Seminary Viewpoints

A Letter to an Enslaved (Addicted) Brother in Christ

Jim Berg | May 4, 2020
Viewpoint Blog

When we first met several months ago, my heart broke as I read your letter about your addiction to sex, drugs, and alcohol, your loneliness, your lack of purpose, and your discouragement about the fallout of your felony record upon future jobs, marriage, and ministry opportunities. Today, I read the letter again as I sought to be able to be a better counselor to you, and I came away with the same heavy heart.

I also looked through the pages of notes I’ve taken each time we have met and culled through the weekly assignments I have given you—Scriptures to read and study, verses to memorize, books to read, and seminars to watch or listen to. I looked over the notes of truths and principles which I taught you about pursuing relationship with Christ, handling temptation and triggers, dealing with losses, identifying lies, and battling lustful desires.

Recently, I have become aware of your significant brain fog due to ongoing sleep apnea, poor eating habits, and lack of exercise. While fatigue does not relieve us of moral responsibility, it certainly hinders motivation and cognitive function. Your change of jobs has given you more time to sleep, but doesn’t address the fundamental problems of the sleep apnea, diet, and exercise. Those must be addressed with a CPAP machine and changes in lifestyle habits.

Beyond this, I kept asking myself, “Am I missing something? Have I taken him on ‘rabbit trails’ in the topics and issues I’ve addressed? How can I better serve him in his pit of despair and bondage?”

Before I go to the Scriptures again, I want to remind you that addictions (even those with a chemical component) are essentially habits—habits supercharged because of attendant strong emotional rewards (buzz, sexual release, ecstasy, euphoria, etc.) and because of the body’s ability to super-habituate desires for these experiences into compulsive desires.

The result of this habituated interaction between our hearts and our bodies (including the brain) is a “voluntary slavery.” [1] Paul states in Romans 6:16 that “you are the slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience which leads to righteousness” (6:16).

Notice what Paul says next in verses 17 and 19. It describes what must happen for freedom from the slavery:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. . . . For just as you once presented your [bodily] members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

Another passage, Ephesians 4:17-24 outlines the two options this way:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to [1] put off [the ways of] your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to [2] be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to [3] put on [the ways of] the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

So here is the divine pattern which you must practice in the power of God’s Spirit, out of loyalty to God who saved you, and out of obedience to His Word until you have formed new habits of living that reflect the image of Jesus. To define them a bit more precisely, think of them this way:

  1. “Put off [the ways of] your old self.” That is going to involve. . .
    • Repentance—Taking sides with God against yourself and confessing sin with the full intention of not sinning again every time you fall
    • Restitution—Paying back what you have gained from others by deceit and then asking forgiveness
    • Restriction—Being willing to take whatever consequences your sin brings because God will use them to change your heart if you will submit yourself to Him in the process
    • Restructure—removing whatever influences in your life trigger the cravings and lead you back into sin so that it is hard to sin again
  2. “Being renewed in the spirit of your mind”—pursuing relationship with God and imitating Him by consistently…
    • Reading and studying the Scriptures to make His thoughts and ways your thoughts and ways.
    • Memorizing the Scriptures so that you have a personal weapon—the Sword of the Spirit—to use when battling sinful desires.
    • Placing yourself under the sound preaching of God’s Word as a member in a Bible-preaching local church.
    • Cultivating fellowship with growing believers who are experiencing a walk with God that is further along than yours and who will influence you towards God.
  3. “Putting on [the ways of] the new man”—pursuing the character of Jesus Christ by cultivating the virtues of mature Christianity. Spiritually mature believers are purposely cultivating through “diligence” the virtues Peter outlines in 2 Peter 1:5-7.
    • Virtue—being committed to developing and displaying the character of Jesus Christ
    • Knowledge—knowing the person, words, and ways of Jesus Christ
    • Self-control—instantly obeying God’s Word in the power of God’s Spirit
    • Endurance—continuing to obey God’s Word in the power of God’s Spirit no matter what
    • Godliness—loving Jesus Christ with my whole heart and promoting and defending what is important to Him
    • Brotherly kindness—showing special concern for my brothers and sisters in Christ
    • Love—sacrificing to meet the spiritual needs of others

Working through this process by daily surrendering to God, repenting of sin, and obeying His Word with His Spirit’s help will develop the right habits of the heart and body and will allow you to flourish as a human being before God and have an impact for the kingdom of God to His glory.

The encouraging thing is that these passages of Scripture were written to churches whose members were slaves to sin before they came to Christ. They devoted themselves to Jesus and His ways and turned their world upside down. Some like Paul were murderers and proud Pharisees. Some were formerly demon-possessed. Others were addicted to the pleasures of the day. By diligently cooperating with God they were changed—and so can you. But you must not pamper yourself, make excuses for yourself, and give up. This is battle, so you must take up arms!

I pray much for you, brother, and love you in Christ.

Sincerely, Jim

[1] Edward T. Welch, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001), 46.