WHEN SIN IS HABITUAL

Ever heard the phrase, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”?

This statement-of-the-obvious wasn’t on the mind fur baron John Jacob Astor one night as he attended a fancy New York dinner party. Astor (who was likely the wealthiest person in the room) astonished guests at the meal by wiping his hands on the dress of a lady seated next to him. [1] His name would later become very well-known as one of those who perished on the Titanic. Astor’s attitude of presumption must have been shared by those who marketed the infamous vessel (which was said to be, “The ship that God Himself couldn’t sink”).

Speaking of presumption, think about the Christian who continues on a path of sin even after being impressed by God to stop. We’ve all experienced what the Bible calls conviction— that “nudging” by the Holy Spirit, that heaviness of conscience, as God calls on us to change our ways. But what happens when we don’t/won’t obey the promptings of God? Many Christians have wondered, “Will the Holy Spirit continue to lead me if I keep on sinning?”

Let’s be clear: All Christians commit sins. I John 1:9 promises God’s forgiveness to those who confess their sins— and this verse was written to Christians. My understanding of Scripture leads me to believe that a born-again person doesn’t lose salvation if they commit a sin. But the Bible is clear that while we may struggle with temptations, weaknesses, and sins, Christ’s followers must not willingly and repeatedly yield to them.

The consequences of choosing to habitually sin include: Loss of intimacy with God, interruption of progress in our spiritual growth, and anemia in our prayer life. Also common is a diminished ability to understand and apply God’s Word, if one is reading their Bible at all. When a person has resisted the overtures of the Lord over a period of time, the New Testament speaks of their conscience (or heart) becoming “calloused.” The Biblical words used compare this to tissue in the body that is “dull” or unresponsive to feelings, such as, fat around the heart or intestines (Psalm 17:10; 119:70). [2] The longer we remain in a state of disobedience, the more our ability to recognize the Holy Spirit’s voice will be impaired (see Matthew 13:15; Mark 6:52; Ephesians 4:17-19). Habitual sin can also bring bitter consequences into the relationships we have with others. Hurt feelings, loss of trust and respect— these are but a few of the emotional and personal repercussions. There can be physical consequences (I think of Christians I’ve counseled who wouldn’t face up to their abuse of alcohol or tobacco). Gambling, refusing to tithe, and lust for material things have left many Christians with financial consequences.

Some habitual sins can exist— for a time, at leasthidden from view of others: I think of anger, lust, jealousy, pride, hatred, racial prejudice, and even unwarranted discouragement. But their effects eventually and invariably will be visible to others.

Bible verses that indicate we are not to harbor sin in our lives are many. Romans 6:14 says that, “Sin shall not have dominion over you.” I John 3:9 indicates that habitual sin should not be characteristic of the believer: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” (see also Psalm 19:13; Romans 6:12; Ephesians 4:30; I Corinthians 10:13; James 4:7).

How do we coach our children so that they will recognize sin and with God’s help overcome it? A first step is to admit to ourselves that without the help of the Lord, sin will creep into (and throughout) our lives. We need to walk closely with God every day, which takes discipline and commitment.

Another key is to be mindful of the fact that Christian maturity does not happen automatically. We must be proactive in our pursuit of spiritual growth. To find ourselves so in love with Jesus that the lures of this world are no longer the temptation they once were is the result of years of intentionally making God-honoring choices.

Finally, kids (and grownups) need to know that bad habits must be replaced with good ones. Like Joseph, we have to run from the things that tempt us (Genesis 39:15). If we are serious about overcoming our personal “besetting sin(s),” we will stay far away from the things that can cause us to fall into their clutch.

1. Fryxell, David A. Good Old Days. Cincinatti, Ohio: Family Tree Books, 2012. Page 159.

2. Mounce, William D. Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2006, page 241

Alex McFarland is founder of “Truth For A New Generation” truthforanewgeneration.com, an apologetics ministry dedicated to proclaiming and defending the Christian faith.

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