Replacing Addictions and Habits
I don’t know if you’ve ever been addicted to anything. According to Liesl, I’m addicted to coffee. It’s true. I do love the stuff. And it would indeed be a rare day that I would not have a coffee. And I keep saying to her that I could give it up any time, I just don’t want to.
Alright. So maybe I am addicted.
But I have gone through times of giving it up. Sometimes for health reasons, sometimes to prove to Liesl that I wasn’t addicted. But I have successfully gone for periods of not drinking coffee. And what I’ve found is that in order for me to give up something that I may or may not be addicted to, I need to replace it with something else. Preferably something that is healthier.
So for example, when I gave up coffee, I would replace it with water. I would drink lots of water, and I would have hot water to replace the social aspect in my brain of having a hot drink.
In the times that Liesl and I have come into contact with Salvation Army rehab units, we’ve discovered a similar thing. Most recovering drug addicts and alcoholics take up smoking, and most centres are ok with it, because it is giving up a damaging addiction and replacing it with something less damaging. They realise that if you take the addiction away but don’t replace it with anything, then it won’t be a long term solution.
Or maybe you’ve tried to get rid of an old habit? In the very same way, it is a deliberate action that we must take to replace a bad habit with a good habit.
We need to give up our old ways
And I guess at the basic level, when we become a Christian, that is what we do. We replace a bad habit with a good habit. We replace a bad addiction with a good addiction. We replace living in sin with living in holiness.
But just like how it can only take one chocolate bar to fall off your diet bandwagon, we need to be consciously choosing to take up this holy life and live a life without sin.
Christ calls us to live holy lives. To live lives without sin.
And that then poses the question: what is sin?
At it’s heart, sin is anything that separates us from God. Now, in the Old Testament days, that was put to them clearly – anything that was against the laws found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, that was a sin. And that was great for them then.
But today, we don’t expect our priests to hold to Leviticus 21:5, where they were not allowed to shave their heads, shave off their beards, or make gashes in their flesh. We no longer prohibit the eating of rabbit, pigs, crabs, prawns and lobster, as found in Leviticus 11. And we certainly don’t expect our soldiers to kidnap women to bring them home to be their wives, such as is allowed in Deuteronomy 21:10-14.
So then, how do we determine what is, and what isn’t a sin?
We can replace the old ways with the ways of Christ
In the passage we heard today, Paul is writing to the Ephesians and telling them how to live holy lives. Just before this passage, he has told them to “put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” And he then goes on to give some practical examples of what that looks like. Let’s take a look at that.
He starts with “putting away all falsehood” – that is, do not lie. The replacement of lying is to “speek the truth to our neighbours.”
Next, is an allowance to be angry. Being angry isn’t a sin. We have plenty to be angry about. We should be angry that our government is allowing the torture of asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island and Nauru. We should be angry that our aboriginal brothers and sisters have such a reduced life expectancy, that they are over represented in our prisons and under represented in our universities. We should be angry that our politicians are far more likely to speak words that seek to divide us by race, rather than speaking words that unite us. We should be angry about these things, and more. But in that anger, we must be certain to not sin, to not let the sun go down on our anger, and to not let there be room for the devil.
Thieves are instructed to give up stealing, and instead work and labour honestly, so that they have something to share with the needy. No Robin Hoods allowed.
We are warned to let no evil talk come from our mouths, but only what is useful for building up.
We are told not to be unkind or bitter, but instead be loving towards one another.
Now, these are just a few examples – and it is by no means exhaustive. But from this list, we can see a bit of a trend.
In all of these things, the behaviours we are asked to put away are ones that will hurt others. In lying to others, we destroy trust. In allowing anger to overpower us, we risk overpowering someone else. In stealing, we take from someone else, in allowing evil talk, we allow our words to hurt others, and similarly in being unkind.
But the opposite of all these things is to replace these behaviours with ones that show love to our neighbour.
We will be imitators of Christ
And that’s basically it. Anything we do that hurts others is a sin, as it separates us from God. But if we can show love to all people, then we are imitating God in his love towards us.
And in doing that, we imitate Christ, in his love for us, and we do as he instructed – to love God, with everything that we have, and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
And we see great examples all through the gospels of how Jesus treats others. He invites those on the outside to come in and be part of the community. He takes a gang of ragtag people, makes them his apostles and journeys with them – through all their mistakes and successes, and uses them and their transformation to lead his church. He cared for the sick, welcomed and used women in his ministry, which wasn’t done at the time, and even on the cross showed love and care to another prisoner.
In all these things, Christ values the other. He shows love to all he meets. And we should do likewise.
We should stop treating others with hate, and instead show them love, imitating the same love that Christ shows them.
We should stop excluding others who look different than us, and instead include them in our community, imitating how Jesus included all people in his community.
We should stop caring only for ourselves, and instead care for others, just as Jesus cared for others.
Go and imitate Christ
So as you head out this week, make it your challenge to replace your old habits that you might have with ones that imitate Christ. Make sure that in everything you do, you are able to show love and to build up others. See them with the same Love that Christ sees you. Show them the same love that God shows you. And in all things, be holy, and be loving.
As we reflect on this message, we’re going to sing a wonderful chorus that tells of the power of the love of God. In the verse it says, “Let every breath, all that I am, Never cease to worship you” In every breath that we take, in everything that we do, we need to ensure that we are imitating Christ, that we are worshipping Christ with everything that we do. As we sing this song, if there’s something in your life that you feel you need to replace – a behaviour, or some words, or whatever it is – then you’re invited to come forward and spend some time in prayer, asking God to strengthen you as you seek to imitate Christ. Or maybe there’s something else that you are in need of prayer for – this place is open for all.