Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all God’s mercies~ Jonah 2:8 NLT
No thinking person would waste time arguing that addiction is not a growing problem in our society.
One in eight Americans are clinically dependent on alcohol. 12.5 million Americans abuse prescription (legal) opioids (Codeine, Fentanyl, Hydrocodone, Methadone Morphine, Oxycodone). Heroin addiction has reached a twenty year high. Gambling, pornography, food, phone, video game, shopping and sex addictions are affecting millions of people from every walk of life and the vast majority of those individuals are not winning their personal battle with addiction.
If addiction were an issue only non-Christians struggled with then there would be little point in me (or any other Christian) addressing the problem. What non-Christians do and don’t do should not be the concern of those inside the Church (1stCorinthians 5:11). It is not our job as Christians to attempt to modify the behavior of those who do not profess faith in Christ. Christians are commanded to pray for non-Christians and share the gospel with them. Period. Forcing a non-believer to act like a believer before they become a believer causes (in my opinion) more spiritual harm than good. Forcing non-Christians to act like Christians simply produces well-behaved heathens with a false sense of security.
But that is another topic for another day.
Christians struggle with the same addictions as non-Christians and addicts in churches affect everyone in the church. Christians are all individual parts of a body (1stCorinthians 12:12-27, Ephesians 4:4-5, Romans 12:4-5) so when one part of the body is sick, hurt or sinning the consequences of the sickness, hurt or sin are felt throughout the rest of the body.
Christian addiction causes the church to lose its credibility and also its voice in the culture when the people in the church struggle with the same stupid stuff everyone else struggles with. Christians cannot legitimately advise others on the saving power of Jesus (or anything else) if we cannot adequately manage our own junk.
Furthermore, anytime one member of the body of Christ struggles with sin the whole body becomes corporately weaker. Spiritual weakness in the body makes us all less able to fulfill our calling as salt and light in the culture (Matthew 5:13-16, Luke 14:33-35). Christians with addictive behaviors lead Christians and non-Christians alike to believe that Christ has no real power to change our nature or keep us from sin (2ndKings 17:15). This leads to fewer conversions and fewer people who were raised in the church sticking around. I am convinced that the mass exodus of Christian kids leaving the church in recent years has more to do with the lack of power to overcome problems (including addiction) they have witnessed in the lives of their parents and parent’s friends than any other single issue.
If we want to see spiritual revival in the Western world (and most Christians do) then addiction is an issue that must be addressed in our churches. We will never lead the unbelieving world to spiritual freedom until we experience it in our own lives. Dealing with any addiction in the church does not begin with starting a support group or an accountability program it begins with the recognition of the true nature of addiction.
Contrary to popular belief, addiction is not simply a bad habit, a sign of poor coping skills or a genetic predisposition gone awry. Addiction does have physical, emotional and genetic factors but ultimately addiction is a deeply spiritual issue. The addicted person gets something real and tangible from the addiction (usually a sense of peace or ability to cope). In exchange the addict becomes physically and/or emotionally dependent on that thing. They eventually grow to love that thing more than they love God or anything else.
I am not, nor have I ever been a “there’s a demon behind every beer bottle” kind of a Christian. However, I do believe we need to acknowledge the reality that there is a deeply demonic aspect to the issue of addiction. At the root of all addiction is the sin of idolatry. Addicts receive a sense of comfort, wellbeing, peace or an ability to cope with stress, etc. that they should only receive from God. The addict must figure out exactly what their addiction gives them and why they aren’t going to God to have those needs met.
With a few notable exceptions most of what the church has done to combat addiction has not worked all that well. I believe that is because we have adopted the world’s view that addiction can be overcome with nothing more than a healthy self-image, more accountability and lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes and accountability are good, helpful and necessary things but without an acknowledgment of the underlying spiritual issue they are powerless to permanently change much of anything.
Freedom from addiction can only be achieved through right thinking about the problem (sinful behaviors are always a choice). Freedom comes with a deep commitment to living in complete obedience to God and His commands and the love, acceptance and grace of a healthy Church family.