Have you fallen into bad spiritual habits?
God has equipped His children with everything they need to live victoriously, but many Christians miss out by falling into habits that disconnect them from God’s power, perspective, and presence.
The first step to overcoming any obstacle is to identify it. Give yourself a check-up and prepare to transform your spiritual walk by recognizing eight common enemies of spiritual growth.
1. The Habit of Laziness:
Failing to do what’s right is just as bad as doing what’s wrong.
Jesus told a story about a wealthy businessman who entrusted three employees with managing vast sums of money while he was away. The amount of money assigned to each employee was determined by his capabilities. One man received roughly $2.5 million; another man received about $1 million, and another man received approximately $500,000. When the boss returned from his trip, he settled accounts with each employee.
Two of the employees doubled their money, and each received the same praise from the boss, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21, 23). The third employee neither gained nor lost money. He didn’t take any money for himself, and he gave an honest accounting when his employer returned. This man buried the money and dug it up when his employer returned. The boss was not impressed. He called the employee “wicked and lazy” and turned the money over to one of his other employees (Matthew 25:26-28).
It might be tempting to focus on the different amounts given to the different employees, but that is not the point of this parable. Even the unprofitable employee was entrusted with an awful lot of money while his boss was gone. The employer’s only concern was how well each person managed what he had been given. His two “good and faithful” employees received substantially different amounts of money, yet he commended them equally for their gains. Meanwhile, his “wicked and lazy” assessment of the third employee was based on a lack of effort—the employee didn’t even deposit his money in a bank to earn interest.
This story illustrates our responsibility to take care of the Lord’s business while He is away. He has entrusted the management of His affairs to each of us in varying amounts. One day, He will return and conduct an accounting of every resource He has given us—our wealth, our spiritual gifts, our reputation, our abilities, our health, our time, our learning. Every resource we possess belongs to Him (1 Corinthians 6:20). As in Jesus’ story, it doesn’t matter how many resources we receive; what matters is how faithful we are with what we’ve been given.
2. The Habit of Habits:
Responding to Christ’s forgiveness means giving up our old ways.
In John 8:2-12, a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery was brought before Jesus by a group of religious leaders who were trying to trap Him. They tried to create a no-win situation that would either put Jesus at odds with the laws of Rome or the Law of God. As the men pressed Him to judge the woman, Jesus stated that whoever was “without sin” should be the first one to condemn her. Realizing their trap had failed, the men left one by one.
When the religious leaders had left, Jesus asked her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, Lord.” Now there’s a detail here we need to understand. Earlier in the story, the men had called Jesus “Teacher,” but this woman called Him “Lord.” That might not seem important, but 1 Corinthians 12:3 says that no one can call Jesus Lord, “except by the Holy Spirit.” So before this conversation, something had to have happened in the woman’s heart that caused her to understand to Whom she was speaking. That change of heart prompted Jesus’ response, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
Please do not miss the importance of this lesson: Jesus did not tolerate her sin; He forgave her because she was repentant. First Samuel 16:7 says, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Only God can evaluate repentance. He examines our heart and gauges our sincerity before our actions have time to catch up with our words. Once we accept His forgiveness, it becomes our job to go and live a life that honors the One who has given us so much.
Repentance is not a one-time activity. Temptation exists all around us, so we must make a habit of searching our heart for sin and turning from it. First John 1:9 promises, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Is there unconfessed sin in your life? Take it to the Lord. Once you’ve been washed clean by Jesus, replace your sinful habits with virtuous habits.
3. The Habit of Ignorance:
Acting like a Christian is not enough.
We live in a world where outward conformity to religion is sometimes substituted for the genuine work of the Holy Spirit. It is possible to look like a Christian, to act like a Christian, to talk like a Christian, to sing like a Christian, and not to be a Christian. Some people spend a lot of time surrounded by Christians without knowing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The requirements of the Christian life are simple to understand but hard to live out.
Studying the Bible is one of the best ways to know what is expected of us as Christians. Jesus gave us a starting point when He said the most important commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). From there, it becomes our job to plumb the depths of every book, every chapter, and every verse of Scripture. Then armed with that knowledge, we must examine our heart and test our devotion.
Another key to walking with God is the Holy Spirit. Second Corinthians 13:5 says, “Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith” (NLT). One test of genuine faith is what I call the automatic sin alarm system. Do you have one of those? It’s also known as a conscience, and it is powered by the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit is in your heart, He is going to make it very difficult for you to be comfortable with anything that violates God’s Law.
Do not settle for ignorance. Study your Bible and listen to the Holy Spirit as you commit your entire being to knowing the will of God.
4. The Habit of Irresponsibility:
Losing God’s love is impossible, but Christians can miss out on the privileges of obedience.
Jesus’ story about the Prodigal Son has been called the crown and the pearl of all the parables. In this story, God is portrayed as a loving father who yearns for his son—us—to return home. When the boy finally comes to his senses and returns to his father’s house, he receives compassion and forgiveness far beyond what he deserves. It’s a beautiful picture of how eager God is to forgive, but it also reminds us of the many blessings we give up when we wander away from our Father.
We don’t have to waste our fortune on wild living to remove ourselves from God’s protective care. We place ourselves in peril when we are careless with everyday matters, like our words or our attitude toward authority. Ecclesiastes 5:2 says, “Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God.” First Peter 2:13-15 says,
Speaking and acting recklessly places us outside of God’s will. That may be hard to accept, but it’s right there in the Bible. So let me ask you this: What do your actions say to the world about the God you serve? Do you honor God with your self-control or do you give people something to talk about? Romans 5:17 says that Adam’s rebellion led to the death of many, but Christ’s obedience on the cross provided a way for everyone to come back home to the Father’s house—"[to] triumph over sin and death” (NLT). One person’s actions can make a world of difference. Don’t stay stuck in the habit of irresponsibility; walk in the freedom that comes with spiritual discipline.
5. The Habit of Discouragement:
Persevering in our Christian walk requires prayer.
If you scroll through the news, you’ll find reasons to be discouraged, but the Bible contains hope: God is in control. When Jesus was preparing for His death on the cross, He assured His disciples with these words, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
How could Jesus expect the disciples to “be of good cheer” when their hopes and dreams were about to be nailed to a cross? Because Jesus had already claimed the victory, and they knew the One in whom they had placed their trust (2 Timothy 1:12). They knew Him because they lived with Him, walked with Him, and talked with Him. We can know Jesus just as intimately—by living with Him in our heart, walking according to His Word, speaking to God through prayer, and believing in the resurrection power that emptied Christ’s tomb.
At one point during Jesus’ ministry, His disciples asked Him how to pray. He gave the Lord’s Prayer as a model, and then He provided these instructions:
When we pray, we are to ask for specific, real-world needs. We are to ask according to faith and not according to what we see happening. The disciples failed that test when they underestimated the ability of one boy’s lunch to feed five thousand people. Prayer is a matter of faith. It is trusting that God has the power and the desire to meet our needs regardless of how things may seem.
Sometimes God allows us to wait for His answer so that our faith can mature. Romans 8:25 says, “But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” Rejoicing over answered prayer is appropriate, but having the kind of spiritual maturity that allows God to trust us with an answered prayer is even more reason to rejoice. We’re wrapped up in the product; God is wrapped up in the process. He wants us to be the kind of people who can be trusted with answered prayers.
If you struggle with discouragement, recommit yourself to trusting God’s timing and the power of prayer.
6. The Habit of Comparison:
Highlighting our own strengths while criticizing another’s weaknesses is ungodly.
The Pharisees made a career out of separating themselves from society. They thought they were better than anyone else, and they were confused about how one is justified before God. In Luke 18, Jesus told a story of two men—a Pharisee and a tax collector—who were praying in the temple. The Pharisee made a pretentious display of his prayer and used it to praise his own efforts, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess” (verses 11-12). Meanwhile, the tax collector begged the Lord, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (verse 13)
The Pharisee’s prayer gave no indication of repentance. He thanked God for three sins that he did not commit, he thanked God for one man to whom he cannot be compared, and he thanked God for two good deeds that he continued to do. In contrast, the tax collector’s prayer mentioned only God and himself. Rather than trying to impress God with good deeds, he pleaded for mercy and received it.
When we see someone caught up in sin, it is tempting to feel better about ourselves. But Jesus’ parable shows that these comparisons lead to pride and a false sense of godliness. We need God’s justification, not our own. None of us obey God’s Law perfectly, which means we all fall short of His expectations (Romans 3:20).
The Law reveals our sinfulness and our need for a Savior. As we draw closer to the Lord, we become more aware of our own unworthiness. The tax collector received forgiveness because he humbled himself and admitted his sin. The Pharisee didn’t receive forgiveness because he was blind to his own immorality.
It’s entirely possible to be religious and not be right. Anything that makes us feel better about our own sin is not our friend, and it never will be. The habit of comparison will separate you from God and from other people. If you want to be godly, compare yourself to Christ’s perfection. Admit your shortfalls and ask Him for forgiveness.
7. The Habit of Indifference:
Neglecting the needs of others ignores Jesus’s example.
In the story of the Good Samaritan, a priest and a Levite discovered a half-dead man along the roadside. Preoccupied with their temple duties, they passed by without stopping. Later a Samaritan came along, viewed the man with compassion, and stopped to help (Luke 10:30-36). The priest and Levite were involved in the service of God, but their actions revealed a failure to understand what that looks like. Meanwhile the Samaritan, who wasn’t even allowed to enter the temple, demonstrated God’s love to the injured traveler.
Serving God involves putting the needs of others ahead of our own. In Jesus’ parable, the Samaritan risked his safety to help the injured traveler, and he delayed his own plans. Not stopping there, he allowed the man to ride his own animal, and then he used his own resources to provide for the man’s needs. The Samaritan delivered kindness at great personal cost.
Compassion means taking more than a passing interest in the needs of others. It requires us to enter into their suffering. Three times in the book of Matthew, Jesus is described as having compassion for the physical needs of the people surrounding Him (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 15:32). As far back as Genesis 16, God revealed Himself as El Roi, the God Who Sees, to a slave woman named Hagar (verses 13-14). Serving El Roi means serving others with compassion.
This parable of a helpless, half-dead man reminds us of how humanity was lost in sin and doomed to death before God sent Jesus to be our Deliverer—our Good Samaritan. Consider what Ephesians 2:4-7 says:
It is possible to be so busy about the work of the kingdom that we lose sight of the hurting people all around us. But our goal as Christians is to love others like Christ loved us. Jesus came to this earth to serve (Matthew 20:28), and He often lavished His attention on outcasts. If we are serious about following in His footsteps, we will replace the habit of indifference with brotherly kindness.
8. The Habit of Contempt:
Rejecting Jesus’ authority invites God’s judgment.
One day when Jesus was teaching in the temple, He told a story about evil tenants who made an agreement with a vineyard owner to tend the man’s crops while he was away. They agreed to pay the owner out of the vineyard’s proceeds, but later they refused to honor the agreement. Each time the owner sent someone to collect his rent, the tenants would beat the messengers and sometimes kill them. Eventually they even killed the landlord’s beloved son. At the end of the story, Jesus said the owner would “come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others” (Mark 12:9).
It’s enough to make you never want to own rental property, but this story isn’t about landlords and tenants. It is about God’s people. The owner of the vineyard is God; the vineyard is Israel; the wicked tenants are religious leaders; the mistreated servants are God’s prophets; the beloved son is Jesus Himself. Drawing from a passage in Isaiah 5, Jesus was warning the religious leaders of pending judgment—Israel and its religious leaders had rejected God’s messengers and were about to reject His Son.
There are religious people who claim to serve God while rejecting His lordship over their gifts and blessings. They want the benefits without the accountability. One author has said, “We reject the claims of Christ not because we misunderstand them, but because we understand them only too well.”1 The story of the evil tenants reminds us what happens when we forget that we are custodians, not owners, of what we have.
Loving God involves a lifestyle of obedience. God expects His vineyard—His Church—to be an accepting, prayerful, forgiving, devoted, loving fellowship that’s built around Jesus Christ. When it becomes something else, we’re in danger of the same judgment as the vinedressers.
There is a song that describes “The Wonderful Cross” on which Christ died. It says, “Love so amazing, so divine / Demands my soul, my life, my all.”2 Jesus gave His life for you, but does He have your all? What are you holding back from Him? Accept His amazing gift today and serve Him with everything you’ve got.
1R. A. Cole, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: The Gospel According to St. Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 185.
2Chris Tomlin, “The Wonderful Cross,” The Noise We Make, Sparrow Records, 2001, CD.