BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part 2 in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog post on Addictions. In addition to today’s post by Mark Shaw, you can read Part 1—Luke Gilkerson’s 3 Healthy Tensions in Porn Addiction Recovery Group, Part 3—Julie Ganschow’s The Heart of Addiction, and Part 4—Mark Hardin’s Shepherding People Struggling with Addiction.
A few years ago, if you went to certain fast food restaurants and ordered a combo meal, you would have been asked: “Do you want to super-size it?” This clever marketing idea was that for a few cents more, you could receive even more fries and an even larger soft drink. No one needs that many fries and that large of a soft drink! Therefore supersizing is definitely not healthy, and often more than the human stomach can handle.
Today, I see a trend in the American culture when my counselees who struggle with life-dominating sin are super-sizing their addiction issues: they make it bigger than it really should be and mistakenly think it is an issue that they cannot handle without “expert” help. Sadly, many leaders in the church agree with them.
I grant you that the entangling sins associated with addictive choices are tough issues, but they are not super-sized—they are not more than what Christ and His body—the local church—can address. So many hopeless and hurting people don’t believe that God can do anything for their addiction problem, eating disorder, sexual sin temptations, and the like. And they certainly don’t believe the Word of God and the Holy Spirit are sufficient for change. Yet, that is where we as biblical counselors are called to proclaim the excellencies of Christ. “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28).
A Complex Problem
When helping those who struggle with the enslavement of “addiction,” I often recall Hillary Clinton’s idea from her book entitled, It Takes a Village. Her thoughts were correct but she had the wrong village. The right village is not the government, but the body of Christ. For those in the throes of an “addiction” of any type, there are several “villages” out there attempting to help but which “village” is the right one with the right message of truth and grace with real hope and power for transformation?
These are complicated problems without simple solutions but that does not mean that they are beyond God’s reach, and certainly not too big and complicated for the body of Christ. It may require much time, effort, and willingness to work hard along with the addict. Let’s take drug addiction for example. I say the church can handle the problem of addiction if and only if the faith family will biblically address the issues of the heart driving the choices behind the addiction.
Physically, the drug addict likely has a tolerance problem where she has abused the drug of choice to excess (Ephesians 5:18) and it has enslaved her body to the point that when she stops taking the substance, she will feel the withdrawal effects depending on the specific drug. So, a local church and biblical counselor refers this addicted person to a medical doctor for help with detoxification as would any counseling agency or treatment center.
The physical component of addiction can be handled by a competent doctor and one physician in our area prescribes a five dollar medication to those addicted so that they can detox quickly and safely under the care of a nurse for about 72 hours. A detox does not have to cost thousands of dollars as some might think, though it is vital that the addict be under a physician’s immediate care.
An interesting note is that many underestimate alcohol withdrawal but only because our culture thinks of alcohol as less dangerous than narcotics. However, alcohol withdrawal is very dangerous and can lead to death though it may not seem as severe as opiate withdrawal. Opiate withdrawal makes the “addict” violently sick and thinking she will die, but alcohol withdrawal is often less noticeable and more deadly. Get your counselee under the care of a competent physician.
Mental or “Psychological” Component
Once the physical enslavement has been eliminated, the addict must be helped mentally to think new thoughts to battle cravings. The Bible calls this the renewing of the mind. Think of it like this: if her heart is like a pitcher, then what she thinks about all day will fill up her heart similar to how a pitcher could be filled with lemonade. She must fill her mind with Scripture rather than her drug of choice. She must go further than being a hearer of the Word by also becoming a doer of the Word (James 1:22).
Having a Bible-teaching church, a biblical counselor, and living in a biblical community will help the addict to fill up her mind with Scripture as the truth in love is spoken so that a progressive transformation takes place. This “village” of the local church can provide a small group setting as well as one-to-one disciple-making for the “addict” so that she learns to take her thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). She also has the benefit of being under the shepherding care of the leaders of her church.
The addict’s unbiblical and self-centered thinking is her own worst enemy and contributes to her emotional struggles of depression, resentments, unrighteous anger, and guilt that tempt her to use drugs and alcohol for an “escape.” Most secular addiction counseling starts with discussion of feelings (i.e. How do you feel about ….?) but it is the thought life and immoral choices that produce emotional challenges; therefore, it is the thought life and obedient choices that will provide the way of escape as she replaces her own thoughts with God’s commands (Ephesians 4:20-24). Good biblical counselors ask the questions such as “What were some of the thoughts that went through your mind prior to calling your drug dealer?”
Now stabilized in her physical body along with learning to think biblical thoughts producing obedient actions and righteous emotions, her spiritual life can be better addressed. Who is better at addressing the spiritual aspects of her life than the body of Christ utilizing the Word of God and relying upon the power of the Holy Spirit?
If she checks herself into a secular treatment program, she will learn principles for living that oppose the Word of God. For example, a secular entity may tell her to choose her own Higher Power and to fashion that Power to her liking. If you don’t like that god you choose, you can “fire” him and get another god as a replacement. Let me ask you to consider this: If you can choose your own god and “fire” that god, then who really is god? Is it the person who does the choosing or the god she is choosing? This choosing is the very definition of idolatry!
There are many other concerns I have because I have been in the field of secular addiction “recovery.” I have witnessed the damage to counselees’ understanding of the One True God of the Bible as well as further harm in family and personal relationships due to the unbiblical teachings in these centers. In my opinion, “addicts” are an “unreached people group” because there are so few biblical programs in the world and most help being offered is not promoting the Gospel that we are sinners in need of a Savior. The message is often the opposite: we are diseased addicts in need of a Higher Power of our own choosing to “restore us to sanity” but there is nothing about confession and forsaking of sin (Proverbs 28:13).
Spiritually, the addict must learn to submit to God just as Jesus submitted to the Father in Luke 22:42 when He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” If Jesus surrendered His will as a man to the Father, then you know that an addict must be willing to do the same which may mean some suffering in the immediate future. It is not easy but true freedom comes from a disciplined, submitted life to Christ.
The Body of Christ Is the Hope of the World
I was thrilled to learn that some churches had replaced their twelve step recovery groups with my materials written to address the real sin issues of the heart because I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit working through a local faith family. You and I are the hope of the world not because we are so great but because Christ in His authority has commissioned us to “go and make disciples of all nations” and He is great. As His hands and feet, we must make disciples even of those in throes of an addiction (Matthew 28:18-20).
Don’t supersize the issue of addiction. While it has its complexities, the myth that “it takes an alcoholic to help an alcoholic” is simply not true. It takes the Word of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to help ANYONE with any problem including addicts, idolaters, and drunkards.
This is why I continue to write on this subject of addiction because I believe that the church can do better than a < 10% success rate which is a statistic that one secular addiction center self-reported its success rate to be! I think the body of Christ can do better because we have the right message of forgiveness and repentance that all “addicts” need to hear!
Jesus is our Head and as believers, we are His body and the only hope for this world. For this reason, I urge you not to turn away from the responsibility to help an “addict” who comes into your church family but to help them address the real heart issues behind their behavior. They will suffer from guilt, shame, fear, worry, anger, depression, loneliness, bitterness, and many more issues but we have the answers to transformation in the Word of God.
Yes, get them stabilized with real, medical help first but that is when the challenging fun begins as you address the heart. Someone in active addiction has been living so selfishly that you will be amazed at the transformation that occurs in just a short time. And the good news is that you will potentially have a counselee who will be sold out with reckless abandon to share the Gospel with holy boldness for the glory of God.
Join the Conversation
What can you do under the authority of your local church to make disciples of those struggling with an “addiction”?
Who do you know now that is struggling with an addiction that you can begin studying the Word and sharing your life with?
 Note that her spiritual life could be addressed at any time along the counseling process yet I encourage counselees to stabilize physically and mentally so that they have a sober body and mind enabling them to understand the Word of God and to be led by the Holy Spirit.