It seems like addictions are growing as are the number of things we can become addicted to, so how do we overcome addictions?
Addictions are those things we just can’t seem to live without. It might be shopping, smoking, exercise, drinking, drugs, or some other addiction, but not all addictions are bad. For example, I’m addicted to reading my Bible every morning and evening, and if I don’t, I feel like I’ve missed something (and I have!), but strictly speaking, addictions are described as a medical condition that is characterized by a compulsive engagement in rewarding certain stimuli, and despite the adverse consequences, so it can be thought of as a disease or biological process leading to such behaviors, but there are good addictions and bad addictions at different times, but I believe we can swap out the bad and insert the good, but we’re going to need help! Truth be told, every Christian that is not in heaven still struggles with sin. Some have addictions to marijuana, to alcohol, to pornography, to gambling, to overeating, to shopping, and many other things, so is there any hope for breaking these addictions? Since many Christians struggle with addictions, they also begin to doubt their own salvation, so what can a believer do to escape or to overcome their sinful addictions? What does the Bible say can be our source of help?
If anyone could overcome sin, surely it would have been the great Apostle Paul. He wrote more books in the New Testament and founded more churches than any other apostle. Even though this great man of faith was a spiritual giant, he also struggled with sin, and even regarded himself as the chief of sinners (1 Tim 1:15), so if Paul calls himself the chief of sinners, what does that make us?! Don’t let anyone tell you, you won’t struggle with overcoming sin once you’ve been saved. For one thing, before the Spirit of God dwells in us, we sin with little or no conviction, but when the Spirit of God abides in us after conversion, we are convicted of sin, and now we know we must repent of it. The Apostle Paul wrote, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Rom 7:19), and all of God’s people can say “Amen” to that because what Christian has not battled with the flesh? And this is written in the present tense, not past, so we often end up doing just what we don’t want to do. Paul understood that “nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Rom 7:18), so even Paul needed help, but from where?
Even though Paul said that he knew better, he still fell into sin…just like every other believer after conversion (1 John 1:9, 10). The thing is, he didn’t stay there. He acknowledged it and repented of it, and he moved on. He has the desire to do the right thing, but he still cannot carry it out…that is, in his own strength. This takes the very power of God: God the Holy Spirit (Rom 12:2). Even though Paul said, “I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand” (Rom 7:21), he still recognizes that he wants “to do good.” That is hopeful because he understands that the law is at work in him. The Law is a mirror, showing us our sins, and he recognizes the evil being there (James 1:23).
At one point, Paul almost seems to have given up, pleading to God, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death” (Rom 7:24), but then he answers his own question by saying, it is “through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:25a) that he can overcome his “body of death.” There are many resources available to help people overcome addictions to drugs, pornography, and alcohol. From various addictions help centers to 12-step programs. I’ve known people who have gone through these programs numerous times, and yet they still struggled. Some insurance companies will even pay for profession recovery centers. One person I had the opportunity to interview who went through one of these programs, later realized that overcoming their addiction is only possible through a full surrender to God. Most of us cannot overcome a marijuana addiction on our own or an addiction to pornography, and we can’t defeat the enemy of alcohol, gambling, overeating, or depression all by ourselves either. God wants to help you overcome the powerful addictions in your life. Think about the God Who created the entire universe; all the stars, the galaxies, the sun…everything! He knows the innumerable stars all by name, so is anything really too hard for God?! No! We have no power in ourselves, but the Holy Spirit is God and the very power of God working in us. The first thing we need to do is to acknowledge our inability to overcome on our own, and that victory will only come through surrendering to God. When you feel you’re in over your head, remember God is over all things.
Pray day and night for the help you need and ask others to pray for you, even if it’s unspoken needs. God can deliver you. For some, its instant deliverance, but for others, it takes time, so don’t lose heart. You will slip and fall, as we all do, but you’ll get back up, however, God expects us to be part of the process. We can’t do it on our own, but that doesn’t mean we sit back and “just let God!” We must ask God to cut off all the sources of our addiction, whatever that addiction might be. If you are addicted to pornography, get rid of the Internet or find a friend who can put a password protected filter on your computer. Jesus said, “if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matt 5:30). This means we must cut it off at the source. If you are addicted to drugs, turn in the illegal drug dealers. The main point is, we can do nothing on our own (John 15:5), but we “can do all things through Christ who strengthens us” (Phil 4:13).
Think you’re alone in your struggle? Nope. Evidence shows that 47% of all Christians say that they have major problems with pornography. Even among the discipleship group of the Promise Keepers, 53% of these men viewed pornography in the last week! An April 6th, 2007 CNN poll revealed that over 70% of Christian men and over 20% of Christian women are already addicted to some sort of Internet pornography. In the year 2000, Christianity Today completed a shocking survey that revealed 33% of the clergy (pastors and priests) admitted that they had visited a sexually explicit Internet website in the past week. Fifty-three percent of the clergy had visited pornographic websites several times in the past year. In a recent survey of pastors by the National Coalition in Seattle, a full 98% had been exposed to porn, intentionally or not, while 43% intentionally accessed a sexually explicit website. Clearly, we all struggle with addictions and it runs from the pulpit to the pew.
A web filter is a great way to screen out potential Internet websites that contain pornography. One of my friends has let me set the password an Internet filter, and I promised him that I would not reveal the password, no matter what he tells me. Of course, in this world, he’ll have no trouble finding other sources, so I used to check up on him at least twice a week. He said it was a small price to pay for having the protection that he so desperately needed. I also recommended putting the computer the in the living room. When our children were young, we had the computer in the living room so that we could easily monitor their sites. There primary use of it was for homework, but of course they were allowed to spend some free time browsing or playing games. There are dozens of free or inexpensive Internet filters out there.
If you are struggling with a powerful addiction like drugs, alcohol or pornography, find a trusted Christian friend (of the same sex) who can be an accountability partner for you. Have them call you every few days or so (at least once a week), and ask them how their week went. If you’re battling an addiction or some deeply entrenched sin, please don’t lose heart. The very fact that you searched over the Internet or wanted to read this is evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in you. It may be that God brought you here today for the very specific purpose of seeking God’s help. God will never, ever give up on you.
I have a close friend who battled with pornography for over thirty years, and he prayed, “Lord, please help me, I am weak. I can’t do this on my own!” You know what? He’s right, and it worked. He surrendered to God, found some help from a friend, and God heard his prayer and answered it. It took him a very long time, but today, he says, “I am clean and sober, but still sort of a train wreck…a sinner, yet saved.” I know exactly what he means. Jesus’ blood covers past, present, and future sins…so the very fact that you have a sin or addiction weighing heavily on your mind should encourage you. You know the Spirit of God is working in you. Being saved doesn’t mean you’ll never sin again. We will all still sin, again and again…but also, again and again, we will repent of it. We’ll never be sinless this side of the veil, but we will begin to sin less. Paul’s question is for all who have trusted in Christ: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death” (Rom 7:24). Of course we know the answer is, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:25).
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is a writer at Christian Quotes and also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.