Most of our sins are little ones and rarely get us on the 10:00 o'clock news. Few of us are ever convicted of robbery, murder, or rape. The majority of Christians manage to avoid the big "whopping" sins most of the time. That's why when a Christian does break the law, it's news.
No, our sins are the grinding day-to-day violations that repeat themselves over and over again and bore little holes in our souls that eventually bleed us of all faith and spiritual energy. Big sins are like dynamite that can blow up the house in one tremendous bang. Little sins are like termites that slowly eat through everything and cause the house to collapse in on itself. Either way, the house is destroyed. The apostle Paul puts it this way, "The wage of sin is death." Romans 3:23 - he never qualifies if it's big or little sins. The point I'm getting to here is that whether it's big sins or little ones, we need to break the sin habit if we are to grow in Christ, remain faithful to Him, and go to heaven.
Jesus demands that we repent of our sins in order to be forgiven (Luke 24:47). This means that a person must turn, or change his mind and conduct with regard to sin - all sin. This doesn't just mean being sorry for sin. Repentance means breaking the habit of sin in one's life.
The cruelest lie that Satan will have us to believe is that repentance means getting rid of the big stuff but not worrying about the little stuff. He knows that more houses are destroyed by termites than dynamite.
David, in the Old Testament, was a person who understood how important it was to break the sin habit in his life. He saw firsthand how sin caused so many problems in his own life. In 1 Chronicles 21, we read a story that teaches us how David broke the habit of sin in his life. Perhaps his experience can help us break the sin cycles in our lives as well.
Four Steps in Breaking the Sin Habit
David is tempted by Satan to conduct a census.
Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.
- 1 Chronicles 21:1
Taking a census was not a sin in itself since God had ordered these before. This time however, the prompting to do so came from Satan and probably appealed to the desire to increase his wealth through taxes or bolster his confidence based on the strength of his army rather than the strength of God.
Note that Joab, his advisor and military commander, recognizes the wrong and warns the King to no avail:
So David said to Joab and to the princes of the people, "Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, and bring me word that I may know their number." Joab said, "May the Lord add to His people a hundred times as many as they are! But, my lord the king, are they not all my lord's servants? Why does my lord seek this thing? Why should he be a cause of guilt to Israel?" Nevertheless, the king's word prevailed against Joab. Therefore, Joab departed and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem.
- 1 Chronicles 21:2-4
Joab wouldn't bring himself to provide an accurate count so he skips over two of the tribes:
Joab gave the number of the census of all the people to David. And all Israel were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword; and Judah was 470,000 men who drew the sword. But he did not number Levi and Benjamin among them, for the king's command was abhorrent to Joab. God was displeased with this thing, so He struck Israel.
- 1 Chronicles 21:5-7
The writer says that God was displeased and punished Israel because of the sin of its king. Note that the people suffer because of the wrongs of their leaders. This should give us pause to think about who we vote for in elections and the fact that there are consequences that follow us from the voting booth.
In the balance of the chapter we see David's response to God's judgment and how in this response he strives to break the sin habit that brought him to this point in his life.
Step #1 - Realization
David said to God, "I have sinned greatly, in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly."
- 1 Chronicles 21:8
David acknowledges that what he has done is wrong, foolish, and disobedient (not just a "mistake"). Notice that there are no excuses given:
- The pressure of being king.
- The fear of foreign armies.
- The idea that nobody's perfect.
- The argument that this was not such a big sin - nobody was hurt.
If it is against God's will, it is a sin. If it is a sin, God hates it (big or small). Psalm 5:4 says that God cannot tolerate the slightest sin. If God hates it, we need to get rid of it.
This first step is so difficult for many Christians because they know that if they acknowledge that something is a sin, they will have to follow through and get rid of it. This is why there is such defense of little sins (vices) like:
- Addiction to tobacco products.
- Immodest dress.
- Watching sexually explicit movies.
- Sexual activity between unmarried persons.
- Little sins like gossip, laziness, and stubbornness.
- Dishonesty about little things like cheating on homework, copying computer programs and videos, and getting into events free by sneaking in.
- Revenge, petty cruelty, selfishness, etc.
We have all kinds of excuses and defense mechanisms to protect our little sins from being dealt with. It is so amazing that people will believe the preacher about doctrine, the meaning of a Greek word, the plan of salvation or marriage counseling methods - but they won't accept his word when he points out their sins. Just like David ignoring Joab's warning, they refuse to accept what the pulpit warns against and because of this will eventually pay the price.
When he was finally judged, David took the first and necessary step in breaking his sin habit. He realized that what he was doing was a sin and he had to deal with it as such.
Step #2 - Repentance
The Lord spoke to Gad, David's seer, saying, "Go and speak to David, saying, 'Thus says the Lord, "I offer you three things; choose for yourself one of them, which I will do to you."'" So Gad came to David and said to him, "Thus says the Lord, 'Take for yourself either three years of famine, or three months to be swept away before your foes, while the sword of your enemies overtakes you, or else three days of the sword of the Lord, even pestilence in the land, and the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.' Now, therefore, consider what answer I shall return to Him who sent me." David said to Gad, "I am in great distress; please let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are very great. But do not let me fall into the hand of man."
1 Chronicles 21:9-13
God offers David three choices of punishment for his sin:
- 3 years of famine.
- 3 months of foreign armies attacking.
- 3 days of pestilence and disease in the land that the Lord will send.
David chooses the three days of disease sent by God on the nation. He chooses this because he would rather suffer the consequences in the hands of God than from nature or his enemies. By this choice, he shows that he is prepared to trust God regardless of the circumstances.
- He could prepare for a famine like Joseph did.
- He could fight an enemy with is army.
- He chose to put his life completely in the hands of God.
His sin was not trusting in God, the repentance was not just suffering the consequences - the repentance was change, going back to trusting God.
Breaking the sin habit requires change:
- Not excusing the sin, getting rid of it!
- Not loving the sin, hating the sin!
- Not being afraid that we can't live without the sin, but trusting that God will fill the hole where the sin used to be with something better!
We will never break our sin habit unless we are ready to allow God to ask us to change any part, any habit that we have, and replace it with something better, something clean, something Godly.
Step #3 - Restitution
So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel; 70,000 men of Israel fell. And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it; but as he was about to destroy it, the Lord saw and was sorry over the calamity, and said to the destroying angel, "It is enough; now relax your hand." And the angel of the Lord was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. Then David lifted up his eyes and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, with his drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, covered with sackcloth, fell on their faces. David said to God, "Is it not I who commanded to count the people? Indeed, I am the one who has sinned and done very wickedly, but these sheep, what have they done? O Lord my God, please let Your hand be against me and my father's household, but not against Your people that they should be plagued."
1 Chronicles 21:14-17
David's repentance opened his eyes to the true nature and extent of his sins - the destruction of lives. This realization moved him to the next important step in breaking the sin habit - the desire to do something about it, the need to make restitution of some kind. He didn't want his sin to hurt other people, so he offered himself as a sacrifice to stop the punishment, to appease God in some way. This is an important step in breaking the sin habit for several reasons:
- It is a demonstration that a person truly understands the seriousness and evil of their sin. Sinners who actively fight against their former sins or try to make up for them prove their sincerity.
- It shows where a person stands in regard to sin. For example, Linda Lovelace made porno movies for years. She quit, got married, and had a family. Then she became very outspoken about the evil and destructive nature of pornography. She raised money, wrote a book, and went to Washington. You knew where she stood.
- It (Restitution) prepares you for the last and most necessary step in breaking the sin habit.
Some people get to the point of restitution and never go any further. They become advocates, they build hospitals, they write books, but David went one important step further, which guaranteed his freedom from the sin habit.
Step #4 - Restoration
Then the angel of the Lord commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. So David went up at the word of Gad, which he spoke in the name of the Lord.
Then David built an altar to the Lord there and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. And he called to the Lord and He answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering. The Lord commanded the angel, and he put his sword back in its sheath.
1 Chronicles 21:18-19; 26-27
Notice that when David was wanting to offer himself, when he realized that his sin was worth his life, God restored him to have fellowship once again. The idea of building an altar and offering sacrifice demonstrates that David and God were at peace once again. God allowed David to offer an animal instead of himself as a peace offering to bring about reconciliation.
Until a person truly understands that it is sin (big and little) that cause our separation from God and our ultimate destruction, they do not feel the need to be reconciled to God. They remain ignorant or go on sinning thinking that God will not require an accounting for every sin in their lives. When we see the destruction of sin however, like David did, when we begin to desire to make things right with God, and we, like David, want to offer that sacrifice, that peace offering to take away the sin to remove the guilt and fear that stands between us and God.
This is when God sends Jesus Christ to our rescue because it won't be our understanding or repentance of sin that will restore us. It won't be our active efforts to combat sin and its effects that will remove our guilt. It won't be our own personal sacrifice or death that will take away all condemnation. We can't make restitution to pay our moral debt. It will be the death of Jesus on the cross that will:
- Pay the moral debt we owe for our sins.
- Cleanse our conscience of guilt.
- Remove our fear of punishment.
- Make us be at peace with God.
- Guarantee our place in heaven.
David offered an animal with the hope that one day God would send a perfect sacrifice that would remove sin for everyone and break the sin habit once and for all.
This was a turning point in David's life because after this event he turned his attention to preparing the resources and preparing his son to build a magnificent temple for the Lord. It's as if he went from the need to build his own kingdom to the desire to build God's kingdom.
That's what happens in our lives when we break the sin habit.
- We begin by realizing what our sins really are. We accept what others tell us, respond to our conscience, or realize that the trouble we're in is a result of our sins.
- We move to sincere repentance that includes a willingness and effort at real change, a change regardless of the cost in pain, inconvenience, or degree of self-denial.
- Repentance leads us to a desire to make things right, to do the right thing, to be hungry and thirsty for righteousness.
- That thirst will draw us to the only one who can satisfy that spiritual dryness. The one who gives "living water", Jesus Christ. Our desire to be right with God will open our eyes and hearts to the need to believe in Jesus and be baptized in His name in order to wash away sins and be at peace with God once and for all.
What kind of sinner are you? We're all sinners, but what kind are you? Are you struggling daily against it? Do you have a sin habit that needs to be broken?