Why do we have bad behaviors, to begin with? There are four reasons. (1) First and foremost, we have inherited sin, which means that we are missing the mark of perfection. (2) In addition, our environment can condition us into the bad behavior. (3) We have our human weaknesses, which include inborn tendencies that we naturally lean toward evil, leading us into bad behaviors. (4) Moreover, there is the world of Satan that caters to these human weaknesses, which also leads us down the path of bad behaviors. What is needed if we are to overcome these bad behaviors?

Romans 12:2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable[1] and perfect.

If we are reading this book, we have already owned the fact that we are struggling with some issue, and we are looking for a way to overcome and cope. First, we need to be able to view anything that we accomplish, no matter how small as a successful step in the right direction. Thus, if we are one who overeats, and we make it an entire day, without giving into the desires of the flesh, we need to positive self-talk ourselves. We need to say our name, “Ed, I am proud of you, you can celebrate the fact that you made it through the day successfully, and can do the very same thing tomorrow.” If we fail toward the end of the day, not all is a loss, but we need reasonably and rationally to self-talk ourselves. “Ed, you did not succeed today, but you could have. You fell short, because the thought of getting some chocolate ice-cream and instead of dismissing that thought and praying immediately, you entertained the thought.” Notice how we did not beat ourselves up, but did not let ourselves off either. We also identified what led up to falling short. Notice too that our word choices are important. We said that we “fell short,” not that we “failed.” If we tried and were even partially successful, this could never be a failure; it is falling short.

Innocent Appearing Situation

Obviously, this should be of the greatest concern to each one of us. We may be a person of good character, and believe that in any situation, we will make the right decisions. However, the moment that innocent appearing situation arises, we are plagued with the inner desire toward wrong. We need to address more than what our friends, our workmates or our spouse may see. We need to look into our inner self, in the hopes of determining, who we really are, and what do we need to do to have a good heart.

As we know, we could not function with half a heart. However, we can function, albeit dysfunctional, with a heart that is divided. In our desire to be a good person, we are pulled in two different directions. For a time, we are doing well, and then we stumble. Our inner person is divided between wanting to good, and desiring to do bad at the same time. This is not all. It is possible with a figurative heart to be with a heart and a heart, having two. This is the person who is, one way at work, home, and religious services, but the mind is flooded with a whole another inner person. In order to have just one complete heart that is healthy, there will be much effort on our part.

We have to remove ourselves from what may appear to be innocent appearing situations. The greatest impact on our unity comes from our desire for freedom from dependence on or control by another person or organization. We all want our freedom. However, we need to appreciate that the world’s idea of freedom may not be the same as that found within Scripture. We may recall that it was Satan, who deceived Eve into believing that freedom from being under the loving guidance of her Creator was a good thing.  (Gen. 2:16, 17; 3:1-6, 17-19) The world that surrounds us has a very divisive independent spirit. However, we are to be no part of that world, whose leader is Satan, the Devil. Therefore, it would be very prudent to restrain our urge of absolute freedom as there is no such thing for any created being. We were designed with a measure of relative freedom under the umbrella of God’s sovereignty, our Grand Creator. God has loving provided his Word, as a means of understanding how our relationship toward him should be.

Jeremiah 17:9 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

The heart is more deceitful than all else,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?

The trial, the stress to sin, hits the imperfect human makeup, and the danger of reacting to the situation in a wrong way exists. A specific situation, even an innocent appearing situation, can give rise to sinful desires. This desire then assists as an enticement to sin. Therefore, the Christian is placing himself before temptation.

Satan is the God of this world (2 Cor. 4:4), and the influence of his world (John 14:30; Rev 12:9), tempt the Christian mind and heart with things that are contrary to God’s moral standard or with mental leanings that are evil in the eyes of God. Satan and his world use (1) the desire of the imperfect, fallen flesh; (2) the desire of our eyes, the window to our heart; (3) the arrogance of material possessions, and so on. (1 John 2:16)

How is the Christian tried in this wicked way? He is tried when he allows his imperfection, the bad that dwells in him, to become animated. Once this animation takes place, sin will have gotten the mastery over him, controlling his actions like a puppet master controls a puppet. (See Romans 6:14, 19) This comes about because he failed to dismiss the wicked thoughts that enter his mind. That is why he should have prayed “do not bring [me] into temptation, but deliver [me] from the evil one.” (Matt 6:13) What we need to do is talk to God immediately, begging him to guard our mind and heart, helping us to identify the wrongful thinking with our Christian conscience, rejecting it for what it is, evil. What is it that will sharpen our Christian conscience, helping us to move on from being a spiritual babe, to a mature Christian? It is an active personal study of God’s Word, which is his loving letter to us. Therein, he warns us, safeguards our thinking, keeping us inundated in “whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are right, whatever things are pure, whatever things are pleasing, whatever things are commendable, if there is any excellence of character and if anything praiseworthy, think about these things.” (Phil 4:8)

We need to develop such a close bond with Christ in mind and thought that we do not entertain a single principle of evil that gets past our Christian conscience, to cater to our fallen flesh, our wrong desires. If we sure up our weaknesses by our faith in Christ, drawing closer to God, Satan will not have any room within us.

If we entertain the thought that enters our mind that is a desire to his moral laws, as opposed to dismissing it, we will allow it to become fruitful. When a seed is planted in the ground, the possibility for growth is there. The same is true with us, if we entertain the inappropriate thoughts; we are cultivating the thinking, bringing it to fruition. As we nurture that wrongful thinking in our heart, we will eventually give way to sin. Therefore, an act of sin is the offspring of wrongful thinking that is nurtured until it is delivered.

How is it that we get those wrongful thoughts in the first place? Whatever we take into our mind through our senses, will inevitably enter the heart, the inner person. Once we are the victim of bad behaviors, it is no easy task in removing them. Some of them took years to develop, and will take months to undo, only if we apply the Word of God, as best we can, because what we put into our recovery, is what we will get back. Listen carefully to the words of the Apostle Paul, one of the most spiritually healthy men ever to walk this planet.

Romans 7:18-24 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the desire is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if what I do not want to do, this I am doing, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

21 I find then the law in me that when I want to do right, that evil is present in me. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and taking me captive in the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Who Saved the Apostle Paul?

Romans 7:25 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh, I serve the law of sin.

Our Environment Conditions Us

If we recall, one of the four reasons for our bad behaviors was “our environment conditioned us into the bad behavior.” Since this is the case, we need to see how we can change our environment. While moving would be the very last resort, and only if the physical environment where we live is the key to it all, would we move. However, this environment change needs not be about moving. Are there things in our environment that is affecting our thinking? Then, these must be removed, and if they cannot be removed, we must adjust our environment that will allow us to exercise care around them. If there are things in our home that have contributed to our bad behavior, they need to removed!

Suppose our bad behavior is that we have an issue with getting angry easily. Could the movies that we watch, play a role in this? Could associations with past friends, who are known as tough and rough persons, contribute to our acting harshly as well? We likely notice that when we are in the company of other Christians, who are mild tempered; we seem to be of that same nature as well?

As was said, we recognize that we are struggling with some human weaknesses, or we would not be reading this book. We know that our bad behaviors are truly no benefit to our life. While they may satisfy us in an immediately gratifying way, this is simply temporary. In the end, we may be having a negative impact on our health if we are overeating, smoking, doing drugs or abusing alcoholic beverages. On the other hand, maybe we are gambling, or we are compulsively buying things that are not needed, so our finances are suffering. Then, maybe we are working overtime, because of materialistic reason, so the wellbeing of our family is suffering. Possibly we are involved in a secret sin, which no other human is aware of, and we are living in mental anguish. Oh, how better our life would be without this bad behavior!

Know that this bad behavior has encompassed a large portion of our life, and maybe this has been the case for some time. Therefore, if we remove it, there will be a void that needs to be filled. Yes, remove the bad behavior and replace it with a good one. We will choose a simple one, as an example. Suppose we are at the end of our day, and we generally relax, and watch a movie, but while flipping through the channels, we are tempted to watch things that we know are a part of our bad behavior. We can do one of two things: (1) Find out what shows are good to watch, and the times they come on, so there is no need to surf the channels. (2) We can replace that time with some personal Bible study, the reading of a good book, Bible reading, some exercise, or doing something with a member of our family.

Each day, we will start it with prayer, so we need to discuss our bad behavior with God. Talk to him about what we are trying to do, the progress that we have made, and ask that he bless our efforts to work in behalf of our prayers. This means that we need to monitor the progress and setbacks. This way if we stumble in any way, we will know exactly what lead up to it. Then, we can address ideas of dealing with the setback in prayer to God, as well as our mental health counselor if we have one.

We also need to let everyone know that we are trying to overcome this bad behavior. If we are dealing with overeating, and yet our mother brings us treats at times, she is unknowingly feeding our bad behavior. If we are trying to deal with a problem with alcohol, our friends will not invite us to Christian gatherings that have alcoholic beverages.

We need to understand that, as the saying goes, “Rome was not built in a day.” We are not going to overcome a deeply entrenched bad behavior overnight. This is something that is deeply ingrained through our social environment that has conditioned us, as well as a possible genetic predisposition, not to mention a world of Satanic influences that feed it.

Human Weaknesses Lead Us Toward Bad Behaviors

Again, we likely recall that we had said, “Human weaknesses, which include inborn tendencies that we naturally lean toward, lead us into bad behaviors.” Maybe we are struggling to let go of one that we formerly loved, and had to leave because of abusive behaviors. Perhaps we suffered from an abusive childhood and have been struggling with the memories, which have not allowed us to forgive the abuser. It could be we are struggling with anger issues, or an anxiety disorder, or an eating disorder, or addiction. Moreover, maybe we have adjusted the external life so that the world sees one person while the internal us is a whole other person.

Jesus taught his first-century listeners, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” (Matt. 15:10-11) Yes, it is what is in our heart, which will corrupt us eventually. We will not be able to keep our imperfections a hidden forever. We need to be honest and open with our thinking, the root of every bad behavior. As our theme text, Romans 12:2, brought out, we need to ‘be transformed by the renewal of our mind that by testing we may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Yes, we need to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.”–2 Corinthians 10:5

One of the ways that we do this is, by identifying the lies that we tell ourselves, acknowledging them, and then replacing them with the Word of God as our standard of behavior. While it is true that we are a Christian, it is also true that some of our thinking are irrational. We need to identify these irrational thoughts and recognize them for the lies that they are. We then turn to the Scriptures, to see how God feels about this thinking, and what principles lay within that may help us overcome the thinking or behavior.

For example, his brothers sold Joseph into slavery. He found himself as a servant of Potiphar, the chief of Pharaoh’s bodyguard. (Gen. 37:28, 36; 39:1) When Potiphar’s wife tempted young 17-year-old Joseph with committing adultery with her, and fornication for him, his immediate concern was what God would think, when he said, “because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Gen 39:9) Notice, “She spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.” Where could Joseph go, it is not as though he could leave his environment? (Gen. 39:10) One day, “She caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me.’ But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.” Yes, Joseph removed himself from the temptation.

The next step is to be truthful with ourselves. Self-talk with God and ourselves in deep emotional prayers. Walk through the entire process in our prayers: (1) what the bad behaviors are, (2) the lies that lay behind them, and (3) how we surrender to them each time. Then, beg God to bless our efforts to develop a system of self-talking our irrational thinking.

The same images, the movies that play in one’s head, just before he gives way to bad behavior, need to be extinguished with rational self-talk, and imagery of his own. Just as one may fantasize about having sexual relations with another, he should also daydream about the repercussions of such action. It should not just be about the penalty, but also about the rightness of his human heart. He should develop a love of neighbor, and love of God, so much so, that such thoughts become repulsive. Just as one may sit, thinking of, daydreaming of, playing a movie in their head of beating a person within an inch of their life, because of the abuse received by that person; the same effort needs to be placed into the rational self-talk. Play the same mental-movie, but incorporate ourselves in prison, the visits of our loved ones, the abuse of the prison system and inmates that are far more abusive that the person we visualize. Then, walk through ways that we can adequately deal with the circumstances. Talk to another that is in a position to help us reason out a biblical way of dealing with our circumstances.

In our prayers to God, begin with praising him for the all-powerful Creator he is. Tell God of our experiences that have us in the way of harmful behaviors, verbally and visually give him the details. Then, ask him for the wisdom to cope with the circumstances, and steadfast faith to wait as things progressively improve. Close out the prayer by praising God again for his greatness, and thanking him for his Word, the Bible. Once we have prayed such a prayer, we need to act on behalf of such a prayer, by investigating Bible-based literature that will give us the tools for dealing with our situations biblically.

The Whole World Lies in the Power of Satan

If we recall, one of the reasons for our bad behaviors was the fact that ‘the world of Satan that caters to these human weaknesses, which leads us down the path of bad behaviors.’ What is it that can feed us to make us spiritually strong in the depraved world? We need to replace a bad behavior with this one behavior, which becomes a daily, even hourly pattern of behavior. The very moment that a worldly thought enters our mind, we dismiss it and go to God in prayer that deflects the worldly thought with a corresponding Bible principle. If we are not feeding our mind regularly with personal Bible study, as well as regular Christian meeting attendance and evangelizing others, we will have nothing to draw on as a corresponding thought. The objective is to end up being spiritually mature, in that the thinking of the world or fleshly desires no longer controls our mind. In other words, we will have the mind of Christ! It will take time to mold our thinking in this way, and our success is based on two things: (1) the effort that we place in the process, and (2) the faith that we have that God will bless our efforts to working in harmony with his will.

1 John 3:22 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

22 and whatever we ask [that is in harmony with God’s will] we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight.

Keeping the Bad Behavior at Bay

We have made it a week, month, three months, and it seems as though our bad behavior is gone, but suddenly we have a setback. It can hurt far worse than the continual setbacks that we experienced with the bad behaviors. We may believe ‘this is just who we are, who are we fooling; we are never going to overcome this bad behavior.’ Whatever it may be, overeating, addiction, overdrinking, impulse buying, gambling, smoking, we had fallen when we thought the war was over. We had convinced ourselves that if we could just get months of success, get past the withdraws of the behavior, it would become a thing of the past. However, this just is not true, and we were telling ourselves a lie.

What the mental-health professionals have found is those who have given up a bad behavior, sixty-six percent return to their bad behavior within the first three months. However, those who have been successful for over six months, have a much higher success rate. Nevertheless, we are never to let our guard down; it is those innocent appearing situations that will get us once we believe it is finally over.

It could be that our bad behavior was what we did to bring relief when very severe stresses were in our life. In addition, we may have had a few months of a relatively stress-free life, so the need for the behaviors was diminished. Then, all of a sudden, the stress is back. Thus, the behavior is back. The only recourse against this kind of setback is knowledge of it and being overly cautious when stress enters our life. Other factors that can contribute to setbacks are boredom and loneliness. More factors might be a stressful social environment, encounters with difficult people, negative emotions, and innocent appearing situations where temptation comes out of nowhere.

One of the main difficulties with recovery of any sort is that suffers feel that they are cured after some time passes. However, this just is not the case, so the tools that placed us on the path of recovery are to remain an integral part of our life. The tools that we have learned can be something that we call on daily for everything, or they can be something that we revive, as we need them, such as when a crisis or tragedy enters our life.

If we have journals that we kept over the recovery process, we must never throw those away. It should be like an old photo album that is worn from opening it often. We need to pull out the notes from time to time, which will help us keep vigil about maintaining certain tools. Maybe we set up some reward system, for individual successes in our road to recovery; if so, we should adjust that system, to maintain our success, and not fall into a setback. If we had friends and family involved, let them know our indicators that take place before a relapse, so they can warn us if they see them.

If we do experience a relapse, it will likely feel like the end of the world, but it is not. We do not want any number of relapses to defeat us. Tomorrow, the sun comes up again, and it is a new day. Fight the fight, until we are back on the path. We have to learn to recognize a good measure of guilt, as opposed to extreme guilt that can cripple us mentally. We might start judging ourselves as not worth the effort. We may start negative self-talking ourselves into the belief that we have a weak personality, and success will never be ours. We may believe that life is cruel, and it only plays jokes on us, by letting us succeed for a moment, so then the crash would hurt so much more! This is where we must follow the steps above, staying with our tools. Never let extreme guilt get a foot in the door, shut it before it gets in, and if it is in, remove it immediately.

Moreover, most are not aware of a pattern of letting guilt be our excuse to engage more in the bad behaviors. Guilt is supposed to wake us up to the reality that something is very wrong. However, if we let guilt become our punishment, we make get into the pattern of believing we have been punished, and so our hands are clean to go back yet again. We would be amazed at how the imperfect mind can rationalize anything to feed the fleshly desires.

[1] Or well-pleasing