Addiction: Who’s In Control (Part 2) November 10 2017

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

In the last blog, we addressed part of the topic of addiction, based on a recent article in National Geographic entitled “The Science of Addiction – How new discoveries about the brain can help us kick the habit.”  In discussing the chemistry of the brain, the article cites research indicating that craving is driven by dopamine, the flow of which is increased with the use of drugs.  We also found that science is not sure what to do about a “cure.”  At 64,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016 in the U.S. alone, clearly it is a serious problem and affects not only the individuals involved, but their family and friends as well. We ended the previous blog by explaining the biblical hope we have as believers to overcome potentially addictive temptations.

So let’s say you were the one who had a drug addiction problem.  And you were so committed to staying off drugs that you arranged for a friend or family member to be with you 24/7 to help you avoid succumbing to temptation.  He or she would help you stay away from the hangouts with your drug friends.  He would help you not go near places where drugs were sold. He would not be a nag, but would lovingly encourage you, remind you, sometimes warn or admonish you as you pursued a drug-free life. He would keep you focused on soaking up God’s Word and serving others, giving you little opportunity to focus on yourself and your former habit.  It would be very difficult for you to obtain and use drugs if you had such a faithful friend who was with you all the time, even if your body was still craving them.

Well guess what. If you are a believer, you have that Person 24/7.  His name is the Holy Spirit.  The thing is, even if the Holy Spirit is giving us reminders, through our conscience, to avoid and not succumb to temptation, it’s easy push aside the promptings of the Holy Spirit since we do not see Him physically. We make excuses for ourselves by thinking that He doesn’t really care or is not looking.  Although the prompting, conviction, and empowering of the Holy Spirit is enough for us to resist temptation, the pull of our flesh is strong.  The Scriptures tell us that God also uses friends, family, and the church body to help, as we will see below. 

Seeing the Seriousness of the Situation

There are many things to cover here, but let’s start with the importance of realizing the urgency of dealing with the situation, whether it be drugs, alcohol, or the range of potentially life-controlling behaviors.  Paul wrote to Timothy:

“Now flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”  (2 Timothy 2:22)

These two underlined verbs are expressions of urgency, and lusts can cover the gamut of substances and behaviors that can start to control our lives.  In other words, Paul is saying “don’t hang around places where you are going to be tempted in your areas of weakness.”

In Matthew 5:29-30 Jesus Himself talks about the importance of taking decisive action when it comes to resisting temptation: “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you ...” and “if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you ….”  Jesus made these statements in the context of equating looking on a woman with lust to the actual act of adultery.  Even though Jesus may have been using the idea of losing an eye or a hand metaphorically, He was basically saying that, because our flesh is weak, dealing with temptation requires decisive action.  

Put Offs and Put Ons

The very first verse of Psalm 1 is a warning to us about not putting ourselves in the position of being tempted: “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers.” The focus here is on what we are to “put off,” according Ephesians 4:22, that is, what we are not to do.  The real key to biblical success against temptation is to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind and put on the new self,” (Ephesians 4:23-24) with its new, righteous behaviors.  There isn’t time or space to explain this in detail here, but BCF’s Self-Confrontation Lesson 7 provides a complete explanation of the biblical principles surrounding the “put offs” and “put ons.”

A great example of the “put on” for the problem of youthful lusts is back in the second part of 2 Timothy 2:22. The verse explains not only what to pursue (righteousness, faith, love, and peace), but who to pursue it with: those who call on the Lord with a pure heart.  In other words, find friends who are growing in their walk with Christ - friends or family members who will lovingly help you through this time in your life.  Ideally, you will not only have ongoing fellowship with these friends and family members (which makes it easier for you to avoid falling to temptation), but they will tell you what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear.  These are Proverbs 27:6 friends: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”  And let them know in advance that this is the kind of friendship that you desire, to care enough that you can tell one another what you and they need to hear.

As believers, anything that controls our lives other than the Lord could be considered a source of addiction. You may need to take what seems like drastic measures to do what God says in Psalm 1:1 and 2 Timothy 2:22 for the purpose of avoiding and resisting temptation. I had a pastor tell me one time about a friend of his who would not go into a hotel room until the management had actually taken out the TV.  This may sound extreme, but for him, he realized how vulnerable he was to temptation.  It was his way of putting into action the principles in Psalm 1:1 and the “flee” part of 2 Timothy 2:22.

In cases where addictive substances are involved (e.g. a variety of drugs, both prescribed or illicit), it can be important to get off them (i.e. “flee”) under the care of a medical doctor.  Various regimens are available to assist in the detoxification process.  However, completing that regimen doesn’t necessarily mean that the temptation will go away, which is why having a plan for practicing the biblical put offs and put ons is so important.

Regarding the “put ons,” in this day and age, there are a variety of ways to have “those who call on the Lord with a pure heart” help you.  One example would be to arrange for your family or a friend to be able to track you by GPS 24/7.  Or maybe it involves putting the computer in an open, visible place for others to see.  You get the idea.  If people think that’s going overboard, that’s OK.  Not only will you have a plan for resisting temptation yourself, but you will show others how serious you are about walking with Jesus.

Nathan the prophet was a Proverbs 27:6 friend.  He told King David a story about a grave injustice done to a poor man by a rich and powerful man, to which David replied “surely the man who has done this deserves to die.”  To this Nathan responded “you are the man!” David did not expect to hear this, but needed to hear it.  While other leaders of that day may have responded by getting rid of the prophet, David replied “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:1-13).  The depth of one’s own sin can be very difficult to see or accept when you are at the bottom of the downward spiral.  But heaven and humans rejoice when a person responds as David did.

Psalm 51, which was written by David after Nathan confronted him, is a beautiful Psalm of repentance, humility, and forgiveness.  Many songs have been inspired by this Psalm, but verse 17 perhaps sums it up best for David: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” If the Lord can forgive and redeem a man who committed adultery, murdered Uriah by sending him to the front lines, and lied profusely in the process, He can forgive and restore the repentant addict as well.  But there is much more to say about how God’s Word applies to addiction and what steps you can take to both avoid and resist temptation. We’ll cover more in the third installment, focusing mainly on the “put ons” and how to put corresponding biblical plans in place.

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Steve Smith