When we are caught in habitual or besetting sin, our problem, at its core, may be simple. What’s holding us captive is a deceptive belief about what will make us happy.
I know the objections that might come. We do often “know” that a sin is destructive to us and others. We might loathe the sin in certain ways and feel shame over it. We may have a sincere longing to be free, and just feel like we can’t, like we’re enslaved to it — which, in a sense, we are (John 8:34). These are the complex consequences and illusions sin produces.
“Sin is not fundamentally defeated through the power of self-denial, but through the power of a greater desire.”
The truth is, however, that we are enslaved as we believe that to give up the sin is to embrace living with less happiness or more misery. Like my now-adult kids once believed: eating junk food might be “bad” for them, but life was more happy eating “bad” food than eating “good” food. This didn’t change until their belief about nutritional happiness changed. Once that changed, the power of junk food began to lose its hold on them.
Habitual sin is not fundamentally defeated through the power of self-denial, but through the power of a greater desire. Self-denial is of course necessary, but self-denial is only possible — certainly for the long term — when it is fueled by a desire for a greater joy than what we deny (Matthew 16:24–26).
How to Break Free
The secret to getting free from the entrapment of habitual sin begins with a prayerful, rigorous, honest examination of what satanic promises we have believed — and the better promises God has made. Which promises will really produce the longest and best happiness if true? And which source of promises has the most proven credibility?
Then we must renounce the lies we have believed, repent to God for having persistently believed them, and begin to exercise faith in God’s promises through obeying him — “[bearing] fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).
As I said, this is just the beginning. I make no promise of it being easy from there. It is often very hard, because insight into our false beliefs does not itself unseat those beliefs. Often, entrenched false beliefs have shaped our perceptions and instinctive behaviors and therefore take significant time and intentional effort to change. It is not called the “fight of faith” for nothing (1 Timothy 6:12).
But I will say this: the more convinced you become that God is the source of all superior joys for you, the more resolved you will become to fight for those joys, and the easier the fight will become over time. But unless you become convinced, in some measure, that this is true, the power of your habitual sins will keep their hold on you.