“I am Adonai, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. Therefore you are to be holy, because I am holy.” ~ Leviticus 11:45
“Following the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in your entire way of life; since the Tanakh says, ‘You are to be holy because I am holy.’” ~ 1 Kefa 1:15-16
In my last post, we focused on holiness in our wills. In this post we will look at some practical habits to develop in our pursuit of holiness.
Practical Habits in Pursuit of Holiness
Every sin we commit reinforces the habit of sinning and makes it easier to sin. In the previous post we examined the importance of guarding our minds and emotions, since these faculties are the channels through which the various compelling forces reach our wills. But it is also important that we understand how our habits influence our wills. Sha’ul wrote, “For just as you offered the parts of yourselves as slaves to moral impurity, and to greater and greater lawlessness, so now offer them as slaves to righteousness, which results in sanctification.” (Romans 6:19 HCSB)
Habit is defined as the “prevailing disposition or character of a person’s thoughts and feelings.” Habits are the thought and emotional patterns engraved on our minds. These internal habit patterns play just as forceful a role as external influences on our actions – in fact, perhaps more so.
As unbelievers, we formerly gave ourselves to developing habits of ungodliness – what Sha’ul called “greater and greater lawlessness” (Romans 6:19). Every time we sinned – every time we lusted, coveted, hated, cheated, or lied – we were developing habits of ever-increasing wickedness. These repeated acts of unrighteousness became habits that made us, in fact, slaves to sin.
But now, Sha’ul declared we are to give ourselves to become “slaves to righteousness.” We are to put off our old self – our sinful disposition and its habits – and put on the new self – with its character and habits of holiness. To train ourselves in godliness (see I Timothy 4:7) is to discipline and structure our lives so that we develop godly habits. Putting off these sinful habits is what Sha’ul calls “putting to death the deeds of the body.” (Romans 8:13)
Breaking sinful habits must be done in cooperation with the Ruach and in dependence upon Him. The determination that “I won’t do that anymore,” based upon sheer human resolve, has never once broken the shackles of sin. Here are some practical principles which we can follow to train ourselves in godliness.
- Habits are developed and reinforced by frequent repetition. Another definition of habit is “a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition.” This is the principle underlying the fact that the more we sin the more we are inclined to sin. But the converse is also true. The more we say NO to sin, the more we are inclined to say NO. Therefore, in dependence on the Ruach, we must systematically work at acquiring the habit of saying NO to the sins that so easily entangle us. We all know what these sins are – the sins to which we are particularly vulnerable. We begin by concentrating on saying NO to these. Then God will lead us on to work on other sins which we may not even be aware of at this time. The more we succeed in saying NO to our sinful desires, the easier it becomes to say NO. In the same manner, we can develop positive habits of holiness. We can develop the habit of thinking thoughts that are pure, true, and good. We can develop the habits of prayer and meditating on the Scriptures. But these habits will only be developed through frequent repetition.
- Habits can be developed by never letting an exception occur. When we allow exceptions we are reinforcing old habits or else failing to reinforce the new one. At this point we must watch the “just this once” type of thinking, which is a subtle, dangerous trap. Because we are unwilling to pay the price of saying NO to our desires, we tell ourselves we will indulge only once more and tomorrow will be different. Deep down inside we know that when tomorrow comes it will be even more difficult for us to say NO, but we don’t dwell on this fact.
- Habits can be developed by diligence in all areas required to ensure success in one area. We may feel that a particular habit “isn’t too bad,” but continually giving in to that habit weakens our wills against the onslaughts of temptation from other directions. This is the reason, for example, that it is so important for us to develop habits of self-control over our physical appetites. We may think indulging these appetites isn’t so bad, but such indulgences weaken our wills in every other respect of our lives. As shared earlier, I’ve learned this the hard way.
- Don’t be discouraged by failure. There is a vast difference between failing and becoming a failure. We become a failure when we give up – when we stop trying. But as long as we are working on those sinful habits, regardless of how often we fail, we have not become a failure, and we can expect to see progress.
It is vain to guard our minds and emotions against that which comes from without if we don’t at the same time deal with habits of sin which are within. The battle for holiness must be fought on two fronts – without and within. Only then will we see progress toward holiness.
In my next post, we will explore the issue of holiness and faith.