Addiction: Who’s In Control (Part 3) February 04 2018

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

We put the “Addiction Series” on pause over the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s holidays to cover some other topics, but wanted to continue the series with a third installment.  Those of you who have been through the BCF Self-Confrontation course know that most of the lessons are structured around four elements:  

  •  Biblical Understanding,
  •  Biblical Hope,
  •  Biblical Change, and
  •  Biblical Practice.  

To an extent, we were following that structure in “Addiction” Parts 1 and 2 (October 27 and November 10), even though we didn’t explicitly state it.

Remembering back from three months ago, we started the Addiction Series with a recent article in National Geographic entitled “The Science of Addiction – How new discoveries about the brain can help us kick the habit” and learned how extensive and devastating the problem of addiction is, not only in the U.S., but worldwide.  We saw in James 1:13-15 and other passages that a person can be “carried away and enticed by his own lusts” and that this gives birth to sin. These and other verses show the progression and consequences of our choice to let our flesh control us rather than the Lord.

We found that the scientific research has done us the service of explaining the mechanics of how addiction takes place in the chemistry of the brain.   But the Scriptures clearly show where the responsibility lies in giving in to temptation.  To quote the comic strip character Pogo, “we have met the enemy and he is us.”  And we can’t take the 1960s/70s comedian Flip Wilson’s “the devil made me do it” skits as biblical truth, hilarious though they may have been.

We also found in the last blog that the Scriptures give us tremendous hope, even for those who are at the bottom of the downward spiral of addiction.  People may make deliberate choices to take a drug, get drunk, endlessly indulge in video games, or commit an immoral act, but  they are not somehow forced to sin because of their background or past indulgences.   Even under intense craving, a person is not forced to make the choice to take that drug, take the next drink, play the next game, or commit the immoral act.

We were greatly blessed when BCF taught in a church in Southern California several years ago where many of those attending were former drug addicts.  The church has a tremendous outreach to the those who have been devastated by substance abuse.  One of their themes is that “we don’t have a 12-step program, we have a one-step program – Jesus!”  That is amazing hope, and so consistent with Scripture! And there are a lot of specific biblical principles that go along with that theme.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, there is a long list of unrighteous life-styles.  Then in verse 11, there is one of the most hopeful statements that an addicted person can possibly hear.  Writing to the church in Corinth, Paul stated “Such were some of you.”  In other words, no one is out of reach of God’s forgiveness, grace, and mercy, no matter what they’ve done, no matter where they are on the downward spiral, and no matter how high or low their levels of dopamine.  Paul was writing to people who had been saved out of dire circumstances of sin. This is not to underestimate how difficult it is to resist temptation and the pull of the flesh, especially when you are at bottom of the downward spiral.   But of course, as believers, we cannot turn this around and say: “let’s continue in sin that grace might increase.”  Paul answered that with an emphatic “May it never be!” in Romans 6:2.  As Christians, we need to cooperate with the Holy Spirit by actively putting off the sinful practices of the old self and putting on the righteous practices of the new self, as we discussed in Addiction blog No. 2.  This step, which we call “biblical practice,” involves putting the biblical principles to work in our daily life.  Especially with addictions, the temptation to fall back into old ways is very strong, and specific plans are needed.

Biblical Practice – Making Plans for when Temptation (Inevitably) Comes

Many of us are very familiar with one of the great “hope verses” on temptation, I Corinthians 10:13.  God says that “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”  But we often forget the verses immediately before and immediately after verse 13.  “Therefore let him who stands take heed that he does not fall” (verse 12). And “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (verse 14).

The promise of verse 13 that we would be able to endure is directly connected to precautions and actions that we should take individually.  God is saying here that, first, we are all susceptible to falling, so don’t get too proud or confident of yourself.  We must always be in a state of spiritual watchfulness.  Many of us are sadly familiar with situations where we saw someone who looked godly on the outside falling into sin.  We must recognize that we are not immune. This is the “common to man” part of verse 13.

Then in verse 14, we don’t just stand around in front of the liquor store (or the casino, or the adult book store, or … pick your addiction) waiting for the feelings of temptation go away.  Rather, we are to flee!  This is one of the most urgent verbs in the English language. God is reminding us that we have the choice to “flee” the temptation.  We are not forced to give into it.  God provides the way, but we must take decisive action to flee.

This doesn’t mean flee the circumstances (like “I just want out of here!”), but it means to flee the temptation and the sin that the temptation could lead you to. In other words, don’t hang around the liquor store or the casino, and protect yourself from places you should not go on the computer.  There are very practical ways to do that.  The “endure” of verse 13 also reminds us that, no matter how difficult our circumstances or trials may be, we can have spiritual victory within that situation.  God is not promising here that our problems or trials will necessarily go away.

BCF’s “Victory over Failures Plan” (or VOFP) is built around this biblical idea that, even as believers, we are all susceptible to sin and that we need to have a specific game plan to put into practice the commands to “take heed” and to “flee.”  In fact, there is a specific worksheet called the “Overcoming Temptations Plan.”  It is the fifth out of six worksheets in the VOFP, and is a very practical and biblical approach to having victory over temptation, even ones you may have given in to for years.  It involves putting into practice multiple biblical principles in the power of the Holy Spirit.  If you have struggled with a temptation or still are (and that would include most of us), this would be a great way to begin letting the Lord transform your life, as He has with so many others.

I have run out of space to cover the VOFP in enough detail, so we’ll leave that for next time.  As you can see, this three-blog series is stretching to four.  Maybe it will even go to five.  But this is a critical topic, affecting millions of individuals and families both within and outside the church.  So just as a preview, the Overcoming Temptations Plan deals with our thought life, our speech, and our actions.  So as a little exercise, you can start by identifying the type of situation in which you have previously been tempted on at least a semi-regular basis and proceeded to sin.  It could be in any of those areas, or all three.  Almost always, thoughts are behind both our speech and our actions, so we’ll start with the thought life next time.

In the meantime, you might want to read back through the VOFP, if you have a Self-Confrontation Student Workbook. The VOFP is covered both in individual lessons, starting with Lesson 5, and in the back of the Workbook.  Or you can order the VOFP from BCF as a stand-alone booklet.  It’s 48 pages long, with both blank and sample worksheets, plus the background explanation with biblical principles and instructions.  We will learn next time how very practical and useful plans can be made based on the “put-offs” and “put-ons” described so far in Addiction blogs 2 and 3.

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Steve Smith