Guilt, Shame & Bad Habits

by Tim Isbell
#guilt, #shame, #addiction

Part of God’s good news is the freedom from guilt over the things we've done, or left undone. Our part is to confess to God and repent. When we do, he promises to forgive us. (Proverbs 28:13, 1 John 1:9, Psalms 32:5, Romans 8:1). For more on this, see Confession.

But what about our shame? We feel guilty because we do something wrong; shame because we think we are something wrong. We feel guilty because we lie to our mother; shame because we are not the person our mother wants us to be. Shame comes from letting the voices of our family and culture tell us who we are. God offers freedom from our shame as we listen to him tell us who we are: new creations, his beloved adopted children, heirs of his Kingdom, and even blessed! (2 Cor 5.17, Rom 8.7, Rom 8.14, Rom 4.7)

And what about the bad habits we’re dragging along? Bad habits are extremely hard to break, but there’s good news here, too. God offers us freedom from our bad habits. It means we must trade our slavery to the habit for slavery to the Lord Jesus. (John 8:36, 2 Cor 3:17, Gal 5:1, Rom 6:22). If we struggle with some ugly habits that we know God wants out of our life, then try God’s six part cure.

1. Admit to ourselves that we have a sinful habit.

The more I see into people’s lives, the less surprised I am to discover their struggles with ugly habits. Sometimes they have not even admitted these nasty habits to themselves. I’ve been there myself. I've learned that the first step is to look in the mirror and admit “I want to live an authentic Christian life but I have a sinful habit that I cannot break on my own.”

2. Build an accountability arrangement with one, or a very small group, of Christian friends.

Choose people who are very discrete, set up a time and place where you can be alone, and then be very specific. Ask them to pray for you regularly about this habit, and to hold you accountable. Commit that you will be painfully honest about this with them, no matter how embarrassing it is. Make a very explicit list of the first 3 or 4 things you want to stop doing, and another list of the 3-4 things you need to begin doing that will help break the habit. Then meet with them every 1-2 weeks and expect them to ask you very directly: “How did you do on the first thing on the list? ... the second thing? ...” In some cases you can find another person who wants to break the same or a similar habit. Then you can trade lists and hold each other accountable. For more on this sort of thing, see Transforming Partnerships. Another option may be to connect with a 12 step group.

3. Include these items in our daily prayer.

Look ahead at today’s agenda and tell God where we expect temptation. Ask him to keep that temptation away so that we won’t even have to face it. Ask him for strength if we must face it. Finally, reaffirm that we choose him to be lord of today.

4. Read and reflect on scripture each day.

Become a person of the Book. If you’re not sure how to get started, try the suggestions in Bible Reading Strategies. Become a part of a Sunday School class or Bible Study group where people share what the Spirit is teaching them through scripture.

5. Become regular in a local church.

God designed us to live in community. A central part of this is gathering weekly to worship our Lord, and entering into fellowship with other Christians.

6. Expect some failures along the way.

It's common for God to lead us through a long process to break our habits. He does not design the process so much for our happiness as to build our eternal character. Part of the process is allowing us freedom to fail, and through the failure learn a bit better to depend on him. So, what do we do when we fail? God’s antidote for sin remains the same: confess & repent promptly to God, reaffirming that Jesus is Lord and asking for more of his Spirit.

God’s good news is very robust. It contains forgiveness for guilt, freedom from shame, and the power to break free from bad habits. For the authentic Christian, life is the total abandonment of creating a career or a character for oneself, and instead submitting completely to the lordship of Christ

Other helpful links:


Overcoming Temptation

Transforming Partnerships

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