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Some signs demonstrate when a person is breaking away from the ways of the culture. They are wary of the world’s techniques, ideas, constructs, and behaviors, and they want out. These three steps come from a sermon that my pastor preached. His message about another matter, but the outline perfectly fits these thoughts about breaking free from habituations.
This process of self-awareness to freedom is interesting and instructive. It’s interesting because what you are seeing has universal application. Every person who has gone from bondage to freedom has the same experience of seeing the problem first. They know what they need to do, but here is the vital key: their response to what they see turns on their desire to do what they need to do.
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (James 4:17).
It’s instructive because the path to change also applies to all people everywhere. For example, if you do not know what the problem is, you will never overcome it. You must see the problem to change. Paul implies this in his language in Ephesians, where he assumes that you know what to put off.
Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires (Ephesians 4:22).
If you do not see your problem, you will not know what to put off, and if you don’t know what to put off, you will not be able to break free from it. Some people are sheepish about discussing their problems. They act like the person with cancer who does want to admit it. They do this for all sorts of reasons, but no matter what those are, they are without excuse. The bottom line is that if they desire help, they have to admit what is wrong with them (1 John 1:9).
Seeing your addiction is more than an acknowledgment that there is something wrong with you. It’s a depth of sight that realizes you can’t get out of it by yourself, and the long-term effects of it are accelerating dysfunction. Some folks find this kind of insight into their problems too sorrowful to explore. They tend to wallow in their problems. Of course, if this step was all they had, they would drown in sorrow and misery. The good news is that knowing your condition creates a humility, which opens the way for the Lord’s appeal to come out of your dark life. His grace overpowers your fears.
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
Practically understanding the gospel means you are free to talk about yourself in a critical light. It’s not like you have no hope. Gospel people are full of hope, confidence, and expectation that the power of God is activated and active in them. Perhaps if you struggle with being transparent about your life, you have a gospel malfunction in your sanctification, and it would be prudent for you to address this improper training.
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity (Ephesians 4:17-19).
You hear God calling you to come out from the vile and futile world that has captured you. This hearing is similar to seeing your addiction. It’s a depth of hearing that goes beyond gathering information about your condition. You understand for the first time in your life transformationally. The word you hear goes beyond being black letters on white pages. They are penetrating the depth of your soul and stirring you to do something different about your life.
The difference between “seeing” and “hearing” is that what you see is informational; it does not move you, though it may inform you. When you “hear the Spirit” calling, it’s sinking deeper. It’s transformational listening that convinces you that “God is on the move” in your life.
It is at this point where you have to make the most difficult decision of your life. Of course, it depends on the habit that has captured you. There are times when our little habits do not cause such fear of the soul. You see, you hear, and you change. Then there are more profound, more habituated patterns that have graver consequences on your life and those you love. It is these addictions that need you to react positively to the Lord.
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest’” (Hebrews 3:7-11).
It is at that point that you feel the tension in your soul. This tension is different from the pressure that you have felt in the past. Formerly, you felt tension about how to hide your life from public scrutiny. You lived somewhere between truth and lies, never truly honest about your life with others, especially those you love.
This new tension is different. You’re not trying to hide now, so the tension is exponential as you ponder how to navigate the contours of coming into the light. It’s the difference between always strategizing how to hide in the shadows, to figuring out how to walk in the light.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John 1:7-10).
Where you land at this third and final mile-marker will determine the kind of life you will have. Your old strategies of hiding will not work here. You need a new plan, but that is the hard part. You’re a novice at changing this way. Perhaps you had tried before but failed. It happens—most folks who try and fail attempt to transform on their own.
Perhaps they succeeded with the little sins, but the more significant issues need more comprehensive help. For example, an old strategy is buying a book, hoping they can change themselves without admitting to others what is wrong with them. Marriage partners do this all the time. Fifteen marriage books and three conferences later, they are in the same place. The more significant problems need better plans.
This three-step, diagnosis is instructive, but is it motivating? The critical question is, “Where are you with this?” Is there something that you keep sequestered in the shadows? These queries are the most vital things you can think about today? I’m not appealing for you to spin your hours self-reflecting dangerously because your bend is toward too much introspection, to the determent of your soul and relationships.
Some people are like that. They have the gift of self-reflection but do not know how to steward it, so their strength is their most significant weakness. All our strengths are that way when they are unguarded. If you are a worrier, which is a sign of too much reflection, my appeal is for you to guard your heart and, possibly, find some help. My goal is not to heap one more burden on your back. Talk to a trusted and competent friend. Share your story with them, and let them serve you to see if you need to address something.
Typically, the folks who don’t need to hear something are the ones who “over-process” that information. And the ones who need this information dismiss it quickly. They may acknowledge the good sermon for being good, but their habituated pattern is strategizing how to keep themselves in the shadows. The great info is water, and their response is like what happens when the water lands on a duck’s back.
So without over-examining these ideas to your detriment, perchance, you have the ears to hear at this moment. You may not have those “ears” tomorrow, but today, you hear the Spirit’s voice. If this is true for you, rest assured that the Lord is calling you to come out from those things that hold you captive. If this is you, the next thing you’re going to experience is tension.
The question that will be burning deep in your soul will be full of tension. Do you take that next step, or do you retreat into the shadows while pushing your representative out into the light? Your representative is your public relations persona. It’s like that Facebook image of yourself that you push into the public space assured that people would enjoy that person more than the real you.
Everyone has a carefully crafted, self-edited version of themselves that represents them in public. The more humble, transparent, honest, and obedient ones understand this concept. They live in a world of appropriateness and discretion, but never eager to be deceptive and scripted. Though they will always live with a few fig leaves for modesty’s sake, they spurn deception and manipulation.
It’s this other crowd that I am appealing to at this moment. These folks are well-beyond discretion, self-control, and modesty. They are overtly managing their two worlds of darkness and light, and they are doing this in the shadows. They are not interested in being humble, open, honest, and transparent.
What will you do?
Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).