Addicted to addictions

Jeffmac
I think that I may have a compulsive personality. I’m like a pitbull on hobbies, issues, and interests. Once I get my teeth sunk it, I don’t let go very easily. I’ve learned over the years that not everyone is as interested or enamored with the same things I am, and they tend to get this glossy-eyed look as I froth at the mouth about something I’m interested in.

I mean, why in the world people wouldn’t people be hot-to-trot about fantasy football, reading, basketball, blogging, Xbox, movies, coffee, and Macs? Everyone of those has been proven scientifically to prolong your life, bring peace, and make you rich. Really. Just check out each of the previous links. and then read Mark’s excellent column about how reliable science is. (Of course, there’s also Steven Johnson’s new book, Everything Bad is Good for You.)

To be truthful, I can see how anyone of those things (and yours are most likely different) can become more than just hobbies. For some folks, they can become obsessions. For others, it might even approach the "addiction" level. Addictions ain’t good. You can quote me on that. It’s quite profound.

Here’s the rub: for those seeking to have a biblically-shaped and informed worldview, you will find quickly that Scripture doesn’t deal with addictions the same way our culture does. In Scripture, we are simply told, for example, not to get drunk. But what about someone who is an alcoholic? Our culture prescribes a 12-step program replete with reliance on a "higher power." Scripture has a simple imperative: don’t do it. Let’s continue using the alcohol analogy:

  • The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions andenvy; drunkenness,
    orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before,that those who live
    like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5.19-22)
  • Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. (Ephesians 5.18)
  • For you have spent enoughtime in the past doing what pagans choose to do?living in debauchery,lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. (1 Peter 4.3)

As you peruse the scriptures above (and dozens of others), you’ll
readily notice that what is being forbidden as sinful here are many of
today’s modern "addictions." Could it be that we have replaced sin with
more palatable terminology for our egos and self-esteem? For a
modern/post-modern culture, the idea of not doing something because it
is offensive to a holy God is not acceptable. Rather, then we must
define our poor behavior and negative attitudes on things that are not
"healthy," or things that are hurtful to others.

For when we call something an addiction, or a disorder, or the like,
we in some ways absolve ourselves of spiritual responsibility. The
fault becomes chemical, genetic, or substance-related rather than being
a matter of a weak will.

The Christian should seek to have a contemporary perspective
informed and guided by scriptural truth rather than cultural trends.
The problem is a sin problem. God’s demand for our holiness is not
alleviated by any modern method of treatment. Consider the following:

  • Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set onwhat that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. (Romans 8.5)
  • Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. (Romans 8.8)
  • Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. (1 Peter 2.11)
  • So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
  • Forthe sinful nature desires
    what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the
    sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not
    do what you want. (Galatians 5.16-17)
  • Let us behave decently, asin
    the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality
    and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (Romans 13.13-14)

Over and over in scripture, the reality presented is not that we are
addicted to external things, whether substances, behaviors, or systems;
rather, the reality is that we are inherently sinful, and we must
choose to exercise our minds, or our wills – with the empowering of God
within us through His Spirit – to purposefully choose thongs things
that please God. When left by ourselves, we will allow our sinful
nature to lead us into behavior patterns that are ungodly and horrific
to a holy God.

So, the problem is not our addiction but our sin. And if sin is the
issue, then we are given a solution through the enabling of God. It is
not the elevation of our esteem ("I’m OK, but I have a problem…"),
but it’s forgiveness.

If you, O LORD kept a record of sins, O LORD, who could stand?
But with You there is forgiveness; therefore You are feared. (Psalm 130.3-4)

This is massive, life-upending and restoring news. It is peace to
the roaring, chaotic life. It is comfort to the desperate and hopeless
who have "tried everything." It’s good news. It’s the gospel. You are
forgiven. You are not… an alcoholic… a pervert… a drughead… a
sex offender. You are forgiven.

For all those whose identities have long been lost in their addictions, the identity gift described in the Word of God leads you back to the person you truly are, the one you were created to be.

  • How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3.1)
  • So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All
    this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave
    us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5.16-18)

All this is free. Given to us by God. It’s not something we have
ever deserved, worked for, or earned. John 3.16 begins, "For God so
loved the world that He gave…" Tremendous truth. Forever forgiven.

The addiction is not the problem. The sin is. We do have a choice.
God has the power and the desire. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be a
daily choices and rigorouos personal discipline to experience the
freedom that God provides for us. It does mean that He can if we will.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us
our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1.9)

It’s no one else’s fault. It’s our sin against the God of the universe. A Holy Creator. A Loving Savior.

Let’s quit accepting prescriptions for wholeness from our culture and start seeking provisions for holiness from our Creator.

If you are confused about all the scriptural references above and/or
have never considered who God created you to be, I’d like to point you
to some excellent resources and links below:

Blogged with Flock

On this day...

11 comments

  1. Mark W. says:
    Jeff,

    Great post today! You really spent some time thinking this through. As a philosopher, as well as someone with a bone to pick with mechanistic science, I am constantly questioning the place of ?the will? (or lack thereof) in contemporary thought. The current trends of the medical and psychological fields seem to assume that all human actions are simply a result of the biochemical dictates of our nervous system. Alter the chemicals and alter behavior.

    Historically, one?s ?will? has been played huge role in philosophy as well as religion. Even atheistic philosophers such as Nietzsche and Sartre acknowledged that the will of a human being is the only thing that makes us moral agents. If there is no will, then there really are no universal moral values at all, and we are not responsible for the effects of our actions?bring on fatalism! Nietzsche, of course, took the step of denying morality completely; Sartre on the other hand, at least earns my respect for acknowledging that human beings are to be seen as totally responsible for every action they take.

    I don?t believe that neuroscientists (or any scientists for that matter) can justify the current mechanistic interpretation of consciousness as a series of biochemical brain states (mostly) beyond our control. In fact, I read an article just today from the UK?s Telegraph, that science?s search for the key to consciousness may well need to be given up. Also excellent books such as Jeffrey M. Schwartz?s The Mind and the Brain, now use current scientific terminology to demonstrate something called ?mental force,? which is key to human?s ability to make decisions to act in situations where there are more than one option. I think ?mental force? is simply another name for ?the will,? and is in no danger of being discarded in our society?s conceptual understanding of life, not even by the scientists who write grandiose research reports about brain states.

    As for addictions, I think it could be added that people today who successfully deal with addiction do it the same way they did thousands of years ago: with help and good counsel. Even psychiatrists who prescribe medications for such ?disorders? today also highly stress counsel and support groups, and often support groups alone can achieve positive results. We are fortunate that scientific advance can help fight addiction (as well as a host of other problems), but we should also understand that our personal acts of will, deciding to change ourselves through consciously reforming our habits, and accepting help where needed are still the crucial factors.

    I hope that everyone will take your advice to heart, because it really does make good sense!

    – Mark

  2. K.T. says:
    Very interesting.More to ponder……;)
  3. Lou Arnold says:
    Is that what my husband is going to look like after I finally let him go into the Apple store? I think I may just wait a little longer on letting him go in one.
  4. Jeff says:
    Thanks, everyone for the input so far. Mark, in particular, wow. When you write such insightful responses, it lends even more credence to someone’s post. I could have written about the blessedness of baloney, and it would be substantiated by a comment like yours above. You’re an amazing writer.

    Lou… it’s just a matter of time. We may need an intervention.

  5. Ryan Morgan says:
    Jeff you really need to write a book some day soon. On the matter of addictions I don’t believe you can help anyone who doesn’t want to be helped. So in essence don’t waste your time. On the other hand if a person truely wants to be helped and understands the committment factor and the price that will inevitably be paid then I say go for it. This same approach is taken in scripture. Look at the story of the rich young ruler. He comes to Jesus and wants to know how to gain everlasting life and what did Jesus say? Sell all your possessions and come and follow me. As you know the young ruler could not do this because he was very wealthy. So he counted the cost and chose not to follow Jesus and as a result he will not be helped by Jesus and I assume he will not be in Heaven unless he decided at another date. There is also another side to the matter of “choice” or “free will.” The issue of being pre-selected or the “elect” that is mentioned in Romans 9. The question I would ask is this (Do we chose God or does God chose us?) Some things to consider: Are we lost or is Jesus lost? Who is in control us or God/Jesus? Is there an exact time to the hour and minute that we become a Christian? or Do we continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling as Paul mentions in Philippians 2:12? So back to addictions, again I don’t believe that a person will get fixed if he/she doesn’t want to get fixed. I also believe that God is more than big enough to fix anyone. He wants people that are teachable, not know it alls. Addicitons are no different than any other sin, they probably have a greater impact on friends and family than other sins may. There is also scripture in Ps that states “the law of the Lord is perfect in converting the soul.” This is all just the ramblings of a Small groups pastor that possibly might be a closet blogaholic. I hope not. God bless and good night.
  6. Mark W. says:
    In response to Ryan?s comments on addiction, I agree that change will only occur after the addict makes a deliberate choice to fight it ? that is the key ? however, I think it?s dangerous to come at the problem with such a laissez-faire attitude. Given that human beings have free will, we can and do intervene and make differences in people?s lives (if we can?t then the concept of evangelism is a sham). But if this is true, then other people coming to the addict and making an effort to intervene and coax the addict towards the right decision may actually be what yields positive results, whereas, if we all just said, ?nah, it?s up to them to change,? a lot more people would never be able to break free of their bondage to whatever their weakness is. Like I said before, it is the wise counsel of others that, throughout history, has made the greatest strides toward helping these people recover. I think that when some people put all of the responsibility on God to change people, they forget that God does his work through human beings?that?s us! Writing about addiction is not a lost cause. Not only might it sway someone with an addiction who is sitting on the fence, it may also encourage more people to get involved with those around them who are struggling and actually make a difference.

    As for the question of whether God chooses us, I?m certainly not going to jump into that flaming ball of wax first. I?d certainly like to hear Jeff?s take on Calvinism?it would take a lot of convincing for me to think it holds any water?perhaps another blog?

  7. Richard Pool says:
    Hi Jeff

    It was really great to tun on my laptop this morning and read this post. It made a great start to the day. Thank you.

    A long time ago I came to the conclusion that I could take one of two approaches to the things I do. I could either excuse them or explain them.

    For example, it’s possible, even probable, that some of the reactions I have to events around me are because my parent’s separated when I was 12, but that doesn’t excuse those reactions. If I only ever excuse my responses, I will never take responsibility for them. “I can’t help it,” is no longer a part of my vocabulary.

    The same is true for my sin. I may be able to explain my sin, but I cannot excuse it. Therefore the only thing I can do is to own it, confess it and look to God who offers forgiveness.

    The exercise of my will is to choose to acknowledge my sole responsibility for my sin and then to choose to walk by faith in the grace of God, knowing that the next time I fail, God is faithful and just and will forgive me my sin as he promised to do in the light of the sacrifice Jesus made for me.

    Bless you.

  8. Jeff, where did you find that picture on the right?! Don’t tell me you’ve been there!
  9. K.T. says:
    Hi My name is K.T. and I am an addict.In two very typical ways(nicotine and caffeine)and one very non-typical way.I am a hoarder.Yes,I am OCD,in many many many ways.I know that anytime I can give up my nicotine and caffeine,{not saying it would be easy}but hoarding is different.It is from a depth of anxiety,the hoarding is.Water,in bottles,clothing,paperwork,food (not in that cute little hamster way)but in the non-perishable,”what if we run out” way.When you do experience an addiction-one that is not per se ,self inflicted,it is next to impossible to say “I will just stop.I pray to the Lord every night to help me with this addiction.Just thought I would add that….LOL
  10. jill says:
    hmmmm interesting. i would also like to know your view of calvinism…..ALSO, re: addictions – i’m wondering about the factor of the depravity of man. the world gets worse with each generation, biologically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually. i’m wondering if these addictions could be a result of that as well, among other things
  11. Jeff says:
    Hmmm… Calvinism. I might see a post coming up in the future…. as long as you’re not from Warren.

    Richard, thanks so much for the kind words, encouragement, and links. I enjoy your blog as well. It’s a MAS (mutual admiration society).

    Ryan, I totally agree with the point about not being able to help folks who don’t want help, and I think Mark is right to urge us to keep on keeping on. The heart of God would compel us to not ever give up on people. I wrote a story for The Student magazine a few years back that was entitled “Sometimes it takes a year.” It chronicled our campus ministry’s efforts in the life of one young man in particular. It took a year of consistent gospel presentation, in different ways and at different times, for him to surrender his life and will to Christ and become a Christian. I think we should tarry with folks as long as it takes; however, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

    K.T., thanks for your transparency and openness. I know that openness, desire to change, accountability, and new focus go a long way to helping overcome such addictive frustrations. I’d encourage you to read John Piper’s The Pleasures of God. It’s definitely not shallow-end reading; however, his thesis is that our pleasures (or current addictions) are not too strong; rather our desires are misplaced. He encourages the reader to place his highest desires in what brings God pleasure. As you do so, he posits, you’ll find that God’s desires are placed within you.

    Whew… finally, Jill, I’m pretty intrigued by your idea about things getting worse for us. I’m not smart enough to answer that, but my knee-jerk reaction is to side with the wisdom writer when he said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

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