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BREAKING THE CHAINS OF DESTRUCTIVE HABITS

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Morning, November 11, 2001


"But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness" (Romans 6:17-18).

The Roman poet Ovid said, "Nothing is stronger than habit." The great lexicographer (compiler of the first English dictionary), Dr. Samuel Johnson, said, "Habits are chains that are too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken."

When the Bastille prison in France was about to be destroyed, one of the prisoners was brought out who had long been chained in one of its dark cells for decades. But instead of rejoicing at his liberty, he begged them to take him back to his dungeon. You see, it had been so long since he had seen the light that his eyes could not stand the glare of the sun.

Besides, he said, his friends were all dead, he had no home, and his legs refused to move. His main desire now was to go back and die in the dark prison where he had been held captive so many years.

That's a true story. It illustrates the power of habit. Habits can become stronger than life itself. An old Spanish proverb says, "Habits begin like threads in a spider's web, but end like the chains in a prison." That poor man in the French Bastille had lived so long in the darkness that the habit of living chained in darkness prevented him from having a normal life out in the sunshine when he finally had an opportunity to be free. He was forced by habit to go back to his chains in the darkness.

And there are people here in church just like him this morning. You are not in the habit of going to church, so you will crawl back into the chains and darkness of your sin, and you will die there in the darkness some day - without hope and without God - all because your habit of not coming to church prevented you from having a new and happy and free life with us in this church! Come out of the darkness! Come to church with us! Come out of your loneliness! Why be lonely? Come home to church! And then come to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He will wash your sins away with His Blood, and you will be free from the wrath and judgment of God.

Now this morning I will speak on "Breaking the Chains of Destructive Habits." I will deal with this in two points.

1. How destructive habits form chains that enslave you.

2. What you can do to break the chains of habit and be free.

I. How destructive habits form chains that enslave you.

Mang Karin was a Filipino steel worker that the police department in Manila hired to build a steel cage to hold people who the police arrested. He worked on the cage until it was finished. The police department paid him and he took the money and went out with some of his friends to get drunk. They drank all night. Staggering home in a drunken state, the police picked him up for violating a curfew. They put him in the steel cage he had built and detained him at the police station. He was the first person to be locked up in the cage he had built!

That's how bad habits work. As Dr. Samuel Johnson put it, "Habits are chains that are too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken."

That's what happened to Eli's sons in I Samuel, chapter two. The Bible says, "And the priests' custom (practice) with the people was, that,…all that the fleshhook brought up the priest took for himself" (I Samuel 2:13-14). These men were priests in ancient Israel. Their "custom" of taking more than the Bible told them to in Leviticus 7:34 was a wrong "custom." It became their habit. They did it over and over and over, until they became slaves of the habit. Finally, if someone refused to give them as much as they wanted, they said, "Thou shalt give it [to] me now: and if not, I will take it by force" (I Samuel 2:16). They became so enslaved by their "custom," or habit, that they finally became little more than hoodlums. The Bible says:

"Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord: for men abhorred the offering of the Lord"

(I Samuel 2:17).

Their habits of sin led them into sexual wickedness as well, and "they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the…congregation" (I Samuel 2:22). They were now chained and enslaved by sinful, self-destructive habits.

Their father, Eli, tried to warn them. He said, "Why do ye such things?" (I Samuel 2:23). But the Bible says, "Notwithstanding they hearkened not (did not listen) unto the voice of their father" (I Samuel 2:25). They were completely controlled by sinful habits now, and even their father couldn't stop them.

That's the way sinful, destructive habits take over your life and ruin your chances of real happiness and freedom. You can become such a slave of bad habits that even God cannot help you. Last Sunday a young man who visited our morning service ran out during the sermon. Then he came back in to the auditorium to hear me preach. But he kept fidgeting and twisting in his chair. Soon he wanted to leave the church again. He just couldn't sit still, even though everyone else was deeply attentive to the sermon I was preaching on loneliness. I could tell that he, too, was very interested in what I had to say about overcoming loneliness - but he just couldn't seem to sit still. I sensed that he was on some drug, probably what they call "uppers." He was so strung out on something that he couldn't make himself listen to a sermon, that his mind told him was important.

I'm afraid that his drug habit has made such a slave out of him that he will never be able to become a real Christian and find salvation through Christ. That's what happened to these young men who were the sons of Eli. They became so very enslaved by sin that the Bible says, "Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the Lord would slay them" (I Samuel 2:25). How did they come to the place where God desired to put them to death? They had committed the unpardonable sin.

When you go so far in sinful habits, God finally gives up on you - and it is then too late to be saved. The Bible says, "Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone" (Hosea 4:17). Ephraim had gone so far in sinful habits that God said, "Let him alone." And when God leaves you alone, you have crossed the deadline - it is too late to be saved by Christ! You are given up to a sinful life and eternity in Hell - while you are still alive! The Bible says, "She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth" (I Timothy 5:6). She's a dead woman walking. You're a dead man walking - when God finally gives up on you.

I know a young man who went to a sinful party. Someone pulled a gun and a bullet shot out through the air. God used it to frighten him and partially awaken him. For a few weeks he was somewhat awake to his dangerous position of not being saved. But he did not press on to full conversion in Christ. Instead, he began to go back with his lost friends at school. He began to "shuck and jive" and fool around with them. Gradually the serious, fearful look on his face left him, and his face once again took on a look of indifference. Now, when Dr. Cagan or I talk to him after the sermon, he is as cold and indifferent to salvation as he was before.

I believe that God, in His grace, came and awakened this young man. But he pushed away the calling and the conviction of sin that the Holy Spirit had given him. Now the Spirit of God has departed from him. Will God come back and awaken him to his danger and need of Christ again? I don't know. That's up to God - not me. I can only continue preaching to him - and pray that God will come back and waken him up again. But I warn him - and all who are like him -

"He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy"

(Proverbs 29:1).

If you harden your neck when God reproves you, you will suddenly be destroyed without any remedy or help.

You see, that's what happened to the sons of Eli. They sinned. They sinned again. Gradually sin got such a grip on them that it was too late for them to get help from God. "The Lord would slay them" (I Samuel 2:25).

They went on living this way for a while. They thought they were O.K. Their consciences never bothered them any more. They didn't realize it was because they were "past feeling" (Ephesians 4:19).

"Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness"

(Ephesians 4:19).

When you get bound up in the chains of evil habits, you are so "past feeling" that God never again speaks to your conscience, God never again makes you see your sinfulness. And then God is ready to "slay" you - even though you don't know it (I Samuel 2:25).

Finally, during a battle, the Bible tells us what happened to these two young men, the sons of Eli:

"And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain" (I Samuel 4:11).

Their sinful habits became chains they could not break. They were killed by their enemies, the Philistines, because God had departed from them and left them to die.

That is what will happen to you if you go on sinning until sin becomes such a habit you cannot throw it off. Make no mistake about it, the Bible says, "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4, 20).

Remember this, if you forget everything else in this sermon: Destructive, sinful habits form unseen chains that make a slave out of you - and finally destroy you.

II. What can you do to break the chains of sinful habits and be free?

There are two principles in breaking sinful bad habits. The first is given by Thomas a Kempis, a pre-Reformation man. And the second is given by missionary John R. Mott.

1. Thomas a Kempis, though wrong on other things, was quite right when he said, "Habit overcomes habit." What he meant was this - to break a bad habit you must cultivate a good habit in its place.

There is a great deal of truth in that axiom, that saying.  For instance, if you have the bad habit of going to drink or take drugs with worldly people, you can break the habit by a new habit - coming to church on Sunday and Saturday night. You "fill in" the time when you practiced bad habits with a new habit - coming to church.

2. John R. Mott said, "I never knew a man to overcome a bad habit gradually." I believe that he was right. What he meant was this - to break a bad habit you have to stop it all at once, and never do it again.

My mother smoked three packages of cigarettes every day for sixty-five years. The habit was so ingrained in her that it was literally a part of her life. But the day she became a Christian she quit cigarettes for ever. She often said, "When you quit, you quit, you don't say, 'I'm trying to quit.'" She was proving John R. Mott's axiom, "I never knew a man to overcome a bad habit gradually."

 

A lady who smoked heavily for many years came to our church not long ago.  I showed her my mother's baptism photographs and told her that Mother said, "When you quit, you quit."  The next week I asked this lady if she had quit.  "Oh, yes," she said.  "Every time I wanted to smoke, I remembered what Dr. Hymers' Mother said - 'When you quit, you quit'."  My Mother would have been delighted that her experience in quitting smoking had helped this woman - who is now a member of our church.

So, we have two great principles for overcoming destructive, bad habits.

1. Replace a bad habit with a good one.

2. Stop the bad habit all at once - and determine never to go back to it. To break a bad habit - drop it!

In breaking a bad habit, psychologists tell us there are four essential steps:

1. "I will do it" (a definite, decided act).

2. A struggle for several weeks (This is the critical time - you must not repeat the bad habit even once during this time).

3. A gradual lessening of the desire to repeat the habit.

4. Freedom.

You can use these four points to stop the habits of eating wrong, and many other bad habits.

That's the way it is when you break the habit of missing church and start the new habit of coming every single Sunday. (Go over the above points with this in mind).

The habit of missing church is the worst and most destructive bad habit of all. Why? First, because it keeps you from hearing the gospel, so you can be saved. Second, because it keeps you from making close Christian friends, to overcome your loneliness. And there are many other terrible results that come from this bad habit of missing church.

Now, that habit is deeply ingrained in many of you. For generations many of you never had anyone that was a real Christian or went to church regularly. You are going to have to break out of the chains of habit that have destroyed your family for generation after generation!

Your parents may have had a false religion - such as Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism, or Pentecostalism. Or they may be atheists or agnostics. You are going to have to break out of the chains of your parents' false religion if you want to be saved by Jesus Christ.

Why should you go to all the trouble to break out of these ruinous religious habits? Because Jesus Christ said:

"I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6).

Only Jesus Christ can show you the right way to live. Only He can lead you into truth. He is the only one who can give you eternal life. And Jesus Christ is the only one who can reconcile you to God the Father, and bring you to God.

You see, Jesus, the Son of God, died on the Cross to pay the price and the penalty for your sins. But He did not stay dead. He arose bodily from the dead. He ascended into Heaven, and He is now alive, seated at the right hand of God - up in Heaven - in another dimension.

And one more thing - Jesus Christ can give you the help and power and grace you need to overcome the destructive sinful habits in your life. Come back to church next Sunday and every Sunday. That's the beginning. That's the new, good habit to replace the old, destructive one of missing church for other things. And then come to Christ, Himself. He will forgive your sins. He will save you. He will give you a new and eternal life.

Real Christianity is not just a philosophy or system of ethics. Real Christianity is coming to know the living Christ. He is alive right now - and if you come to know Him, He will save you from sin. The first step toward Christ is deciding to come back next Sunday.

When you become a real Christian the words of our text will become a reality in your life:

"But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness" (Romans 6:17-18).

Bad habits are replaced with good ones at conversion.  As Dr. John R. Rice put it, in one of his songs:

My sins are all forgiven; the chains of sin are riven,
And all my heart is given, To Jesus, only Jesus.

("Jesus, Only Jesus" by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).

(END OF SERMON)


Scripture Read Before the Sermon: I Samuel 2:12-25; 4:11.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Benjamin Kincaid Griffith: "Jesus, Only Jesus"

by Dr. John R. Rice (1895-1980).

You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.rlhymersjr.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."



THE OUTLINE OF

BREAKING THE CHAINS OF DESTRUCTIVE HABITS

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

"But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness" (Romans 6:17-18).

I.   How destructive habits form chains that enslave you,
I Samuel 2:13-14,16-17,22,23,25; Hosea 4:17;
I Timothy 5:6; Proverbs 29:1; Ephesians 4:19;
I Samuel 2:25; 4:11; Romans 6:23; Ezekiel 18:4, 20.

II.  What you can do to break the chains of sinful habits and be free,
John 14:6.