7 Healthy Habits, Part 1


Men’s natures are alike; it is their habits that separate them.

So wrote Confucius in his “Analects.” And as far as he goes, he’s right. People are people wherever you go, only the faces and names change. But Christians are supposed to be different; our natures are different; our sinful nature has been replaced with Christ’s nature.

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:6, 7 TLB)

Given the truthfulness of what Paul wrote doesn’t automatically do away with the truthfulness of Confucius. Even though Christians been “set free from sin” because our “old selves” have been done away with, we still have a responsibility to live like people to whom this happened. God, through the work of His Son, has radically changed our natures, but our behavior – how we live our lives – is up to us to bring into line with what God has done. God won’t change our behavior; He graciously leaves that up to us.  But, it’s not easy to change our behavior because so much of it is based on habits adopted long ago. Fortunately, the Bible can help us out. Living lives that glorify Christ means developing new habits to replace old habits. Let’s take a look at some new habits every Christian needs to adopt in the coming year.

Trust Christ, Galatians 2:20

I have been crucified with Christ: and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the real life I now have within this body is a result of my trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (TLB)

This verse is a statement of fact; a fact that is true of every single believer, not just the apostle Paul. What he is getting at here is not living “the crucified life,” whatever you think that may mean. It does not suggest that Christians should seek to “crucify themselves.” It’s written in the past tense, meaning Paul and all believers have already been crucified with (or in) Christ. Our crucifixion is an accomplished fact; it was something that took place at a specific point in time. It happened to us when it happened to Christ.

But what exactly does Paul mean when he wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ?” In the simplest of terms, Paul is referring to his old, inner self being dying with Christ on the Cross. When Jesus died on the Cross, our hopeless, helpless, sin-depraved natures died with Him. It’s a curious way of thinking and the modern mind that views history in a linear fashion has problems grasping the idea that 2,000 years ago something happened to people not yet born. But remember, time is man’s invention, and God exists outside of it. He doesn’t occupy our space and isn’t bound by our naïve concepts of things like time.

It takes faith – trust – to believe that our sinful nature is, in fact dead. Can it be proven? Of course not! That’s why Paul wrote about trusting in the Son of God’s work on the Cross done on your behalf. You have to trust what you can’t prove.

When you confess Christ as your Lord and Savior, God views you as having died with Him on the Cross. Your sinful nature, and in fact all your sins and your guilt, were mystically attached to Christ so that when He died to this sinful world, so did you. This sinful world no longer has a claim on you any more than it did on Jesus. To prove the world had no hold on Him, Jesus rose from the dead, proving that He was no longer subject to the natural world. Neither are you, at least as far as sin is concerned.

But, you don’t stay dead. The counterpart of death with Christ is living a new life in Him – or as Paul put it, “I’m dead, but now Christ lives in me.” The Christian life is now like this:

So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:4 – 6 NIV)

Of course, he’s writing to converted Jews, convincing them that the new life in Christ set them free from the burden of having to live by all those religious regulations. As far as we’re concerned, we’ve been set free from sin’s grasp on us so that now we can live for Christ; we can live lives inspired by Him. Our lives will now “bear fruit for God.”  Here’s the kicker though. We actually have to trust that what happened to us 2,000 years ago did actually happen to us. We have to develop the habit of continually trusting in Christ. We do this by reading His Word; by filling our minds with the facts of His finished work on the Cross. We develop the habit of trust in Christ by living for Him, or perhaps more accurately letting Him live through us. The more we change our habitual ways of thinking and living, the greater of habit of trust will become.

Praying to God, Philippians 4:6

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (NIV)

Actually, this verse presents us with a double whammy: we are to (1) pray to God, and (2) not be anxious about anything. Just try telling any mother not to worry about their children and see what kind of reaction you get. For a lot of people, not just mothers, worrying is seen as a virtue. To not worry about something is seen by them as being irresponsible. But the Bible makes it plain: Christians are not to be anxious about anything. That’s an absolute statement. It’s not that we shouldn’t be concerned about important things, but we should never be anxious about them. That’s hard to do. We live in a very negative culture at the moment that encourages us to worry about everything. From the dopey, “If you see something, say something” admonition to the obsession people have with flu shots, suspicious neighbors, and germs, the modern American can find all kinds of things to be anxious about! Fortunately for us, the Bible gives us the secret to living a worry-free life: replace anxiety with prayer. Replace one habit with another one.

Habitual prayer is important. Don’t ever wait to feel “moved” to pray! Develop the habit of praying and pretty soon it will be as natural to you as breathing. But you must make it a habit. Don’t find time for it, make time for it.  But for Paul, prayer wasn’t quite enough; he added “and petition.” That’s a new word for the old fashioned idea of “supplication.” But what does it mean? Prayer is general idea, but it’s far more than just “talking to God,” as some people think. Praying to God is based on God’s promises to believers; it’s a form of worship and devotion. Petition is a special kind of prayer made during times of stress or need and it appeals to God’s mercy. John Knight made this observation –

One prays for forgiveness – and it is given; he supplicates for the recovery of his child – that is mercy which exceeds the bounds of grace.

These things, prayer and petition or supplication, need to be practiced habitually. They shouldn’t be haphazard or occasional things we do when we feel like it or think of it. But Paul carries this a little further. He tells us that we should present our requests “to God.” That’s not just telling Him what you need. The Greek is pros ton theon, which is better rendered, “in God’s presence.” This refers to God’s continual presence; He’s always there, listening, watching, waiting for you to talk to Him. Despite how some Christians pray, we don’t “go into God’s presence,” for He is always with us, whether anybody else is or not or whether we feel Him or not. It’s an objective fact of the faith: God’s abiding presence. We need to habitually pray and petition God with that attitude of mind – we are in the presence of the mighty God. With that understanding, how can we possibly be anxious? How can we doubt His hearing us?

When other people around us – friends and family even – don’t seem to understand us or seem unable to help us, we can depend on God. In fact, if we take Paul at his word – and we should – God is the first Person we should turn to, not the Person of last resort.  There’s a tremendous promise attached to the habit of prayer:

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7 NIV)

A lot of us want that “peace which transcends all understanding” without doing anything to get it! We get it when we practice habitual prayer – the kind of praying Paul wrote about.

Remain in Christ, John 15:4

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:4 NIV)

This may seem like an obvious habit to develop. What Christian would not want to remain in Christ? Apparently there are many Christians who have little or no interest in remaining in Christ because so many Christians live barren lives. If you want to be a productive Christian, then remaining “in Christ” is essential. Jesus declared that He was the “true vine,” God was the great gardener, and the believer is a branch. Of course, all this is symbolism which represents a couple of aspects of the Christian life:

(1) Christians who produce fruit – those who live lives that are pleasing to God and marked by living in accordance to His will – are like healthy branches.
(2) Christians who don’t live like that are like branches that are barren and brittle.

How does a Christian become like a healthy branch? By remaining in Christ. Essentially, man is unable to do anything to please God apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ. Unless you are consciously living in Christ, nothing “good” you do is of any value to God in terms of eternity. Heavenly fruit-producing happens only when a believer is in good stead with His God – when he remains firmly grafted in the Vine, who is Jesus Christ.
So there are really two things happening here. First, Christians are supposed to be producing good fruit in God’s sight, and the only way they can do that is to be in a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ. But there are many people who think they are in that kind of relationship who are, in fact, not all. Their lives, in God’s sight and very often in the sight of other believers, are spiritually barren – essentially worthless. It’s Jesus that makes all the difference in the world. You see, a good deed done without Jesus is just a good deed that may benefit the recipient of that good deed. But that same good deed done in the Name of Jesus has a spiritual dimension behind it. It benefits the recipient more than you can notice with your natural eyes. It also benefits the Kingdom of God in ways you can’t imagine.

Christians anchored in Jesus are an unstoppable force for the Kingdom in this dark world. But we must remain in Him. Remaining in Him doesn’t just happen. It’s a relationship, and every relationship needs to be cultivated; it needs to be worked on. As Christians, we need to pay attention to how the most important relationship in our lives is doing. We can’t afford to be lazy about it; we should never take it for granted. Remaining in Jesus is habit we have to work on constantly. It’s the third healthy habit for Christians to adopt.

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