A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
If you follow our “Ask A Bible Teacher” feature you know that folks write in from time to time for advice on overcoming bad habits. Along with all of its exciting prophecy, uplifting promises and inspirational stories, the Bible contains some very practical tools designed to free us from the bondage of our old lives. After all, to use a computer analogy, our flesh (sin nature) is like an operating system that’s been built out of the habits and attitudes we’ve acquired. When we’re saved we can upgrade, and the Bible shows us how.
How To Win Your Crowns … Part 2
Like prophecy, this part of scripture is seldom taught in our churches, but the tools it contains are so powerful that they’ve been co-opted by the new age, secular humanists, and others to become the core of every personal development formula ever devised.
Sadly, many Christians know so little about their Bibles that when they see its principles used by unbelievers for worldly gain they assume that it’s the work of the devil. They don’t realize that ungodly men recognized the power in these principles and hijacked them to enrich themselves. And it’s too bad they don’t because their mistaken view keeps many believers in the very bondage the Lord died to free them from.
There are three key principles that the Bible teaches us in this area.
- The first is to recognize that you and you alone have control of your thoughts. Nobody can take that away from you without your permission.
- The second is that with all the mental power the Lord has created into us, He also gave us one limitation. At the conscious level, we can only think one thought at a time.
- And the third is that by controlling our conscious thoughts we can change our behavior because thoughts determine behavior. (As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. Proverbs 23:7) And that’s how we get our upgrade.
These principles are made clear in passages like Romans 12:1-2. Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Paul couldn’t have exhorted us to stop conforming to the world and transform ourselves by the renewing of our minds unless we had the power to do so. When we become believers we’re supposed to turn our lives over to God to use for His purpose and begin renewing ourselves. And please note, renewing ourselves is something we do, not something that’s done to us. It’s part of how we say thanks for our salvation.
Then there’s Ephesians 4:22-24. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
As he did in the Romans passage, Paul’s describing something we do for ourselves, not something that’s done to or for us. Notice the personal nature of the admonitions in the rest of chapter 4 and remember, he couldn’t tell us to do these things unless he knew we had the capability.
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. He who has been stealing must steal no longer but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephes. 4:25-32)
There are dozens of other verses like these that tell us what to do but you get the picture, and my point in quoting this passage is not to provide a list of do’s and don’ts but to demonstrate how bad habits get started.
When Paul said, “In your anger do not sin,” he was saying don’t let your anger lead you into sin. Anger’s an emotion, it’s how we act on it that determines if it becomes a sin. When we direct it toward someone who’s wronged us, striking back or even plotting imaginary revenge, it becomes sin as bad as murder. (Matt. 5:21-22)
What’s more, it gives the devil a foothold in our minds, a place to cling to. As we repeat this process, we form the habit of responding out of anger and his foothold becomes a stronghold, a mighty fortress where he can dwell in comfort and security, having placed us in bondage.
That’s why Paul said, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” We have to forgive those who anger us whether we’re justified or not, just as in Christ God forgave us, to prevent the devil from gaining a foothold. The same is true of other emotions that can place us in bondage; lust, envy, jealousy, etc. Think of it this way. The thought itself isn’t a sin, it’s an attack. When we fend it off, we’ve won, but if we receive it and act on it, even if only in our minds, we’ve begun to concede defeat.
Because we have the power to transform ourselves we can choose to respond to the enemy’s attacks in a way that’s pleasing to God. In Ephesians 6 we learn that it isn’t the person with whom we’re angry that’s the problem. That person is merely flesh and blood. Our battle is a spiritual one fought against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephes. 6:12) We need to respond with spiritual weapons.
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:3-5)
Since we have the power to control our thoughts we can demolish every one that contradicts what we know about the nature of God. We can take them captive and make them obedient to Christ. We do this by choosing to respond in a way that brings honor to God and glory to our Lord Jesus.
For example, during the Lord’s time on Earth, Roman soldiers were the equivalent of the police force. Being strangers, they often needed directions from the locals to find their way around Jerusalem. The Jews didn’t like the Roman occupation and often gave the soldiers the wrong directions out of spite. The Roman governor overcame this by issuing an edict requiring the Jews to walk one mile with a Roman soldier who had asked directions. This was meant to insure that the soldiers were given accurate directions, but it made the Jews even angrier.
Jesus gave them a solution that solved the anger problem and brought honor to God by expressing love to an oppressor. He said, “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matt. 5:41) Volunteering to do more than someone requires of you turns a “have-to” into a “want-to” and expresses the love of the Lord to them.
The Lord’s brother James also demonstrated how the temptations of this world turn into sin in our lives. When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)
He could not have written this unless he knew that we have the power to respond to the external circumstances of our lives in any way we choose. It’s not the temptation that causes us to sin. It’s how we respond to it.
One At A Time, Please
As to the second principle, one thought at a time, the Bible also has some great practical advice. Since you can’t think about nothing at all, it tells you that when a bad or evil thought comes into your mind, you can choose to think about something else, something good. Use the good thought to drive the bad one out of your mind. Just as two objects can’t occupy the same space at the same time, neither can two thoughts occupy the same mind at the same time. One will drive out the other. It’s called the Law of Displacement.
Paul gave this principle to the Philippians. They were undergoing a time of great persecution that naturally gave birth to a spirit of fear and despair. He told them, Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7)
By recounting all the blessings they had received, their spirit of fear would be driven out and replaced with a peace that surpassed all human understanding. If they in their time could come up with a list of blessings to rejoice over, how much more can we in our time? I’ve found this to be a great cure for those nights when it’s hard to get to sleep, or if I awake in the middle of the night. I begin thanking the Lord for all my blessings and before you know it, I’m sleeping soundly again.
Confirming that they had the power to choose their thoughts, Paul continued saying, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:8-9)
Paul went one step further in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians. He told them they should practice “seeing” themselves enjoying the future promises in store for them, instead of focusing on their present trials.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor. 4:17-18)
By concentrating on the blessings to come they couldn’t dwell on the difficulties at hand. By comparison their current situation became “light and momentary problems.” Again, forcing one thought out of your mind by consciously choosing another is a tool that behavioral scientists call the Law of Displacement. Paul and James knew about it 2000 years ago.
So, if you’re fighting with old habits and attitudes and want to be free of them, when your church provides opportunities for personal prayer, go forward and get some. Ask to be anointed and prayed over. (James 5:14-16) Also get some people to be prayer warriors with you to help you. The prayers of righteous people are powerful and effective. Then pick up these tools and put them to use.
The devil has a stronghold in your life because you invited him in. You have the right to evict him as well. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. (James 4:7-8) But you have to sincerely want him out with all your heart. And you must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord. (James 1:6-7)
None of this is as easy as it sounds. It takes a lot of resolve, but we’ve been given divine power from God to do it. The Bible tells us so. The Lord wants to help us, and just like it was with our salvation, we will find Him when we seek Him with all of our heart. The double minded need not apply. Selah 06-10-07