How Can I Reverse this Sinful Habit I'm Trapped In?
Ken Larkin, a biblical counselor, maps out some basic steps toward change for people who realize they're heading in the wrong spiritual direction.
Ken, the human tendency to form habits can often be a good thing...but not when it comes to sexual sin. What are the basic differences between someone who's on the right path of seeking the Lord and a person who is caught up in habits of sexual sin?
In Proverbs 14:16, scripture says that "a wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is arrogant and careless." Really, the difference between someone on the right path and someone on the wrong path is your perspective on life. A foolish person basically lives for today. So if you find yourself constantly just seeking what's immediate—immediate gratification and pleasure, where you're asking "How will this make me feel at the moment?" without considering consequences in the future—then you're living like a foolish person and you're on the wrong path. But a wise person is not only concerned with the immediate results but with what the consequences will be in the future for his actions—maybe a month from now or a year from now. And more importantly, he wants to know, "How is this going to affect me from an eternal perspective?" For him, it's not just about gaining pleasure; it's "How is this going to set me up in the future?" There's a big difference between living for the "now" or living in the reality of the future and what direction your life is actually heading in as you pursue your pleasure or your sin.
As a counselor, when you're talking to someone who realizes they're on the wrong path and they are willing to change, what are the first steps they need to take?
The first step is to look at your life and see where you're going wrong. Obviously, if they're in the Pure Life Ministries Residential Program and they're dealing with sexual sin, it's an obvious thing. But you need to realize, "OK, what are the patterns of my behavior? Why do I do this?" You want to look at, not just what you're doing, but why you're doing it—what you're hoping to gain out of it. If you're sinning, ask, "What should I have done instead of that?" I think it's also very good to look at the consequences of where you're headed, because you're not going to want to turn around unless you see the need for it. If you see that you're going the wrong way, you need to see exactly where you're at, you need to take ownership for it and you need to resolve in your heart, "I want things to be different."
Second, when you see you need to change, the Bible says that you need to repent. You need to turn around; you need to repent before the Lord, and you need to also repent before any individuals that your actions have affected. If you've hurt someone or if you've done something where you sinned against someone, then you need to repent. And this clears the spiritual slate where you can make a clean break from your past and start fresh and begin to move forward—in your walk with the Lord and in getting out of this lifestyle of sin. Repentance is a change of mind. You see that what you've thought and what you've done was wrong. And this change leads to a fundamental heart change, where you realize that you need to go in a different direction. And that should lead to a change in your will—where you resolve to stop doing what you're doing—and a change in the direction of your life. And then, ultimately, it will affect your actions.
For more discussion about what real repentance looks like, see "Did You Repent or Make an Empty Resolution?"
“Accountability” is a word that is often linked to discussions about breaking addictions. What advice do you give counselees about this aspect of change?
One of the worst things you can do is dumb it down to merely just being accountable to someone for what you’re doing—checking in with someone and saying, "Yeah, I failed today," or whatever. Especially if it's someone else who's struggling. There are support groups where people that are actually bound in sin just kind of tell on one another and try to encourage one another. But really, from a biblical standpoint, it's deeper than just telling someone you're doing wrong or checking in. It really should be discipleship. And that would mean you need to go to a mature believer or mature believers in your church that can come alongside you and help. They shouldn't be someone struggling with the same thing. It could be beneficial if they've come out of the same background, so they can empathize with you. But any godly person living in victory and that's more mature in their walk with the Lord can help you. And then, it's not enough to just come under their guidance and direction. If you don't follow their counsel, it's not going to do you any good. Proverbs 12:15 says, "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel." Obviously, if you're stuck in a pattern of behavior that's wrong and you're trying to grow, you're going to need outside help.
Another common discipline that's often connected to Christian growth is Bible study. Why is Bible study important in the change process, and how do you recommend people do it?
Romans 12:2 says, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." Anyone that's been struggling with habitual sin has been living to that extent like a fool, and they need to have their perspective changed by spending quality time in the Word of God—really, on a daily basis. It's not just about gaining facts; the Bible is spiritual food, and it's about developing a relationship with God. The more you spend time with a holy God, it will eventually rub off on you and you'll begin to really be a "partaker of the divine nature," as the Bible says. Your relationship with him will enable you to overcome sin. It's not about getting strong or overcoming in yourself; He is our strength, and He is our victory. He is the path to freedom and deliverance.
Can you give some practical recommendations for getting started in Bible study?
The first thing is you do make a commitment that you're going to spend time in the Bible—that you're going to commit to a lifestyle of Bible study. In the Residential Program, we mandate that the men spend at least 15 minutes per day in Bible study. I think that's a good starting point. I would rather someone spend 15 minutes a day and be consistent than maybe spend an hour once a week or something. The important thing is spending quality time...and then, consistency. Then, you have to have a specific game plan—you have to have a specific time and place where you're going to do this. If you don't have a time scheduled, it's going to be just too easy for the day to crowd out that time. I would recommend the morning; give God the first-fruits, and spend that quality time in the morning with God. Eventually, you're going to want to build that time up, because you can do only so much in 15 minutes. And it should be coupled with prayer. I would say that if you can commit to a half-hour a day—15 minutes in the Bible and 15 minutes in prayer—that would be a great starting point. If you can get that solidified, where you're doing that on a daily basis, God is going to make major inroads into your life and give you spiritually what you thought you could never get. He's going to bring you to a victory you've never experienced before if you haven't spent time in God's Word on a daily basis before. You can do different things: word studies; prewritten Bible studies, such as our resource The Walk of Repentance; or meditating on the life of Jesus in the gospels. But I can't emphasize them enough the importance of spending daily time in the Word of God and how that will revolutionize your life. It's not an option, if you want to live in victory.
This excerpt is from our podcast episode, “What Will Success Look Like in Our Marriage Struggles?”, Episode #336.
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