I am 18 years old and I'm really struggling to be a good Christian. I want to change so much, but I just can't. I read the Bible and pray every night, but I never put the verses into practice. I pray and ask God to help me change, for the Holy Spirit to correct me when I'm wrong, but as soon as I leave my house I'm back to the old me -- swearing, cussing, lying, and stubborn. I live in a tough part of the city, surrounded by people sinning and a lot of crime. My friends aren't really Christians, but I've never been a follower, so I don't blame them. I make promises that I will change and I never do. I don't know what else to do because I don't want to be left behind. I fear hell so much. It's not a place I want to go. I don't want to be a good Christian just because I don't want to go to hell, but because I love God. I want to please him.
Please help me. I have nowhere else to turn.
It is good to make your acquaintance. Let me start by saying that I can't make you do what is right. I can point you in the right direction. I can give you lots of encouragement. I can scold you when you get off track. But I just can't force you to do what you ought to do. That has to come from within yourself. It has to be your own decision.
In some ways, that is where you misunderstand a bit. You are asking God to change you and the Spirit to correct you. I assume you are thinking that God is going to make you do what is right, but that is not how God operates. He changes people through His teachings.
"Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come" (John 16:7-13).
Jesus told the apostles what the Spirit would do for them, but few people think about how the Spirit planned to accomplish this. Yet, it is there in the last verse. It is through the teachings of God. "But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual" (I Corinthians 2:10-13). These words were written down for us so that we might also know and be changed by God's Word. "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17).
There is a bit of a difference between knowing you should not do something and being convicted that it is wrong. "For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter" (II Corinthians 7:10-11). You have to change your mind about sin and with that change your behavior.
When you ask God to change you directly, in truth you are saying you don't want to be responsible for your decisions. You want someone else (God) to decide for you. Say you can't change, but that isn't true. "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (I Corinthians 10:13). You always have a choice. You are never hedged in so that you have to sin.
I have two suggestions: First, you won't make it without the help of others. We all slip up at times and we all need encouragement to keep trying. I would like you to find a good church to attend. I know of several in your particular city. If you are interested, let me know which side of town you are on and I'll send you some contact information.
Second, if you approach this as changing everything at once, it is going to feel overwhelming. It all needs to change, but the best approach is pick the biggest problem at the moment and then work on it. Read up on what God says about the matter, and then resolve to radically change. It will be hard at first, but just focus on changing that one piece. In about a week you'll feel better about it and then pick another problem and work on it. After a bit it will snowball. When you look back you'll be surprised at how far you've come.