It’s been said that to be alive is to be addicted. That implies that addictions come in any form, could be a person, a feeling, an activity. Rugby is a personal example. I’d bet that this multi million rand industry consumes more time, money and passion from the average Christian South African than the Christ does. It’s Saturday. I’m readying myself for the game, because even if a bro doesn’t like sport, he likes sport. You know. I’m trying to find my most manly clothes, while simultaneously memorizing the names of the squad, the curry cup finalist for the last five years and the last world cup most spectacular tries. Rugby is supposed to make you feel manly, manly my foot, I feel like a teenage groupie. My man friends pic me up, we joke around, its jovial. Until we get to the stadium. Its like we stepped onto another planet. I try and crack a joke with my best friend Tim. He ignores me. Guys don’t talk when they watch rugby. The game’s of to a cracking starts. The stadium erupts. The Roman Coliseum has nothing on Newlands. And the reserved soccer mom’s and rich and the classy all transform into a dangerous mob, you can feel the violent tension in the air and the line between barbaric and civilized seems rather tenuous. Suddenly, it’s a high tackle on Habana. I hear this vulgar, deafening scream “Cmooon REF!! Are you blind”. I pause to take cognizance of that belting roar that, well that just came from me. I blew it again. May as well join in now; “tackle boys…Take them out” I shout. Man I love Rugby. Maybe even a little too much.
Addiction is the attachment of desire to a particular object through willful enslavement. It is sinful, deceitful and deadly.
So, how do we deal with it? The starting point is understanding God’s response to our addictions. Namely, he doesn’t like it very much and he wants to help us. His first response may be surprising to us because its wrath. Romans 1:18-19 reveals the disdain that God feels towards false gods (or addictions) that we wilfully enslave ourselves to. What we call addiction the Bible calls idolatry and its message is clear; no idolater (or addict) will enetr the kingdom of heavon 1 Corinthians 6:9.
Addiction to sex, coffee, wine, or work doesn’t please God. But the wrath that the author (Paul) is speaking of in Romans 1 is not the wrath of God that will be meted out at the judgment day. It is the immanent wrath of God. Three times Paul says “God handed them over to their wickedness” (vs 24, 26, 28).
Addiction may be an indication that God has ‘handed a person over’. People who find themselves in this downward spiral lose control, as the light of God leaves, all that is left is darkness. Addiction may start with pain killers, then something heavier then a joint, then TIK. It may start with soft porn, then hard porn then prostitutes. It may start with getting tipsy socially to loosen up, then getting drunk a few times then turning to the bottle when you’re down, then alcoholism. Working really hard during varsity, then late nights at office, then workaholism. It may start as an intense desire for a boyfriend or girlfriend, then a few more compromises to keep Mr. or Mrs. Wrong and then a lifetime married to the wrong person. If you find yourself in this downward spiral and you are out of control, maybe it’s an indication that the light of God is leaving because you have chosen to attach your desire for God to an idol.
God’s second response to addiction is grace. God sends Jesus to appease his wrath and die in our place for our sin (Romans 6). In terms of addiction Jesus is our means for freedom. Because of what Jesus has done there is hope that once again our desires may be free. Anyone who has struggled with addiction knows that you share a love hate relationship with the object of your attached desire. You love the pornography and you simultaneously hate it. You love the gossip and you simultaneously hate it. You wish that you had the freedom to detach, to un-nail your desire from the food, from the cutting, from sarcasm, but you can’t. There are demonic forces and our body of sin which firmly nails our desires to the object of our addictions. Psychiatry has revealed that the brain plays mind tricks on those who try to detach their desires. Your body actually fools you into sustaining your addiction.
The more you struggle against it the more your mind strengthens your addiction. Like hooked fish reeling for freedom, the more you fight against it the stronger its grip grows.
Grace is the only power strong enough to unhook us. How? In two ways:
1. Jesus frees your desire
2. While The Spirit takes control of the fight.
The Bible offers a view of the psychological makeup of human beings. It says that all people are created to worship God for eternity. Ecclesiastes 3:11 “He set eternity in the human heart” and so from the heart pours forth worship constantly. We have an innate desire to admire God and worship him but instead of attaching our desire to God we attach it to other things, feelings or people. This is idolatry and it’s sin. And sin further separates us from God. The more we worship idols the less conscious we become of God, because sin deadens our capacity to experience God. But through the death of Jesus God opens up a way for us to have our deepest desire met. He gives us himself, through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. This is an act of grace.
So it is the grace of God that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). It is the true, real, tangible, unconditional love of God for you that changes you.God’s love is an immeasurable and unstoppable force.
His deep loving kindness, humility and grace, patients and forgiveness, care and provision for his children is an inexpressible force that melts the heart of billions of people year after year after year, it trumps karma, it trumps any high you have ever had, it has transformed innumerable addicts, it is the reason why I am alive and not dead or in jail cell, it is the reason why thousands throughout history have testified of the freedom they have found in Christ and why some would rather die than turn away from all consuming lover of their soul.
This is why Paul said in “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe” (Romans 1:16). This is why Paul repeatedly refers to himself as addicted to Jesus; he is slave (doulos in Greek) of Jesus. It is the amazing love that God has for you in Christ that makes you willfully enslave yourself to him and not to an idol. But why then if I am a Christian do I still find myself developing addictions?
Jesus frees your desire, while the Spirit takes control of the fight…
Because it doesn’t matter who you, in the words of Bob Dylan, “you have to serve somebody”. All people are slaves. All people serve a master. What psychologists call “mind tricks” the Bible calls “the flesh”. The Greek word used is sarx and it is translated as “sinful nature” in the NIV. The sinful nature, the flesh, the sarx is the part of us that hates God. And before you become a Spirit filled Christian the Sarx is your Master. The sarx opposes God and any non Christian is a slave to their sinful nature.
Now when you become a Christian you receive the Holy Spirit in your body. The Holy Spirit does two things: (1) it is a down payment for a new body. So that the flesh, the sin nature, the part of you that hates God is guaranteed to be transformed into an incorruptible, sinless body (1Corinthians 15). So, in other words the battle has been won. But since you will only be transformed at the second coming of Jesus the Holy Spirit does a second thing (2) it takes up the place the sarx once had as commanding officer inside you and the Holy Spirit fights against the flesh until that day when the sin nature is completely destroyed. So, while the battle has been won, the war rages on. The flesh is a defeated foe but it is still dangerous and will fight until the bitter end. This is why Christians still struggle with addictions!
For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want. (Galatians 5:7)
So, within every believer they have their sarx and the Spirit of God waging a war against each other. There is an inner battle that you and I are a part of, my flesh hates the things of God and loves evil, this is why you love your addiction and some part of you right now does not want to be free from porn, gossiping, control, sarcasm. But the Spirit of God inside me hates the things of the flesh and wares against it, this is why you hate your addiction if you are Christian. Listen to Paul describe this in Rom 7:21-25:
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature[a] a slave to the law of sin.
But now I must decide which master I will obey, my old Flesh master or my new Spirit Master. Which general will I fight for? And sometimes you hear a general call out to you and you are not really sure which general it is and then later you realize it was the Sarx, and you inadvertently blew it again, other times you hear the general tell you “pass me some artillery I want to blast the Spirit general out of here” and you obey.
There is a battle waging inside me for control of my soul.
The Holy Spirit is doing the fighting, now what is my responsibility? My responsibility is to be obedient to the Spirit General. As long as I am obedient to the Spirit General I will not fall. I must please the Spirit General. The picture that Paul paints is of a young private reporting to an experienced and legendary war hero General. The General loves you and the General wants you to spend time with him. The more energy you put into building your relationship with the Spirit General the more ground the General takes for you. But if your relationship with the General isn’t great, you don’t really listen to the General, you do your own thing, you even spend time with the Sarx General, the enemy, well then the Sarx General takes more ground. Paul’s words are sobering “do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7)
There are some people who have such a good relationship with the Spirit General that they hardly ever fall. I think Enoch was one of these guys. The Bible says that “Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away” (Genesis 5:3). As someone said God must have said to Enoch, you’ve been walking well, I guess we’re closer to my house than yours, come on over. Paul too encourages all of us to strive towards this:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Phil 3:12)
And it is for freedom that you have been set free (Galatians 5:1). So, we are destined for freedom, take hold of that freedom now. But victory will cost us. Practically what does this mean? It means Obedience.
Paul says in Romans 12:1
I urge you, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.
Obedience to the Spirit is your spiritual act of worship. It starts with being obedient to the Bible, the Spirit inspired Scripture.
If the Spirit has spoken to you, then don’t try to understand, try to obey. If the Spirit has not yet spoken then seek the Spirit this week. Understanding follows obedience and obedience follows an encounter with the Holy Spirit. You need to go home and wait on the Lord. Wrestle with him in prayer. Seek him until you find him. Pray unceasingly until your heart is enlightened and illuminated by the Spirit. And if you have heard him speak to you this evening, then you need to quite your addiction now. Burn your idol now, smash it now. Leave in a hurry, if you have an internet connection that leads you astray, disable it. Stop playing with the enemy. If you have a person who flirts with you and leads you into inappropriate engagements, delete their number, delete them off facebook, cut them off now. If you gossip then confess your slander to someone now. This is your sacrifice. Crucify that deadly defeated Sin General. To experience the un-nailing of your desire you will have to be re-nailed to the Cross and crucify your flesh. Consider this helpful prayer as you allow God to win your freedom for you.
I wait now in silence, Lord, that the good may spring up and the evil dissipate.
May the ocean of your light continually overcome the ocean of my darkness.