Addressing Addiction

Addiction is as much a part of our culture and society as dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, or weeds in the garden.  For the person who wants to encourage and help someone caught in a destructive pattern of alcoholism, pornography, drugs, smoking, or any other addiction it is absolutely imperative to understand and use the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to address the situation.  This is not to say that approaching addiction from the medical end of things with a sensible regimen of appropriate meds is not necessary; in fact, it is.  However, people are not only fundamentally physical creatures; they are also spiritual beings and, therefore, addiction needs to be addressed from the spiritual angle with a vigorous biblical regimen.  It is important to understand that theology is not just something to passively believe but a powerful reality to be actively lived.  Here is one of the most incredible summaries of the gospel and shortest theological statements for our daily practical lives that you will find in Holy Scripture from Romans chapter 8, verses 1-4:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law was  powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

          The culprit of addiction is sin.  The answer to addiction is grace.  Radical, unconditional, unlimited grace.  In fact, grace is the answer to everything.  Law can’t save a thing; it isn’t designed to do so. Yet, the addict tries and tries to will himself to change but cannot.  He cannot because he is weak, and the law doesn’t help since it is inadequate to counter addiction.  It only hinders genuine help.  Sin is all too ready to attach itself like a cancer to the weakness of the flesh (NIV – “sinful nature”).  And it uses the law to do so by believing that addiction can be overcome through sheer willpower, effort, and turning over a new leaf.  So, the addict may get caught in a vicious cycle of sin, regret, expressions of never doing it again, and then returning to the addictive behavior.  The availability of sin plus the lack of accountability combines with a lethal dose of the flesh to equal addiction.

Only God can save.  Its called grace.  God sent his Son to deal with the the problem of sin and addiction.  He shared our humanity, and the weakness of being a flesh and blood person.  Jesus experienced human frailty to the full; he knew, personally, what desire and enticement is – and he never sinned.  Moreover, Jesus became a sin offering for us.  So, he condemned addiction in the flesh.  The power of addiction has such a hold on us as people that there is no other path than destruction if we go the way of the law.  The law itself is not evil (it shows us how sinful we are), but is not able to bring deliverance.  New Testament scholar James D.G. Dunn describes the work of God using the metaphor of disease:  “God is the divine surgeon who recognizes that the cancer of sin has so eaten into the flesh of humanity that there is no salvation for humanity other than by radical surgery, by the complete destruction of that cancerous tissue.  That radical surgery took place, as it were, on the cross.  The humanity which emerged from the operation is free from the cancer.”

Through Christ, and only through Christ, we are free.  It is our task, then, to enter into this grace and forgiveness through faith in the cross of Jesus.  That’s it.  God has brought an intervention through Jesus Christ in order to rescue and rehabilitate.  God’s rehab program is the Holy Spirit, which deals with the weakness of the law from within the life of the believer in Jesus.  In the Spirit, using the gospel of grace, we have the resources to put to death the sinful nature of addiction.

If you are helping a person caught in some addiction, here are some practicalities to consider:

  • If the person does not know Jesus, or you are not sure, start with communicating the gospel of grace – that there is forgiveness through the cross for all the addictive behavior and thoughts and offenses.
  • Have the person commit the entire chapter of Romans 8 to memory.  Focus on discussing aspects of this material in several conversations.  Memorize it yourself, and meditate on it regularly.
  • Be an accountability partner and an encouraging person; do not condemn.
  • Help the person think through what things need to go and what behaviors need to change, so that the flesh has no opportunity to rear its ugly weak head.
  • Pray with and for the person consistently.
          If you are a person caught in an addiction, seek the help of a trusted Pastor or church layperson immediately.  Christianity is not a private religion; it is designed to be lived and practiced in community.  The reason your private efforts have failed is that you have been created in the image of God and hardwired for relationships and community.  Find a church with a support group that addresses your addiction.
          Remember, Christianity is a paced journey of walking, a long obedience in the same direction, and not a magic pill to swallow.  Let us journey together along the road until we reach the heavenly city where there will be no more addiction.  Even so, come Lord Jesus.

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