Addiction

Preaching and Worship Resources about Addiction

At the root of addiction is longing, a vital spiritual force. But by longing for things that drain them rather than fulfill them, addicts court idolatry and then enslavement. Addiction is a complex, progressive, injurious, and often disabling attachment to a substance (alcohol, heroin, food, money) or behavior (sex, work, gambling) in which a person compulsively seeks a change of mood.

In Scripture

Not clinically defined In Scripture there are plenty of examples of and warnings against addictive sins such as avarice, gluttony, and lust (see treatments of those terms on this site). It’s doubtful that Scripture treats addiction as clinically defined. But it comes close by describing bondage of the passions and bondage of the will.

Examples “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Rom. 7:19-20). “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12). “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly” (Titus 2:11-12). “They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for people are slaves to whatever masters them” (2 Pet. 2:19).

Warning and Comforts “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Rom. 6:16). “Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:14). “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor. 10:12-13). “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).

Points to Ponder

Desire for wholeness, failure to deliver Addicts long for wholeness or fulfillment, but choose substances or behaviors that not only fail to deliver, but also threaten to disable the addict. Accordingly, the addict longs not for God but for self-transcendence, not for joy but for pleasure—and eventually for mere escape from pain. Addiction taps into longing the way a blackmailer garnishes your wages. Every time you meet a demand, a new demand takes its place. Because of this escalation, the addiction progresses from mild to serious forms that can eventually disable or even kill the addict.

Feels demonically alive To major-league addicts, addiction feels wily and perverse. It feels demonically alive, as if not just something but someone is hooking them—someone who first tempts them and then mocks them for succumbing, thus flooding them with guilt.

In the classic addictive spiral, what converts a person from a mere delinquent (someone who abuses alcohol) into an addict is distress over a split will (the person keeps doing what he or she doesn’t want to do) and, especially, the choice of how to combat this distress. Addicts try to relieve their distress by indulging in the same behavior that caused it, thereby starting a whole new round of the addiction.

Addicts “keep doing what they don’t want to do,” except in some other compartment of their being they are doing exactly what they want to do. William Lenters believes that a Nietzschean “will to power” may sometimes overcome addicts’ knowledge that they are devastating themselves and others by their addictive behavior. They are going to do what they are going to do. Richard Mouw’s take on this phenomenon is an altered version of Luther’s famous hymn stanza: “Let goods and kindred go; this mortal life also; I’m going to get loaded”.

Sin or sickness? Addiction surely may be triggered by sin—by drunkenness, for instance, or consumption of porn. But it can also be the result of factors outside the addict’s control, as in the case of a child in utero hooked on its mother’s abused substance. And there are physical, social, and psychological factors that make some of us much more vulnerable to addiction than others. God alone knows whether and to what degree an addict is culpable. In any case, addicts who are serious about recovery at some point take responsibility for the wreckage that surrounds their addiction and for the salvage work that now needs to start. Duane Kelderman has observed (in conversation) that nobody is more insistent than Alcoholics Anonymous that alcoholism is a disease; nobody is more insistent than A.A. that alcoholics need to take full responsibility for their disease and deal with it in brutal candor.

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.