John 6:63 

As long as we remain in this life, we will never outgrow the spiritual conflict Paul describes. There is no spiritual technique or special blessing that can propel the believer to a higher level of Christian living where this battle is no longer fought.

No Christian is so spiritually strong that they do not need the Holy Spirit’s help in fighting this battle, nor is there anyone too weak that they can’t win this battle.

Paul says in verse 18 that “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Following the law of God was required to be made right with God. Yet the law was incapable of transforming humanity but served only to remind them that they were sinful.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross took care of our right standing with God. To be led by the Spirit is how people who have been made right with God live. It’s not about gaining God’s approval but it is the process of being transformed.

We will continue to fight this nature until our final breath, which is why we need to walk by the Spirit daily. We are only victorious in this fight if we are led by the Holy Spirit.

Find freedom over your habits and the “sin that so easily entangles,” by walking with the Spirit. Instead of indulging the desires of your flesh, turn to God’s word and discover the limitless joy of living free!

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