Combating Habitual Sin
Many people know that when dogs throw up, they often will go back and eat their vomit. However, eating vomit can hurt their teeth enamel and digestive system, so anytime my family’s dog would throw up there was a mad dash to try and separate her from her vomit. A couple of us would take her outside while everyone else cleaned the floor, trying to put as much distance between her and her vomit as possible. It looked disgusting and smelled even worse, yet for some reason, our dog was constantly drawn back to it. I never understood how such an intelligent dog could be so stupid as to literally eat the very thing her body had deemed a safety hazard.
One day, I stumbled upon Proverbs 26:11, which reads, “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.” This verse prompted me to reflect on how our sin is a lot like vomit. Sin is a huge issue that we know is evil, yet we return to it over and over again. We allow ourselves to continue committing the same sin because it tastes good to us in the moment, just as vomit tastes good to a dog. Our “vomit” can be any habitual sin we repeatedly commit when looking for pleasure outside of God. Those who accept God’s gift of salvation have been redeemed and will live with Him forever, however, Christians still struggle with sin after they are saved and will continue to do so for as long as they live in this world. God continues to help us by giving us three tools to gain cleanliness from our “vomit”: repentance, accountability, and refocusing.
The first step is recognizing and repenting from our sins. If we do not give our sin to God, we will not see a change in our lives. In his book The Three Battlegrounds, author and theologian Francis Frangipane states that “Satan dines on what we withhold from God.” The point Frangipane is making is that it is vital to surrender all of our sins to God. This includes our hidden sin, which can be harder to surrender. Often, while some sins are easy for us to lay down, we hold on to others, desperately trying to simultaneously live in God’s freedom while still carrying around our chains of darkness. Those sins that we try to hide in the closet are the sins that Satan will exploit in an attempt to break our fellowship with God. Sin can be easy and comfortable, yet it is vital that we honestly self-assess and find the errors that we consistently return to. We need to identify our favorite sins (the sins we regularly return to like vomit) so that we can be aware of what we are struggling with and seek ways to clean the vomit from our souls.
The second step is to let people into your life and let them see your struggle. Unfortunately, instead of being honest, many of us attempt to look “good” or “put-together,” and we try to cover our sin up. We spray spiritual “Febreeze” to try and mask the stench of our sin by being extra spiritual. Yet, our efforts to be Christ-like are pointless if we are still walking in sin. The apostle John points out the problem with trying to be holy while continuing to sin in 1 John 1:6. He says, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” We hope that our efforts will help offset the vomit piling up in our hearts.
Despite our best efforts, it is impossible to conceal the scent of sin from God. Just as He knew when Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit in the garden, so He knows when we return to our sin. Hebrews 4:13 says, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” But even though God sees and knows our sin, He thankfully has not given up on us and he calls us to repent and walk in honesty with fellow believers.
If we are alone, we are relying solely on our own spiritual discipline. Yet, we already know these particular sins are very difficult for us to say no to. Just as my dog needed my family to help her get away from her vomit, we need people who can assess the situation and help us in our moments of weakness. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him-a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” This verse speaks to the fact that having people to support you in fighting sin is vital to success. It is humbling to bear your soul to other people and allow them to see the darkest corners of your heart, yet it is imperative to have people who love and support you to help you learn to step away from your vomit.
Finally, we need to change our perspective. Instead of viewing our faith as denying our sinful nature, we should see it as gratifying our spirit. I recently heard a sermon where the pastor made the point that “no” will not take you half as far as “yes.” For example, most people enjoy sleeping in, yet every day, lots of people set alarms and get up to exercise, make breakfast, go to work, and complete many other activities. This is because their desire to do those activities outweighs their desire to sleep in. But in order to do that, we must have something more desirable to help us overcome our initial resistance to changing our habits. In the same way, if we view our relationship with God as a list of things not to do, we place the focus on ourselves and will get exhausted trying to tell our sinful nature “no.” Living that way causes us to lose joy in life because we are constantly denying ourselves and trying to make sure we are not doing the things we should not be doing. Instead, we need to shift our focus and recognize all the things we get to do in a relationship with God and rejoice in that freedom. As we draw closer to God and find our joy and gratification in Him, we stop looking to other things to please us.
Most of us have sins that are habits. They are comfortable and even fun, and our sinful nature keeps us from seeing how our sin is like vomit and is stinking up our hearts and keeping us from living in God’s freedom. Just as the thought of my dog eating her own vomit is incomprehensible to me, so should the thought of consciously choosing to return to the same sin over and over again. We must learn to identify our sin, find people to hold us accountable, and look for ways to focus on God. There are many passages of Scripture that outline all the beautiful qualities we should strive for, and Philippians 4:8 is one of my favorites. Paul writes, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” If we learn to focus on things that are true, lovely, and excellent, we will be much too busy to even think about eating our own vomit.
*All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.