Addiction and Romans 6

In response to my sermon last night, I had a helpful comment that I thought it would be good to share.

In my sermon, I said:

When we talk about these things [i.e. alcohol, prostitutes, cravings to be beautiful, immoral fantasies, pornography, food binges], we often use the word ‘addiction’, don’t we?

That word can be helpful to describe the ongoing pressure of these problems.

But you’ve got to be very careful with that word, ‘addict’. The problem with the word is that it can be used to say that you have no control. That you can’t do anything about it.

But Christians are not ultimately addicts. We are not under the power of sin. Sin is not our master. Because we are united with a man who died to sin and rose from the dead. And that is power. It is powerful. God is with you to help.

If you think of yourself primarily as an addict, if you say, ‘that’s just me’, I can’t do anything about that addiction, You’re wrong. No, that’s not you. That’s the old self that was crucified. The addict is dead. You are told here to stop obeying it. You don’t owe anything to it. You’re free. You don’t have to pay for it, you don’t have to do anything for it. You have a new life.

Verse 14, do you see it?

‘Sin shall not be your master’.

Some of you might think you are habitually caught in a sin. The Bible never says it’s easy to kick these evil habits. It can be a long, hard road. You may have all sorts of emotional and physical dependencies you need to face up to. It may involve years of prayer and the advice and love of other Christians. I’m not saying it’s easy. But it’s possible. Jesus doesn’t demand perfection of us in this life. But he does demand progress. You want to be thinking long term. You want to be looking back on your life in ten years and saying, “while it still tempts me, it will not condemn me”. It may be a long, hard road. But even so, God wants us to deal radically with sin.

The comment from a church member was:

As an active member of a 12-step program for addiction I too shared your suspicion of the term ‘addict’. However my views have changed. I think the issue of addiction and sin is an important one. I think that admitting addiction is actually admitting to weakness over sin without grace. This admission of failure in self-control is the first step in almost all treatment programs for addiction. This admission of failure in self-control is then followed by a surrender to God-control. This is too difficult to explain here, but I feel that I am living proof that admitting addiction is sometimes a vital step that enables a Christian to deal with an area of difficulty with sin.

I think it is a helpful addition to what I said in the sermon. Addiction is a real power that many people (both Christians and non-Christians) struggle with. The first step in dealing with any sin, whether it’s a one-off wrongdoing or an ongoing habit or addiction, is to admit its existence and its power. In this sermon, I wanted to emphasise an important truth that is found in Romans 6, a primary and important truth that is above and beyond the existence of sin in our lives. That is, if we are in Christ, our sin or addiction (however real) does not actually define us or ultimately make us who we are. We are ultimately defined by the new life that we have in Christ. The power of that new life is more powerful than our addictions, and will enable us to deal with them. So the recognition that you are an “addict” is never an excuse for wrongdoing, it must only ever be the first “step” towards dealing with the sin in your life and, with God’s help, heading towards recovery.

I’ve spoken at some length with the person who made this comment. For those who are struggling with an addiction, programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Overeaters Anonymous, etc. are worth contacting, and they can put you in touch with other “twelve-step” programs for dealing with other addictions.

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