Breaking Free from Spiritual Strongholds

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

I  lived in bondage for so long that I became convinced victory was simply unattainable. My situation was desperate long before I realized how dire it had become. If I were God, I would have given up on me long ago; I would have walked away from the me who couldn’t put together one week of sober living, selfless actions, acceptance, or surrender. I hid behind alcohol, drugs, and pornography. My life was a one-act play of misery and failure, and I was its sole writer, director, and actor. I can’t identify the exact moment when my train ran off the track. That’s okay! I eventually came to accept that my life had become derailed and, regardless of the cause(s), I needed help from a powerful source to lift the toppled engine and cars back on the track.

Today, I feel a sense of urgency to teach those lessons I learned the hard way. This was only possible after I admitted it was not I but my God and Savior who would be doing the teaching. Each of us faces a time in our lives when we must recognize where we’re at versus where we want to be; that we are nowhere near the “vicinity” of what God has called us to do. While in this strange land, we tend to miss the lessons learned. We see no reason for our troubles except to blame them on God or others; we especially miss the glaring evidence that we are causing our own failure! We hide our misery and failure—and our ridiculous attempts to control reality. It reminds me of the wizard: Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

Sadly, it was not until I experienced endless failure that I threw my hands in the air, desperate for freedom, and cried out to God. Most of my prior attempts to let go and let God were fake. I had not truly surrendered. In general, surrender means “giving in,” “yielding” to something. Spiritually, it involves a believer completely giving up his own will, subjecting his thoughts, ideas, and deeds to the will and teachings of God.

Surrender means to yield ownership, to relinquish control over what we consider ours: our property, our time, our “rights.” When we surrender to God, we are simply acknowledging that what we “own” actually belongs to Him. He is the giver of all good things. We are responsible to care for what God has given us, as stewards of His property, but by surrendering to God, we admit that He is ultimately in control of everything, including our present circumstances. Surrendering to God helps us to let go of whatever has been holding us back from God’s best for our lives. By surrendering to God, we let go of whatever has kept us from wanting God’s ways first.

Two factors drastically sabotaged my victory again and again: self-centered fear and belief in a false reality. I was quite good at looking the part (well, most of the time). Just smile, praise Jesus, go to church, teach Bible study at the local prisons, and (when no one was looking) continue to do things my way. I hated the phrase, “Too smart for my own good.” And don’t you dare call me a hypocrite! I was deluding myself with a case of “terminal uniqueness.” I’m not like those other helpless saps! Surrender meant admitting defeat. Well, yeah. That’s the whole point of giving in. Denial, however, will keep us from surrendering. We tell ourselves we don’t have a problem. Worse, we see the problem before us but decide we can fix ourselves.

The Habitual Practice of Sin

The apostle Paul frequently wrote about struggling against his sinful nature. He said, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:15, NRSV). From infancy, it appears, we struggle for control to get what we want, when we want it, and in the way we want it. This independent drive to be in charge lies behind every struggle for power, every prejudice, every conflict, and every abuse of relationship since the dawn of time. Paul recognized that the fault lay not with the commandments of God (the Law) but with sin itself (Rom. 7:17). His exhortation in chapter seven illustrates with increased intensity how living in deliberate sin causes our lives to be like a runaway freight train. Paul wrote, “I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (7:23-24).

There have been countless treatises on the habitual practice of sin. We all are born with a nature that wants to do our own will. Typically, this is contrary to God’s will. The Bible calls this nature our “flesh”. When we follow the inclinations of the flesh (our lusts) we commit sin. This information should help us recognize and address habitual sin. For me, it had the opposite effect. It became a loophole for continuing to sin. Honestly, I was practicing premeditated, purposeful sin. Moreover, I was doing so in secret, making every attempt possible to hide my disobedience. I rationalized my habitual sin by saying, “Not even the apostle Paul, who had a miraculous encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and wrote one-third of the New Testament, could resist sin so how could I?” (Please read my post Do You Look for Loopholes as Christian?)

Habitual sin leads to establishment of strongholds.

What is a Stronghold?

Paul was speaking of a “change in ownership in Romans 7. Certainly, grace is in control under the New Covenant. More importantly, however, a new Master has replaced sin. Union with Christ makes the new believer a servant of the Righteousness of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we move into a new mindset: One of obedience. Paul impresses upon us  that being under grace should not create in us a moral laxity. Sin was our master before we were redeemed. The righteousness of Christ that leads to eternal life calls us out from among the darkness of sin and disobedience. It is important, however, to note that our freedom as believers is limited. Contingent might be a better word. We either continue to put ourselves at the disposal of sin (remaining its servant), and eventually die; or we devote ourselves to Christlike obedience unto eternal life.

Paul teaches us about strongholds in 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” He sets the stage by stating that although we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war with typical weapons. He says, “for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (10:4). In her powerful book Praying God’s Word, Beth Moore writes, “Basically, a stronghold is any argument or pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.”1 Habits (actually, anything that exalts itself against the knowledge of God) tend to look bigger or more powerful than God. Whatever we let overpower us becomes our master!

Strongholds consume so much of our emotional and mental energy that the abundant life we’re promised by Jesus is strangled. We are cut off from the sunlight of the Spirit. Rendered powerless, we stumble and fall. The resulting guilt keeps us from seeking forgiveness. Satan, the proverbial lion who roams the earth seeking whom he can destroy, whispers an endless stream of lies in our ears. Matthew West delivered this powerful message in his song “Hello, My Name Is.” 

Hello, my name is regret
I’m pretty sure we have met;
Every single day of your life
I’m the whisper inside
Won’t let you forget.
Hello, my name is defeat
I know you recognize me;
Just when you think you can win
I’ll drag you right back down again
‘Til you’ve lost all belief.
These are the voices,
these are the lies
And I have believed them,
for the very last time.

The primary  battlefield on which we wage war is the mind. Paul says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col.3:2). Satan wages war in our minds because the most effective way to influence behavior is to influence thinking. This battle has already been won through Christ, but the devil plays make-believe. He lost the right to control those who believe in Jesus; however, through lies, he tricks us into thinking he’s still in charge. Don’t believe him: Jesus disarmed the principalities and powers of this earth, making a public example of them (Col. 2:15). Nothing is bigger or more powerful than God. Not even the strongest addiction or the most deeply-rooted feeling. We need only apply the proper weapons and we can defeat the devil at his deceptive practices.

Our weapons are not carnal; they are not of this world. They are grounded in divine power and associated with the knowledge of God. Their purpose is to take captive all our thoughts, allowing us to transform our minds. Paul said, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Eph. 10:11-13). Carnal is the exact opposite of spiritual. Because we wrestle against principalities, powers, and the world rulers of this present darkness, only a spiritual solution will suffice.

What do these weapons look like? “Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph. 6:13-18a). Beth Moore writes, “The sword of the Spirit, clearly identified as the Word of God, is the only offensive weapon listed in the whole armor of God.”In addition to the sword of the Word, we are to “pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.”

Matthew Henry writes, “Spiritual strength and courage are needed for our spiritual warfare and suffering… the Christian armour [sic] is made to be worn; and there is no putting off our armour till we have done our warfare and finished our course.”3 Incidentally, we are to remain clothed with the whole armor of God until the day we are called home to paradise. Paul is describing heavy armor typically worn in battle. Truth (or sincerity) is our girdle. There can be no spirituality without wholehearted trust. The righteousness of Christ is our breastplate, which protects our heart against attack. Our feet must be shod with the preparation of the gospel. This means our attitude and our motives must be grounded in a clear knowledge of the gospel. We must carry the shield of faith, which stops the arrows of the enemy. Lastly, we need perseverance: we must remain persistent in doing that which is required for victory despite difficulty or delay.

Mind Over Matter?

Paul wisely said, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). Conversion and sanctification aid in the renewing of our minds. This involves a change of the heart, not of substance or circumstance. Clearly, the more we are equipped with God’s armor, the better we can withstand any circumstance or temptation. The process of sanctification—dying to sin more and more—is how this renewing is accomplished. The end-goal, of course, is spiritual perfection (maturity). The general definition for maturity is “the state, fact, or period of being mature.” Synonyms for mature include complete, cultivated, developed, prepared or fit for a purpose, ready.

Joyce Meyer wrote, “How can we express the importance of our thoughts sufficiently in order to convey the true meaning of Proverbs 23:7?”4 This verse says, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is” (NASB). Meyer says the mind is the leader, the driving force, of all actions. Paul tells us this. Romans 8:5 says, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (NRSV) (emphasis mine). Truly, our behavior is a direct result of our thoughts. The first step in victory is thinking about what you’re thinking about. This is called metacognition in psychology. It is a worthwhile tool for identifying irrational or erroneous thought patterns that are producing the very problems we experience. In other words, we create our experiences through the power of our thoughts.

Some typical strongholds include the following:

  • Unbelief
  • Idolatry (worshiping our things)
  • Pride
  • Rejection
  • Depression
  • Addiction
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Unforgiveness

I will be presenting detailed lessons on the above strongholds over the next few weeks. Whether you are currently fighting a stronghold in your life, or desire to counsel and teach others who are stuck, I hope you will find the tools you need, based on sound biblical principles, to empower you in such work. I intend to start with unbelief. Many Christians believe, yet they wonder if they have enough faith. Jesus describes a situation in Mark 9 where a certain man sought healing for his son. Jesus said to the father, “If you can! All things are possible to him who believes” (9:23). The man replied, “I believe; help my unbelief” (9:24). The number one reason we do not receive what we ask of God is because we lack faith. Others have been deceived by the devil regarding the truth of the gospel. Satan’s only weapon is to attack our minds and cause uncertainly about what we hold to be true. Or, worse, he lies to us about who we are in Christ, causing condemnation.

I hope you will return next week for the first installment on attacking strongholds.

1 Beth Moore, Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free From Strongholds (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 3.

2 Beth Moore, 5.

3 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 1153.

4 Joyce Meyer, The Battlefield of the Mind (New York, NY: Warner Books, 1995), 11.

The Nature of Man; The Nature of Sin

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members” (Romans 7:15, 19, 20, 22-23, RSV).

“Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3, RSV).

By Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

THE DOCTRINE OF SIN has become increasingly controversial in recent years. In fact, it is often stated by those of a liberal philosophy that conservative concepts and values concerning man and his sinful nature are archaic. Today’s New Atheists typically accuse Christians of being narrow-minded, backward, or elitist. How can Christianity claim unequivocally that man is (by his very nature) sinful? Or that the only means by which man can be “saved” is through faith alone in Christ Jesus alone? The above Scriptures indicate that as human beings we are prone to follow the desires and passions of our flesh and our minds.

Paul is presenting us with a description of an ongoing struggle with sin in Romans 7:14-25. He describes himself as a “prisoner” of sin, doing the evil he does not want to do, and not doing the good he does want to do. This is what is meant by being in bondage to sin. Paul sees himself as a “wretched” man crying out for deliverance. His self-portrayal in this passage demonstrates a man who is captive to sin in two aspects: in both his conscious choices and decisions, and also in his unconscious reactions to people and circumstances. It has been said that habitual sin is lodged somewhere in our unconscious responses to stimuli.

It would appear that Paul finds himself settling on options he does not want to choose, and responding habitually to situations and people in ways which he does not want to act. From a psychological perspective, these unconscious choices qualify as habitual sins. The accepted psychological definition of habit is a conditioned, automatic response to a stimulus, performed apart from conscious thought or choice. That may sound simple and innocent on the surface, but when it comes to unconscious behavior we are talking about compulsion. The average person wishing to discontinue a habit deemed to be unhealthy or, in the present application, sinful, sees a gradual or (sometimes) immediate decrease in said behavior. But what of those individuals who are not able to change their behavior? Psychiatry would have us believe there is a neurotic or psychological component to the habitual practice of that behavior.

Compulsion is a state of mind in which an individual feels an irresistible urge to perform an action. The word also connotes the action itself. In such a state, the individual feels compelled to say, think or do something they are unable to resist which, even at that very moment, appears to him or her to be harmful, absurd, pointless, or unhealthy. Of course, this is the very root of addiction. The command to perform the action comes from within and is contrary to the conscious will. We can now see the dilemma of defining the type of behavior Paul describes in Romans 7.

The conflicts underlying habitual performance of sinful acts are (according to Paul) unconscious. Such conflicts are varied and involve difficulties like fear, hostility, hatred, rejection, persistent self-doubt, despair, and self-destruction—all of which run contrary to the instinct to act in such a manner as to assure continued health, safety, and life. Of course, Paul’s argument is that once a Christian becomes aware of his or her tendency to sin (while in the flesh), the nature of sin and its concomitant consequences should provide some degree of strength or ability to decrease sinful acts in order to promote spiritual growth. He realizes that his sinful nature (that which resides in his flesh) seeks instant gratification regardless of the consequences of giving in to temptation. In other words, he does not see a “human” remedy for this problem; only a spiritual one.

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:24-25, RSV).

THE NATURE OF MAN

Psychological Aspect

Most of us realize that human nature consists of a myriad of characteristics, including how we think, feel, and act. These characteristics are said to occur naturally. Perhaps one of the oldest debates in human history is whether man is basically good or essentially bad. Certainly, this speaks to our overall tendencies. Accordingly, man is both inherently good and inherently bad. We all have the capacity to love and care for others (to one degree or another) on a sliding continuum. Additionally, we have the capacity for being bad: mean-spirited, selfish, hateful, prejudice, deceptive (even murderous under the right circumstances). The extent to which we lean toward one extreme or the other is deeply rooted in a number of factors: childhood experience, personality, culture, geography, demographics, and the like.

You likely remember the tales of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein. Each story gives us a particular viewpoint on the nature of man. Robert Louis Stevenson showcased the capacity within man to turn to the left or to the right—to do good or do evil. Dr. Jekyll was a member of the privileged class—a wealthy physician of public renown. He possessed an underlying evil nature which he could not control. When this sinister side took over, he said, “It was the curse of mankind that these incongruous personalities—the good and the bad were thus bound together—that in the agonized womb of consciousness, these polar twins should be continuously struggling.”  Mary Shelley painted a different picture. The monster Frankenstein said, “I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.”

When discussing the nature of man, we are examining whether man is a product of his environment (nature) or the result of an amalgam of his interpersonal experiences (nurture). I believe we are impacted by both. We’re speaking of “temperament,” which is a term we typically see in theories of personality development. I have found in my undergraduate studies in psychology that there are both empirical and theoretical links between childhood experience and adult personality traits. Personality seems to have an unavoidable influence on behavior. Temperament is often seen as a constitutional predisposition, observable in pre-verbal infants and animals, and tied, at least theoretically, to basic psychological processes. Personality traits are assumed to be acquired patterns of thought and behavior that might be found only in organisms with sophisticated cognitive systems.

I subscribe to Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory. He agreed with behaviorists relative to classical and operant conditioning, but added two additional criteria: (1) mediating processes occur between stimulus and response; and (2) behavior is learned from the environment through the process of observational learning vis-a-vis modeling behavior of primary caregivers and other significant individuals in our world during childhood and adolescence. I also support cognitive behavioral therapy to help clients address and defeat their “irrational” beliefs regarding the world and and their own sense of worth. This can be effective with people struggling with addiction and (what used to be labeled) neurotic views of the world. Further, it dovetails nicely with basic Christian doctrine: We must come to see ourselves not as we see ourselves, nor bound to the sum of all our past mistakes; rather, we must see ourselves as God sees us as believers—a new creation, clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

Spiritual Aspect

Scripture sees unregenerate man as enslaved to sin and possessing a corrupt nature. In this regard, man is in need of transformation through rebirth. When a person chooses to believe the Gospel, he or she identifies with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Accordingly, the old nature is crucified with Christ. Paul says of the regenerate Christian, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day” (2 Corinthians 4:16, RSV). The “old man” or the “old nature,” as expressed by Paul, is man as he was before he was reborn and sanctified by the grace of the Spirit. Don Steward of blueletterbible.org says, “The natural man may be defined as an individual who operates entirely on human wisdom.”

Although not everyone believes in an all-powerful Creator, both atheists and theists are tasked with explaining the innately fallen nature of humans. Mankind is capable of showing kindness and love and sacrifice on one hand,  and cold, calculating selfishness, hatred, deception, and murder on the other. I don’t believe these extremes are present to the same extent in every human being. I do, however, believe there is an underlying sinful and evil nature in mankind. In other words, the potential to be both good and bad exists within us all to varying degrees. Admittedly, many people have difficulty buying into the idea that from the moment of birth we are not innocent and inclined toward goodness. Instead, we are inclined toward sin.

“Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned” (Romans 5:12, RSV).

Dr. Werner Gitt of Answers in Genesis believes it is impossible to understand human nature apart from biblical revelation. Despite my becoming a “born-again” Christian at age 13, I struggled for decades with the concept that I was less than what I have the potential to be. It’s been said to me recently that I don’t give myself enough credit for my accomplishments. Ten years ago, I would have been in complete agreement. But when I undertake an honest and thorough moral examination of myself, I see glaring character defects, repeated selfish and mean-spirited acts, forty-plus years of active addiction, numerous incidents of lying, cheating, and stealing, and the tendency to want “maximum results with minimum effort.” This is beyond laziness. It is akin to the sense of “absolute entitlement.”

Frankly, I am okay with this assessment. It finally makes perfect sense to me, and, accordingly, provides the opportunity for lasting change. I’ve said many times that no “human effort” (neither mine nor the relentless intervention of others) could rescue me from active addiction. Moreover, I have come to recognize (anew) the spiritual battle we all face daily, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Native American, or atheist. I see how I’ve been a pawn in the struggle between flesh and blood, good and evil. There are powers of darkness that want to recruit us to go to war against God and Jesus Christ; against goodness and honesty, kindness and selfless service. Paul was well-aware of this concept, and he made it an integral part of his ministry.

A Personal Example

It is with some trepidation that I confess to a particular habit I have found hard to stop. I am quite fond of sex and enjoy feeling the nearly-euphoric closeness one experiences during sexual relations. For me, there is unfortunately a dark underside to this stimulus. At some point it became a form of escape. The physical sensation of achieving orgasm served as a perfect way to mask depression, anxiety, even physical pain. In this regard, these sensations became yet another form of “self-medication.” Naturally, this is not what sex is meant for. At least not when it becomes a compulsion. Moreover, the act of masturbation became yet another addiction. In fact, I was told years ago by a psychologist who specializes in addictive behaviors that because I tended to mix masturbation with the use of addictive substances that enhance the physical sensations of sex, I needed to address both issues. He said, “If you don’t, it’s like having two broken legs but only having a doctor set one of them.”

In its excessive form, masturbation becomes a compulsive (perhaps neurotic) act. When it is found in this form, it serves the purpose of allaying anxiety or other uncomfortable emotions. The root of this (and I don’t mean to sound Freudian here) may stem from a number of causes. A neglected or rejected child, who early in childhood may have learned to resolve the fear of isolation or insecurity by indulging in earlier infantile pleasures, will resort to masturbation as a satisfactory relief or consolation. The obvious downside to the persistent habit of masturbation, especially while viewing pornographic images, tends to cause the individual to objectify or sexualize women. This flies in the face of establishing meaningful relationships with a member of the opposite sex.

I am happy to report that by seeing pornography and masturbation as yet another addiction, I have applied the same methods to this compulsive behavior that I have been able to apply to my struggle with substance abuse. I could admit here that I have only recently become drug-free after yet another relapse, but I would rather focus on the fact that I am clean and sober today. I finally grasp the paramount importance of taking it “one day at a time.”

THE NATURE OF SIN

David said, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 199:11, NIV). This is truly the only means by which we can hope to defeat habitual sin. Much like physical exercise—which strengthens our calves or our core muscles over time—the continual practice of sin will serve to strengthen our bad habits. It is true that Christians are often tempted to sin. It’s impossible to completely avoid temptation while we exist in the flesh. Sadly, many end up giving in to such enticement on a regular basis.

It is one thing to recognize our vulnerability while clothed in a fleshly body, but it is a completely different matter to give up and give in to the same sin time and time again. Although I don’t believe recurrence of habitual sin will nullify the saving grace and power of Jesus’s sacrifice, I think habitual sin tends to fill us with guilt, shame, and regret. It can cut us off from fellowship with God. Once this separation occurs, we become increasingly vulnerable to the practice of sin. Indeed, this becomes a vicious circle. Moreover, it taints our testimony, causing us to look like a testiphony

For me, I tend to fall into habitual sin when I fail to believe that holiness can result in a happier, healthier, successful life. In addition, I think the root of habitual sin is not necessarily a battle for self-control. Paul was clear about this in Romans 7. Instead, the root of habitual sin can be found in the need to “feel good.” We have a difficult time quitting a behavior for which we gain something—a sense of euphoria, peace, or happiness. In this manner, said habitual actions are a form of self-medication. Or, worse, an attempt at assuaging the pangs of guilt and the sense of failure we might be experiencing. Regarding chronic use of pornographic images, for example, those who use it to feel good are actually creating a false reality.

John said, “All wrongdoing is sin” (1 John 5:17a, RSV). But it is also more complicated than that. Although sin is simple by its nature, it can create complex illusions that are very difficult to identify and deny. Urges and motivations are quite complicated, often causing a tangled mess in our soul and spirit. In his epistle, James wrote, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire… Then desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death” (1:14, RSV). James had never taken a course in psychology, but he thoroughly understood two things: what sin is in its basic form; and the concept that each of us is pulled in directions specific to our own desire. This is precisely why not everyone who drinks alcohol will become an alcoholic. It also explains why not every man or woman is enticed or drawn in by viewing pornographic images.

I believe every sin is, to a great degree, a repeat of the original sin when our first parents decided to eat the forbidden fruit to fulfill their desire to be “like God.” They were not ignorant of God’s instructions. They possessed enough information to make an informed decision to obey or disobey. In fact, God told them that eating the fruit would be wrong and that they would be far happier if they refrained from eating it (see Genesis 2:16-17). Satan misrepresented the truth and told them they would be far happier if they ate the forbidden fruit. In fact, he said to Eve, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5, RSV). This sounded good to Eve.

We become enslaved according to what we believe. Accordingly, it becomes quite difficult to give up that which we’ve embraced as a means to escape an uncomfortable situation or alleviate a troublesome emotion. This makes habitual sin impossible to defeat through the power of self-denial. While in the grips of a habit that produces in us a great sense of relief or euphoria (consider the brain chemistry of dopamine, oxytocin, seratonin, and endorphins), we are powerless to stop the rewarding behavior. We can only defeat such a habit through the power of a greater desire. Sure, self-denial is necessary, but self-denial is only possible (especially over the long-haul) when it is fueled by desire for a greater joy than what we have decided to deny ourselves. One way to express this is the common phrase, “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”

In other words, when we desire a closer relationship with the LORD more than we desire continued physical pleasure, we are better equipped to extinguish habitual sin. This is achievable only by walking in the Spirit and not according to the flesh. We must renounce the lies we have believed, repent for having persistently believed them, and begin to exercise faith in God’s promises through obedience to Him. Until we believe we will experience the abundant life Jesus talked about, we will remain in bondage to our flesh, our neurotic or irrational beliefs about how best to achieve peace, joy and happiness. We will continue applying a bandage to our wounds rather than seek to have them healed.