Sadly, we are sometimes prone to cling to bad habits that impede our joy. Why is it that we often hold on to things that hinder us in our pursuit of happiness? Why do we develop unhealthy and harmful habits in the first place? And why do old habits die hard?
Part of the answer, it seems, is that we, as humans, are the kind of beings for whom futile pursuits come quite naturally. I can’t count the number of times I have personally chosen to pursue something that was absolutely contrary to what wisdom prescribed. And this isn’t something to which I must look to the distant past to observe! Unfortunately, we need only scan the headlines to observe that this is a universal problem. Humanity seems to be held hopelessly captive to reaping the rewards of foolish decisions.
Christianity teaches us that these are things from which we are unable to set ourselves free. Our problem is not only that we make the kinds of choices that hold us back from finding happiness, but that we are the kind of people for whom such choices seem reasonable and good. At the end of the day, we all make choices based on our greatest affections in a given moment. We all do what we most want to do. But what if the thing we most want in a given instant will lead to our downfall? What if our strongest desire at the moment of decision will lead us to make a choice that will continue to hamper us in our pursuit of joy? The human will—that internal decision-making mechanism we all possess—is in bondage to the often times misguided affections which reside deep within each one of us.
What’s the answer? Perhaps I should just try harder. Well, whether or not I try harder is ultimately dependent upon what I most want to do. And my problem up to this point is that I want the thing that’s holding me back more than I want to overcome it. Otherwise, I would have dispatched with the thing long ago. The real answer is that my desires need to change. I must become the kind of person for whom good and wise choices come naturally. The inner longings which drive my decisions are in desperate need of transformation.
This is connected to the biblical story of God’s rescue plan for humanity. Part of the redemption God brings through Christ is a deliverance from the bondage of the human will. Too often the Christian message has been truncated to a message about our eternal destiny. We have all sinned and deserve to go to hell, but Jesus came and took the penalty we deserved upon Himself so that we might have eternal life. While this is most certainly true in regards to the Christian, it is only part of the redemption that is offered in Christ. The message of the Christian faith is not only that Jesus came to save us from the penalty of sin, but that Jesus came to save us from sin in its totality. Jesus came to save us from the penalty of sin, the effects of sin, and the reign of sin in our lives. He came to deliver us from the curse that has come upon us because of humanity’s disobedience in the beginning.
The choices that hold us back are choices that are contrary to God’s law. If we live in accordance with God’s law we will be blessed; if we disobey God’s law it will result in pain and turmoil. Unfortunately, because of what we are deep down—sinners by nature and choice—we all choose to disobey God’s law and to make decisions that hold us back in our quest for happiness. The good news is that Christ came into the world and took upon Himself the pain and turmoil which should have been upon His people because of their disobedience. Christ thereby rescues us from the pain and turmoil of disobedience, changing us and our desires, and enabling us to make the kinds of choices which will result in blessing if we believe in Him. In Christ, old habits die, hard.