Addiction – Going Back to Egypt

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.

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.