Three Keys to Breaking Habitual Sin

You tell yourself it’s over—that this time was the last. But then you hit a rough spot, a weak point, and you find yourself stuck in a cycle of swearing off your habitual sin forever only to fall back into it. Where you we going wrong?

Perhaps it’s time to recalibrate how we are seeing our sin. Rather than seeing sin eradication as a series of don’ts and self-inflicted hand slaps, our time and energy is better spent, and more effective, when we focus on what we can do. It is possible, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to free ourselves from our cycles of sin. With His help, we can prevent falling again. But first, we have to stop fixating on our sin itself, and start fixing our eyes on Christ who gives us strength.

As we pursue freedom from the entanglements of sin, here are a few practical, plain-folk strategies that can help us get there.

1. Take a Nap

As we can all testify, the world can look like a radically different place on the other side of a nap. Our mood is boosted, our working memory increases, serotonin floods our brain and all of this together makes us generally cheerier and healthier1. On a spiritual level, something as simple as a nap makes it easier to “rejoice in the LORD always.”

We Christians often unwittingly adopt a Platonic view that assumes the spiritual world only consists of the unseen—heaven, hell, angels, souls—while solid things like tech toys, asphalt and food are unspiritual and disconnected from our Christian lives. We think the spiritual is up there (somewhere) and the physical is down here in the cosmos and, as Kipling says, “never the twain shall meet.”

But the truth is, the way we order our physical lives directly affects our spiritual lives. And when it comes to avoiding sin, sometimes, the most spiritual thing to do is take a nap. Try it. If you are a bear to your roommate after Thursday biology class, play mammal charades and catnap. Of course it is not always so easy to find the time, but examine your schedule; if possible, make time. Find out when you are most churlish and prone to temptation. The rest is up to you.

2. Exercise

Sleep is an important factor in sin avoidance, but tiring yourself out may be just as effective. Think that sounds like a paradox? Well it is—and it’s not; so sure.

Exercise does not have to look like an hour of cardio, weight-lifting and, let’s be honest, posturing in front of those ubiquitous gym mirrors. The meaning of exercise helpful to this discussion is any use of your physical faculties in an attempt to strengthen them. It can mean “Cross-Fit Insanity X” or it can mean embroidery. Or both at the same time—“Cross-Stitch Insanity X.” It could be an afternoon walk in the countryside, an evening at the dance studio or an hour at the upright piano in the basement. As long as the mind and body are occupied with an approved task, they are less likely to dwell on and commit sins.

Aimless, unplanned free time can be dangerous. As you will probably tell your grandchildren someday—wagging your finger and pounding your cane on the floor, “Idle hands are the devil’s 3-D printer!” Ask yourself when you fall back into habitual sin the most, and don’t be surprised to find it is in moments of unmanaged free time. So discipline your spare minutes; work out a productive schedule. Exhaust yourself doing wholesome, physically taxing tasks.

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3. Feed Your Brain Properly

Rest and exercise are important sin deterrents, but they cannot stand alone. If we choose to bombard our brains daily with depraved sounds and images, all the rest and exercise in the world will be about as useful as gargling with garlic Scope—and the results will stink.

We can’t separate ourselves forever from the things we allow into our brains; eventually they will come out in our attitudes and actions. It’s the simple concept of trash in, trash out, or on the flip-side—truth in, truth out; purity in, purity out. This idiom is universally understand as it relates to diets and dumpsters, but we need to apply it to the Christian brain.

The simplest way to live free from the bondage of sin is to fill your mind with every form of goodness, truth and beauty. Read the Bible. Study logic or literature. Learn the names of trees. Listen to Beethoven cranked to eleven. Find friends with gracious attitudes. Read brilliant bloggers. Watch movies that celebrate beauty and art. Pray every day for a sensitive conscience, and develop a disdain for evil by nurturing a love for the things of God.

Sin and its cronies are not pansy enemies. Fighting them takes determination, discipline and a full reliance on divine providence. The way we rest, exercise and fill the brains and bodies God gave us is a spiritual matter with moral repercussions. Sin is only a cheap, plastic knockoff that breaks the day you buy it. But godly virtue is the real thing. And in filling ourselves with the right things, we’ll soon flush sin out.

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