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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Whatever wins our affections will control our lives.
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.
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].
On this side of the cross misery persists, but the scales are tipped in favor of joy.
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).
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.
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.
Jesus, the one who rescues us from hell, is also the one who speaks the most about it.
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.
[Self-esteem] is the most popular way that the fear of other people is expressed. If self-esteem is a recurring theme for you, chances are that your life revolves around what others think. You reverence or fear their opinions. You need them to buttress your sense of well-being and identity. You need them to fill you up.
The massive interest in self-esteem and self-worth exists because it is trying to help us with a real problem. The problem is that we really are not okay. There is no reason why we should feel great about ourselves. We truly are deficient. The meager props of the self-esteem teaching will eventually collapse as people realize that their problem is much deeper. The problem is, in part, our nakedness before God.
Pastors of many growing churches preach almost weekly about healthy self-esteem, as if it were taught on every page of Scripture. Too many Christians never see that self-love comes out of a culture that prizes the individual over the community and then reads that basic principle into the pages of Scripture. The Bible, however, rightly understood, asks the question, “Why are you so concerned about yourself?” Furthermore, it indicates that our culture’s proposed cure – increased self-love – is actually the disease. If we fail to recognize the reality and depth of our sin problem, God will become less important, and people will become more important.
Low self-esteem usually means that I think too highly of myself… When you are in the grips of low self-esteem, it’s painful, and it certainly doesn’t feel like pride. But I believe that this is the dark, quieter side of pride – thwarted pride.
Jesus did not die to increase our self-esteem. Rather, Jesus died to bring glory to the Father by redeeming people from the curse of sin. Of course, the cross has many benefits, one being that we are no longer cast out of the presence of God and we have intimacy with the Holy One. But the cross deals with our sin problem, our spiritual need.
The path of God’s love is not without suffering. In fact, those who love more will suffer more.
We are people who have received a new name through adoption. Furthermore, the adoption, no matter how much it makes us feel good, was not intended primarily for that purpose. In the New Testament, adoptions brought glory to the person who adopts, not the one who is adopted. Adoption brings glory to God.
If you are hopeless, there may be many contributors, but two are certain:
1. You have placed your hope in something other than God…and it has let you down.
2. You may understand that Jesus conquered death, but you live as though He is still in the grave. All hopelessness is ultimately a denial of the resurrection.
Other stories are always looking for ways to humanize God and deify us, but God’s story exalts Him and brings appropriate humility to us as His creatures. All wisdom starts here. If you miss it, you are on the wrong path and without hope.
God may define some people as enemies, but He says that we are to treat them as friends. Our duty is to consider how to serve them in such a way that they would be pointed to Jesus and repent from their sins… How can we even begin this impossible process?… Do we realize that we were Christ’s enemies? If we do, then we have no choice but to treat enemies the way God has treated us. Our conscience would rebel if we felt smug in a self-righteous judgment of our enemies.
On the surface, love for enemies sounds like self-punishment or foolishness. It goes in the face of popular counsel that tells you to jettison people who damage your self-esteem. But if God says it, it must be good. There is always a blessing in obedience. The blessing might not be reconciliation or repentance by the enemy. Instead, it may be the privilege of not being controlled by that enemy. Or it might simply be the joy of becoming more like Jesus. Whatever it may be, there is always a blessing in obedience.
Who are other people? They take on three different shapes: Enemies, neighbors, and family. What is our duty to them? Love. Love may take a different form with each group, but our duty is summed up as love. We love enemies by surprising them with our service toward them. We love neighbors by treating them like our family. And we love the body of Christ – our true brothers and sisters – in such a way that the world and spiritual powers are stunned by our oneness.
“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.
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.
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.
The most radical treatment for the fear of man is the fear of the Lord. God must be bigger to you than people are.
1. We fear people because they can expose and humiliate us. 2. We fear people because they can reject, ridicule, or despise us. 3. We fear people because they can attack, oppress, or threaten us. These three reasons have one thing in common: they see people as “bigger” (that is, more powerful and significant) than God, and, out of the fear that creates in us, we give other people the power and right to tell us what to feel, think, and do.
Fear of man is fear run amok. It might start with the very natural fear associated with being vulnerable and threatened. At times, however, this alarm is not regulated by faith. It becomes fear that is consumed with itself and for a time forgets God. It becomes a fear that, when activated, rules your life. In such a state, we trust for salvation in others… It is a slippery slope between normal fear and an idolatrous fear of man.
If the gaze of man awakens fear in us, how much more so the gaze of God. If we feel exposed by people, we will feel devastated before God. To even think of such things is too overwhelming. Our hearts tremble at the thought, and we do everything we can to avoid it. One way to avoid God’s eyes is to live as if fear of other people is our deepest problem – they are big, not God.
ALL experiences of the fear of man share at least one common feature: People are big. They have grown to idolatrous proportions in our lives. They control us. Since there is no room in our hearts to worship both God and people, whenever people are big, God is not. Therefore, the first task in escaping the snare of the fear of man is to know that God is awesome and glorious, not other people.
The fear of man is no respecter of persons. It might be called codependency with adults, peer pressure with teens, and shyness with children, but whatever it is called, it all betrays the same idolatrous heart.
Isolation and the fear of man are close companions.
Fears are loud and demanding. Even when you know they are irrational, they can still control you. It is hard to argue with feelings that are so intense, and easy to be loyal to our inaccurate interpretations.