Statistics, gathering in 83 studies on addictions, tell us the problem overall with addictions is much more than anyone imagined. Frankly it’s this: almost half of the US adult population (47% to be exact) in a given year will suffer from a severe addiction.
For the Christadelphian world we would expect to beat those statistics, and yet, in the few somewhat casually administered surveys I’ve seen from our youth groups and adults, our wonderful fellowship of believers does not improve on these negative statistics very much. So, even wish- ing to think we are exemplary believers successfully fighting the flesh, addictions find their way into the body of Christ — and I would suggest at an alarming rate. This is perhaps because the addictions that are on the poor impulse-control side are highly secretive. Take away the secretive part and we all would be alarmed! And being secretive has never been easier. In the area of pornography in which the author has given counseling, these addictions are hidden in so many layers, that there is no way to break into the world that these brethren, and yes sisters too, live in without their very brave permission. With the Internet, these poor impulse-disorders are more secret than ever. The one that amazes me is gambling, which previously always necessitated a visit to a basement gathering or a trip to a casino, has become easier and private with the Internet. This goes without saying for pornography: in the old days men would slink into some shady theater in the bad end of town if they dared. No more!
A definition with ramifications
Let’s quickly grab a definition. An addiction is to surrender oneself to something obsessively or habitually. It’s easier to believe the almost 50% rate mentioned earlier with that definition. And if you look at this simple definition, isn’t our Walk in Christ to be passionate and habitual? Paul says: “I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,)” (1Cor 16:15). Ministering to the saints can be surrendering oneself to something. To many, it would seem obsessive.
This fits exactly with recent research. This is what they have discovered: that there is no separate pathology for this kind of addiction — it’s bound up in who we are, as creations of the Creator. We are all born with systems of addictions. And when used incorrectly its basis becomes decision-making with bad choices. Put even more simply, impulse-control addictions are the failure to learn from mistakes of application!
Here is one more overall observation that fits with how we are created. Essentially these addictions are the compulsive pursuit of pleasure; meaning, we are wired to want to feel good, as we all have discovered. It fits into the role of man over the rest of creation, the urge to procreate, the self-preservation of caring for our basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. But this God-given wiring also allows that what was meant to be a creative feature becomes a destructive feature in an addictive personality, thereby not helping in their growth towards grace and peace but in their destruction.
And here is one more observation before we get into actions, it is that we are ad- dicted to sin, and even if you are feeling pretty smug that you have managed to “stay out of trouble” here, you still have that flesh to deal with until you take your last breath. Until then you are failing daily with your impulse control.
What can we do?
Now, to the Bible. Basically this is a microcosm of fighting off sin. Those who have dealt with pornography issues, gambling, obsessive eating, shopping, working, video games, hobbying, etc. have the same fight. And it’s not about destroying the flesh, it’s to use the addiction to draw us back to the Creator. Essentially mistakes are meant to draw us back to God, not pull ourselves farther away.
So let’s take the following simple passage:
“All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:3-7 NIV).
It is taking the addictive wiring, learning from it and making a better decision to live in these “big picture” verses and shorten the impulses of seeking pleasure.
That is the Bible teaching.
The problem of patterns
But once we enter the obsessing and habitual world of addictions we build patterns that are gripping and unyielding to all manner of fighting them off.
There are two verses that particularly tell of this God-given manner of dealing with this pathology. The most famous is Rom 12:2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
Another is Ephesians 4:22-23, “that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (NKJV).
The world uses the term Cognitive Therapy, but the basis is these verses. You can change your mind. The first is the will to do so. This can come from here:
Look at this chart comparing the flow downward in each column:
Triggering Lustful Thinking
Acting on that
Repentance/Asking for Forgiveness
Triggering Lustful Thinking
Acting on that
Shame stops at shame and there is nowhere to go. It is so secretive! And the notion has unfortunately been taught from the platform, that it can’t be genuine if you keep asking forgiveness for the same thing over and over. This is a damaging teaching. I suppose then we shouldn’t keep asking for forgiveness for sin? Our God is so much better than man, and the limitations we may think to put on His forgiveness are not valid. The book of Judges has the guilt cycle adnauseum, but God is ready to forgive at all times. To renew your mind is to allow the motivation of guilt to bring us to repentance, and the amazing forgiveness that follows. Staying in shame kills the whole thing.
Twelve step programs and secrecy
Secrecy is a huge part of the shame cycle. The next article in this issue (“Alcohol- ism/Substance Abuse”) will talk of 12 step programs and how they bring you into fellowship with others in a safe environment. A 12 step program can be found for any impulse-control addiction, and the 12 steps will lead you from confession to repentance to the place God wishes for you. Taking your situation out of secrecy is a huge step as well. Shame stagnates you into secrecy.
Where’s the love?
The energy comes from the guilt and the love. Love? Where is that? It’s with the Ephesians reading we read before: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgres- sions — it is by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:4-5).
It is adapting the addictive personality we have misused and turning it to God and becoming “addicted” to the aliveness we have in Christ. In any counseling I have done, this is a big part of it — reconnecting with God in a life-grip, which becomes greater than the death-grip of the impulse that is controlling us. It is your great opportunity to find the love of God in the most real way possible. Whether you like it or not, this poor impulse-addiction is your pathway back to God too. Your fall into addiction is also your invitation into a real life in Christ.
Substituting one piece of clothing at a time
So how do we change our minds now that we wish to? We are going to step out of shame to where we can act. See it as taking off old clothes and putting on new.
This is exactly Biblical, coming from our earlier quoted verse about putting off the old man. So you take off a piece of old clothing, you put on a new one. Then you take off a piece of old clothing and you put on a new one. In pornography issues it’s changing the habit, blocking access to what has become normal and replacing it with something else. Each person is different, but, as easy as it sounds, it usu- ally isn’t. To change these patterns, literally now embedded in your mind, takes energy: prayer energy, faith energy, love of God energy and times it by ten. But this is life in the Truth. And you may think you are the only one, but quietly, the person next to you could well be in the same predicament.
Here’s just a little statistic: if you can go 30 days without a relapse in whatever you are dealing with, you have done an amazing thing by the grace of God. If at all possible, call someone and share the news. But don’t think you are done: the negative neural pathway in your brain has now found a redirection that can build from there.
Where to begin?
I recommend you find someone to share your struggle with who will help you. My criteria comes from James 5:16: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” The person who fits these criteria will pray for you and will seek the best for you. If they keep you in shame or they blab around about your struggle, you have the wrong person.
A positive conclusion
Paraphrasing Rom 11:32, through the example of Israel, we are reminded we are made to experience unbelief and disobedience so that God can show us His Way and open that door welcoming us out of the darkness. All of us have benefited from entering into this door. Addictions make this door all the more obvious.
The conclusion then is not to trivialize what such addictions are, or what it takes to crawl out of the hole. But this article is saying you are not alone, by a long shot, and there are people out there who can help. Whatever you can do you will find it is not by your cleverness or your intelligence that these things are handled. It will be by the grace of God that you become alive in Christ and He will do a marvelous work in your life. Take the door! Isn’t that what you want? David Lloyd (Simi Hills, CA)
Michael Woodcock, The Tidings, 1998 p 99.
1. Steve Sussman “Prevalence of the Addictions: A Problem of the Majority or the Minority?,” Evolution & the Health Professions 34 (March 2011)
A poll was taken, in strictest confidence, at a recent Christadelphian youth weekend where the average age was 26. Of those present, 43% indicated participation in drugs at some point, 52% acknowledged some form of present addiction to food, drink, drugs, etc., and 100% replied such issues should be dealt with at Christa- delphian events.