Addictions of all types are very serious problems. Alcoholism is the most widespread addiction in our society. According to Taking Control (1988) by Minirth, Meier, Fink, Byrd, and Hawkins, 70 percent of our society drinks—the largest percent ever—and consumes an average of 30 gallons of alcohol each year. Ten percent are heavy drinkers and seven percent are problem drinkers or alcoholics. Alcoholism is the third leading cause of death in America and is responsible for 50 percent of highway deaths. It is also a major factor in suicide. In the church, 81 percent of Catholics and 64 percent of Protestants drink at least socially.
In 1st Corinthians Chapter 6, we find a list of addictions that can separate us from the kingdom of God. As with most of present tense Greek in the New Testament, I believe that these verses should be interpreted as continuous action. As an example, it is not getting drunk once that keeps a person from inheriting the kingdom of God, but continually being drunk over a period of time. This is substantiated by the verses that follow this list. As we will see in the story of Samson's life, either our faith will destroy our addictive behavior, or our addiction will destroy our faith. The good new is that, even though the power of an addiction can be great, each and every addiction—including homosexuality—can be and has been overcome through a deep faith-filled relationship with Christ. Paul, however, strongly advises that we should do everything possible to steer clear of these behaviors so that we will not be brought under their power.
1 Cor 6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10. Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. 12 All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. 13 Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body [is] not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.
As I have already discussed, Gibeon was a Hivite city. Hivite means life-giving and stands for those desires and lusts that we see as assisting the quality of our lives and meeting our deepest needs. While the verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual abuser tries to get his needs met at the expense of others, the addict attempts to get his needs met by killing his emotional pain through some form of activity or drug. Because the addict seldom quits his addictive behavior even when it is severely damaging to his life, he is actually abusing himself. Today, addictions are categorized either as substance addictions, like drugs and alcohol, or process addictions, like sex, eating, gambling, or workaholism.
In Joshua Chapter 9, the Hivites of Gibeon were subtle in their dealings with the Israelites. They convinced the Israelites that they were to be trusted as friends. In the same way, the Hivite giants of today present themselves as our friends. It is only later that we learn the dangers involved in inviting them into our lives. Some counselors believe that sexual addiction can be one of the most difficult to treat. It many times has all the traits of a drug addiction because the pornography, fantasy, and masturbation trigger endorphins and adrenaline in the body.
Although the most comprehensive information concerning addictions in the Bible is found in the story of Samson's life, a number of other addictions are mentioned in the Bible. Nabal possibly died of an alcoholic seizure. King Saul was addicted to rage and domestic violence. Solomon was addicted to work, sex, and possibly alcohol. Eglon and Eli were most likely addicted to food, and Lot struggled with homosexuality. In addition, the Bible deals with drug addictions under the more inclusive name of sorcery.
A way to understand addictions is to consider the analogy of a person who has gangrene in his arm. He does not want to admit that he has a sickness that is poisoning his whole body, so he covers it with a bandage and takes a painkiller so he cannot feel the pain. Similarly, the addict often feels badly about himself due to toxic shame that has piled up throughout his life and most often dates back to his childhood. Rather than deal with this emotional pain, he attempts to deny its existence and tries to kill the pain of it through some type of drug. External things cannot fix internal problems! As an example, how much food will a lady who tries to medicate her feelings of worthlessness have to eat before she feels good about herself? The problem is that the more she eats, the heavier she gets, and the worse she feels about herself. Consequently, all the food in the world will not suffice. Therefore, the harder the addict tries to fix the internal problem, the worse it gets. The denial is the bandage and the painkiller is the alcohol, drugs, sex, work, food, or codependent relationship. The addict continues to avoid dealing with the problem even when it gets worse. This is because he does not see or feel like he has a problem. He knows that in order to get help, he will have to give up the pain killer, rip off the bandage, and expose the wound. He believes that this emotional pain would be too great to bear. As he becomes more powerless over the addiction and his life becomes progressively unmanageable, the addict begins to believe that he is so worthless and so addicted that he cannot be helped. His problem is either not really that bad or the problem has progressed so far that recovery is impossible. Consequently, many addicts go to their graves without ever seeking help.
On the right you will find a chart labeled "The Law of Sin and Death" which summarizes the addictive process. When our basic internal needs for love, security, worth, and significance are not met, we are motivated to do something about it. We select a method of meeting our own needs based on our prior experiences. If we reach our goal through the flesh, these methods provide temporary partial satisfaction along with condemnation (if we believe that what we have done is wrong or sinful). Operant conditioning suggests that if we do something and it results in immediate gratification, we will be disposed to do it more often. This is how desire for something turns into lust. If we choose to protect ourselves by hiding our shame, our guilt or shame (“I did something bad”) turns into toxic shame (“I am a bad person”). This is how in the long run the initial feelings of worthlessness increase. These short-term gains, which result in long-term shame, set the process of addiction into motion. After one complete loop of this chart we have: 1. Increased the desire for the substance. 2. Increased the level of toxic shame and internal neediness. 3. Increased the level of denial about being addicted. After each use, all three of these results increase until toxic shame pervades the addict's life, his lust is so strong that it overrides his values, and his denial blinds him to his problem. At this point, when the addict "tries harder to quit," his failure to stop only adds to his shame. Finally, out of extreme despair, he may even turn to self-destructive behavior or suicide to relieve himself of his intense level of internal emotional pain. This is the point where most addicts are willing to enter recovery. However, many go on to their deaths through medical complications or suicide. These individuals are frequently convinced that they are already too bad, they cannot recover, or there is no way out.
This chart is labeled the Law of the Spirit of Life. It depicts the biblical method of recovery from addictions. This chart contains three separate circles of flow that end in very different results. By making two critical choices, we determine the consequences for our life. The choice to believe God to meet our needs through the Spirit results in a process that increases our faith and our desirefor the spirit-led life. It also decreases our selfishness and dependence on the addictive process. The end of this circle is love, which results in actual need satisfaction. The choice to trust in the flesh to meet our needs results in sin, shame, and the development of a lust for the addictive agent. If we choose to admit our sin and trust God for forgiveness, our shame or guilt is removed so that it does not become toxic shame. This process is called grace. If we choose to hide our shame, we enter a circle exactly like the Law of Sin and Death that for the Christian is called legalism. Toxic shame leads to increased need, strengthened lust, and our defenses hide our ever-increasing addiction. This explains why Christians can become or remain addicted. The two critical questions that each of us answer every time we are tempted are: 1. whether we will choose to walk in the Spirit or the flesh, and 2. whether or not we choose to hide or confess our sin. How we answer these questions will be determined by our faith in God. At the first decision point, if we truly trust God to meet all of our needs, we will rely on His Spirit to fulfill our emptiness. If we do not, we will rely on ourselves and the flesh to meet our needs. At the second decision point, our choice will be based on whether we believe that God still loves us in spite of our sin, will forgive us, and will restore us to Himself. If we do not believe this, we will attempt to cover up our sin and fall into the trap of legalism. Without trusting in Christ for the power to make the right choices, an addiction cannot usually be overcome. It is important to realize that this chart presupposes that the client is a Christian and that he believes that the power of his addiction (the old man) has been crucified with Christ and that the power of Jesus’ resurrection is available to him through the new birth (becoming the new man). This subject is explained in more depth in the book of Romans.
Romans Chapter 6-8 provides what I believe is the most biblical, effective, and rapid deliverance from addictions for Bible-oriented Christians. Nonetheless, these Chapters are “the meat and not the milk” of the Word of God. Therefore, they require an excellent foundation in the word of God. I am making a distinction here because for those with little Bible knowledge or for new believers a Christian 12-step program is simpler to understand, although deliverance may take longer. I usually teach the Roman method of deliverance in five steps.
1. In Christ, the addict is free to choose what he will do. This is very enlightening to addicts because by the time they seek help they have usually reached the conclusion that they are powerless to quit. They are, but Christ has done something that restores their ability to choose to overcome every temptation! Romans 6 begins by telling us that although we, as people, have a selfish sin nature and are powerless over it, Jesus, by dying on the cross, destroyed the power of the sin nature. Because we who are saved are “in Christ” and the spiritual realm exists outside of natural time, we were in Christ when He was crucified. Since Christ died on the cross, we died with Him to our old sin nature. Dead men cannot sin. Through Christ’s resurrection we have now been given power over our sin.
Php 2:12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of [his] good pleasure.
Ro 6:6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with [him], that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. 7 For he that is dead is freed from sin. 11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Our part is to believe and “reckon” it so. The Greek word translated as reckon, logizomai, in this verse means “to count, compute, or calculate that something is true.” The fact that we can now choose not to fall to temptation must become a reality. In 1st Corinthians Chapter 10, the Bible states:
1 Co 10:13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God [is] faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear [it].
Understanding exactly how this is done is critical. I teach addicts to go to God immediately in prayer every time they are tempted. They need to admit that they will fail for sure if they try to resist the temptation in their own strength, claim 1st Corinthians 10:13 that God will provide a way of escape, and trust God in faith to provide the escape from that temptation. They are instructed to then go about their work trusting God for their victory. Each time they are able to successfully overcome the temptation with God’s help, their faith in God grows. Over a period of time, they eventually become convinced that anytime they choose to call on and trust God, they will not fail to have victory over the temptation.
2. He must exercise his will to call on God. It is not enough for the addict to realize that through Jesus, he now has a choice; he must exercise his will in order to choose to be delivered. He must decide that he is “not going to live in his addiction any longer” no matter how desperate the emotional pain. If he is overcome by his compulsion and does not choose to trust in God to deliver him from a temptation, he will relapse. Romans puts it this way:
Ro 6:12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. 13 Neither yield ye your members [as] instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members [as] instruments of righteousness unto God.
3. He must not attempt to do any of this in his own strength. Romans warns us concerning the trap of the law. When people are told not to do something, one of two reactions is almost automatic. Either they rebel and do not want to do what they are told or they attempt to do what they are told in their own strength. Either way leads to failure since sin and addictions cannot be overcome in one’s own strength; but only by grace (the unmerited favor and power of God). In fact, the first sign of a coming relapse is when the addict believes he again has control over his addiction. Romans puts it this way:
Ro 6:14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. 7:11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew [me]. 15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but [how] to perform that which is good I find not. 19 For the good that I (in my strength) would I do not: but the evil which I (in my strength) would not, that I do.
4. He must also trust God to make him willing to quit relying on his addiction. My experience is that willingness is a critical factor in overcoming addictions. The good news is that God also provides us an answer based on His ability, not ours. It is our job to choose and to obey, but He also provides the resources to do both. We find this most clearly stated in the book of Philippians.
If an addict is struggling with willingness, I instruct Him to again call on God, admit his inability to even be willing, and to trust God to make him willing. I sometimes suggest that they pray, “God, I am willing for you to make me willing to be willing (as many ‘to be willings’ as needed to be truthful) to do your will.”
5. He must learn to consistently walk according to the Spirit. In assisting addicts, I have found that even willingness and faith are not enough. Even after a victory over an addiction has been gained, the devil will begin eroding the recovering addict’s willingness and finally cause a relapse if the client does not continue to walk according to the Spirit. This is not surprising since spirits operate primarily through influencing a person’s will. If a person walks according to or is under the influence of the Spirit of God, he will consistently want and choose to do God’s will. We find this answer in Romans Chapter 8.
Ro 8:3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded [is] death; but to be spiritually minded [is] life and peace. 13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
In summary, the final answer for addictions is faith in Christ, reliance on Him to do the work, and a transformation through the Spirit as we walk with Him and become like Him.
Ro 8:29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate [to be] conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. 37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
From the story of Samson (Judges Chapters 13-16) which is discussed in my book Transformation, we can derive a list of steps for overcoming addictions. For a more in-depth understanding please reference my book or watch the video below. They are:
1. Understand that the underlying problem is trying to meet deep personal needs through something other than God.
2. The client must overcome his belief that he can meet his needs through sin and not suffer the consequences.
3. He must understand that an addiction results in increased lust, denial, and neediness thus making the problem worse, not better.
4. The client must understand that he is powerless over his addiction and that the harder he tries to stop out of his own strength, the more addicted he will become.
5. He should realize that either his addiction will eventually destroy his faith in God, or his faith in God will destroy his addiction.
6. It is the client’s choice to meet his needs either through God or through his addiction.
7. The client must be willing to build his faith, die to himself, and pull down his denial and shame.