How to Break the Cycle of Sinning and Repenting
Many people get stuck in a vicious cycle of sinning and repenting. They repeatedly commit sins, then repent, commit sins again, repent again, and so forth. Is it possible to break this cycle? Keep reading to find out.
What Are Sins?
God has created certain laws for us to live a better life. He knows what we need and what is beneficial for humanity. God does not only want our worldly needs and desires to be satisfied but also for us to prosper in the Hereafter. Therefore, the laws He has created based on His infinite knowledge are perfectly in line with our needs.
However, our knowledge is limited. We cannot comprehend everything, whether the laws we need to follow in life or our physical and spiritual needs. God says in the Quran, surah Baqarah, verse 216:
وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ وَأَنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
God knows, but you do not know.1
With this introduction, the question is, what is a sin? The answer is any action taken against the laws that God has created and limits that He has set is a sin. In other words, disobedience to God’s commands is considered a sin. Now that we know what a sin is let us see how we can refrain from them as much as possible.
Piety is the key to staying away from sins. God has informed us in the Quran that if we observe His law (i.e., observe taqwa), it would be for our own good. We would receive the rewards in this life and the Hereafter. For example, we would have a peaceful life with many benefits, and when we die, we would be rewarded with paradise. Being aware of God and knowing that piety is the key to our success is vital. God says in the Quran, in surah Baqarah, verse 103:
وَلَوْ أَنَّهُمْ آمَنُوا وَاتَّقَوْا لَمَثُوبَةٌ مِّنْ عِندِ اللَّهِ خَيْرٌ ۖ لَّوْ كَانُوا يَعْلَمُونَ
And if they had believed [in God] and had been pious, the reward from God would have been better if they had known.2
Therefore, one of the best ways of avoiding sins is practicing piety.
Avoiding Sins: A Sign of Gratitude
Avoiding sins is a sign of gratitude to God. If we have a habit of committing sins and violating God’s laws, are we not being ungrateful to God with all the blessings and bounties that He has given us? God has given us endless blessings such as food, water, clothes, spouses, children, wealth, and shelter. We should be thankful to God as He Himself has told us to do so in the Quran. Surah Muminun, verse 78 reads:
وَهُوَ الَّذِي أَنشَأَ لَكُمُ السَّمْعَ وَالْأَبْصَارَ وَالْأَفْئِدَةَ ۚ قَلِيلًا مَّا تَشْكُرُونَ
And it is He who has provided you with hearing, sight and hearts, but you give little thanks.3
He also says in surah Jathiyah, verse 12:
اللَّهُ الَّذِي سَخَّرَ لَكُمُ الْبَحْرَ لِتَجْرِيَ الْفُلْكُ فِيهِ بِأَمْرِهِ وَلِتَبْتَغُوا مِن فَضْلِهِ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ
It is God who has made the sea subservient to you. Therefore, the ships [can] move on it by His command; so that you may seek out His bounty and give thanks.4
Consequently, by refraining from sins, we show our gratitude to God. Imagine inviting your friends to your house for dinner. You have a good time together and enjoy yourselves. Then, suddenly, your friends start to yell at you and use foul language for whatever reason. Is that what they should have done instead of thanking you? Likewise, God has created us and given us the means for living a comfortable life. He has also created a system and order in the world by which we should comply. For example, He has told us not to have illicit sexual relations or that we should not commit murder, indecency, and so on.
There is a reason He has created these laws. It is because He wants us to live in harmony. If we do not obey God’s laws, there will be chaos in the world. Therefore, by abstaining from sins, we are grateful to God and thank Him for the blessings He has given us. However, we should remember that God does not need our appreciation. Instead, it is us who benefit from thanking Him.
Having Hope in God and His Forgiveness
One of the things that happens when a person commits sins and gets into the cycle of sinning is losing hope in God. For example, a person might say to themself, “I have committed countless sins in my life, big and small; how in the world is God going to forgive me?” Therefore, the person thinks that they have nothing to lose and continues their habit of committing sins over and over again. Further, Satan comes in and tells them that God will never forgive them due to all of their deadly sins.
On the other hand, God repeatedly tells us in the Quran that we should always repent of our sins and ask Him for forgiveness, no matter how big or small our sins are. God says in surah Zumar, verse 53:
قُلْ يَا عِبَادِيَ الَّذِينَ أَسْرَفُوا عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِهِمْ لَا تَقْنَطُوا مِن رَّحْمَةِ اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ ﴿٥٣﴾
Say, “O My [sinful] servants who commit excesses against themselves! Do not despair from God’s mercy. Indeed, God forgives all the sins. Certainly, He is All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate.5
Just imagine. If we sincerely repent to God of our sins just once, He will forgive ALL of our sins. This is how merciful and kind God is. Of course, you must repent sincerely, meaning you decide not to commit any sins ever again. However, if you accidentally or unintentionally do so, you can repent again. Nevertheless, you should quit the major sins forever and avoid the minor ones as well.
In a nutshell, if we are trapped in the vicious cycle of committing sins, we should come to our senses, not lose hope in God, ask Him for forgiveness, and decide never to commit sins again.
Determination and Discipline Are of the Essence
You truly want to put an end to this habit of yours, but keep failing. The problem is that sinning has not just turned into a habit, but much worse, an addiction. Overcoming an addiction is extremely difficult. Some people are addicted to certain substances. For example, a person could be addicted to nicotine. Let us say that such a person wants to quit smoking very badly. He stops smoking for a week or two, but he cannot resist and falls back into his old habit. What is going wrong? This happens due to a lack of determination and discipline. All people have sinned, then repented, then sinned again, and so forth. To treat this addiction, we must be determined and have discipline. We must make a choice and dedicate ourselves to practicing it. We must appreciate what it means to be sin-free and how much of a happier person we will become.
Just like that smoker who knows what harm smoking is doing to their body and how unhealthy it is to smoke, we should come to realize that committing sins is harming our body and soul. Bearing this in mind, we will try our best to quit sinning once and for all. Of course, if we feel that we have sinned, we should quickly ask God to forgive us. In this regard, God says in surah Āl-i ‘Imrān, verse 135:
وَٱلَّذِينَ إِذَا فَعَلُوا۟ فَٰحِشَةً أَوْ ظَلَمُوٓا۟ أَنفُسَهُمْ ذَكَرُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ فَٱسْتَغْفَرُوا۟ لِذُنُوبِهِمْ وَمَن يَغْفِرُ ٱلذُّنُوبَ إِلَّا ٱللَّهُ وَلَمْ يُصِرُّوا۟ عَلَىٰ مَا فَعَلُوا۟ وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ ﴿١٣٥﴾
And those who, when they commit an indecent sin or wrong themselves, remember God, then ask forgiveness for their sins, and who will forgive sins but God? And those who knowingly do not insist on committing sins [they will receive forgiveness].6
The verse specifically says that these people must not insist on and persist in committing sins. That is when they will receive God’s forgiveness.
Punishment as a Deterrent
Another way one could break the cycle of sinning is by keeping in mind that we will be punished for committing sins, both in this world and the next. By punishment in this world, we mean facing many hardships depending on how much we have sinned. To compensate for our sins, God causes hardships and calamities to befall us. We also have a narration that says sins shorten a believer’s life, and doing good deeds prolongs one’s life. It is narrated from the great-grandson of the Prophet (ṣ), Abū ‘Abdullāh, Ja‘far ibn Muhammad (‘a) who said:
“Those who die because of committing sins are more than those who die of natural death, and those who have long lives because of doing good deeds are more than those who naturally have long lives.” (Tūsī, Amālī, vol. 1, p. 311)
If we internalize the idea that we will be punished for committing sins in both worlds, we would never want to do such a thing because no one likes to be punished. Therefore, punishment could deter us from sinning.
Love for God
Think of someone you dearly love, such as your parents, wife, daughter, or son. Now, would it not bother you if they did something bad? For example, if your child lies to you, would you not feel upset with them? The point is God deeply loves us. So, if we commit sins, He will become upset because we are, in fact, harming ourselves, not God. If He loves us, why should we not love God? If we truly love God, we will try our best not to make Him upset. This, perhaps, is the best way of getting rid of habitual sinning.
Let us say you really love someone and wish to marry that person. However, you have a habit that really bothers your lover. They say that they love you but will only marry you if you give up that habit. If you truly love that person, you would do your best to get rid of that habit to make them happy. The same holds with respect to God. God has laid down certain rules and regulations, and those who claim to love Him must observe them and not exceed them. Sinning is one of the things that God does not like. Therefore, we should not commit sins so that God would love us more and always be pleased with us.
To quit sinning, we must take certain measures. First, we should not lose hope in God and seek His forgiveness. Second, we should be pious, meaning we should be fearful lest we make God upset. Third, we should know that we would be punished for committing sins. Finally, we should know that God loves us, and so we, too, should love God. These were some of the ways for breaking the cycle of sin and repentance. We should never forget God and ask Him to help us on our path to eternal salvation.