With a miraculous hand and outstretched arm, God brought judgment on the ancient Egyptians for keeping the Jews in bondage and, through Moses, led the Israelites out of Egypt and on their way to the promised land. There was just one little glitch to the plan: Israel would have to take a rather circuitous route to get there. Even after another miracle of walking through the parted Red Sea, Israel experienced a failure of faith. On the first sign of hardship in travel when there was no water, they grumbled and complained. “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children die of thirst?” (Exodus 17:3). In fact, they complained about everything to the point that when Moses went up Mount Sinai to meet with God, the people became impatient and hatched a plan to go back to Egypt.
It is easy to read the narrative of the exodus and see a bunch of stupid, ungrateful people in light of all that God had done for them. A return to slavery looks pretty foolish when we see it in other people. Yet, this is what the addict needs to see in himself each time he goes back to repeating the addictive behavior: it’s a return to Egypt, to the bondage of self-soothing through a familiar activity. Getting mad at himself and feeling bad about the behavior is just that; it doesn’t bring him into the promised land of freedom from addiction. To set out on a biblical course of change, people caught in vicious cycle of addiction vitally need to begin defining and identifying themselves as more than an addict.
God has redeemed us from the slave market of addiction through the cross of Jesus Christ. Just as he brought the ancient Israelites miraculously out of Egypt, so in Christ God has brought an exodus to us and set us on a road to the promised land. In Christ we have been chosen to be holy and blameless; we have redemption through the blood of Jesus; we have been adopted into God’s family through Christ; and, we have been given the Holy Spirit to come alongside and help us live on the holy road that God set for us (Ephesians 1). However, there is a hitch to it: you must believe all this. The road to the promised land of freedom requires faith, and that faith will be tested and tried. It won’t be easy. The Christian life is a road that must be traveled with others, and not a spiritual lightning bolt that erases all addictive desire.
We are forgiven. Forgiven of all those lapses into addiction. It is grace that saves through faith. And it is grace that we must all focus on, or we will be sorely tempted to go back to Egypt. Here’s the deal: whatever wins our affections will control our lives. Addicts are addicts because they are controlled by their beloved behavior, whether it is alcohol, pornography, food or smoking. The only way out of such a destructive relationship is to be moved in the affections even more by the grace of Jesus. And that only comes when we make the choice to swim in the gospel of grace through thinking about it, meditating on it, and talking about it more than we do our addiction. In other words, know, really know, what God in Christ has done for you and take the narrow road of genuine faith in Jesus.
This is where the church comes in. It is always better and more effective to walk with someone rather than walk alone. Pyramids of pride keep us apart from one another in a cycle of shame, but Christians were meant for community, not isolation. Affections for Christ are more fully stoked in the furnace of similar affections in others. So, don’t go back to Egypt. Don’t spend your time and effort fashioning a golden calf. Spend it on pursuing grace. It may take awhile to get to the promised land, but there can be joy in the journey. Journey well, my friend.