C.S. Lewis indicated that if he wanted something easy and pain-free, he would have chosen a bottle of wine over Jesus. There is no question that biblical love leaves us more vulnerable. But this will not be the devastating vulnerability that comes with psychologically needing people. Christians need less and love more.
Sin, unwise living, and guilt can lead to sickness; righteousness and the peace and joy of biblical living can lead to health.
While it is true that disease can be a result of divine discipline and can indicate a need for soul-searching and repentance, it is also true that disease can be unrelated to personal sin. In fact, to say that sickness is always a result of personal sin is actually an old heresy that goes back to Job and his counselors.
We should remember that it is through Christ’s death that we are reconciled to God and each other. He has made us one, and we set our hearts on pursuing unity in love. The Lord’s Supper is a great time to pray and plan for oneness with our brothers and sisters. It is a time to explore new ways to be kind, compassionate, and forgiving.
If we allow the Bible to reveal the unseen spiritual realities behind addictions, we suddenly realize that addictions are more than self-destructive behaviors. They are violations of God’s laws: His laws that call us to avoid drunkenness and immoderate self-indulgence (Rom. 13:13), His law that calls us to love others (1 John 4:7), and His law that calls us to live for Him rather than ourselves (1 Cor. 10:31). This means that addiction is more about someone’s relationship with God than it is about biology. It reveals our allegiances: what we want, what we love, whom and what we serve. It brings us to that all-important question, “Will you live for the fulfillment of your desires or for God?
Guilt is an excellent warning light that says something is wrong. Yet when it persists too long, it provides fuel for Satan’s lies and strangulates spiritual growth.
Jesus did not speak against homosexuality specifically, but neither did He specifically address many other sexual behaviors, such as incest, bestiality, and rape. That doesn’t mean that they were permissible. Jesus consistently upheld the Old Testament law. He stood against all legalistic attempts to narrow its intent, and He maintained that the law addressed both behavior and attitude. He consistently spoke for marriage, and He indicated that the only alternative to heterosexual marriage was celibacy (Matt. 19:12).
God takes initiative and moves toward us; we take the initiative toward others.
The one taking the initiative in the relationship – the one who loves the most – is the one who risks humiliation.
Once we identify our specific struggles as suffering, God’s Word says a lot.
When we see sin, we are close to the light. Only when we don’t see sin should we be suspicious of our hearts [1 Jn. 1:8].
Sin tends to look less attractive when it is closely inspected.
Our Father is simply inclined to forgive. This distinguishes Him from all invented gods and from all of humanity. He is eager to forgive at the slightest hint that we acknowledge our sin and guilt (Jer. 3:13).
[Saying] “yes” might be very unwise. It might not be the best way to repay our debt of love. Saying “yes” to one task might keep us from another that is more important. It might mean that we will do something that someone else could have done better. It might mean that we will entrench the sin patterns of other people. It might mean that we interpret the church egocentrically rather than as a body, thinking, “If I don’t do it, nobody will.”
One of the problems with the perspective that addictions are a disease is that it leaves no room for this kind of fear of the Lord. A god who helps us to be strong in the face of illness is not the same as the God whose holiness reveals our sin, who shows us our desperate need for a mediator, restores our relationship with Him, and empowers us to live as holy children. Holiness is key. Without the knowledge of our Father’s holiness and our response of reverence, everything about God becomes ordinary.
A mature fear of the Lord is more akin to awe, devotion, and worship. It is a response that says, “Your glory is irresistible.” “In your presence, nothing else matters. You are all that I desire.” Furthermore, it is a response that is active. It does something. It is not simply a passive devotion; it follows Christ in obedience. It searches out His will and can’t wait to do it.
A biblical approach to change focuses on someone other than ourselves. Change starts, proceeds, and ends with Jesus. We look to Jesus and away from ourselves.
[The term] unconditional love, translated into unconditional approval… Jesus, however, can be angered and grieved by stubborn hearts (Mark 3:5). He severely rebuked His own disciples (Mark 8:33). The mind and emotions of God are His mind and emotions. His responses toward those who were both for Him and against Him were rich and lively. They cannot be contained by the word unconditional, especially when the word suggests that there is never any disapproval of a person’s behavior. If there were no disapproval of our behavior, there would have been no cross.
Perhaps we could call it “contraconditional” love. Contrary to the conditions normally required to know God’s blessing, He has blessed me because His Son fulfilled the conditions. Contrary to my due, He loves me. And now I can begin to change, not to earn love, but because of love.
Most of us have had sins that we would easily confess to God, yet would be ashamed to confess to another brother or sister. Does this make sense? After all, God is the Holy One. To be exposed in His presence should be much more difficult than being exposed before sinners like ourselves. People who truly confess to God are less concerned that others learn their secret. If we easily confess to God something that shames us to confess to a friend, we are thinking too highly of the opinions of people and not highly enough about the holiness of God.
Scripture never expects us to hear God’s commands to us in isolation from the serious contemplation of God’s work for us in Christ.
In our battles with sin, we need a team of people. We need teachers to help us understand Scripture, prophets to help us apply it, interceders to pray for us, preachers to focus our eyes on Christ, encouragers to remind us of God’s grace when we feel like failures, wise men and women to discern when we are making foolish decisions, and people of faith to tell us that everything God has said is true in Christ. In other words, God’s gifts to us are people – not just one person, but the church. This is how Christ meets us. The reason we need so many people is that we need Christ Himself. Since His glory and gifts are so immense, we need many people, not just an individual person.
This is why we speak the truth. Since God is truth, we – His offspring – are called to imitate Him and be truth tellers. It is one way that God’s people are recognized. Lies and deception are wrong because they are against God’s very nature… Speaking truth instead of lies is not simply being nice. It is a declaration of allegiance. Truth is a shibboleth – a telltale mark – revealing that you belong to the kingdom of God.
The fact that God sees every aspect of our lives may, at first, leave us afraid and eager to hide from God rather than in awe, wanting to embrace Him. But the fear of the Lord makes us aware both of God’s holy purity and hatred of sin and His holy patience and forgiveness. When we remember both, we have no reason to run in fear, especially since there is no place to run beyond the gaze of God. Instead, as we look at the Lord, we see that He invites, cleanses, and empowers us to grow in holiness.
It is interesting to note that secular approaches have embraced an approach to confrontation that mirrors church discipline. It is technically called intervention. In essence it says that we can no longer wait for people to destroy themselves and others. They must be presented with the facts about their problem. They are out of touch with reality and need others to present it to them. Furthermore, this is best done by a group of people who deeply love the substance abuser. Curiously, intervention is hailed as one of the most significant advances in drug treatment. Yet church discipline is the original and intervention the imitator.
Be very careful, then, how you live (Eph. 5:15), put on the full armor of God (Eph. 6:11), prepare your minds for action (1 Peter 1:13), make every effort (2 Peter 1:5), be self-controlled and alert (1 Peter 5:8). These are battle cries, and Scripture is full of them. But unlike our old conception of warfare, where battle lines are clear and the times of battle can almost be predicted, this is modern warfare in which you are not always sure where the enemy lurks. It is guerilla warfare. There are strategically placed snipers. You let down your guard for a moment and the village you thought was safe suddenly opens fire on you.
The problem is that as Christians, we often forget we are in a war. Or worse, we don’t even know that there is a war… It is easy to understand why many of us act as though we were on vacation.
If sin is not our core problem, the gospel itself – the thing of first importance – is marginalized. The good news that Jesus proclaimed and offered is that there is forgiveness of sins, not through our own attempts to please God but by placing our confidence in Jesus Himself, in His death and resurrection. If sin is not our primary problem, then the gospel of Jesus is no longer the most important event in all of human history.
When a serpent comes across your path speaking lies, you should run from it or kill it. You shouldn’t sit around for a friendly chat.
The biblical view of drunkenness – the prototype of all addictions – is that it is always called sin, never sickness. Drunkenness is against God and His law. Scripture is unwavering in this teaching and relentless in its illustrations. Noah (Gen. 9:18-27), Lot (Gen 19:30-38), Elah (1 Kings 16:9), and Nabal (1 Sam. 25:36) all portray the moral foolishness of being mastered by alcohol.
Self-control is…not the same as self-dependence, in which we rely on personal will power to control ourselves. Instead, self-control is a gift of the Holy Spirit, given through faith in Jesus Christ… Self-control is a strategic countermeasure to the insatiable cravings of sin.
When you look at it closely, drunkenness is a lordship problem. Who is your master, God or your desires? Do you desire God above all else, or do you desire something in creation more than you desire the Creator? At root, drunkards are worshipping another god – alcohol. Drunkenness violates the command “You shall have no other gods before me.” Heavy drinkers love alcohol. They are controlled by it as if they were its subjects and it was their ruler-lover. This alcohol-worship, however, is actually a form of self-worship. We worship people and things to get what we want. Those who worship money do so in order to get what they want. Heavy drinkers drink neither to glorify God nor to love their neighbor. They drink to indulge their own desires, whether those desires are pleasure, freedom from pain, alleviation of fear, forgetting, vengeance, or a host of others.
Whatever wins our affections will control our lives.
Addiction is bondage to the rule of a substance, activity, or state of mind, which then becomes the center of life, defending itself from the truth so that even bad consequences don’t bring repentance, and leading to further estrangement from God. To locate it on the theological map, look under sin. More specifically, since sin is a broad category that includes both self-conscious disobedience and victimizing slavery, find addiction on the side that emphasizes slavery.
The fear of the Lord is knowing that I live coram deo, before the face of God. It is knowing that the Holy God sees every aspect of my life. The result is that we live knowing that we are seen. We live publicly, and follow Christ in joyful and reverential obedience.
We begin to believe our lies. What started as lying to others has turned against us. We tried to keep other people from seeing our private addictions; now we can barely see them ourselves. We once tried to persuade others that we didn’t have a problem; how we have persuaded ourselves that we don’t have a problem. When we are blind to our own problem, there is no reason to change.
Anxious and fearful people can easily slip into taking Scripture as a pill. Take one passage twice a day for two weeks and your symptoms will be gone. When the pill doesn’t work we have two choices. We search for another treatment, or we confess that we are using Scripture as a self-help book for symptom relief, in which case it is time to get back to basics. If you choose to get back to biblical basics, Peter’s exhortation to humble ourselves is a great place to start [1 Pet. 5:6-7].
The progression of addiction is that it begins as the sin of the naïve and develops into the sin of one who is hardened and trapped.
The diagnosis of sin is never the last word. Instead, the last word is Jesus Christ. Sin should take us right to Jesus. The way out of addictions is to talk more about Jesus, the Redeemer and Liberator, than about sin… The biblical arithmetic is this: for every one look at your sin, take ten looks at Christ.
While you struggled with addiction, was it ever accompanied by the fear of the Lord? Did you ever have a keen sense of the presence and holiness of God when you struggled with addictions? Did you ever have a sense that you were spiritually growing in repentance, faith, and obedience while in your addiction? When we have a disease, we can still be growing in the knowledge of Christ, but addictions are incompatible with spiritual growth.
The true nature of all addictions is that we have chosen to go outside the boundaries of the kingdom of God and look for blessing in the land of idols. In turning to idols, we are saying that we desire something in creation more than we desire the Creator.
Using the perspective of idolatry, addicts are blinded by their own desire. They refuse to see themselves as dependent on God. God’s glory and fame is not their goal. In their self-addiction or selfishness, they worship and bow down before false gods. Addicts have defected from the living God. Instead of worshipping in the temple of the Lord, they perform addictive rituals that give them more perceived power, pleasure, or identity. They see in their addiction a form of magic (Deut. 18:10-14). The promises of the idol, however, are lies. Any identity, power, or peace they bring is false and temporary. There are only two choices: putting your faith in a loving God and thus knowing freedom, or putting your faith in idols (Satan) and being enslaved. Curiously, our selfish pride prefers slavery.
As people who want to help addicts, we need something very powerful to break the hold of idols. Pleas, tears, arguments, or threats will not penetrate. Reason is useless. We cannot simply say, “Stop doing drugs, get control of yourself, stop worshipping an idol.” As a result of spiritual oppression, drug worshippers may be very intelligent, but they can be oblivious to the destruction and slavery associated with drug abuse. They need the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18), the message of Christ crucified and risen. Other therapies can offer sobriety, but only this good news is powerful enough to liberate the soul.
[Addiction] is not like a disease. It is something we do rather than catch, we confess it rather than treat it, the disease is in our hearts rather than our bodies, and only the forgiveness and cleansing found in the blood of the Great Physician is sufficient to bring thorough healing.
[Alcoholism] is not like a disease. It is something we do rather than catch, we confess it rather than treat it, the disease is in our hearts rather than our bodies, and only the forgiveness and cleansing found in the blood of the Great Physician is sufficient to bring thorough healing.
On this side of the cross misery persists, but the scales are tipped in favor of joy.
The purpose of all idolatry is to manipulate the idol for our own benefit. This means that we don’t want to be ruled by idols. Instead, we want to use them… Idolaters want nothing above themselves, including their idols. Their fabricated gods are intended to be mere puppet kings, means to an end… Idols, however, do not cooperate. Rather than mastering our idols, we become enslaved by them and begin to look like them. As idols are deaf, dumb, blind, utterly senseless, and irrational, so “those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them” (Psalm 115:8)… How can these lifeless idols exert so much power? They dominate because of a powerful but quiet presence that hides behind every idol, Satan himself.
Idolatry…includes anything on which we set our affections and indulge as an excessive and sinful attachment… Idolatry includes anything we worship: the lust for pleasure, respect, love, power, control, or freedom from pain. Furthermore, the problem is not outside of us, located in a liquor store or on the Internet; the problem is within us. Alcohol and drugs are essentially satisfiers of deeper idols. The problem is not with the idolatrous substance; it is the false worship of the heart.
The fool’s attention wanders, never focused on wisdom (Pr. 17:24). He ignores all consequences (Pr. 9). He is persuaded that his way is the right way, so there is no reason to listen to others (Pr. 14:12; 28:26). He thinks he will always get away with it, but he will be exposed (Pr. 15:3). He goes with his feelings, not realizing that they can mislead (Pr. 14:8). Of course, the fool feels the consequences of his behavior at times, and he might even have glimpses into how he has brought pain on others (Pr. 17:25), but consequences are no deterrent (Pr. 27:22). The destructive pattern is repeated because folly is enjoyed (Pr. 26:11).
Fears see only in part. They see that we might lose something dear to us, such as our money, our health or the health of someone we love. They see the potential for loss with microscopic acuity. But they don’t see God’s presence, they don’t see His faithfulness to His promises, they don’t fixate on unseen realities but are dominated by what is merely seen with the naked eye (2 Cor. 4:18).
Alcoholism…has only gone from sin to disease. Because of the horrible consequences of heavy drinking on both the drinker and the family, no one is willing to say it is normal. Yet there are very few who would say that the abuse of alcohol is sin or, at least, solely sin.
The [unbiblical] language of alcoholism captures this [“disease”] experience.
1. “Treatment is best done in the hospital by professional medical personnel.”
2. “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. There is no true cure.”
3. “One drink, one drunk.”
4. “That’s the disease talking.”
5. “Medical treatments might soon be available.”
6. “You didn’t choose this, so how could it be anything but a disease?”
If you have ever been to an AA meeting, you know that while the cause is always spoken of in disease terms, the cure is decidedly moral. There are no medications dispensed or surgeries to be had. You arrest the course of the disease by saying no. You both give up your will to a higher power and determine, with the help of others, to live and abstinent life. According to the AA tradition and the disease model, you are not responsible for the cause but you are responsible for the cure.
The Bible has a different view of how we first get involved in addictions. Instead of explaining the overpowering urge for [something] as a disease, the Bible talks about our motivations and desires, forces so powerful that they can take over our lives. The Bible says that we first choose our addictions, and only then do our addictions choose us.
AA has been helpful for many people. It provides accountability, mutual understanding in an environment that doesn’t judge and wonderful support for many people. It does not, however, strive to find distinctively biblical answers to the problems of life. As a result, it is bound to have some problems:
1. Its disease model doesn’t really let anyone get to the heart of the matter… When we examine our hearts, we find is that the greatest danger is that we are hooked on ourselves… This means that even if I give up alcohol, unless I deal head on with my biggest problem, I will never truly find freedom. I will just find something else to serve my desires.
2. Its theory of change does not reveal the against-God nature of the addictive behavior. Even though we are not always consciously aware that our addictions are disobedient before God, the reality is that they are.
3. Jesus is optional. If it is true that addictive behavior is rebellion against divine authority, then addicts have no hope but to run to Jesus for forgiveness, cleansing, and power.
The knowledge of God [must become] our most important goal. After all, if the root of our problem with addiction is a problem of worship, then we need to learn who should be the true object of that worship. As this idea takes hold of your heart, you will find that you feel more at home in a good church than in an AA fellowship. You will draw strength and wisdom from sermons, find encouragement in corporate singing, be spiritually fed in communion, and search the Bible for the living God. You will come to know more about the God who is bigger than you ever thought: bigger in justice, in power, and in love. You will see how His greatness works in your behalf. One problem with AA is that the “God as you understand Him to be” is never large enough.
One of the problems [with the] disease model doesn’t really let anyone get to the heart of the matter. The addictive substance can be dangerous, but our hearts are more so. When we examine our hearts, we find is that the greatest danger is that we are hooked on ourselves. If I am an alcoholic, my ultimate idol is not the bottle. It is I. I idolize myself. My desires are of first importance. My cravings rule – cravings for popularity, freedom from pain, revenge, or freedom from frustrations at home or work. Addiction is self-worship. This means that even if I give up alcohol, unless I deal head on with my biggest problem, I will never truly find freedom. I will just find something else to serve my desires.
What about cravings? The Bible understands them well. It refers to them as temptations. The Bible recognizes that people with years of sobriety often still struggle with huge temptations. Sometimes this is just a normal part of the slow process of change. Sometimes it is simply a consequence of being reminded of something we once loved. But at other times it can be a result of mentally cherishing and nurturing the addiction while physically abstaining from it. Instead of asking God for a desire to hate sin at its roots, some people cling to the pleasant memories associated with their addiction. They remember that they once had a potent escape, whereas now they experience the pain of facing daily problems.
If we are angry [with] God…we should be reminded that His love is much more sophisticated than we know. Our anger shows that we are small children who think we know what is best.
“Fear” in the biblical sense…includes being afraid of someone, but it extends to holding someone in awe, being controlled or mastered by people, worshipping other people, putting your trust in people, or needing people.
Throughout the history of the church, emotions were always viewed with suspicion because they could vacillate so wildly. Now they are praised. Too often they are the standards by which we make judgments.
Holy can be defined as “separate,” “set apart,” “distinct,” or “uncontaminated.” In reference to God, “holy” means that He is different from us. None of His attributes can be understood by comparison to his creatures… Holiness is not one of many attributes of God. It is his essential nature and seen in all His qualities.
We should be careful about saying, “Jesus meets all our needs.” At first, this has a plausible biblical ring to it. Christ is a friend; God is a loving Father; Christians do experience a sense of meaningfulness and confidence in knowing God’s love. It makes Christ the answer to our problems. Yet if our use of the term “needs” is ambiguous, and its range of meaning extends all the way to selfish desires, then there will be some situations where we should say that Jesus does not intend to meet our needs, but that he intends to change our needs.
God and his kingdom are, simply put, about God – the triune God, the Holy One of Israel. What are the triune God’s needs? He has no needs. He is completely fulfilled. The Father loves the Son. The Son is ecstatic about the Father and wants nothing but the Father’s will. God’s greatest pleasure is Himself.
The church must move toward the depressed person and mourn with those who mourn (Rom. 12:15), pray for God’s deliverance (2 Cor. 1:9-11), and search for encouraging words that can bless and give hope.
However you put it, the fear of man can be summarized this way: We replace God with people. Instead of a biblically guided fear of the Lord, we fear others.
Feelings have become the inarticulate mutterings of the divine soul: To be morally upright is to do whatever your heart inspires you to do. When following inner impulses, this assumption declares we can do no wrong.
We stand at the crossroads between fear of others and fear of God. The road leading to the fear of man may be expressed in terms of favoritism, wanting others to think well of you, fearing exposure by them, or being overwhelmed by their perceived physical power. When these fears are not combated with the fear of the Lord, the consequences can be devastating. But when God is given his rightful place in our lives, old bonds can be shattered.
Scripture questions the whole purpose of psychological needs. It talks about denying self rather than feeling better about ourselves. It talks about pride, not a need for higher self-esteem. Also, it is faulty logic to draw a connection between God’s commands and our ‘need” to receive what is commanded. If you applied that logic to the command to “consider others better than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3), you would reach a conclusion that is clearly wrong. You would conclude that since others are commanded to do this, you have a God-given need to be more important than other people!
Either we will love and serve God, or we will love and serve our idols. Idols exist in our lives because we love them and invite them in. But once idols find a home, they are unruly and resist leaving. In fact, they change from being the servants of our desires to being our masters.
With depression, assume [a lie from the devil] is present. Consider it a permanent attachment.
Jesus, the one who rescues us from hell, is also the one who speaks the most about it.
The “fear of man” goes by other names. When we are in our teens, it is called “peer pressure.” When we are older, it is called “people-pleasing.” Recently, it has been called “codependency.” With these labels in mind, we can spot the fear of man everywhere.
When feelings become more important than faith, people will become more important, and God will become less important.
We are more concerned about looking stupid (a fear of people) than we are about acting sinfully (fear of the Lord).
They hurt us in that lies deceive us, not just other people. They persuade us that we are on top of our problem. We think we can fool others, but we can’t be fooled. With other people, the power of lies is obvious. Anyone who has been lied to knows that lies divide people; lies are the language of war. With God, lies provide evidence that our allegiances are not with Him. Instead, they show that our allegiance is to Satan – the Father of Lies – and to ourselves.
What is the result of…people-idolatry? As in all idolatry, the idol we choose to worship soon owns us. The object we fear overcomes us. Although insignificant in itself, the idol becomes huge and rules us. It tells us how to think, what to feel, and how to act. It tells us what to wear, it tells us to laugh at the dirty joke, and it tells us to be frightened to death that we might have to get up in front of a group and say something. The whole strategy backfires. We never expect that using people to meet our desires leaves us enslaved to them.
“Sinner” is a present-tense description of everyone, including those who have put their faith in Christ. Of course, those who have called Jesus “Lord” are justified, meaning that they are no longer guilty. Also, they have been given the Spirit, which makes them slaves to Christ rather than to sin. But we all are sinners. Perfection awaits eternity.
After the fall into sin, people remained image-bearers, but Adam’s disobedience brought fundamental changes to our ability to reflect God’s image. The direction of the human heart became oriented not toward God but toward self. In the garden, man began repeating a mantra that will persist until Jesus returns. Adam said, “I want.” “I want glory for myself rather than giving all glory to God.” “I love my own desire rather than loving God.” This came to be known as covetousness, lust, or idolatry.
The most radical treatment for the fear of man is the fear of the Lord. God must be bigger to you than people are.
The love of God can be a profound answer to just about any human struggle, but sometimes we can use it in such a way that it becomes a watered down version of profoundly rich truth. For example, sometimes, because of shortcomings in us rather than Scripture, this answer misses the call to “consider others better than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3), or it ignores personal repentance. Sometimes it still allows us and our needs to be at the center of the world, and God becomes our psychic errand boy given the task of inflating our self-esteem.
Fear of people is often a more conscious version of being afraid of God. That is, we are more conscious of our fear of others than our fear of God. Granted, fear of others is a real phenomenon. We really are afraid of the thoughts, opinions, and actions of other people. But under that we hide as best we can the more desperate fear of God.