The Tragedy of Opioid Abuse, Part 2 February 03 2017

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

In Part 1 of this blog, we were reminded that we are not to allow ourselves to be controlled by alcohol, and by extension, other substances. We learned that we have tremendous hope: if we have placed ourselves under the control of a particular sin, God enables us to choose to get out from under it (Romans 6:12-13, 16).  Those who are under the control of a sin may need a lot of help and encouragement, but ultimately they have a personal, individual choice.  In addition, God’s Word provides specific guidance for how to resist temptation and have victory over sin, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  This can be very difficult at times, but at no time are we able to say that an outside influence, such as alcohol or drugs, forces us to sin.  

We covered two main points in Part 1: the hope we have and the need to “take heed.”  We cannot overcome temptation without the Lord’s help.  The third point is anchored in the principles we read in Ephesians 4:22-24:
“That in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”

In other words, don’t just think about getting off the drugs; put particular focus on the “put-ons.”  As Christians, there is no reason why we should be taking drugs for non-medical purposes, nor taking more than we absolutely need.  Putting off the old, sinful practices and putting on the new, righteous behaviors in their place is expressed in this passage as a fundamental biblical principle.  It is then illustrated by a series of specific “put-offs” and “put-ons” through the rest of Chapter 4 (e.g. put off stealing and put on working and sharing with others) as well as in Chapter 5, starting with Ephesians 5:18.
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.”

The remainder of Chapter 5 has additional “put-offs” and “put-ons” dealing with interpersonal relationships: husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees.  But in verse 18, it gets to the root of the issue with drugs: who or what are we controlled by?  We are to be filled with (i.e. controlled by) the Spirit, not by any substance, any person, or anything that we might be tempted to lust after or depend on in place of the Lord.  

If we occupy ourselves with the “put-ons” that God gives us – loving, serving, yielding ourselves to the Spirit's control, we won’t have time to think about falling back into old, sinful habits. In fact, Galatians 5:16 says that if we get busy with living by the Spirit, we will not fulfill the desires of our flesh. This is explained further in 2 Timothy 2:22:
“Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”  

This verse is as relevant today as it was when written by Paul almost 2000 years ago.  “Flee youthful lusts” (the put-off) expresses the urgency with which we need to respond to temptation.  Instead, we are told to “pursue” (also an expression of urgency) righteousness, etc., which is part of the “put-on.”  The other part of the put-on is just as important – who we are to associate with.  We are to associate with “those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”  In other words, we should spend our time around those who are seeking to grow in their faith and who evidence the fruit of the Spirit, not with those who continue to fall in the same way we are tempted.  

But this does not simply fall into place on its own.  Just as people often plan for how to keep a drug habit going, it is that much more important to make a plan for living righteously instead. Prayerfully write down opportunities you have to practice the put-offs and put-ons.  This means involving Christian friends and family in developing the plan and carrying it out, per 2 Timothy 2:22.  

At first, these steps may seem to be dramatic, and indeed they are.  With drug abuse, your life is on the line spiritually, as well as physically. Radical surgery is needed, not a bandaid.  Jesus said, “if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you ...” (Matthew 5:30). This was a metaphor for taking serious steps in the battle against sin, and that is what is needed here.  Each person’s plan will be a little different, but here are some ideas:

  • Consult a medical professional for how to reduce and remove addictive substances, and take a Christian family member or friend with you when you go. This does not mean it will be easy, but you are not “doomed” to stay under the control of the substance or practice.
  • Make specific plans for how you will “flee temptation” in the future, such as:
    • Never going back to the places where you obtained the drugs.
    • If you must go to or near the area, take someone with you and explain why you are taking them along.
  • Make specific plans for how you will “pursue righteousness” with fellow believers
    • Memorize and meditate on Scripture passages that are relevant to your problem area, and there are many Scriptures to draw from.  We already talked about several passages.  Psalm 1 is a great place to start and is even a reminder of the importance of meditation (“But his delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law he meditates day and night.  He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water … “).  Tell others what you are memorizing, and have them listen to you.  The Holy Spirit can bring these verses to your mind during times of intense craving or temptation. Lesson 3 of the Self-Confrontation manual has several plans for memorizing scripture.
    • Keep yourself busy with “fruit of the Spirit” activities.  The first characteristic in that list is “love,” and there are thousands of ways you can demonstrate love to both believers and unbelievers alike.  True biblical love is the sacrificial type of love that comes out of  gratitude for what Christ has done.  It is not dependent on receiving something in return.  It does not expect or depend on appreciation from others.  Jesus didn’t receive much appreciation when He suffered in our place.  Yet He could have joy because He was not doing it for earthly recognition but to please His Father.  
    • Have others take control of any medications you may have, and dispense them to you according to the doctors’ prescriptions.  
    • Be the best employee, student, spouse, parent, housework-doer, and church helper you can be.  Fill up your time with demonstrating love as you carry out these responsibilities, leaving no time for what I Peter 1:14 refers to as being “conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance.”

Don’t wait for a family intervention.  You can place yourself under God’s control to intervene in your life starting this very moment.  He is not going to make you want to change, but He is always there waiting, longing to have a new or renewed relationship with you.  He does, however, expect you to acknowledge your need for His change, and to cooperate with Him.  Like the father of the Prodigal Son, He is eagerly anticipating your return, ready to greet you with open arms.

BCF has a helpful tool called the Victory Over Failures Plan, which is simply an organized format to apply the biblical principles we have covered here, including identifying put-offs, put-ons, and a plan of biblical practice.  You can find it on the BCF website.  Often in cases of drug abuse, human relationships need to be repaired, forgiveness needs to be given and requested, and godly communications need to be restored.  We’ll get into this in Part 3.

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Steve Smith