As 2021 rolls around the corner, habit formation will be a vital topic that many churches will address. Coming after a year in which, sadly, many new habits were formed that pushed people further away from relationship with God, it is imperative we teach people how to form new habits that will help them grow in their relationship with God.
Research tells us that 40% of our actions every day are not well thought out decisions, but habits in our lives. Think about that. We are on autopilot for about half of what we do. I have spent significant time in ministry trying to help people make good decisions. Lately, I’m spending far more of my time and energy going deeper trying to help people instill the habits that will automatically put them in a better position to make the right decisions.
John Dryden said, “First we make our habits, then our habits make us.” We become what we do repeatedly.
A few years ago, I discovered Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit. This game-changing book introduced me to the idea of keystone habits.
A keystone habit is a habit that people introduce into their lives that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.
Keystone habits create a domino effect that can change every area of your life. One keystone habit can lead to multiple other good habits. A keystone habit is no more difficult to form than any other habit, but provides the most benefits. Here are a few examples of physical keystone habits:
After studying the power of physical keystone habits, I began thinking about the potential power of spiritual keystone habits. Paul says in Romans 8:5: For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. If we are truly spiritual beings, that means that our lives are being led by our spirit. The spiritual habits we form and develop in our lives have the ability to influence a multitude of other habits in our lives.
So what spiritual habits ought we form?
My answer is always “Look to Jesus.” What habits did Jesus have in His life?
Jesus was the only person who has ever lived in this world that has been in perfect relationship with God. Because of this, my premise is that if we are going to attempt to form new keystone habits, why not try to form the keystone habits of Jesus in our lives? Interested in what the five keystone habits of Jesus are?
I have spent the better part of the last two years organizing a 40-day-church-wide-challenge called Being Challenge which teaches and encourages everyone to practice the 5 keystone habits of Jesus. Thousands have gone through it already and tens of thousands more are gearing up to go through it as we start 2021. If you are interested in starting 2021 with a turnkey 40-day challenge for your church to BE like Jesus, email us at email@example.com or get more info here.
At the heart of it, Jesus is an incredible model and teacher for us when it comes to how we should live. We should put it into practice what He put into practice. But Jesus is more than just a teacher and model; He is a Savior and Lord. And it’s because He is Savior and Lord that there is one keystone habit that Jesus never needed to practice.
The difference between Jesus and every single human being is that we are sinners and He is not. The reason that Jesus’ death on the cross was so powerful is because He was the only sinless man to ever live. To pay for and atone for the sins of the world, in God’s justice system, it required a perfect, spotless sacrifice.
Jesus, a sinless man, substituted His life for ours, and shed His blood, and by doing so, satisfied the consequence of sin.
Unfortunately, we still live in a sinful world, and each of us contributes to this. Romans 3:10 reminds us that “There is no one righteous, not even one.”
We live in a world that likes to affirm and accept everyone for who they are. The problem with this is we should not fully affirm anyone for who they are. Christians should not want to be fully affirmed and accepted. I don’t want or need you to tell me that I should stay the way that I am. I want to continually grow in my relationship with God, become more holy, flee from sin, and draw near to God. Under no circumstances in a right relationship with God should you ever feel like you’ve made it, or cease to become more holy. I’d rather be challenged in my sin from my brothers and sisters than have them act like I have no sin in my life.
Rather than thinking we are perfect, what if, instead, we admitted that we are sinful and we have in fact missed the mark.
Every one of us sins. It’s what we do after sin that makes all the difference.
Before we explore the benefits to confession, let’s first ask the BIG question:
The alternatives to confession are all things we’ve tried before:
Any of the above options will further imprison you. And here’s why: Deep down, you know you are guilty. Any pursuit of denying it, minimizing, covering it up, or blaming someone else will ultimately keep you in bondage. And your guilt will eventually turn into shame.
Contrary to popular belief, it is appropriate to experience sorrow after committing a sin. It is appropriate for us to feel guilty, because, in fact, we are guilty.
The devil wants to take your guilt, which is natural, and turn it into lifelong shame.
Guilt is “I did something wrong.” Shame is the feeling of “I am something wrong.”
Shame hits more at your core identity and leaves you with constant feelings of inadequacy. The devil wants you to carry that shame with you wherever you go. Jesus wants to give you grace that removes the guilt before it ever turns into shame. At His core, Jesus never wants you to doubt your core identity.
Rather than denying, minimizing, covering up, and blaming someone else, there is another option. You can be forgiven. And it starts by confessing your sin to Jesus.
The admission price to freedom is the admission of guilt.
This is what the apostle John reminds us: 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
King David is one of the most prominent characters in all of the Bible. He is described as a “man after God’s own heart,” but he committed some horrendous mistakes along the way. His guilt for these mistakes was tremendous. Read about his experience of confession in Psalm 32:3-5 (NLT):
Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.
Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.
The first benefit of confession is the freedom that you experience. You can see in the words above that if you do not confess your sins you will live in bondage. Keystone habits are all about helping you not just succeed in one area, but carry over into other areas as well. Quite simply, you will not be a successful, productive, capable person in bondage. The reason that confession is so important, then, is it frees you up to be the person God has made you to be.
Are you going to let the devil win and turn your guilt into shame? Or are you going to bring your sorrow, your guilt, and whatever level of shame you are experiencing to Jesus to experience His freedom?
When you regularly confess your sin, it allows you the opportunity to hear and receive words of forgiveness over your life. The end goal of confession is not for you to remember your sin, it is to remove your sin. Your brokenness leads you to God’s kindness, and God’s kindness, leads and compels you to change.
A few years ago, a Christian research company found that those who were most likely to spread the Good News of Jesus had a regular practice of daily confession in their lives. Those most willing to talk about and spread the Good News of Jesus started with an understanding that they are most in need of God’s grace.
When you regularly receive God’s grace and mercy it puts you in a better place to tell others about His grace and mercy. The greatest evangelists are the ones who have the greatest understanding of God’s kindness. Perhaps the key to inviting people not only into a life in Christ, but to attend the local church, is to help people instill this habit of daily confession.
Sadly, non-Christians label Christians as “hypocrites.” We are labeled this way because many of us project on the outside that because we are Christian, we no longer have serious sin struggles in this world. The world sees us for what we really are though, and sees right through those lies.
The way to avoid being a hypocrite is to confess to others that you are sinful. People may still be able to label you a “sinner” but they cannot label you a “hypocrite” if you regularly confess your sins and talk of your shortcomings.
Another lie that the enemy sends our way is that if you are stuck in a sin pattern that you are the only one in the world who is stuck in that sin pattern. This simply isn’t true. Every one of us is broken, we all have faults, and it’s time we talk about those not only to God, but James, the brother of Jesus also, urges us to:
If I’m honest, confessing my sins to someone else is not only humbling, it’s also scary. But what I have found is that while people will often celebrate you for your strengths, they will also resonate with you in your weaknesses. We live in a nation that celebrates strength, and so any admittance of weakness is perceived as exactly that, weak. But truthfully, it’s when we admit that we are weak where God is most powerful. Our weaknesses only give God a greater chance to shine.
As you move into a New Year and attempt to form spiritual habits that draw you close to God, why not start today with an honest assessment of where you are today, and confess your shortcomings to a God who loves you so much!
Humble yourself. Draw near to God. Admit your faults. And let the freedom begin.