BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part 3 in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog post on Addictions. In addition to today’s post by Julie Ganschow, you can read Part 1—Luke Gilkerson’s 3 Healthy Tensions in Porn Addiction Recovery Group, Part 2—Mark Shaw’s Addiction: A Super-sized Issue?, and Part 4—Mark Hardin’s Shepherding People Struggling with Addiction.
A Worship Disorder
Joan is a self-described addict. She would tell you she has been addicted to many things throughout her life, beginning with a sugar addiction as a child. She graduated to an addiction to shopping, moved to over eating, and now is dependent on alcohol to feel good. Joan’s life revolves around self-gratification and she admits to lying and stealing to meet her felt needs of excitement, pain relief, and comfort.
She also professes to be a Christian and is looking for help with her addictions. If Joan believes her addictions are biological or genetic then the best she can do is get behavioral therapy, attend 12 Step groups, or take a pill to feel better. She is considered “diseased,” and in the medical model that is a permanent diagnosis. With that mindset she sees her behavior as not being her fault, and she believes she is helpless before her impulses, thoughts, and drives.
The label “addict” is attached when a person’s pursuit of something or someone becomes all- consuming. Joan desires relief from pain and suffering, feeling better about life, being happy, and having fun. She thinks so often about what she wants; she desires these things so deeply that she is willing to sin to get them. She has become a slave to her desires and lives a in a perpetual cycle of self-abuse.
Joan lives to please herself more than she wants to live for God. Her desires have become functional idols. The results of such self-worship are emptiness, a lack of contentment, anger, envy, depression and self-pity. Essentially, what she once controlled now controls her. This is the result of idolatry.
For us to help Joan she must be willing to look at her problem from a biblical perspective and see her addictions from God’s point of view. Joan must agree that her desires have become idols of her heart. She must be reminded that God will not share His glory with anyone, and He commands her to worship only Him. This is why having an addiction is an aspect of worship and why addiction is ultimately a worship disorder.
Created to Worship
Joan has been created to worship God, but her sinful lusts have driven her to worship and idolize the things of the world.
Eventually the idol worship will create other problems for Joan: medical complications due to her poor diet, financial problems due to her spending, and a physical dependency to alcohol, to name a few. While those are real problems, they are not the real problem! Joan’s heart has been enslaved long before her body becomes affected or her bank account zeroes out. Ultimately, the addict has a heart/soul problem, not a medical or psychological problem.
How to Help
We could teach coping techniques and send her to a support group, but that would not be of lasting benefit. To really help Joan, she must learn the most critical aspect of change is to understand the importance the heart plays in her thoughts, beliefs, and desires. She must look to God’s view of her self-focused heart and see it as deceptive and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).
Before Joan can change what she does she has to believe and think differently, and that requires a renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2)—in essence, a change of heart. She must understand that before she can change her habits she must change how she habitually thinks and examine her belief system.
Like any addict, Joan’s mind is focused on the flesh; therefore, it is hostile to the things of God. She became a commandment breaker and a lawbreaker. This is a violation of Romans 8:5–8 and reveals the heart of idolatry.
As we read the words of the apostle Paul in Galatians 5:19–21 we can see there is no coincidence that Galatians 5:19 places sexual immorality, impure thoughts, and eagerness for lustful pleasure at the front of that list. Joan tends to minimize her sinful heart attitudes (the thoughts, beliefs, and desires) so we must help her realize her problems are fruit that grow from idolatry of the heart.
Jesus says, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45, NIV).
Every one of Joan’s actions began as a thought; the thought was fueled by a desire or belief; the desire or belief originated in the heart.
Jesus took the opportunity to speak to the attitudes of the heart when He was questioned by the Pharisees and his disciples about pure foods and ceremonial hand washing. He gave this wise reply:
“Can’t you see that what you eat won’t defile you? Food doesn’t come in contact with your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then comes out again.” …And then he added, “It is the thought-life that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God (Mark 7:18–23, NLT)
Joan’s heart must be affected by the gospel for change to take place. She will learn that Jesus died for her and this gives hope from the outset. Joan’s sin is not unforgivable, and while her activities have been unsavory, her sin is not beyond the grace of Jesus Christ.
Together we will dismantle the high places Joan has erected in her heart and remove the idols she worships. True change demands that the heart focus switch from being self-centered to God-centered. Joan will learn to focus her thoughts, beliefs, and desires on the worship of God and then there will be appropriate actions and God-honoring consequences. She will present her body as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, as a spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1) and place her idolatrous desires under submission to the Spirit of God, resulting in new actions good fruit.
Join the Conversation
How have you helped addicts to see the idols of their hearts have come to rule their lives?