WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
If you are struggling with an addiction to a substance or to an activity, you already know a lot. Experience is a good teacher. You might not be an expert on how to get out of addiction but you certainly know what it's like to have one, so you might resist anyone who wants to instruct you.
But if you are reading these words, you are trying to stay open and teachable. Please keep trying.
I'd like to stretch your understanding of your addiction. It will sound radical—anything that brings Jesus into your world will be subversive and contrary to your expectations. But it will make sense. The triune God is the source of all wisdom, and when we understand His wisdom it sounds true, right, and good.
So suspend your judgment for a moment. You might be an expert in your addiction, but consider the possibility that the God who made you knows best how to help you out of it. Don't just read the following comments; wrestle with them, argue with them … and don't stop wrestling and arguing until you find new and fresh hope in Jesus.
The ultimate reason for your addiction
If you are addicted to something, you continue in the addiction because you like it—or, more accurately, because you love it. We do the things we love, and we avoid doing the things we hate. The object of your addiction first attracted your attention, then you became infatuated, and then love grew.
What you didn't anticipate is that love, whenever it is self-centered, matures into a form of worship—it becomes the focus of your life. And you are a slave to what you worship. This explains why you both desire your addiction and find that it's a weight around your neck.
Having an addiction means you are worshipping something and are controlled by it. It owns you. The Bible tells us in 2 Peter 2:19 (ESV), "For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved." You think about it, plot how you will get more of it, dream about it when you don't have it, and are willing to sacrifice almost anything to get it.
Your addiction is about you and God
If addiction is truly a form of worship, then it shouldn't surprise you that it has something to do with God. This doesn't mean you are thinking about God all the time. Addiction never seems personal. For example, if you are married you don't think about your spouse in the midst of your addiction, but addiction is about your spouse. The lying, deceit, financial toll, and betrayal are all about your spouse.
Even more so, your addiction is about you and God. The reality is that all of life is tethered to God. Everything you do, if you really think about it, is about God.
When you try to avoid God and worship something other than him, you become a slave to what you are worshiping. Worship sex: become its slave. Worship cocaine: be owned by it. That's the way God's universe is constructed.
It's all about allegiances. When your allegiance is to something other than God, you will simultaneously feel both in control and out of control. You will love your addiction and hate it. You will feel both alive and dead.
Welcome to the reality of sin. All false worship is sin, and sin, when you keep practicing it, will oppress you. Sin is the real diagnosis for addiction. Genetics, parents, peers, and many other factors can contribute, but the root is sin. This is not an immediate self-esteem enhancer, to be sure, but it is much more hopeful than you think. Sin is humanity's root problem, and at the deepest places in your soul you are no different than anyone else. Sin is the root of all addiction.
Your biggest problem is not your addiction
No doubt you acknowledge that you sin once in a while, but you might be reluctant to call your addiction sin. Sin, we think, is conscious rebellion against God, and what you are doing doesn't feel that way. Yet take this critical first step: acknowledge that addiction is against God. Sin is when you worship anything other than the true God.
Sin is voluntary. We choose it. And, it is also slavery. It dominates us. We need to turn from it and be delivered from it. But is your addictive behavior your biggest sin? No, but it does point to your biggest problem—your lack of relationship with the God who made you. Consider what your addiction says about your relationship to God.
- You believe you can manage your world apart from God.
- You believe there are places where you can hide from Him. You think God is like a person, only stronger, with more acute senses. Notice this: if you were being shadowed by someone extremely important to you—a spouse, a parent, a boss, a child—you probably wouldn't be doing your addiction in the way you are now. Addictions thrive in the dark, where you think God can't see you. Maybe you can relate to the Psalmist who said, "Surely the darkness shall cover me," and then he noticed that he couldn't hide from God, because "even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day …" (Psalm 139:11-12).
- You love your addiction more than you love God. You think there are things more beautiful and satisfying than Him.
You have constructed a world that revolves around you and your desires and not around God. Your biggest sin is your desire to be, in effect, your own god—this is what fuels your addiction. You have broken the first commandment: "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3).
Be willing to feel the weight of your rebellion against God, but don't stop there. One of the many beautiful features of how God reveals himself in the Bible is that He is forgiving. As it says in 1 John 1:8-10, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."
Do you see how hopeful this is? If your addiction is an unconquerable compulsion, then you are stuck, but if your biggest problem is that you are a sinner, there is hope.
Jesus came into our world, died a terrible death, and rose again to save sinners. You can have a whole new life simply by admitting that you are a sinner and that you need Jesus to save you. This is called true faith or trust.
How do you live by faith as you struggle with addiction? Here are some suggestions:
WHAT YOU NEED TO DO
Speak honestly. Lies are the natural language of addiction. You have told a boatload. You have told lies to others. You have also told lies to yourself—blatant whoppers—and you have believed them. Do these sound familiar?
- "I can stop any time I want."
- "I'm not like those people (other addicts).
- "I would never _____ (use needles, drink alone, use my children's food money, drink on the job, watch sadistic pornography)."
Your lies are fueled by your pride, and they persist because of your shame. Now they are instinctive. In the beginning you might have noticed when you were lying, but after a while your conscience quieted down. Now lies are your natural speech—and you don't even notice. Lies have become so natural that sometimes you lie even when the truth would work better.
Lies are the language of a particular kingdom. John 8:44 says, "When he [Satan] lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies." When you speak you reveal your allegiances. When you speak the truth you are taking a first step toward the kingdom of God. But when you lie you are digging in your heels and preferring the comfort of darkness and the sense of independence that are part of Satan's kingdom.
Here is where you must act. You have to stop being a robot controlled by your addiction, and make a decision. Pray for power to speak the truth, and then start to tell the truth. Tell the truth to one person. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Ephesus that step one of leaving an addictive life is "having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor" (Ephesians 4:25).
Go public. When you begin to understand the wisdom of God you will find that humility is one of its most important aspects. Humility means acknowledging your need for help. Ask God for help and then, since God uses people to extend His help to us, ask other people for help.
Do this before you come up with 20 reasons why you shouldn't. Your reasons might sound selfless (for example, you don't want to embarrass or shame family members). But ignore your excuses. Run from them.
Get a plan. Do you want to change? Evaluate your resolve by developing a plan and implementing it. Be radical, ruthless, and violent (Matthew 5:29, 30; 11:12).
If you are hoping that your addiction will go away without a fight, then you don't really want to get rid of it. When you look for a job you don't say, "God, beam me to the right job today, while I watch TV." Instead you make a plan. In the same way, you need a strategy for how you will fight your addiction. Ask for help, and once again, be suspicious of any of your excuses.
Make Jesus central. You probably know that most treatments for addiction include "god as you understand him." You have many options for this "god," but be careful. If you invent your own god you will have the same problem you always had—you trying to be god. You need something way more powerful than your conception of God, which is only a mix of your desires and fears. You need to know the God.
There is only one God who could never be invented by our desires. The true God delights in being known. He is the only God who entered human history and humbled himself to become a part of His creation. This God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. Jesus is "the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature" (Hebrews 1:3). If your eyes aren't on Him, you will be lured from one form of false worship and slavery to another.
God has determined that real change must go through Jesus. Anything else would dishonor Him. Try to change apart from Jesus and you might remove a few hassles from your own kingdom, but you will eventually be enslaved to something else. The next addiction might be safer, but it will still dominate you. Real change happens when you confess your sin, ask Jesus for forgiveness, and then live with Jesus' death, resurrection, and growing kingdom at the center of your everyday life.
To make Jesus central you will need help. You will need to read the Bible. God speaks in various ways but His clearest and most common communication to us is through the Bible. The book of Mark is a good place to start. Also, find others who follow Jesus. You probably already know someone who does. If not, ask around. Look for people who believe that Jesus is the God who came to earth, died for our sins, and rose from the dead.
Find a church. What does a church have to do with addictions? A good church is like Alcoholics Anonymous, but better because it points you to Jesus. Remember, God's wise plan is to use people to help us. He uses a community. You are not created to be isolated, and you weren't created to change apart from a community. If you have no leads on a church, check your phone book and look for churches that say something about Jesus Christ in their advertising.
Live with hope. Don't believe Satan's lie that you can't change. The gospel of Jesus Christ is all about changing what you desire, filling you with a new Spirit, and giving you a beautiful and fruitful life of love toward God and others. When you daily repent of trying to be your own god, daily ask God to fill you with Himself, and daily take the steps of faith outlined above, then you will see that God is present and active in your life.
Don't be surprised when you fall back into temptation, but remember that God's mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:21-23). Every morning you can repent of your sins, ask for the Spirit of God, and begin again to live by faith. Every Christian is called to do these things every day. Why don't you join them?
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What about Alcoholics Anonymous?
The most popular resource for addictions is AA. You can find meetings everywhere. You will probably notice, however, that if you say the name of Jesus in AA you will get looks that say, "Don't use the J-word again." AA meetings are a fine reminder that you are not alone and that you must never let your guard down to your addictive desires. But at AA meetings you will not hear addiction called sin, and you will not be pointed toward Jesus Christ. If you choose to go to AA meetings, be sure to have a mentor who has experience in walking with Jesus.
Can I really change?
Read the book of Mark, then read Acts. You will see that people change. When Jesus Christ ascended to His throne in heaven, He sent His Spirit. The Spirit is the Spirit of power, and He makes us look more and more like Jesus.
So can you change? Absolutely. You should tremble at the thought of God working in you (Philippians 2:12, 13). The process, however, will seem like two steps forward and one step back. It is gradual. If it was any other way you wouldn't have to depend on Jesus all the time, which is exactly what He wants you to do.
If change is particularly stubborn, ask yourself this question: Do I really want to change? You will find all kinds of reasons why you aren't changing, but this question might point you to the real culprit.
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© Copyright 2010 by the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For more information on addiction, we suggest the following resources from New Growth Press:
Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, by Edward T. Welch
Breaking the Addictive Cycle, by David Powlison
Sexual Addiction: Freedom From Compulsive Behavior, by David Powlison
More information about the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation is available at its website. To look at all available CCEF resources, visit New Growth Press.
Edward T. Welch, M.Div., Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and faculty member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF). He has counseled for over twenty-five years and has written many books, including When People Are Big and God Is Small; Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave; Blame It on the Brain?; Depression: A Stubborn Darkness; Crossroads: A Step-by-Step Guide Away from Addiction; Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest; and When I Am Afraid: A Step-by-Step Guide Away from Fear and Anxiety; and the minibooks Bipolar Disorder; Eating Disorders; and Living with an Angry Spouse.