And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh. 24:15)
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Pro 14:12)
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them” (Deu 30:19-20).
We make choices every day. Some of these choices are dependent on an abundance of information, thought, and prayer. Some not so much. All choices, however, involve some kind of decision. Either we want to make a change, or we want things to remain the same. So our discussion about choices is not about whether we make choices, but how we make choices.
Self, Flesh, World, Devil
Because we are all born in sin, our natural tendency is to choose things that reflect that sinfulness. Therefore, we choose things that we think will satisfy our longings or desires. For example, James 4:1-3 says, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (Jam 4:2-3). We make our choices based on what we think it will get us. We want to be first, biggest, best and so we choose those things that we think will inflate our ego, scratch our itches, and fill us with happiness. We sow to the flesh. Our self is at the center. We are god in our little realm.
There are two problems with this: first, everyone is doing the same thing. And if everyone is god, no one gets to be god. We are constantly crashing into one another as we each try to be first, happiest, and most fulfilled. This lifestyle cannot work because everyone is grabbing at being first, happiest, and most fulfilled. It is worldly, fleshly, of the devil. Second, God did not make the world to work this way. No one gets to pretend he is God when he isn’t. God made the world in such a way that when we make ungodly choices God slaps us down via other demigods, our own devices, the natural world, or God himself enters into our world and lays us low.
One of the reasons we often choose the way of the flesh is because it is the easy way. It is the way of least resistance. When we make these kinds of decisions it reveals who we think we are and what we think we deserve. The way of the flesh promises ease and comfort, entitlement, happiness, and pleasure. The Bible even says sin is pleasurable for a season (Heb. 11:25). For a short time, sin is a wonderful thing. But then the Bible points out that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23) and the way that seems right to a man ends in death (Pro. 14:12).
Before we go too much further, we need to be clear that we are not talking about so called moral choices only. We are talking about all choices and all choosing. We either choose our way or God’s way in every sphere of life. Someone is always on the throne. If we don’t know God, we make all of our choices and decisions with our good and glory in mind. Everything is a moral choice. Everything is an act of worship. Everything is meant to make us famous or to make God famous. There is nothing neutral.
The Source of Our Choices—Heart
Where do our desires and choices come from? Jesus said,
For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? (Lk 6:43-46).
It is not just what a person says that shows his heart, it also includes what he does. Good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bear bad fruit. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, but then Jesus goes on, immediately, to add, “Why do you call me Lord and not do what I say?” There is a connection between what our mouths say and what our hands do. Our decisions show who is at the center of our lives. They reveal our hearts, our god, our allegiance.
Later, Jesus added, “for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders… (Mt. 15:19-20). James tells us that our desires spring from our inner being, our heart. This is where wars and anger come from (Jas. 4:2). The heart is an evil thing in need of cutting out or off. The Bible tells us, “the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deu 30:6). And the Bible tells us to circumcise our own hearts (Deut 10:16; Jer. 4:4).
A New Way
How do we go about taking advantage of this information? We’ve realized that our choices are getting us into nothing but trouble, but I do it so frequently, and so easily, and for so long. Is there any hope at all? Well yes. The person who asks this question is finally in a position to be helped. He no longer has any pride about the sin he is involved in. Sure, it has become a habit, but a habit is just a decision you make quicker, easier, or more automatically. And with God’s help habits can be broken and transformed.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mat 11:28-30)
Let’s start here. Are you weary of your life? Do you want to change? Do you want to please God (2 Cor. 5:9; 1Thess 4:1)? Are you burdened down by the choices you have made and continue to make? If the answer is yes, you are a prime candidate for Jesus’ help. He will give you rest from your labors. He will take your burdens and put them in their proper perspective, some he will remove completely, some he will redistribute and with some he will simply make the situation more palatable. He will give you Grace.
What is needed is a transaction. You need to give him your burdens and take his on you. His burden is light, though it may seem heavy from a distance, but compared to yours it is nothing. So, go to a quiet place and ask him to forgive you for making your own way and for trying to run your own life. Ask him if he will take you into his life and be God and King of your world. Tell him that no matter what comes along, because you now follow him (Lk. 9:23), you know that it will be alright and you will not abandon him again. Thank him for being God, full of grace, tender mercies, and pure and holy love. Finally, get off your knees, pick up your Bible and read; asking him to teach you about your new relationship. And never put it down.
Now, when you make choices stop and ask yourself what God would have you do in this situation. There will come a time when you can make decisions pretty naturally and automatically, but for now, you’ll need to stop and ask if it is God’s will that you do this or that (more on God’s will later).
Habits, as I have said in this conference, are things we do over and over again, even automatically. They may be sinful, or they may be glorious. In order to break a habit it is important to know whether or not it is sin. One of the ways to find out is to trace out the journey of the habit. How did it start? Where does it end? Does it lead you to the throne of God in worship and praise? Or does it lead you to despair and hunger for more?
If the habit is sinful, you need to confess it as sin—every time you do it, even if you think you will do it again in ten minutes, ten hours, or ten days. And, if the habit is sinful, you may need to make changes in behaviors that are not necessarily sinful but do lead you down the path resulting in sin. If you need help in changing those behaviors, get help. Ask your pastor, your family, your friends (all your friends) to hold you accountable—not your wife.
You want to stop doing sinful things and start doing holy things. Make sure you have something to change to. Set goals. Give yourself consequences for not changing.
If you know that the habit is sinful because you have sought wise counsel and they say it is, and you don’t see it, find a good book on the subject. Compare it to the Scriptures and ask God to reveal his mind on the topic to you. Then, ask God to change your desires to imitate his, and obey what you find out. Make it your aim to please him in all that do you (2 Cor. 5:9). Make it your aim to imitate him in all that you do (Eph. 5:1).
If your habit is sin, remember that the end of those who live in sin is death. Hate sin. Fight it with every fiber of your being. Know that you are in a war, – a terrible battle is being waged for your soul, and you are involved in it by the choices you make. Get serious. Stop playing games.
Be careful that you aren’t trying to flirt with danger or evil. Sin is pleasurable for a season and getting close to it can be exhilarating, but it is easy to go from walking with God to sin and thinking that all you’re doing is flirting with temptation. In the same way that flirting with a woman is sexual, so is flirting with sin sinful. Don’t walk the line.
Don’t go to places where you know temptation is strong for you (Gal. 6:1). Do go to places where godliness is easy for you (1 Cor. 7:5). If you do get into a situation where temptation is present and strong, run away (2 Tim. 2:22).
Know that habits are formed over time. Breaking habits and forming new ones will also happen over time. Take your time, walk with God, ask him to transform you as you walk with him, into the image of his son. Remember that works of the law did not save you, neither will works of the law help you with changing your habits. Just “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him” (Col. 2:6). Walking with God and becoming like Christ will change your habits.
Ed Welch says, in his book Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, “Addiction is bondage to the rule of a substance, activity, or state of mind, which then becomes the center of life, defending itself from the truth so that even bad consequences don’t bring repentance, and leading to further estrangement from God” (p. 35). Addictions are really habits, usually that have taken on lives of their own. Normally, we might say that someone has a habit and we don’t mean that it defines their life, it is a god, but not a terrible god—yet. Addictions have taken on a greater focus in the life of the person. They are in bondage to the habit. It now defines their life. It is their god, the center. When we ask someone to finish this sentence, “If I only had ____ I would be happy.” The thing they fill in the blank with is their god. The addict doesn’t even hesitate. I will not be happy unless I get _____, and get it right now.” The addict thinks about it all the time, his life is planned around indulging in the addiction, all his friends are involved with him in it, and he may be suffering tremendously because of his god, but he still loves it.
At the end of the day, people make choices based on what is in their heart. Addicts make choices to serve their gods, thus indicating that addictions are “ultimately a disorder of worship” (p. 251). “Therapies can offer sobriety, but only the Gospel can liberate the soul” (p. 55).