Can a person change their sinful habits and behavior at any age?
Can a person change their sinful habits and behavior? Scripture teaches that we cannot on our own have total victory over our sinful behavior. Any improvement in behavior that might be achieved through self-effort will be very limited. Yet, God tells us that the Holy Spirit within a Christian is performing a transforming work.
Who Can Change Their Sinful Behavior?
For example, in Jeremiah 13:23 God declares that those accustomed to doing evil cannot change. That is, sinners are like leopards with spots that cannot be changed.
Can the Cushite change his skin,
or a leopard his spots?
If so, you might be able to do what is good,
you who are instructed in evil. Jeremiah 13:23 (HCSB)
Notice that God says if a leopard could change his spots, then men and women might be able to stop sinning. That is, if a leopard could do the impossible, then and only then a person on their own might be able to stop sinning. God’s point is clear. It is impossible for men and women to stop sinning. Jeremiah 9:5 describes common every day events.
One friend deceives another
and no one tells the truth.
These people have trained themselves to tell lies.
They do wrong and are unable to repent.
They do one act of violence after another,
and one deceitful thing after another.
They refuse to pay attention to me,”
says the LORD. Jeremiah 9:5 (NASB)
Psalm 51:5 and Romans 3:10-12 describe every person’s condition at birth,
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me. Psalm 51:5 (NASB)
. . . as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.” Romans 3:10-12
Why are we described like this by God? Romans 6:20 answers the question by informing us that a person is a slave of sin from birth until he or she becomes a Christian,
. . . you were slaves of sin . . . Romans 6:20 (NASB)
Romans 6:6 helps us understand that Christ died for us to free us from our slavery to sin. Our freedom came the moment the Holy Spirit made us new creatures by regenerating and renewing us. At the moment we believed, the Holy Spirit began dwelling within and we became Christians. Romans 6:6 describes what happened to Christians this way,
. . . knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin . . .
That is, only Christians are freed from slavery to sin and now can change.
Christians Have Been Changed?
Romans 6:18 tells Christians that they have been freed from sin. That is, Christians are no longer slaves to sin but are slaves to righteousness.
. . . and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. Romans 6:18 (NASB)
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Romans 6:20 (NASB)
And the result is eternal life.
But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. Romans 6:22 (NASB)
How Can Christians Change?
So Christians are no longer enslaved to sin. Now the Holy Spirit can help a Christian change. But how does that happen? The answer is given in Galatians 5:16-23. Galatians 5:16 teaches us that the Holy Spirit and the human flesh are at war. The Holy Spirit motivates us to be holy, but our sinful flesh urges us on to pride and sin. It is a war that the Holy Spirit is helping us win battle after battle.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. Galatians 5:16 (NASB)
Galatians 5:16 teaches us that the more a Christian walks by the Spirit, he or she will increasingly have victory over sin. A Christian walks by the Spirit by regularly confessing his or her sins, studying God’s Word, and yielding himself or herself in obedience to the truths of the Bible in the power of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:17-21 describes the behavior that our sinful flesh urges a Christian to commit. These behaviors are called the deeds of the flesh. But Galatians 5:22-23 describes the behavior of a Christian when he or she is constantly walking by the Spirit.
Ephesians 5:17-18 tells us that it is God’s will for every Christian to be filled with the Spirit. Then in the verses that follow (Ephesians 5:19-6:5) we discover the wonderful result of being filled with the Spirit. In summary, being filled with the Spirit refers to the momentary filling of the Spirit; but walking in the Spirit refers to the repeated filling of the Spirit.
For more information about the principle of walking by the Spirit and how to walk by the Spirit, read “Filled With The Spirit” and “What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?”
Romans 8:13-14 tells us that a Christian is one who is putting to death the deeds of the flesh. That is, a true Christian will increasingly sinning less and less. This is evidence that a person is a Christian.
. . . for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Romans 8:13-14 (NASB)
This is the result of walking in the Spirit. That is why 1 John 3:7-9 warns that a Christian does not practice sin. That is, a change in behavior will occur in a Christian. Yet, the change may occur slowly. A Christian will not normally see the change in one day or one week, but year after year the changes should be obvious. We highly recommend the message “Holy Spirit Gives Us Victory Over Sin.”
Suggested Links:Filled With The Spirit
What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?
How long can a person sin and still be a Christian?
Am I still a Christian if I continue sinning?
Holy Spirit Gives Us Victory Over Sin
Be Filled With The Spirit, part 1
Be Filled With The Spirit, part 2
Be Filled With The Spirit, part 3
No One Is Righteous, No, Not One!