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Have you ever had difficulty trying to change a habit? Human beings are creatures of habit. We tend to continue acting as we have acted in the past. Like a river flowing through a canyon, the longer a habit continues, the more deeply it becomes ingrained, and the harder it is to change. This is true of all habits, good or bad.
Ephesians 4:22-24 shows that major changes must occur when we are converted to serve God. Old practices and attitudes must be replaced by new ones. Christians must learn good habits like Bible study, prayer, love, faith, patience, attending church meetings, giving, teaching others, etc. We must also eliminate bad habits like foul language, uncontrolled temper, gambling, drugs, smoking, drinking, gossip, lying, pornography, sexual promiscuity, etc.
Knowing what changes to make is not enough. We also need to know how to make them. Change does not come easily. Since the Scriptures provide us to all good works (2 Timothy 3:16,17), they give all the guidance we need. God's word is the best source of guidance for self-help and motivation for self-improvement.
Let us study 12 specific, practical steps the Bible gives to show us how to change and improve our selves to become what God wants.
Before people are willing to act, they must be motivated. A sound sleeper is more likely to get up in the middle of the night if the house is on fire than if he remembers he did not brush his teeth! Christians have some of the strongest possible motives for changing. Consider some:
Romans 12:1,2 - Christians are transformed (changed) by renewing their minds (cf. Eph. 4:23). To live differently, we must think differently. We must not seek to be like the world but to use our bodies in God's service.
The Macedonians practiced generous giving because they first gave themselves to the Lord (2 Corinthians 8:5). Changing our conduct becomes much easier when we are totally dedicated to God's service. (See also Ecc. 12:13; Matt. 6:33; 16:24.)
1 John 5:3; 4:19,9 - What motivates us to obey God? Our love for Him. What motivates us to love Him? The fact that He loved us. How do we know He loved us? Because He gave His Son to die to save us.
Love is one of the strongest forces in existence. It can move a woman to rescue her children from a burning building or a man to lift an automobile that has crushed a loved one. If you are having difficulty changing yourself, you need to learn to appreciate God's blessings and mercy. (See also 1 John 2:15-17; Matt. 10:34-37; 22:37-40; John 14:15; 2 Cor. 5:14-17.)
The desire to be like someone we admire is another powerful motivation. Sports heroes inspire young people in athletics. Washington and Lincoln are models for patriotic citizens. So godly people like Abraham, Noah, Ruth, and Mary motivate us to serve God. But the greatest example of all is that of Jesus.
Matthew 10:24,25 - A disciple seeks to be like his master. Christians are disciples of Jesus (Acts 11:26). We should follow His steps because He left us a sinless example (1 Peter 2:21,22).
As we face each decision in life, we should ask, "What would Jesus do?" This will give us strong motivation to change our lives. (See also Gal. 2:20; Matt. 16:24; Col. 3:10).
1 Corinthians 9:25 - Athletes control their habits so they can win a temporary, earthly honor. Christians have an even stronger motive. We seek the crown of eternal life (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10). We should set our minds on our eternal reward, not on earthly things (Col. 3:1-6; 2 Peter 1:10,11; 2 Thess. 1:8,9).
Lack of motivation is a major reason people do not change to please God. They do not have sufficient desire to change. Instead they want to please themselves or their friends and family. Often they are too concerned with the things of this life. Until our motives are right, little else in this study will help us. But when we are determined that serving God is our most important purpose in life, then we will find the means to make the necessary changes.
When we lack the motivation to change, let us think about why we should love God, think about the importance of being like Christ, and think about our eternal destiny.
Proverbs 4:23 - Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life. The way you act is determined by your attitudes and intentions. People and circumstances may influence you, but you do not have to give in. You do what you decide to do (cf. Matt. 15:18,19; 12:34-37).
1 Corinthians 10:13 - God will not allow temptations that are beyond your ability to bear. He will always make a way of escape. "God is faithful." He will always keep this promise. It follows that you can break any bad habit and develop any good habit according to God's will.
Philippians 4:13 - We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. This includes changing to please Him. If we trust our own strength, we will fail. Satan can defeat us. If we use Christ's strength we will succeed, because Satan can never defeat Him. Perhaps we have failed in the past because we have trusted our own power instead of using Christ's.
People sometimes convince themselves, "I just can't change. It's too late. Besides, I'm only human." They are not just belittling themselves; they are denying God's word. They will fail simply because they will give up instead of persisting to use God's power.
Psalm 37:5 - If you commit yourself to the Lord and trust Him, He will accomplish His will for you. No matter how strong a temptation you face, no matter how long you have practiced a sin, if God says to change, you can change. (See also Eph. 6:10-18; 3:20,21; 2 Cor. 9:8; Josh. 1:5-9.)
Joshua 1:8 - To succeed in God's work, meditate on God's word. List the pertinent Bible passages about each habit you need to change. List reasons why you should change. Meditate on these verses daily, filling your mind with them. (Cf. Psalm 1:2; 119:11.)
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 - Frequently remind yourself of these verses. Write them and place them where they will remind you: on your bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator door, on your table at mealtime, on the TV knob.
Matthew 4:1-11 - Jesus overcame temptation by quoting Scripture. But this worked only because He knew the Scripture. Memorize verses about your habit so that, when you are tempted, they will come to mind and strengthen you. Quote them to yourself and to those who tempt you. (See also Prov. 3:5,6; 2 Tim. 3:16,17; Eph. 6:17; Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12.)
Acts 8:22 - Sin requires repentance. Repentance is a change of mind - a determined commitment to cease sin and obey God (see Matt. 21:28,29; Acts 17:30; 11:23). Before one can change his conduct, he must change his mind.
Proverbs 28:13 - Do not cover up your sin, deny it, excuse it, or blame someone else. Admit the error and be truly sorry (2 Cor. 7:10). But sorrow is not enough. We have truly repented only when we are so sorry that we determine to change our conduct.
Most other achievements in life require about 10% ability and 90% just plain determination and hard work. In spiritual matters, every accountable person has the ability to please God; so changing to please God is 100% determined by our choice. God has provided everything we need. The decision is ours.
We will never change until we make up our minds to pursue the means God provides until we succeed. The decision to do this is repentance, and no one will change to please God without it.
Proverbs 14:22 - We must devise to do good, not evil. God's example demonstrates the importance of planning. He purposed man's redemption (Rom. 8:28), the church (Eph. 3:10,11), the temple (Heb. 8:5), etc. (cf. Gen. 12:1-7). Likewise, God's servants need to have a plan to succeed in His service (Luke 14:26-33; Dan. 1:8; Psalm 17:3; Acts 11:23; 2 Cor. 9:7).
In what other important endeavors will we succeed without a plan? Consider the forethought needed to build a house, run a business or a household, program a computer, etc. Worthwhile activities, to be successful, need planning.
Likewise, to change your life, you need a specific, practical checklist of steps you will take to change. Analyze the circumstances or causes that lead you to fail to do right, then plan how to avoid those causes. It may help to write your plan down and modify it as needed. This plan will include some specific points we are studying plus other points that fit your specific problem.
Many people fail to change to please God because they never planned to succeed. They did not plan to fail, but they failed to plan!
Prayer is essential in two ways.
If you are not yet a child of God, you need to believe in Jesus, repent of sins, confess Christ, and be baptized to be forgiven of sins (Mark 16:16; Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 2:38; 22:16). When you have done those things, you become a child of God (Gal. 3:26,27; Rom. 6:3,4; 1 Peter 1:22,23). If you sin afterward, you need to pray for forgiveness (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:8-10; Prov. 28:13; Matt. 6:12).
Matthew 6:13 - Ask God to "deliver us from evil" (cf. Matt. 26:41). Tell God exactly what your problem is. Pray often and regularly (1 Thess. 5:17; Col. 4:2). Pray especially at the moment when you face temptation (Matt. 26:36-46).
God has promised that, if you ask His help, He will hear and answer (1 Peter 5:7; Phil. 4:6,7; Eph. 6:11,13,18).
James 5:16 - Christians should confess their faults to one another so they can pray for one another. We should bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2). If our sins have harmed specific individuals, we should apologize to them (Matt. 5:23,24).
When we are fighting an especially difficult habit, it may help to choose one or two special counselors to talk with regularly. They can give us Bible passages and good advice about how to change. They can encourage us. It may motivate us just to know that others are aware of our problem. And they can surely pray for us.
Public church meetings are especially designed to give encouragement (Heb. 10:24,25; 3:12,13; Eph. 4:15,16). We need to attend regularly for many reasons, but especially we need encouragement as we try to become what God wants us to be.
1 Corinthians 15:58 - Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord's work. Abundant, steadfast work is needed.
We have discussed several steps to prepare us to change, but none of them can substitute for hard work and dedicated effort. All the good attitudes in the world will not get the job done until we follow through with action. God does not promise change will be easy, but He promises it is possible if we work diligently according to His word.
James 1:22-25 - Be doers of the word, not just hearers. Habits are formed by repeated action. We learn to ride a bicycle by forcing ourselves to practice, even when it feels unnatural and uncomfortable. But repetition produces a habit that then feels natural and enjoyable.
So we change to serve God only when we compel ourselves to do what we know is right and repeat it until it becomes "second nature." (See also Rom. 6:1-23; Matt. 7:21; Luke 6:46.)
Ephesians 4:22-32 - Do not just put off the old man. Put on the new man. Note the examples: Speak truth instead of falsehood (v25), work and give to others instead of stealing (v28), speak good instead of evil (v29), show kindness and forgiveness instead of anger and bitterness (v31,32).
Matthew 12:43-45 - A demon left a man but later found the man's life still empty. He moved back in bringing seven other demons with him! Jesus applied this to Israel, but it is a general principle.
"Nature hates a vacuum." Remove the air from a bottle, and it will try to get back in. Fill the bottle with something substantial, and the air stays out. So your life cannot stay a spiritual void. It will fill with good or evil. Replace bad habits with good and the bad is less likely to return.
For example, suppose you determine to watch less TV, so you turn it off, but sit in front of it with nothing else to do. Soon you will turn it on again. But if you become actively involved in family activities, Bible study, etc., soon you will replace it with other habits.
For every bad habit you "put off," find some useful activity to "put on" in its place.
Matthew 6:13 - We should pray, "lead us not into temptation." If we pray this, surely we obligate ourselves to avoid people, places, and situations that tempt us (cf. Rom. 13:14).
1 Corinthians 15:33 - Evil company corrupts good habits. Note: "Do not be deceived." Many people think they can return to bad company without returning to bad habits. They are deceived!
Many habits - such as drinking, smoking, drug abuse, gambling, and sexual promiscuity - are begun and continued because of "peer pressure." Breaking such habits by themselves is hard enough, but it is far more difficult when "friends" urge us to continue them (1 Peter 4:3,4; Prov. 13:20; Ex. 23:2).
Psalm 26:5 - We should hate the congregation of evildoers. Too often people say, "I won't drink (or dance or gamble, etc.). I'll just go to the tavern (or dance hall or casino) to be with my friends." When people have gathered together for the purpose of practicing sin, Christians belong somewhere else! (Cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-18; Eph. 5:11.)
You cannot change a bad habit while continuing to run with the "crowd" that caused the habit. Changing the habit will require changing your friends because the "friends" are part of the habit!
Matthew 6:33,34 - Do not worry about tomorrow. Today's temptations will be enough to handle today. Handle tomorrow's temptations tomorrow - if tomorrow comes.
Often people quit trying to serve God because they are overwhelmed by the sacrifices required to live the rest of their lives for God. But ask yourself this: "Can I practice what is right today - just today?" Of course you can. So when you get up each morning, promise yourself and God, "I will live today for God." Don't worry about handling tomorrow. If it comes, you can handle it the same way you will handle today.
Two men were climbing a steep path up a tall mountain. One looked to the top and asked, "How will we ever make it?" The other replied, "One step at a time." And that is the only way for you to change yourself.
Romans 2:7 - We receive eternal life if we continue patiently in well doing. We must be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord's work (1 Cor. 15:58).
Galatians 6:9 - Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Your habits did not develop overnight and will not likely disappear overnight. It will take time. If you fall, repent, and ask God's forgiveness. But get up and go on. Do not give up. (1 John 1:8-2:2)
2 Peter 3:18 - Becoming a mature Christian is a process of growth. You are born again as a baby and gradually grow up in Christ. You may look at mature Christians and think, "Why can't I be like them?" But they probably took years to mature. Do not be impatient with yourself.
As a child grows, you may notice small changes from day to day. But look at pictures from years ago and you will see amazing differences. So you may not see much change in your service to God today compared to yesterday. But if you diligently apply the steps taught in God's word, after a period of 5, 10, or 20 years you will see significant changes compared to where you began.
By using the means God provides, you can change to be what He wants. He gives motivation, guidance, and encouragement. All that is left is for you to determine to follow His will and then diligently act on that decision. He provides the tools. You must use them. What choice will you make?
Copyright 1980, 1995, 1998, David E. Pratte
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The Importance of Bible Knowledge
You Can Serve God Successfully
How to Study the Bible
The Meaning & Purpose of Life
Why We Need Salvation from sin
How Can You Be Sure of Forgiveness?
Anger, Controlling Your Temper
Steps to Maturity
God Helps with Your Troubles
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.