Bad Habits

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When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’

And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first.

Matthew 12:43-45 (ESV)

Today’s Scripture, in addition to the primary message about keeping God in our hearts, implicates a lot of more practical issues. I imagine many readers, myself included, have had struggles with a serious bad habit, one with real impact on our bodies and minds. I lost about 60 pounds at one point in my life and, although 10 of them come back from time to time, they always go away again. With God’s help, the evil spirit left and did not bring seven friends more evil than itself.

I can’t tell you Jesus really had addictive behavior in mind when He spoke his teaching about evil spirits in Matthew 12, but if we think of our bodies as God’s temples, it is not a big stretch. Our bodies are a gift. The reason God gave us this gift (at least in part) is for it to be a temple, to house his Holy Spirit.

The word “saint” comes from the Greek word hagios, which means “consecrated to God”. The New Testament repeatedly enforces the notion that, once we have accepted Christ, we become saints. 1 Peter 2:9. We are a body of people set apart for the Lord, “a holy priesthood,” the inheritors of God’s kingdom. And we may certainly find implications of holiness in the care of our bodies. I frankly do not know how Biblical are “The Seven Deadly Sins”, but greed, gluttony, and sloth are almost 50% of the list. Compare Paul’s words in Ephesians: “For the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:12), or “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” (Ephesians 5:3).

The first lesson is this: Never feel guilty, for Christ’s sacrifice abolished guilt. If Christ has made us righteous before the Father, how can we possibly second-guess him and judge ourselves guilty? We may regret a past action — even something as small as that jelly doughnut we simply couldn’t resist — and the world may extract a penalty for our behavior. But guilt is not a Christian emotion. We have God’s permission to let our guilt go. It is part of his gift to us in Christ Jesus.

The second lesson is this: How hard is it to pray about a habit that we believe is harmful and ask that the Holy Spirit guide us? And, if it is God’s will that we improve some habit we consider “bad”, that he help us overcome it? He has promised that He will. If you do not know it, and you have some problem in the nature of a personal habit, read 1 Corinthians 10:13 until it becomes second nature to you.

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