“Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” James 4:7–10

We are creatures of habit! Each habit must be reviewed on its merits, and reviewed often. The challenge of rooting out bad habits is complicated because pride gets in the way. We know that selfishness is the root of sin, pride is the stalk, and rebellious behaviors are the fruit of sin. Though pride may not be the primary cause of bad habits, it certainly is a formidable obstacle to their eradication. This is the reason that James 4:7ff is our starting point in dealing with the bad habits of life.

Bad habits always have a stale air about them. They are sclerotic, deaf, blind, and deeply imbedded. If you are born again then you are aware that you feel conviction about thoughts and acts which do not please God. You probably have committed sins this week for which you are ashamed and for which you can find no excuse to offer up to your heavenly Father. Some sins are sins of the moment and may not be repeated. But there are other sins which are habitual and become a constant supply of reasons to fall on your knees to confess your sins.

How are we to tell the difference between sins of the moment and sins of habit? There are three plain characteristics of habitual behavior. First, habitual behavior is comfortable behavior. You will discover you are comfortable in the practice of habits. You are no longer “wooden” or awkward in performing the habit. Second, habitual behavior is automatic behavior. In certain situations you will find the habit is your default action. Finally, habitual behavior is unconscious behavior. You will find you engage in the habit, often without so much as a thought or a decision.

Some bad habits are very easily identifiable by these three characteristics. Smoking, alcoholism, lying, infidelity, and immoral acts are plainly evil to all but the hardened sinner. But, these three characteristics also apply to bad habits that are not so obvious to outside observers. What about the hidden, secret bad habits that dog your steps? Pornography, indulging evil thoughts, powder-keg anger, and ill-temper that stubbornly refuses to be controlled. These are all bad, sinful habits with which we are likely to quickly grow comfortable in action, automatic in response, and we unconsciously indulge.

Biblically speaking, the key to dealing with bad habits is a life of faith. All three forms of faith must be in exercise: doctrinal faith as a body of belief, saving faith as a vibrant, defining force in your life, and sanctifying faith as a shepherding, living, daily, crucial reality. It is this life of faith that James 4:7–10 is describing with its ten imperatives.

Submitting to God is to set yourself in array, in order of rank, regarding yourself and God. Resisting the devil is actively choosing a side, knowing who you are for, and who you are against. Drawing near to God is every believer’s privilege as a responsive child of God. He will also draw nigh to you. Cleansing your hands and purifying your heart is where the real work of dealing with sin and bad habits takes place; it is not merely ceremonial, it is actual and efficacious—there is no room for double-mindedness here. Leading you to lament, mourn, and weep; causing your laughter to be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom is the Holy Spirit’s role in forging brokenness over sin, and contrition in repentance. Finally, the last imperative seems to sum up the other nine: humble yourself (make yourself low) in the sight of the Lord. And do not forget God’s promise, He will lift you up! Comfort, victory, and privilege are all in that little phrase. Without the practice of these ten imperatives you will be ill-equipped to put off bad habits (Romans 13:14).

You have three avenues open to you to discover your bad habits. The first, common to all men, is your conscience and that is only as good as it has been morally equipped. The second, for the believer, is the Holy Spirit. In order to listen to His still small voice you must be tuned-in. The final avenue is the observation and advice of others. If you are not practicing humility before God you will have a very tough time evidencing humility in the face of critique. The greater your pride, the less chance of success you will have in dealing with bad habits. You will be comfortable, automatic, and unconscious in your need because your pride will not allow you to see, and it will work against any change.

For the believer, the keys to changing bad habits are sevenfold:

  1. Become aware of the habit that must be put off and confess it.
  2. Discover the biblical alternative to the bad habit that must be substituted in place of the bad habit.
  3. Structure yourself for the change.
  4. Actively break the links in the bad-habit chain of behaviors.
  5. Enlist the help of others.
  6. Keep a fresh walk with the Lord.
  7. Practice, practice, practice the biblical replacement for your bad habit.

Trust and obey.