“I wish I could change, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t.” “But I just can’t help it….” “Everyone does it….” “It may be wrong, but you’d do the same thing if you were in my situation.” “But I’m really a good person… especially compared to….”
Why do we find ourselves saying — or at least thinking — such things? Psychologists say we try to protect our self-esteem through “defence mechanisms.” We rationalize our failures, our shortcomings, and our manner of speaking and acting toward others by assigning some other motive for them or making excuses for them. We project our own motives or way of behaving onto others, even though in reality they may not have those motives or behave that way at all. We fool ourselves about our motives for doing certain things. We conveniently forget the things that might make us anxious or uncomfortable. Some of us spend our lives running in one way or another, and mess everything up in the process.
Using alcohol or drugs is a form of running that has resulted in more broken lives, families, and fatal accidents than one could imagine. Many people quit jobs, churches, and cities — but never find peace. All forms of running reveal a deep-seated need to find peace and satisfaction.
We never overcome our hang-ups when we utilize defense mechanisms. They may help protect our egos, but they don’t make our lives happier. And while we’re busy protecting ourselves with these gimics, we hurt and offend others. The effects can be incredibly damaging to our relationships with relatives, co-workers, neighbors, acquaintances — even God.
The Apostle Paul had this dilemma: “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. ... What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:19, 24-25).
Paul found the secret of victory over sin by recognizing that he was a sinner like everyone else, and that only Jesus Christ could save him and give him a new heart. Complete victory over sin comes when we abhor it as God abhors it.
I have interviewed hundreds of Christians who have told me how their lives were transformed when they came to Christ. Many were delivered from alcohol, drugs, tobacco addiction, bad tempers, bad language, and various hang-ups that had flawed their lives.
In view of this transforming experience, why do so many Christians fail to continue exhibiting victorious, honorable lives? Well, when we receive Christ, we receive a new spiritual nature; that’s what transforms our lives and gives us power over sin. Nevertheless, since we’re still in the flesh, we still also have the old nature which asserts itself after we become Christians if we don’t trust Christ to live his life through us.
This is what happened to the Ephesians. So, God inspired Paul to write and tell them, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off our old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
In order to have victory over our hang-ups, we not only need Jesus Christ as Savior, but also as our Lord — the One we follow faithfully and obediently by faith in his perfect provision.
The new mind
Psychologists tell us that it’s almost impossible for people to control their physiological reaction at the moment something happens. We're only able to control our reactions when we set our minds in advance as to what we’ll do and say in certain situations that may come up. If we’ve been convicted of a certain sin or shortcoming in our lives and have turned from it, then we will set our minds to react in a godly way.
The Bible advises us not to hold grudges or judge others, but to forgive and love people, to think about things that are good; for our thoughts determine our actions. Christ taught that sin is conceived in the mind before it becomes an action (Matthew 5:21-28). Bitter, lustful, selfish, covetous, angry, unkind, jealous, hostile, and prideful thoughts will produce like fruit.
Our hearts retain a great deal of ego in them even after we come to the Lord. If we surrender fully to him, he fills us with his Spirit, who in turn gives us victory in all areas of our lives as we trust him to do so. That is Christ’s joyful abundant life. Christ came to set us free!