We hate those annoying habits other people have, but we all have habits. They are part of life. Some habits are good, some are bad, and some are downright destructive. So what makes bad habits bad? And why are bad habits so easy and good habits so hard?

Bad habits are empowered by a sinful nature within us all

A habit is a pattern of behavior or thought repeated so often that it becomes automatic in certain situations. Every habit follows a basic pattern called the “habit loop.” It starts with a trigger, which leads to a routine (the habit itself), which provides some kind of reward. The trigger might be stopping at a gas station, which cues the routine of walking in to buy a snack, which provides a reward to your taste buds. Soon, every time you stop for gas, it becomes a habit to buy a snack. Over time, this pattern becomes more and more automatic and bypasses your conscious decision-making process.

[Related Topic: The Anatomy of a Habit]

[Related Topic: What to Do When “Bad Guilt” Gets Triggered]

Compare this to the apostle Paul’s experience, where he seems to be describing the power of bad habits.

Romans 7:15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.

Romans 7:22-23 I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.

God made us with the capacity for habits. Habits allow us to act without thinking consciously about every movement. That’s helpful when you’re backing the car out of the driveway, typing on a keyboard, or riding a bike. Good habits work for our benefit, like when you reach for a carrot stick instead of a chocolate bar. But bad habits – like smoking, lying, overspending, pornography, and more – can take control and lead us to harm ourselves and others.

[Related Topic: 5 Basic Habits for the Christian Life]

Why are bad habits so easy to acquire and so hard to shake? Romans 7 explains it in terms of a power at work within every person called the “sinful nature”.

Romans 7:25 In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.

The sinful nature is that ingrained impulse that impels us away from God. As such, it is the driving force behind bad habits. Without it, good habits would be as easy to maintain as bad habits. What makes bad habits bad, and what gives them so much power, is the influence of the sinful nature.

[Related Topic: Sin and Sanctification]

The first step to freedom is an honest inventory

An honest inventory means, first, that you don’t rationalize what God calls sin. Many habitual behaviors and attitudes are clearly forbidden by God in the Bible, such as drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18), laziness (1 Thessalonians 5:14), gossip (2 Corinthians 12:20), complaining (Philippians 2:14), and dirty language (Colossians 3:8). Others arise from a positive impulse but can become sin when taken too far, like when caring about people gives way to worry (Philippians 4:6-7).

Second, be honest about what is controlling you, because bad habits have the power to enslave.

1 Corinthians 6:12 You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything.

It’s not good to be mastered by our behavior, even by things that aren’t explicitly sin. So take inventory of whatever may have a controlling influence in your life, and become aware of the triggers that launch you in that direction.

Third, in your inventory, give honest attention to what is harmful to you or others.

1 Corinthians 10:23 You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is beneficial.

Some actions or thought patterns may not be forbidden by God, but they aren’t necessarily beneficial. In fact, one powerful motive to change bad habits is their harmful consequences. So get real about what your habits are doing to you and others.

As you take an honest inventory, own up to those habits. Submit them to God. Bring others in on the conversation to help you see yourself more clearly. An honest inventory will prepare you for the changes God can make in your life.

[Related Topic: The Habit Grid]

[Related Topic: How to Break Bad Habits]

[Related Topic: How to Say “No!” to Almost Anything]

Discussion Questions:

  1. Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
  2. What public habits do you find most annoying in others
  3. Review the “habit loop”. Explain how the habit loop works for one of your habits.
  4. How can the power of habit be a good thing in life?
  5. How can the power of habit be a bad thing in life?
  6. Read Romans 7:22-25. How does this explain the power of bad habits?
  7. Why is an honest self-inventory the first step toward change?
  8. Are all bad habits sinful? Explain.
  9. What are some ways that our habits can be harmful to others?
  10. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.