Overcoming Habitual Sin as a Spiritual Barrier

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Romans 7:21–24; Colossians 3:2–4, 15

God created human beings with an inherent passion to worship and serve. Therefore, we will worship and serve someone or something. This week we have been learning about the “me god,” the self that wants to rule its own life. When the “me god” sits on the throne of our lives (or parts of our lives), it screams for security, power, or pleasure, and we respond with behaviors that meet the demand (or at least appear to meet the demand). These behaviors are actually acts of worship to the “me god.”

Most of us recognize many of these behaviors as unhealthy and destructive to ourselves and to those around us, but we continue to do them. This is called habitual sin. Habitual because the behaviors have become engrained in us; they are now second nature to us. We do them without thinking because the mind is “set on the flesh/world/self ” as Romans 8:5–8 says.

Sin because sin is simply that which separates us from ourselves, others, and God.
Rather than being alert to the presence of the “me god,” we focus on the external behaviors. We try to manage these behaviors by pure willpower. But the mind is incapable of choosing something other than what it is set on for more than a short period of time (a year if we’re really stubborn and have lots of willpower, about ten minutes if you’re like me). Paul says as much in Romans 7.

I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. . . . (vv. 21–25 NLT)

The solution is not external behavior management and modification, which only exhausts and frustrates us. Rather, the answer is removing the “me god” from the throne of our lives and replacing it with the one true God who has the power to heal our hearts, renew our minds, and transform us. We become changed from the inside out, and changed behavior follows.

Closing Exercise

Commit to spending the time necessary to allow God to work through this study. Take ten minutes or less to read the daily Scriptures and devotional. Then devote a couple of five-minute periods during your day to pray contemplatively or to complete the short exercise. Finally, commit to sharing with your group or a spiritual friend what God is doing in you through this study.

Do you hunger for more—more from life, more from yourself, more from God? So many people in our churches have not regularly experienced good news, comfort, wholeness, freedom, joyous energy, or beauty. So many have stalled in becoming who God intends them to be. Perhaps you, those you love, or those you lead feel this way. The Experience: Breaking Through the Barriers That Block Spiritual Growth is a short tool that provides a clear map of the abundant living journey, the obstacles that prevent progress, and offers fresh fuel for moving forward once again. Get it from our store here.

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After more than a decade in engineering and business—and running from a call to ministry he received in high school—Rob Mehner was hired as an associate by a local church to help with their exponential growth. While working in that church, he received his master of divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary and was ordained in the United Methodist Church. But it was the work of God through the Holy Spirit, after years of spiritual stagnation, that changed his life, empowered his call, and inspired the class that God has used to change many lives and from which this study is born. Rob and his wife, Kristy, have two adult children, Stefan and Casey. After twenty years of pastoral ministry in local churches, he is serving as a missionary in Guatemala.

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