65502 2. The Secret to Lasting Health

If you feel yourself infected by sinful struggles in mind, body, or spirit, you are probably eager to be healed and have your life transformed. If so, your desire shows that your conscience is still alive and that the Holy Spirit is working inside you to will what God wills. What you are feeling is a godly restlessness—a dissatisfaction with the things of this world and a yearning for the things that are from above. The rest of this book is designed to help you achieve the spiritual health you desire. Before we get to the prescription for your soul, however, we want to present another key idea: you not only need to be cleansed of your sin, but at the same time you need to be filled with holiness. 

We may get rid of a compulsive thought, attitude, or behavior temporarily, perhaps through the exertion of willpower or by some type of therapy. That’s good as far as it goes. Yet if we do not cooperate with God to supply a new thought, attitude, or behavior to take its place, the sin is likely to come back into our lives with a vengeance.1 What a sad outcome! As Peter said, “And when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before” (2 Peter 2:20). They are worse off than before because they have fallen more deeply into a sin habit.

In the past, have you had trouble making your resolutions to quit sinning stick? Maybe it is because you concentrated on the negative part of the equation (eliminating sin) and forgot about the positive part (adding holiness). Erwin Lutzer, the senior pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, has rightly said, “We cannot say no to temptation without saying yes to something far better.” It is like defeating cancer: doctors not only want to destroy the cancerous cells but also boost the body’s ability to replenish healthy cells. We need to tear down sin habits in our lives and replace them with virtue habits.

If we leave a vacancy in our spiritual lives, it will be filled with something. Either the same sin will return (perhaps grown more powerful) or another will come in to take its place. If you quit getting drunk, for example, you might start overeating. Instead of that kind of setback, let’s allow holy qualities to flow in and fill the space vacated by a sinful practice. That is the biblical way.

Dressed for Godliness

The Bible pairs the idea of eliminating sin with the idea of adopting holiness so consistently that we must take it to be an important principle of the Christian life. One of the clearest examples occurs in the letter to the Colossians. Here Paul used the image of taking off the old clothing of sin and putting on the new clothing of holiness (notice especially the emphasized phrases below).

Put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual sin, impurity, lust, and shameful desires. Don’t be greedy for the good things of this life, for that is idolatry. … Get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old evil nature and all its wicked deeds. In its place you have clothed yourselves with a brand-new nature that is continually being renewed as you learn more and more about Christ, who created this new nature within you. … Since God chose you to be the holy people whom He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you … The most important piece of clothing you must wear is love … Let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts … Always be thankful.
—Colossians 3:5-15

Nobody in their right mind would take off their clothes without sooner or later putting clothes on again. In the same way, figuratively speaking, we cannot take off the rags of sin without putting some clothes back on. Either we will don the shining new garments of holiness or we will put those dirty rags of wickedness back on.

In case you might consider all this to be merely theoretical, let us challenge you with a few practical questions:

  • Do you tend to be lazy at work, at home, or at church? If so, you need to take off the garment of sloth and put on the garment of diligence.
  • Do you gripe, grumble, and complain when things do not go your way? In that case, take off the garment of dissatisfaction and put on the garment of contentment.
  • Do you always bring a conversation back to yourself and what you have accomplished? If so, take off the garment of pride and put on the garment of humility.

As we all know, old clothes can sometimes be the most comfortable. And in the same way, our old habits of sin can seem easiest for us to wear. The problem is that they are morally shabby and are inappropriate attire for one who wants to enter the presence of the King. We need to judge our sin by the objective standard of Scripture, not by the temporary pleasure or comfort it might give us. Otherwise, we might not see its destructiveness until it is too late. The “comfortable” clothes always become restrictive in the end. Whatever your particular sin problem might be, therefore, you need God’s grace to remove it from your life and then begin to “wear” a new, holier attitude in its place.

And how do you do this? First, you identify your sin. Then you ask God for His help in defeating the sin once for all. You also seek the Spirit’s transforming power to establish new and better habits in your life. (Note: These are just the basics. We will be introducing a more thorough process for healing a sin habit at the end of this chapter.) Of course, in practice, the putting off/putting on process looks a little different in everyone’s life.

Years ago, when I (Henry) was speaking at a Christian conference in the Midwest, a young man named Tim LaHaye was attending the event. (This was long before Tim became well-known as coauthor of the Left Behind series of books.) He had a problem with anger and, in fact, when he sat down to listen to my message, he had just been arguing with his wife, Beverly. In my message, I happened to read the verse that says, “Put off all these; anger, wrath, malice.…”

At that, Tim got up from his seat and went to a tree outside the conference hall to weep and pray to God for the forgiveness of his anger problem. Though he was an angry person, his heart was still tender enough toward God that he had been convicted of his need to put off his sin of anger and put on the virtue of mercy. That’s how the process worked in one life at one point in time. It may look different in your life—but it has to be there if you are to be spiritually transformed.

This biblical image of changing clothes is a memorable one. An even more familiar image from the Bible—namely, fruit-bearing—makes the same point, though with a twist.

Fruitful for God

Many Christians would name Galatians 5:22-23—the passage about the “fruit of the Spirit”—as among their favorite verses in the Bible. But are you aware that Galatians 5 refers not to one kind of fruit but to two? The Spirit produces love, joy, peace, and all the rest, surely enough, but before that our old nature produces a welter of shameful sins.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin . . .

But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, He will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. —Galatians 5:19-23

The fruit of the sinful nature corresponds to the filthy clothing we are to remove, while the fruit of the Spirit corresponds to the clean clothes of righteousness.

The twist is this: while the Colossians 3 passage about changing clothes implies that we have to make a personal effort at combating sin, the Galatians 5 passage about fruit-bearing brings out more strongly the role of the Holy Spirit in our godliness. If the Spirit has control of our lives, we will live in a way that reflects the holiness of God. It is as natural as a healthy grapevine bearing big, juicy grapes.

As you seek to substitute holiness for the habitual sin in your life, remember that the effort is a cooperative endeavor between you and God. Of course, you have your own part to play—you have to decide to act in accordance with God’s holy commands and then follow through. But even more importantly, the Holy Spirit is at the same time working in you to help you stop doing what is wrong and start doing what is right. His help is primary and crucial to your deliverance from sin. His power is what makes it happen.

Pastor John Ortberg said, “Spiritual transformation…involves both God and us.”

I liken it to crossing an ocean. Some people try, day after day, to be good, to become spiritually mature. That’s like taking a rowboat across the ocean. It’s exhausting and usually unsuccessful. Others have given up trying and throw themselves entirely on “relying on God’s grace.” They’re like drifters on a raft. They do nothing but hang on and hope God gets them there.

Neither trying nor drifting are effective in bringing about spiritual transformation. A better image is the sailboat, which if it moves at all, it’s a gift of the wind. We can’t control the wind, but a good sailor discerns where the wind is blowing and adjusts the sails accordingly.2

In other words, as we head toward our destination of holiness, the Spirit will be the wind that pushes us there.3

Of course, all this presumes that we are filled with the Holy Spirit in the first place.

Filled with Power

Years ago, I (Bill) met a young man who had come home from the mission field in defeat. The young man described his frustration and despair. It was clear to me that he had been trying to obey God through his own efforts, not through the power of the Holy Spirit, and that this was what had led to his failure. I explained this perspective to the young man and told him that he desperately needed to be filled with the Spirit.

His response was an angry one. Had he not been serving on the mission field for years? Had he not given of himself sacrificially to reach people for Christ? He stormed out of my office.

After deeper consideration, he called me and asked for a second meeting. Of course, I agreed, and at this second meeting, we continued our discussion of the Holy Spirit. A few days later I heard from the young man by mail. My friend said he had invited the Holy Spirit to fill him, and he shared with me the joy and excitement of his new discovery.

Maybe you need a new filling of the Holy Spirit so that you can reengage your enemy (your sin habit) with a powerful ally (the Spirit) by your side. In the words of P. T. Forsyth, “Unless there is within us that which is above us, we shall soon yield to that which is about us.”

We all receive the Holy Spirit when we come to believe in Christ. But each of us can receive a fresh filling of the Spirit from time to time if we will seek God for it. Ask God to send His Spirit to you in greater fullness than ever, then attune your spirit to what God’s Spirit is telling you. (See How to Be Filled with the Holy Spirit)

Our prayer for you is the same as Paul’s for the Ephesians: “I pray that from His [the Father’s] glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit” (Ephesians 3:16). Mighty inner strength—think about it! Wouldn’t that be great to have as you seek to be healed of a sin habit and establish holiness in your life? God’s power is available to you if you will ask for it.

Personal effort is part of the solution. But nothing helps in the battle to be sin-free and virtue-full more than the Holy Spirit. “Wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, He gives freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). Indeed, freedom from sin and the freedom to be holy can be yours only through the Spirit.

In this book, we will be discussing not only sins that sadden God’s heart but also virtues that please God. You will find that a complete definition of victory over sin includes the institution of new, holier practices in your life that will prevent you from going back to your old, sinful ways. If your problem is with deceit, for example, cooperate with the Spirit to become a person of unshakable honesty. Or if your problem is causing conflict, seek God’s help to become someone who is known for creating harmony among people.

Becoming a person of virtue means not only taking off the rags of sin but also putting on robes of righteousness. It means not only pruning away the fruit of the sinful nature but also letting the fruit of the Spirit ripen to perfection.

Does that sound like something that’s easier said than done? Well, you are right. But there is a way to do it, and it is through a process called “spiritual breathing”.

Spiritual Breathing

Some time ago, a young Christian came to share his problems with me (Bill). This young man was frustrated and confused, and he spoke of the constant defeat and fruitlessness he experienced in the Christian life.

“You don’t have to live in defeat,” I said to him.

The young man looked surprised.

“You can live a life of victory, a life of joy, a life of fruitfulness,” I assured him. And I went on to tell him the lesson I have learned in more than twenty-five years as a Christian. It is “spiritual breathing.”

“I have grieved and quenched the Spirit at times with impatience, anger, or some other expression of the flesh,” I confessed. “But when I grieve the Spirit, I know exactly what to do. I breathe spiritually. I confess my sin to God and immediately receive His forgiveness and cleansing, and by faith, I continue to walk in the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit.”

In the process of breathing, our lungs expel carbon dioxide (dangerous to our health) and take in oxygen (needed for proper tissue function). Similarly, spiritual breathing is “exhaling” guilt through confession and “inhaling” grace through filling by the Holy Spirit. Whenever we have sinned, we can “breathe” in this way.

The main difference between the two kinds of breathing is this: physical breathing is automatic, while spiritual breathing is voluntary. We choose to breathe spiritually. (See appendix C: “Spiritual Breathing.”)

The key to spiritual breathing is stopping a sin as soon as we are convicted of it. Otherwise, we will just reinforce a sin habit. Rather than letting the sin go on, we bring it before God and ask His forgiveness. Assuming our repentance is real, we can be confident that He will forgive. “But if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9).

But we do not stop there. We seek God further for grace to obey Him in the future. As the apostle John said, “My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin.…” (1 John 2:1). In other words, while we may be freed from habitual sins, we will never be free from temptation and human weakness as long as we live in this world. Sin always remains a possibility, and so we never outgrow the need for grace.

God is faithful. He is like a kind father who gives his children what they need.4 Our God gladly gives us what we ask for, as long as it is in line with His will, and so of course He gives the resources we need to escape temptation. His mercy is what makes it possible for us to be filled with virtues where formerly we were full of sin.

Spiritual breathing does something wonderful for us. It helps us achieve and maintain holiness. And holiness is another name for Christlikeness.

Quest for Christlikeness

Kay Arthur begins her book As Silver Refined by describing a metal worker patiently refining the ore to produce pure silver. He begins by crushing the lump of ore into smaller pieces, then places them in a crucible and sets it in a fire. Gradually, the impurities rise to the top of the molten metal, and the metalworker skims off this dross. He repeats the process again and again throughout the day, keeping a watchful eye over the metal. Finally, “he bends over the crucible, and this time he catches his breath. There it is! In the silver, he sees what he has waited for so patiently: a clear image of himself, distinct and sharp.”5

That is what God hopes to see in us as He purifies us of sin: an image of Himself.

Hebrews 1:3 states that “The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God.” While we sinners have had the image of God in us marred by sin, Jesus Christ perfectly reflects the image of God. This is not surprising—since He is God!

Meanwhile, it is God’s will that we conform ourselves to Christ. He chose us “to become like His Son” (Romans 8:29). How does that happen? “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

So we are back to the role of the Holy Spirit. We become holy with the help of the Holy Spirit. And as we become more holy, we become more like our Savior, Jesus Christ. Thus the process of replacing virtues for vices is a part of our God-ordained goal of Christlikeness.

Preeminent among the Christlike virtues is love.

LOVE: The Main Virtue

Every virtue is important, but none other is so important as love. To Jesus, love for God and love for people represented the sum of all obedience. (See Matthew 22:34–40.) When Paul talked about taking off the rags of sin and putting on new garments of righteousness, he commented, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14).

The same preeminence of love is supported in 1 Corinthians 13, where we see love split into its elements the way a prism separates light into the spectrum of color.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
—1 Corinthians 13:4–7

It has been said that the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is a portrait of the character of Jesus. That’s true. And since for us becoming more holy means becoming more like Christ, 1 Corinthians 13 also describes the character that God wants to instill in each of us. We should see ourselves reflected in the biblical description of love.

In this book, we present ten different sin families. But there is a virtue family too, and its parent is the virtue of love. Just as you will seek the Holy Spirit’s help to implant moderation or purity or other virtues into your life, so you should seek His help to make you more loving. Your life will not be fully healed until you exhibit Christlike love for all.

Friend, we know that you want to become more loving and therefore more like Jesus. But at the moment you are feeling less like Jesus than like a sufferer from chronic sin sickness—that’s why you are reading this book. It is time to turn to God’s prescription for healing.

The Soul Prescription

Today the smallpox virus is believed to exist only in a small number of lab samples, which are guarded more carefully than a nuclear bomb. At one time, though, the “speckled monster” was as deadly a disease as cancer or heart disease is today. Smallpox cases were characterized by fever, headache, backache, and vomiting, followed by a skin rash and blisters. In severe cases, patients died of blood poisoning, secondary infections, or internal bleeding. Smallpox killed as many as 20 percent of the population of some towns and cities and in some years was responsible for one in three deaths of children.

The beginning of the end of smallpox occurred in the late eighteenth century when British physician Edward Jenner used the milder cowpox virus to inoculate patients against smallpox. (Jenner coined the term vaccine, using the Latin word for cow, vaca.) Improved vaccines were developed over time, and in 1967 the World Health Organization (WHO) started a worldwide campaign to eradicate smallpox. The last person on earth to contract smallpox was a Somali hospital worker in 1977. WHO officials literally sat on his doorstep, letting no one go in or out until the patient had fully recovered. On May 8, 1980, the WHO officially declared that smallpox was dead, having become the first major infectious disease to be wiped from the planet.

Like the World Health Organization, we need a plan for healing—that is, a plan of healing from the destructive sin choices that plague our lives. We need to wipe out the lust or gluttony or conceit or other sin that has gotten a hold on our life.

God, in His Word, has provided principles for defeating the sins that trouble us. What we have done in this book is to organize these principles into a five-step process that can help put an end to your sin habit. Here are the five steps in an overview:

Step 1. Adopt a correct view of God.
Step 2. Revise your false beliefs.
Step 3. Repent of your sin.
Step 4. Defend against spiritual attacks.
Step 5. Flee temptation.

Underlying all of these steps is a prayerful relationship with God through Christ. Prayer starts the healing process, keeps it going, and ensures its lasting effect. Prayer is the means by which we gain God’s perspective on our life, and it opens us to His influence on us.6

Along with generous doses of prayer, then, the five steps constitute our prescription for your life. It is a proven treatment plan, and many ex-sufferers can testify of its ability to cure the sickness of sin. We urge you to try it if you want to be healed from the soul weakness that a sin habit has given you and to be transformed.

Of course, there is much more to each of these five steps and their implementation than the overview reveals. In the following five chapters we will take each of the steps in turn and explain it in depth so that you will understand thoroughly what it means. This will provide the complete prescription for your healing.

We begin with a step in the process that many people overlook but that is nevertheless foundational to a lasting liberation from sin—and a lasting establishment of holiness. We must see God for who He really is.

Life Reflection

  1. Have you reached a point in your life where you are willing to give up your sin and pursue holiness? Why or why not?
  2. How would you describe what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit? What appeals to you about that, especially as it applies to your struggle against sin?
  3. How would you describe spiritual breathing? How can it help you overcome sin?

Visit www.SoulPrescription.com for more insights and resources, and to download a free leader’s guide for small group Bible studies.