Addictions: The Enslavement of the Idolatrous Heart

Introduction

Drugs or alcohol has affected many people we know, whether directly or indirectly. Often times we wonder, “why would someone want to act this way?” Many times, those who struggle with life’s most difficult problems find an escape from their situation by turning to drugs or alcohol. Instead of finding hope in Jesus and placing their faith and trust in Him, some find their hope at the end of a needle, at the bottom of a pill container, or at the bottom of a beer bottle.

In the next few blog posts, we will examine the topic of substance abuse and determine if the Bible has anything to say concerning this difficult and sensitive topic. I think you will be surprised to note that the Bible is relevant and does speak to this issue. In this post, let us define an addiction and see what the Bible says concerning this difficult topic.

1. Does the Bible talk about alcohol or drugs?

Whether you believe it or not, the Bible does mention alcohol and drugs. It does not take very long for the sin of drunkenness to enter into human reality. As a matter of fact, Noah is the first recorded man in the Bible to sin by being drunk with wine. In Genesis 9, the man, who found favor in the eyes of the Lord, was found drunk by one of his children. Because of seeing his father’s indecency, Noah cursed Ham, his son, and blessed the other two, Shem and Japheth (Gen. 9:24-27).

In the New Testament, one of the clearest teachings on drunkenness is found in the book of Ephesians. The Apostle Paul writes, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:18-20). Instead of being drunk, the Lord wants His children to be filled with His Spirit.

There is no need at this moment to mention other passages that deal with drunkenness. Any good concordance will lead you on a fruitful word study concerning drunkenness.[1]

Because of God’s truth found in Ephesians 5:18-20, this will be our main verse concerning the controversial topic of substance abuse.

What about drugs? Does the Bible mention “getting high?” Not exactly. However, this does not mean that the Bible condones drug abuse but condemns getting drunk. Rather, the Bible uses the word drunkenness to denote any kind of mind-altering behavior. Therefore, there is no difference than being drunk or getting high. In the Bible, these two concepts are categorically the same. There is much more that could be said here. However, we will focus on biblical principles and concepts in future posts.

2. Defining an Addiction

In The Heart of Addiction, Mark Shaw, a biblical counselor, says that an addiction “occurs when you repeatedly satisfy a natural appetite and desire with a temporary pleasure until you become the servant of the temporary object of pleasure rather than its master.”[2] This is also known as idolatry. Idolatry occurs when a person serves an object rather than being the master of an object. Simply put, idolatry is placing something or someone before God. Therefore, an addiction is an idolatrous act that is caused by the persistent and habitual use of a substance or thing that is used to produce a particular pleasure or experience.

Biblical counselor, Elyse Fitzpatrick, agrees when she writes, “Dependence (also known as addiction) is a physical state that occurs when your body has become accustomed to receiving a medicine that has habit-forming potential. Withdrawal is the unpleasant physical reaction that occurs when you abruptly stop taking a medicine after your body has become accustomed to receiving it.”[3]

If this how we would biblically define an addiction, how can we define an addict? An addict is a person who enters into an idolatrous relationship in order to have a mood-changing experience.

Shaw defines an addict as “someone who is self-centered, sinful, and has a willful desire to satisfy an appetite that causes him or her to neglect God-given responsibilities and/or to commit harmful acts toward others and self.”[4]

A person uses drugs, alcohol, sexual immorality, or any other idolatrous activity when they want to change how they feel. Some have classified addictions in two categories: physical addiction, and chemical addiction. For some addicts, there is a payoff when there is a selfish gratification of a particular lust – eating, shopping, gambling, pornography, etc. This type of addiction is known as a physical addiction. Another type of an addiction occurs when a person’s body becomes dependent on a particular substance that produces a particular feeling – drugs and alcohol. This type of addiction is known as a chemical addiction.

Because no one is immune to idolatry, anyone can become an addict to almost anything. Why? Because anything can become an addictive substance, especially when it is made a priority over a relationship with God. The following are the most common forms of addiction: drugs, alcohol, sex, food, gambling, sleep, television, video games, particular hobbies or sports, spending money, and self-injury.[5]

But, the ultimate source of addiction is not in the substance, but in the person. Where in the person? At the level of the heart. As Shaw rightly notes, “Substance abuse and addiction manifest as a physical problem but the root issues are in the spiritual realm of one’s own heart.”[6]

Biblical counselors talk about the heart a lot, but what do someone mean when they refer to a person’s heart? When a biblical counselor refers to the heart, they are referring to one’s inner, spiritual person that consists of thoughts (mind), emotions (affections), and actions (will). A person consists of a physical and spiritual nature, and the heart (mind, emotions, and actions) is a part of the spiritual nature. In their chapter concerning influences on the heart, biblical counselors Jeff Forrey and Jim Newheiser write…“Genes do not ‘produce’ behavior; they provide the blueprints for the processes involved in constructing proteins within cells. Those proteins might be necessary for a person eventually to exhibit certain behavioral traits, but they are not sufficient by their mere presence to cause the behavioral traits in question…To say that persons choose and enact behaviors is to return to the heart as the necessary and sufficient cause of behaviors, because the heart is the control center of the person.”[7]

3. Biblical Understanding of Man

Human beings are dependent creatures, created to be dependent upon God. But as a result of sin, humanity strives for autonomy. However, people remain dependent creatures turning to idols rather than God. Because of sin, a person makes a choice to self-medicate rather than find hope and healing in Jesus. Therefore, God gives his rebellious creation over to their idolatrous lusts, resulting in an addiction or other self-destructive behavior (Rom. 1:18-32).

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were created to be dependent upon God and each other. Adam was to be dependent upon God and work the Garden. Eve was to be dependent upon God and her husband. But something went terribly wrong in the Garden. Adam and Eve chose to disobey God. As a result of their bad choice, sin entered into the world, causing death and destruction. Because of one person’s choice, sin affects all of humanity, including us (Rom. 3:23; 5:12). Since God has willed for humanity to live in community, those relationships are now cursed.

Because relationships are now cursed, humanity seeks independence rather than dependence. Our rebellious nature wants to please the self rather than God. Instead of trusting in the sustaining power of God, humans would rather be autonomous. But the irony is that humanity still seeks out relationships with one another. In their cursed relationships, people struggle to get along with one another. Thus, humanity remains dependent creatures in spite of their sin.

Our dependence then turns to other things – idols. Idolatry can be extremely dangerous because it has the ability to take something that is considered to be “good” and turn it into a demand. For example, what about the use of painkillers? In a “good” situation, they are needed to help dull the pain of trauma. In a “bad” situation, painkillers have the potential to be abused. The same concept is true when it comes to physical intimacy. God designed physical intimacy to be “good” in a marriage relationship. But in a “bad” situation, physical intimacy can be abused in the form of adultery, pornography, or other sexual immorality.[8]All the pleasure that results from idolatrous behavior is short-lived. It is only pleasurable for the moment. It may feel good in an instant, but the consequences can be long-lasting.

How does an addiction occur? An addiction occurs when human beings are captivated and ensnared by the idols they trust and love. But this biblical understanding is different from what the medical world believes about the cause of an addiction. I am not talking about the physical nature of an addiction or the environmental factors that may contribute to one’s addiction. Rather, I am speaking about the labeling of an addiction as a disease.

In the medical world, many scientists view addiction as a disease rather than the consequence of moral failure. This is not hard to understand since non-believers in the medical world choose to ignore, or suppress, biblical truth. An addiction is not a disease because it has no direct pathology. In the medical world, an illness is determined because of its pathology. For example, diabetes results from a failing pancreas; cancer occurs because of cancerous cells infecting the body; infections occur because of bacteria that enters into the body.

Why does the medical worldview an addiction as a disease? Because non-believers hold to an evolutionary worldview that does not believe in the accuracy or the sufficiency of God’s Holy Word. These scientists theorize that a person can be predisposed to addictive behavior as a result of a hereditary gene that has been passed down generation after generation. However, the findings are currently inconclusive. But if scientists and doctors do discover a gene that predisposes someone to a chemical addiction, it will not change the fact that addicts are captivated and ensnared by their own idolatry. Neither will it change the fact that an addiction first occurs because a person makes a willful choice to participate in a sinful or habit-forming behavior.

Consequently, people become dependent because God created people to be dependent. This does not mean that God is to blame. Because of their proclivity to sin, people make a willful choice to rebel against God. Man’s willful rebellion results in cursed dependence. Instead of being dependent upon their Savior, people become dependent upon a substance.

Conclusion

Is there any hope for such discouraging news? Absolutely!! There is hope in the One, True, Savior, Jesus Christ. Because addiction is considered a sin, there is a cure for these life-enslaving habits. Jesus is the answer and cure for the addict. There is no hope if an addiction is considered a disease. Why is there no hope? Because there is no cure for an addiction. The best treatment is to manage symptoms.

Because we live in a fallen world and because we have a sin nature, the appetite for destruction is never satisfied. Our idolatrous lusts become involved in a vicious cycle in order to experience the same feeling as before or a greater experience than the one before. Ultimately, the person’s life begins to center around the worship of that experience – which the Bible says, we are slaves to sin.

However, if an addiction is not a disease, then there is hope for a struggling addict. An addict needs a new heart. and needs a spiritual heart transplant performed by the Great Physician and Holy Surgeon, Jesus Christ.

[1] For further study, see Proverbs 23:20, 21, 29–35; 31:4, 5; Isaiah 5:11, 12; 28:7, 8; 1 Corinthians 5:11, 6:9-10; 1 Pet. 4:3.

[2] Mark Shaw, The Heart of Addiction (Bemidji, MN: Focus Publishing, 2008), 27.

[3] Elyse Fitzpatrick and Laura Hendrickson, Will the Medicine Stop The Pain? (Chicago: Moody Press, 2006), 206.

[4] See Mark E. Shaw, Divine Intervention: Hope and Help for Families of Addicts (Bemidji, MN: Focus Publishing, 2011), vii.

[5] This is not an exhaustive list, but some of the most common habits of addiction.

[6] Shaw, The Heart of Addiction, 6.

[7] Jeff Forrey and Jim Newheiser, “The Influences on the Human Heart,” in James MacDonald, Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling: Changing Lives with God’s Changeless Truth, eds. Bob Kellemen and Steve Viars (Eugene: Harvest House, 2013), 129.

[8] Idolatry does not just manifest itself in the form of substance abuse. Idolatry can manifest itself in sleep, work, gambling, eating, and pleasing others more than pleasing God (fear of man).