If we look at the issue of addictions, we don’t have to look far to discover it’s a cultural issue in America, though certainly not limited to America. Whether one is referring to drugs, sex, shopping, gambling, power, hoarding or a host of other addictions, our culture and our world is permeated with one obsession after another.
Let’s begin by discussing what is included in the definition of “addiction”, and get into the real theological ‘meat’ of the issue:
What Addiction Is:
An addiction is, first and foremost a sin. One would be hard-pressed to find a biblical scholar who would dispute that. Addiction is a sin that one can’t seem to put an end to because the addiction, itself, has such power over that person—an enslavement, quite literally. It is a sin pattern that is extremely challenging to eliminate or even minimize. It is a self-selected dependence to an idol; and that kind of enslavement isn’t so much imposed on us as it is chosen by us. We choose to be a slave to addictions—food, money, shopping, alcohol, technology, video games, work etc.
Though these things, in and of themselves in the proper context, are enjoyable and are not sinful, it’s when behaviors become our master that we have a problem. When we lose the joy these types of activities can offer, we enter a realm, a dark realm, where it’s no longer about the pleasure but is, instead, about mastery and control—the only problem is, the addict isn’t the one in control!
Addictions are self-selected slavery . You shackle yourself to your sin-of-choice and allow it to rule over you or even destroy you; and that ruling or destruction can include your body, your thoughts, your behaviors and your motives. In this way, an addiction is different than a disease.
Though our culture typically places addictions in the category of ‘Disease’, the problem with that perspective is that, ultimately, it isn’t biblical because the person isn’t held fully accountable. If the person with the addiction is considered to have a disease, that person is viewed, at least partially, as a ‘victim’– that person isn’t really to blame, he or she isn’t seen as a sinner, repentance isn’t the focus, and the triggers for the addiction can become an emphasis. Once the triggers are established, one is guided on how to get the addiction ‘under one’s own control’ by reducing external and internal stimulation, esteeming oneself and making a genuine effort to improve one’s behavior and live a better life. It would be far more (biblically) accurate to view an addiction as a sinful endeavor (though that may sound harsh); and view an addict as someone who doesn’t just have an obsession, but has a ‘worship disorder’.
For many, it would be troubling to place cancer and a shopping addiction, for example, in the same category of ‘Disease’. Someone who is battling cancer does have a very legitimate disease; and certainly didn’t choose to take on a potentially life-threatening condition, contrasted with someone with a shopping preoccupation who at some point in the past, made a determination to destroy their bank account or marriage due to reckless and continual consumption.
Proverbs—Addictive Personality Types:
If we say to an alcoholic, “It’s not your fault! You have a family history of the disease. It’s understandable!” Here, we end up excusing the individual for a behavior he seemingly has no control over. God and His Word, on the other hand, do hold that person accountable. Even though social sciences delve into the physiology and psychology behind addictions, the Bible goes to the root of the issue—the human heart and the choices we humans all make.
As old as the Book of Proverbs is, it does speak of various forms of addictions. There are people woven throughout the Bible, and clearly in Proverbs, who had various addictions—the adulteress who is addicted to sexual escapades. She shows up in Proverbs 5 and 7; and continually cheats on her husband. Then there are the sluggards mentioned in Proverbs who worship comfort and ease—they don’t want to work or go through any effort or inconvenience that might thwart their relaxation and leisure. Their addiction is laziness. How about the mention of those who exude greed—they are addicted to money and the pleasures and things money provides. Proverbs also mentions those who worship themselves—the proud person who is addicted to, and worships, self. Alcoholism and the drunkard who worships alcohol are also revealed in Proverbs. The glutton is discussed who is addicted to food. For the glutton, even today, food becomes that person’s god. Food is what provides identity, comfort, security and companionship.
As you read the Book of Proverbs, one discovers that addictions are readily revealed. Overall, scripture does speak to addiction; the same types of addictions that are so prevalent today. The real essence of addictive behaviors and the driving force behind them becomes very apparent.
If we cut to the chase, we realize that biblically speaking, what lies under any addiction is choosing an idol and, figuratively speaking, bowing down to it! In today’s society, with all the professional intervention, the underlying issues of idolatry are not explored, unless one seeks expert counsel from a Christian therapist. Secular interventions do not deal with the true root of addictions and as a result, even though genuine efforts might be made to stop drinking, smoking, drugging or hoarding, secular intervention still doesn’t lead to the underlying issues of idol worship.
So often, if one addiction is overcome, such as smoking for example, the first addiction of chain-smoking is many times replaced by a different addiction such as overeating–gluttony. So what we have now is one addiction, being replaced by a different addiction, and the whole issue of idolatry is never recognized, dealt with and eradicated. Or, if a person does overcome, say, drug abuse, that person may boast of how he, through dogged determination and self-will, was able to combat the addiction, and now we have pride manifesting itself—the person smugly accentuates his own glory and personal accomplishment. Idols are simply shifted—the idol of nicotine is replaced with the idol of food and the idol of drugs is replaced with the idol of prideful self.
Addictions Come From The Enemy:
Many people, even Christians, when they think of idolatry, think of primitive people who bowed down to man-made carvings or statues. But when the Bible speaks of idolatry, it does so in a much more robust, personal and practical way. All the way back in Ezekiel 14, the first 8 verses speak of idols of the heart. The lesson here, regarding idols, is much less about what we gaze upon or consume or hold in our hands and much more about what is in our hearts. Biblically speaking, idolatry, or addictive behaviors, involves clinging to someone or something other than God that gives us pleasure or identity– running to someone or something to make our lives better and make us feel excited, fulfilled and/or satisfied. Contemporary addictions including too much gambling, drinking, working, eating, video-gaming do, indeed, have their place under the heading of ‘idol worship’.
Idolatry is one of the major themes that runs throughout the entire Bible. Romans 1:25 says, regarding those who committed idolatry: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen.” Romans 1:25 clearly tells us there is God, who is Creator; and there is creation. We are to worship the Creator, not the creation. Idolatry comes into play when there is an inversion and people cling to or worship creation rather than the One who made it all. Food, relationships, drugs, sports—when we place too much interest and emphasis on these types of things where they become far too important, way too necessary and much too identifying, they, in reality, become a god. In a contemporary world, then, we find ourselves doing exactly what Romans 1:25 is referring to!
Idol worship can take over your job, your family, your body, your life; and behind these addictive powers lie demonic forces—as if Satan is using these created things to enslave us so he can rule over us. So when we’re dealing with people who are addicted to one thing or another, it’s not enough to tell them to do better, try harder, get on medications, ask them to see what their behaviors are doing to those who love them the most, or attempt to minimize the triggers. If we don’t deal with the root cause of idolatry (the condition of the human heart), one way or another, an addict will continue to worship someone or something— money, power, fame, glory, status, consumption—and under it all, is an obsessive revering of something other than God!
Scripture Makes It Clear:
Throughout the Bible, we are given distinct instructions to be aware of the dangers of addictions and run from them. The single topic concerning too much drinking, for example, is revealed as something to take very seriously: Titus 1:7 and 2:3; 1 Timothy3:3; 1Timothy 3:8 and 1Corinthians 6:10. It becomes very clear that believers must not be dependent on alcohol or any other idol. We are reminded: “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” An addiction to anything other than God is wrong; and to occupy ourselves with anything else, habitually, is idolatry.
Also, Exodus 20:3 explicitly tells us that we are not to place our first interests or excessive affections towards anything or anyone, other than God, Himself: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 34:14 accentuates that same command: “Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”
Additional Scripture Concerning Addictions:
God offers help in His word to break free of addictions. Some verses give warnings while others give encouragement. These are only a handful:
Proverbs 6:26-29– “For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread; and the adultress will hunt for the precious life. Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?…Whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent.”
Romans 13:14– “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts, thereof.”
Ephesians 5:18-20– “And be not drunk with wine….but be filled with the Spirit….giving thanks for all things unto God…”
James 1:12– “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation…”
James 4:7– “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”
God’s Word tells us He can, and does, make old things new. That which is broken, can be divinely repaired. Through faith, prayer and genuine repentance, we have a God who is in the business of working miracles! It is only through Him that we can break the chains of bondage, heal and have inner peace.
Revelation 21:5– “…Behold I make all things new ….”
Isaiah 42:9– “Behold, the former things are come to pass; and new things do I declare“
Matthew 11:28– “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”