I don’t know if you have ever really thought about this but I seem to be a creature of habit, how about you?  I have things that I tend to do and keep doing.  Some of those things can be really positive and some of those things maybe not so much!  I can get up in the morning and without a lot of thinking I can end up right in front of the coffee pot without even really knowing how I got there!  Not the most harmful thing in the world and frankly it’s probably safer for everyone around me that I get that morning coffee before I interact too much with people!  But I seem to have things that I do all the time, you know ruts and routines.  I have rhythms to my day, and things that I do on a regular basis and I can imagine you do too.  So when it comes to the good habits, I’m not sure we mind talking about them do we?  I mean I don’t mind laughing with you when it comes to me drinking or not drinking a cup of coffee.  I would love to tell you about my good eating habits, and just how stuck in a rut I am at eating my vegetables and healthy foods, but I can’t say that with any integrity…in fact I think Mashawn is starting to sneak vegetables into different foods to make sure I’m eating better than I do!  I got pretty suspicious the other night with the carrots and peas slipping into the spaghetti…and don’t get me started on the night she replaced the burger meat with squash in the enchiladas without even a warning about what we were eating.  It was quite a shock, and frankly that just seemed mean and I’m not sure I will ever emotionally be able to eat an enchilada again but I’m working through it!  I’m going to be ok with time and healing there!

But we humans we are creatures of habit…some habits are actually pretty positive and lead to good things!  These are the things we can laugh at and we really don’t have a lot of problems laughing about and we certainly don’t mind sharing these types of habits with others.  But the challenge so many of us have is that we can seem to be stuck in some vicious cycles of sin in our lives that we don’t want to talk about, and that we can’t seem to get rid of.  It’s frustrating isn’t it?  We feel ashamed of those habits.  We hate that we keep going back to them, but we just can’t seem to break free from those things in our lives.  Peter refers to them as our “old grooves of evil, and I think that is perfect imagery really.  I think we will come back to this section of scripture a good bit today.

1 Peter 1:13 So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. 14 Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. 15 As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. 16 God said, “I am holy; you be holy.” MSG

So this is really what we are going to talk about today.  We people have grooves that we kind of stay in, some are healthy…but some are not.  These grooves of evil start a vicious cycle that we must break free from, and with God’s help we can.  So wow, right, why in the world hit such a deep and heavy and tough topic?  Well it’s because we love you…and we want you free, not stuck.  We want you standing tall, not ashamed of some secret sin that you feel that you can’t get out of, and just to give you some good news as we get started today.  You do not have to stay trapped in that vicious cycle…you do not have to walk with secret sin, and the guilt and shame that comes with those secret sins…because of Jesus you can break free.  Not in your strength but by His strength those vicious cycles can end today. 

So this has the opportunity to be a very powerful Sunday because we have the chance to break free from these cycles of sin in our lives.  We humans are creatures of habit, and some of those habits are really positive and healthy, but others are causing us real pain, real hurts, and not allowing us to walk in that freedom and joy that a child of God should and could be walking in.

So I wonder if I asked you to describe your life as a Christian how you would end up describing it.  What it would look like from your own words?  Think about this, how you would describe it?  We have been talking through the course of this series about what we see in scripture right?  You know by now that I keep coming back to a couple adjectives we see all through scripture.  I have been pointing out over and over that our lives in Christ should and could be described as a life of freedom, and victory, and power.  But I think one very popular thing that happens to us as Christians is that we can get stuck in a pattern, or what I keep referencing as a vicious cycle.  We go up and down and up and down in this pattern where we sin and feel terrible, then we come back to God, confess it and feel better for a while, then we go back to the sin again, and up and down we go.  Feeling forgiven and awesome, then feeling guilty and terrible again as we fall back to the sin, what Peter called earlier the old groove of evil.  So that doesn’t sound like fun does it?  That certainly doesn’t sound like freedom, and victory, and power.  It sounds pretty tiring to me, it’s so volatile, it’s up and down, it’s basically the exact opposite of that life that Jesus said we could have by coming to Him…remember this from last week?  We hit this pretty hard…

Matthew 11:28 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. 29 Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. 30 Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” MSG

So we definitely want that right?  I know I do!  I want to live freely and lightly but I keep getting stuck in those old grooves. So instead of this free and light way to move through life we tend to find our lives swinging way up (on the good days) and way down (when we slide back into those sins that keep grabbing us.)  Jesus said we could walk in the unforced rhythms of grace, but instead my life feels more like a roller coaster than that free and light thing that Jesus says I can have in Him.  I think that we can keep hearing about this Christian life that we should have but it can be really discouraging to not experience this free and light way of living, and on top of that even at the end of that chunk from Peter earlier it says this…

1 Peter 1:16 God said, “I am holy; you be holy.” MSG

We read that and think…oh great, I’m far from holy.  Jesus seems to really drive that dagger in even farther into us by saying this…

Matthew 5:48 “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”  NLT

Good grief!  That could be pretty discouraging right…especially when I have this secret thing that I don’t want anyone to know about…that I know of, and well…I know God knows of it too.  Just great right?  Well before the tension gets too high in here, you and I both know that we people are not perfect, weren’t created to be perfect which is why we need Jesus in our lives.  So while I believe we absolutely are to be striving for holiness and moving towards holiness, perfection is out of our reach on this side of eternal life…which is why God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to do for us what we can’t.  So as God looks down from Heaven at you, He sees the perfection of Jesus in you.  So we can relax a bit there!  You aren’t perfect, you will make mistakes, which is why we need Jesus.  But it is discouraging at times to be on this roller coaster of Christianity, where we go up and down, up and down, and in that discouragement it almost makes it easier for us to slide back into sins that we just can’t seem to break and it leaves us in this cycle of up then down, sin then confess, joy then guilt…and that is not the kind of life we should be living.  That cycle is hard to break out of isn’t it?  If it was easy we already would have broken out of it right?  It’s almost like the more discouraged I feel because of the sin cycle that I can’t get out of, the more I slide into it…and on and on this can go for years and years and our whole lives if we aren’t careful.  So we need to find a way to break free from these old grooves of evil…and the good news is we can.

So what do we do to find freedom from this stuff?  Well that is where we go today but I would like to start with a bit of a warning.  I see a bit of a subtle trap in some of this stuff.  I think it’s very important for us as we work on our spiritual lives to remember something.  That in all the things we do to move towards freedom in Christ and towards holiness and just to make these big positive steps in our spiritual lives that we need Jesus in them more than us.  What can often happen is we start to work really hard on ourselves.  We jump into all kinds of studies and spiritual disciplines.  Which makes sense right?  I mean just look at how Peter started this chunk of scripture we are studying today.

1 Peter 1:13  So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. 14 Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. MSG

So this is what we set out to do, we roll up our sleeves and begin working really, really hard on ourselves, and we never seem to experience that life that Jesus spoke of…and why is that?  Because that is something given to us through Jesus, not something we can work on and earn.  We need to lean on Him…and a big trap for so many of us is that we work really, really hard on stuff, forgetting just how much we need God in our lives to do this.  We aren’t going to break free in our own strength, we need God’s help and His grace, and the Holy Spirit to do that.  Look at what Paul says here, as he tries and tries to “not sin.”

Romans 7:17 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! 18 I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. 19 I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. 20 My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. 21 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. 22 I truly delight in God’s commands, 23 but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. 24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? 25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. MSG

So yes, we are going to work towards holiness.  Yes we are going to roll up our sleeves and not lazily slip back into those old ways of living which means we need to focus and have discipline.  But we must remember that even the great Apostle Paul couldn’t pull off holiness in his own strength.  So we are about to look at some practical steps to break free from bondage but I never want you to lose sight of the idea that in the end the answer isn’t you, your discipleship program, your small group study, or your own strength.  The answer is and always will be relying on Jesus to do what only He can do in our lives.  We need Jesus living and active in our lives.  So that is my disclaimer, we are not going to get this done in our own strength.  Yes we have things to do, but the answer is Christ Jesus in our lives.  He does it, not us.  So with that warning in place and hopefully landing in our hearts.  Let’s talk about breaking free from these old grooves of evil.

So I think freedom from this bondage starts with Jesus being living and active in our lives.  This means we are depending and leaning on Him.  Then I think there are some things that we really need to see in our lives.  If we go to James 4, we see two things that we must see in our lives to begin this move towards freedom from the bondage in our lives and there is no irony at all that we were reading this same scripture last week in our pride and humility talk…

James 4:7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. NIV

So there is two very specific directions from James here.  Submit yourself to God and resist the devil.  This is really important.  We all have old grooves of evil, things that we need to break free from and this is where it starts and I want to show you what these two things look like.

Submission to God: There is that pesky word again…submit.  For the last two weeks we have seen this word pop up a lot.  It popped up in the rebellion talk, it popped up in the pride talk, and here it is again as we try to break free from the sin bonds of our lives.  So what does submission to God look like well to keep it plain and simple there are two steps to submission to God.  First is confessing our sins, then repenting from our sins.

Submission Step 1 -Confessing my sins to God –This is me admitting that I am sinning and how I am sinning.  Confession is not me saying I’m sorry, it is me openly admitting that I did something I shouldn’t.  This is very important…because as we said earlier these old grooves of evil we get stuck in…they aren’t that easy to break out of, and we aren’t exactly proud of these sins are we?  No!  So because we don’t admit that we are dealing with these things, they just gain more and more of a hold in our lives.  It’s amazing what happens when we submit to God, and just break out of the “secret” and admit our sin!

1 John 1:8 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 has no place in our lives. NIV

Admitting our sin goes such a long way, and it may be something we aren’t proud of, but we actually break can really break that sins power over us as we admit and confess that it is there.

Submission Step 2- repentance – Repentance is very important because it is me turning away from that sin.  For some of us who deal with deep dark secrets, this may mean putting very big boundaries in our lives to keep us from that sin.  If we have a secret addiction, let’s go with pornography for example repentance is bigger than just admitting we have a problem – that is actually confession.  Repentance means I will then turn away from that sin.  So if it is pornography you may need to stay off the computer and put the proper safe guards in place in your life.  You may need to ask yourself some deliberate questions like – “is me alone in the dark with my computer the best place I can be to stay away from this sin?”  And if you aren’t willing to put safe guards in place to keep you from the addiction it means you aren’t really repenting right?  Because deep down your flesh still wants to do it.  This is an on-going process, and most likely won’t just switch off like a light switch on the wall, I wish it would be that simple, but these old grooves have been there a while, and we have established that we people are creatures of habit.  This will take time and effort and focus…which I think is what Peter meant about rolling up our sleeves and trying to not lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil.

Resist the Devil:  Well this idea from James about resisting the devil could really be the spiritual warfare talk that we had a few weeks ago…but I think it starts by understanding that you are opposed.  That you do have an enemy and that your enemy is trying to take you out.  So we must be aware of him, and his lies and schemes.  We must reject his lies, and hold on to the truth.  Remember Jesus’ words?

John 8:31 Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  NIV

Your enemy is a liar, and I love the phrasing here from Jesus.  Hold onto my teaching…it’s the truth that sets us free.  We must be prepared for this war, and equipped for it.  Paul explains it this way…

Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. NIV

So this is where it begins.  James gives us two very clear directions in what to do to begin to break out of the vicious cycle that we all seem to get stuck in.  We submit to God, and we resist the devil.  And just to keep pointing this out as a reminder…all of this is done in God’s strength and not our own, isn’t verse 10 there from Paul awesome?  Be strong in the Lord and His mighty power…it didn’t say be strong in yourself and your mighty power!  This is what it is all about, breaking free from the bonds of sin getting out of those old grooves of evil, then hopefully staying out of them!

So I wanted to end by showing you some simple and practical things that you can do to not just break out of these old grooves of evil, but to also stay out of them.  So we are going to look at six very practical, hopefully very clear steps and I would like to end today with hopefully a moment or two for you to reflect and pray.  I think these 5 items can really help us walk in freedom rather than sliding back into those old grooves.

  1. Find a Community of Believers and Engage It! We talked about this a good bit last week, but you were created by God to be in relationships with others.  You are better together than you could ever be apart.  I know it can be messy, but let people into your life.  It’s getting easier and easier with technology to isolate and while that may seem easier at some level remember you were created for relationship.  When you can find a group of people to be in loving and healthy relationship with, you can rally together.  Remember your enemy wants you alone and we know that we are better together than we would ever be apart.  Let’s look at Solomon’s words again that we hit last week.

Ecclesiastes 4:9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: 10 If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! 11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. NIV

  1. Spend Daily Time Reading Your Bible! I know, I know this is a new thought today but remember, James says we must resist the devil.  He is a liar.  He throws lies at us all the time and we must have the truth in us to line up beside the devil’s lies so that we have a reference point of truth in this crazy and chaotic and frantic world!  I love Jesus’ words saying HOLD ON to my teaching!  Which sets us free!

John 8:31 Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  NIV

  1. We must take every thought captive!Paul says it this way in his second letter to Corinth…

2 Corinthians 10:3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. NIV

Taking your thoughts captive simply means gaining control over and being intentional about what you think about yourself and life.  What you put in your mind has an effect on what you think. God has provided a way to overcome unhealthy thoughts and behaviors, and gain the self-control that we all want in our lives. It’s a matter of taking charge of your life…but doing it God’s way.  So we put the right things in…and then once again hold on to the truth, so that we have healthy perspectives on life.

  1. Be aware of your old habits and patterns and put the boundaries in place to not slide back into them! This is all about practically avoiding the dangers of the temptation of sin.  We hit on pornography some earlier.  If it is an issue than you need the proper safe guards in place to avoid sliding back into that old groove of evil.  If you struggle with alcohol this probably means hanging out in a bar at happy hour isn’t the best idea.  I know it isn’t a sin to be in the establishment…but for you it may lead to sin!  I love Paul’s letter’s to his young buddy Timothy, check out this warning from Paul here, it is such good advice.  Flee, run away from sin!

2 Timothy 2:22 Run away from infantile indulgence. Run after mature righteousness — faith, love, peace — joining those who are in honest and serious prayer before God. MSG

  1. Commit yourself to a life of prayer. You know what, we are creatures of habit…and we tend to get into some interesting grooves in our lives.  The best and most important habit we should have is staying connected to our Heavenly Father in prayer.  This is the lifeline we all need.  After all Jesus told us some pretty awesome things happen when we start to come to Him.  We experience that miraculous shift in focus from us to Him…and I think we finally get to walk into that type of life we all desire.

Matthew 11:28 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. 29 Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. 30 Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” MSG

So today we talk about living a life of freedom, and breaking free from those old grooves of evil.  It’s frustrating to get caught in that vicious cycle of up then down, joy then guilt, sin then confess…and because of Jesus we don’t have to live that way anymore!  We can have this free and light way of living that we read about in scripture.  We don’t have to stay stuck anymore.

So my question to you if you are sitting there knowing there is a groove you are stuck is this…what are you waiting for?  It is all there for you today and it starts with submitting to God.  Which we saw today will involve two things…openly confessing your sin which breaks the power that secret had in your life and then repenting of that sin which is you turning away from that thing and with God’s help not doing it anymore.  Then it’s about resisting the devil so that he flees from you.  This means we are putting on the full armor of God and moving through life in that new way of living that Jesus provides.  Just remember…none of this is done in your strength, all of it is done in His strength and by His victory and what He has already done and won for you on the Cross.  This is why we worship, this is what we celebrate…it’s Jesus and what He did for us on the Cross allowing us to live freely and lightly now; in spite of all our mistakes…I would like to leave you with this last word from Paul as a real word of encouragement as we all push away from those old grooves of evil and lean into Jesus in the process.

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! NIV

So thankful for this new life…and it can be yours today.  If anyone needs prayer we are here.  If you have never accepted Jesus as your Lord and savior.  We are here.  It’s all there for you today though Jesus…let’s pray together.