Robert Jeffress - The Power Of A Habit
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. To some degree or another, everyone one of us is a creature of habit. From the way we get ready in the morning to how we unwind in the evening we all enjoy some level of routine and familiarity. The question, though, is whether those habits are good for us or detrimental. Today, I'm going to discuss how to build good spiritual habits, or spiritual disciplines as some people call them, so that we can live as God intended us to live. My message is titled, "The Power of a Habit" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
It was Thomas à Kempis who said, "The enemy is most easily overcome if he is not allowed into the door of our heart but instead is resisted at the first knock". I think it's that truth that the apostle Paul had in mind in Ephesians 6:14 when he commands us to put on the breastplate of righteousness if we want to defeat satan's plan to destroy us. You know in our culture it's fashionable to talk about, to emphasize the grace of God. And we ought to talk about the grace of God. But when we talk about the grace of God it's easy to forget that although grace comes to us freely, grace carries with it an obligation. The obligation to obey God.
1 Corinthians 6 reminds us you are not your own, you have been bought with the price. Because Christ has redeemed us we have an obligation to obey him. But in Ephesians 6 when Paul talks about righteousness or obedience he's not talking about obedience as an obligation but as a benefit to us. That is obeying God, putting on the breastplate of obedience if you will, protects us from satan's attack in our life in four very specific ways.
First of all obedience protects us from the consequences of sin.
Number two: obedience protects us from doubts about our salvation.
Number three: obedience protects us from the loss of rewards in heaven.
And finally obedience protects us from satan's further entrance into our life.
Now we've identified what the breastplate of righteousness is. It's everyday obedience to God. We've talked about the four values of obedience in your life and how it protects you against satan. But you know Ephesians 6:14 does not say "Understand the breastplate of righteousness". The command is not to "Appreciate the value of the breastplate of righteousness". Instead, Paul's command is to what? Put on the breastplate of righteousness. It's only when you make obedience to God a part of your everyday life. It's only when obedience becomes the rule rather than the exception in your life that you experience all of these benefits we just outlined.
And so today I'm going to give you some practical words of application. No exposition of scripture is complete until there is practical application. We've spent two weeks in exposition, explaining what this means. Now let's talk about four practical ways that you can enjoy the protection that comes from obeying God. Principle number one is this. Write it down. Appreciate the power of habits. Appreciate the power of habits.
Someone has written, "I am your constant companion. I am your greatest helper or your heaviest burden. I will push you onward or drag you down to failure. I am completely at your command. Half of the things you do you might as well just turn over to me, and I will be able to do them quickly and correctly. I am easily managed. You must merely be firm with me. Show me exactly how you want something done and after a few lessons I'll do it for you automatically. I am the servant of all great people and alas of all failures as well. Those who are great I have made great. I am not a machine, though I work with the precision of a machine plus the intelligence of a man. You may run me for profit or run me for ruin. It really makes no difference to me. Take me, train me, be firm with me and I will place the world at your feet. Be easy with me and I will destroy you. Who am I? I am habit".
The power of a habit. You know last time we talked about the negative power of a habit. How one compromise makes the next one easier and easier and easier until disobedience becomes a way of life. Remember Peter's words in 2 Peter 2:19 "By what a man is overcome by this he is enslaved". Who is your master? What is your master? It's whatever you're a slave to. If you want to know who or what is controlling your life right now all you have to do is ask yourself, "What is it I cannot let go of in my life? What is it that I cannot say 'no' to"? Whatever you say, your answer to that question is will tell you who or what is controlling your life. By what a man is overcome by that he is enslaved.
On the other hand, habits, patterns of repeated behavior can also work to our benefit, not just to our detriment. The fact is: we can use habits for us in helping to develop this pattern of obedience that will accrue real benefits into our life. But the fact is: you will never appreciate the power of a habit until first of all you understand the strength and the importance of habits. Or what sometimes we call discipline. Dallas Willard uses this example to explain the power of discipline or habits in our life. "The star performer didn't achieve his excellence by trying to behave in a certain way only during the game. Instead he chose an overall life of preparation of mind and body, pouring all of his energies into that total preparation to provide a foundation in the body's automatic responses and strength for his conscious efforts during the game. Those exquisite responses we see during the game aren't produced and maintained by the short hours of the game itself. They are available to the athlete for those short and all important moments because of a daily regimen no one sees".
You know when we tell Christians, when you're in the middle of a temptation just ask yourself the question 'what would Jesus do?' and mimic him and you'll be successful. People who wait until they're in the middle of temptation to ask themselves "What would Jesus do"? They become spiritual road kill. You see the reason Jesus was able to obey God in those moments of testing and temptation was because of what Jesus did when he wasn't in the middle of testing and temptation. The Christian who waits until he's in the middle of a test in order to mimic Christ is as doomed to failure as the athlete who waits until he's in the middle of the game to have success and yet neglects the daily discipline of diet, exercise, and training.
If we're going to make righteousness, obedience a part of our everyday life: first of all we need to appreciate the power of a habit. That leads to a second truth: learn to choose discipline over deliverance. Choose discipline over deliverance. We read 1 Timothy 4:7 just a minute ago. Paul said, "But have nothing to with worldly fables fit only for old women". Paul wasn't into political correctness. Was he there? He goes on to say that on the other hand discipline yourself for the purpose of Godliness. That word "Discipline" you've heard me say before, comes from the Greek word that we get our word gymnasium from. You can smell the sweat all over that verse right there. Work out, practice, discipline yourself for the purpose of Godliness.
Now let's be honest for a moment. Most all of us in this room or watching on television today, we prefer the miraculous to the mundane, don't we? If we find ourselves enslaved with an addiction or in an immoral relationship or far away from God. What we would much rather do is have a one time fix it solution to our problem. Maybe some ecstatic religious experience or maybe have some demon cast out of us. Some one time experience that would take care of everything instead of developing these daily disciplines like time in God's word, and pray and personal holiness. We want an easy fix to our problems. But it doesn't work that way.
Randy Alcorn's current version of "The Screwtape Letters" he relates a letter from a senior demon, Lord Foulgrin, to his demonic student. Listen to what this senior demon advises his protege. "Let them cast us out or imagine they have as long as those vermin keep making the daily choices that invite us back in. Let them name and bind us to their heart's content as long as they entertain the thoughts and engage in the activities that give us power over them. It's not power plays and sweeping declarations of our defeat that frighten me. It's the quiet prayers for personal holiness and greater yieldedness to the enemy God. Far better that they focus on us than look to their own hearts and ask the enemy to cleanse them. Never be frightened by those Christians grandstanding".
I think satan is much more threatened when he sees a Christian on his knees. When he sees a Christian in God's word. When he sees a Christian confessing his sins that threatens satan's plan for your life much more than some ecstatic religious experience. Choose discipline over immediate deliverance and the ironic thing is that eventually you will experience deliverance from the power of satan.
Number three: perform an obedience inventory of your life. If you want to put on righteousness, if you want to make obedience a part of your life, perform what I call "An obedience inventory". It was the evangelist Charles Finney who once said, "The person who is convicted of one sin is convicted of all sins. But the person who is convicted of all sins is convicted of none". What Finney was saying is if we're really going to make a difference, a change in our life, we need to get specific. You see the key to lasting change in your life is what the Bible calls repentance. That word repentance means having a change of mind that leads to a change of direction. It means saying, "You know what? I've been walking this way for so long and it's not leading to any place good. I don't want to keep going down this road. I want to start walking back to God. So I'm having a change of mind, and that change of mind is going to lead to a change of direction".
That's what repentance is. It is the key to lasting change in your life. But listen to this. The key to repentance is specificity. That is being specific about what it is you want to change in your life. Remember the story of Ezra, the high priest in Nehemiah 9 and 10 we see Ezra, the priest, leading his people back to repentance and a spiritual revival. And he understood that if there was going to be a change in his own heart and the hearts of his people that he had to lead them to repentance. But when you read his prayer on behalf of the people recorded in Nehemiah 10, Ezra didn't pray "Oh, Lord forgive us. We have sinned. Help us to do better. In Jesus name, amen". That wasn't the prayer he prayed. Instead he said, "Oh, Lord we have sinned against you in three very specific ways". And he outlines the ways the people had sinned against God.
First of all, they had allowed their children to marry unbelievers. Secondly, they were failing to keep the sabbath worship. Thirdly, they were failing to give their tithes and offerings to the Lord. They said, Lord, this is how we have violated your word. Now this is what we're going to do differently. And Ezra mentions three very specific actions he and the people would take in order to start walking in a new direction. Now what I'm saying to you is: if you're really serious about experiencing the benefits of obedience, the breastplate of righteousness. Don't just leave here and say, you know what? I think I'll try to do better next week. You'll be right back where you were in a few hours or less.
Now if you're really serious about this idea of obeying God I encourage you to perform what I call this "Inventory of your life". In fact I want you to write down these six life areas. I hope we have them on the screen, but six areas of your life that ought to be under consideration. First of all, look at your family. Secondly, your finances. Your spiritual life. Your work. Your health. Your friendships. You know these six areas comprise really the totality of your life. Now here's what I want to challenge you to do this week. Sometime when you and the Lord are alone together ask the Lord to reveal to you the answer to this question. "Lord, what is one thing you would like me to start doing or stop doing in each of these areas of my life. What's one thing, more than anything else, you want me to start doing or stop doing in each of these areas of my life to be more obedient to you"?
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: "Robert, I've got so many things I ought to start doing or stop doing. I'm overwhelmed by all the things I need to change in my life". Remember what Finney said? "He who is convicted of all sins is convicted of none". No, the road to lasting change it takes that first step. That one thing, that first thing that you know you need to do. That's the way to cultivate the habit of obedience. And then number four: decide that obedience is both possible and profitable. Decide that obedience to God is both possible and profitable. You know a lot of Christians unfortunately think that sinning against God is as inevitable as the law of gravity is.
A lot of Christians have fallen for one of the greatest lies in the Christian church, and that is that we as Christians are obligated to sin. All this strange teaching, erroneous teaching, that I've heard growing up, that somehow Christians still have this old nature in them that makes them sin. And therefore you'll never experience victory until you get to heaven one day. That is bologna. The Bible says, yes, there's a residue of that old nature inside of us, but it has no more power over our life than we choose to allow it to have. One writer says it this way, "Falling off of a platform is not a habit. Cultivated lusting, anger, and so on are. And generally speaking those who say they cannot help it are either not well informed about life or have not decided to not do without sin. Most likely the latter".
But the really good news here is that the power of a habit can be broken. Habits can be changed. And God will help us to change them though he won't do it for us, because he has a vital interest in who we become. Don't fall for satan's lie that disobedience is inevitable. You have the power to say "No" to sin. Remember Paul's words in Romans 8:2? I like the way the living Bible paraphrases this. "For the power of the life-giving spirit and that power is mine through Christ Jesus. That power has freed me from the vicious cycle of sin and of death". You don't have to sin. Obedience to God is possible. And not only is it possible, you have to be absolutely convinced that it's profitable for you.
Are you convinced that obedience is profitable? Have you come to the point in your life when you realize that the consequences of sin far over shadow the temporary pleasure of sin? Do you believe? Do you really believe that God's plan for your life is better than satan's plan for your life? Have you come to the place where you want to protect yourself from the consequences of sin? From doubt about salvation? From forfeiting your eternal rewards? From allowing satan to have further reign in your life? Listen to me this morning. God has already supplied you with the power and even the desire to obey him, but you must supply the decision.
A Haitian pastor one time illustrated to his congregation the power of even allowing one small area of disobedience in our hearts with this parable. He said that a man in Haiti one day decided that he wanted to sell his home. The asking price was $2,000. Another man wanted to purchase the home but he didn't have the $2,000, so they haggled back and forth and finally the man agreed to sell his home for $1,000. But he added this one stipulation. He said, "I'll give you my home for $1,000, but I want to retain ownership of one single nail on the back of the front door". The buyer thought, well, man to get a thousand dollar discount just have to give up one nail. That's a great deal. So they made the transaction. The man took possession of his new home.
A few years later the original owner decided that he wanted his home back so he went back to new owner and said, "I'd like to purchase my house back for $1,000". The man said, "No way. I'm keeping the house". The original owner said, "Remember in our deal I have ownership of that nail". He said, "Yeah, I remember that". He said, "Good". Next day there was a knock at the front door. The new owner opened up the front door and there was the original owner standing there with the carcass of a dead dog. He said, "Pardon me. I need to come in and look at my nail for a moment".
He brought the carcass of that dead dog and he hung it on the nail that he owned on the back of the front door. He left. Within a few days the stench of that rotting animal became so horrible that it made the house uninhabitable. The new owner was willing to sell the house back for $10. And then the Haitian pastor closed with this application to his congregation. He said if we allow satan to retain even one small peg, one nail in our life eventually he will hang his rotting garbage on it and make our lives unsuitable for habitation. Putting on the breastplate of righteousness, doing that one thing you know God would have you do, is the best way to protect yourself from satan's entrance into your life.