Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Gospel Confronts the Addict

(this is a chapter in a book called The Gospel Confrontation) 

The next two chapters are a result of working with Rev. Bill Delvaux, Head of a Bible Department at a Nashville Christian School. Bill's teaching and ministry was a huge inspiration to me and pushed my relationship with Christ more into the heart and less about the head.

Bill categorizes people, for ministry purposes, as addicts or cynics- using the parable of the prodigal son (actually 2 sons) as a backdrop (Luke 15). He says that we tend to find ourselves as either the addict, filling the heart,- or the cynic, killing the heart. He has a great series of teachings about the heart and the route out of both conditions.

Though I am using similar language and passages, I am going to approach the confrontation of the gospel to the cynic and addict in a little different way, not opposing Bill's points, but affirming his ministry of which I am a benefactor. 

John Calvin is often quoted as saying, "the human heart is an idol factory." Throughout Scripture, man is shown to elevate things of the world, even good things, and place them in such high regard and dependency that they become god replacements.

Is there a difference in the idolator and the addict? The Book of Romans paints a clear picture of our default mode. Paul's argument is that we know God is there by way of His creation- but in hardness of heart, without a spirit of gratitude, man 'exchanges' the truth and glory of the true God and worships the creature. This is a downward spiral where God actually allows man to follow these foolish and dark desires, growing ever more dishonorable and impure and foolish. God gives man over to his pursuits and the consequence is built into the activity itself.

The idolator becomes an addict- a heart that has a capacity for eternity (Ecclesiastes 3:11) has to have more and more. Before long the desire has become the master and man its prisoner. An addict is an idolator who has become a slave to his idol of preference.

Do some people have a more addictive personality than others? It seems so- but the degree of addiction is often linked to the power of a heart's capacity for passion. The addict's heart is still alive and hungry while the cynic has almost silenced his heart in callous anger or despair. The addict is an unregulated heart- wide and burning- needing more and more with a payoff of less and less.

The best addicts learn to juggle the addictions in such a way to prevent social indignation. Over the years I have registered a few quotes in my mind that connect to this maze of misery. "We have an infinite appetite for distraction" and "A life of activity can be confused as a life of meaning".

The difference between a cocaine addict and a golf addict may not be as different at the heart level as we might initially believe. Obviously, there are huge differences to how it plays out in society and the recovery of each or the penalty of each is different- but all addictions have at the core what God chastised His people about in Jeremiah 2:12. "My people have committed two sins: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living water; to make for themselves broken wells which hold no water."

We think we know the addict. We have stories of friends or family members who have experienced the ravages of alcohol addiction or heroine addiction. We understand the high cost of these lifestyles, including death.

But is the gospel a route out? Is it that good? How does the message of new life in Christ help the addict? How does the confrontation play out?

In the case of the addict, we are praying for a miracle that can come only from God Himself. An addict has years of gospel rejection working against him. The addict has taken the good things of God and his common grace and said' "I don't want God, I don't need God- to me He is only an expedient." And the issue is that God will never allow Himself to be an expedient. He allows for the withdrawal of light and the heart of the addict refuses to seek help. C.S. Lewis said it well, "Hell is a prison with doors that are locked from the inside."

The addict is a prisoner and the chains are heavy. The evil one compoundes the issue by keeping the fog thick and deceptive. In the early stages there are great highs and encouraging companions. The party is fun and intense. The hook is set before the junkie knows it- and the mind is too cloudy for reason.

Attempts to quit seem useless. If an addict has spent years numbing pain- then as the pain comes in- it creates panic and retreating from the reality of that existence is life and death.

My experience with the addict though has uncovered a more hideous problem. An addict's worst habit is lying. Successful addicts lie so well that they even deceive themselves. Because gospel confrontation begins in truth telling, the addict is often DOA when it comes to true recovery.

See what I mean?.... the rescue of an addict is always a miracle. But miracles DO HAPPEN!

The route out always begins with a realization that reflects reality. Luke 15:17 "But when he (the prodigal) came to himself, he said....". How do we pray for the addict? We cry out to God to have him come to himself. He needs the fog to lift. He needs a flicker. He needs to see himself as he is. And the picture is never pretty- it can be dark and devastating.

Have you ever watched the show, 'Intervention'? It is always interesting to me that when the loved ones join together with one stern voice of love- the addict has a breakthrough of reality... this is it.. this is serious. Sure, it can result in anger or denial- but a well thought out, guided by professionals, supported by loved ones, intervention can be that 'awakening' that allows a gospel confrontation.

I was in a men's group many years ago. You know what a men's group is? It is where a few men meet together and after 6 months they start telling the truth.

So in this group, we finally started getting real. And it happened. One day- a successful businessman, father of young boys, a leader in the church and community- came to himself. "I'm addicted to online pornography."

Every man in that group was changed in that one transparent disclosure- and the gospel of Christ was ready to set the captive free. 

It was a rather easy process- he allowed us to be his accountability partners. He told us his M.O. How and where and when and we set a game plan to 'help'. 

6 weeks later, he had a believable testimony to the power of Christ to end an area that was killing him spiritually and robbing his life and marriage of joy.

What was the key? In his case it was two things: 1) The admission/confession to a group of brothers who loved him without condemnation and 2) the powerful message of forgiveness through the cross of Christ.

He explained that as his sin became more frequent he found that Satan had equipped it with a 'stinger' of shame and regret. It wasn't long before he was getting further into his addiction because of shame. He felt Satan telling him- "you are a worthless hypocrite"- and "God is through with you- in a short time, He is going to destroy you". He believed the lies and his guilt drove him deeper into the activity.

This is the 'worldly sorrow' that the Apostle Paul writes of in 2 Corinthians 7. It is a terrible existence. The addict feels shame, hurt, guilt. He wants out. The addiction is no longer stimulating, it is not fun, it is a burden. He can't tell anyone. So without hope or help he turns once again to the addiction. More and more. Less and less relief. He is a slave.

But then a gospel confrontation happens. Does God care? Is it too late? Is my sin too great?
II Corinthians 7: 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

Then the Holy Spirit confirms the message of grace. The cross is proof of God's love. 

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The addict's most sincere prayer: "Help me God, I'm in trouble."

And recovery begins. Sure, a long up and down process, but God stands by His promises.

Our friend still had some slip ups. He went back a few times. He did this off and on for a year or two. But the gospel had taken Satan's stinger out. He would fall and get up quicker. God's Word begin to teach him to see with new eyes.

The greatest testimony of deliverance was when my friend stated, "I'm so saddened by the industry of pornography. It is so fake. I hate what it does to women. I hate what it has done to society. I hate that it has cheapened something beautiful that was created by God. I want to share the gospel to others, I want others to hear my story, I want others to find newness in Christ!"

I can share these stories of victory over and over. I have a brother who is living proof of deliverance from  drug addiction who is teaching  and helping others.

Does the saved addict still suffer consequences. Sadly, yes. There is always a cost.  
The old saying goes: 
Sin will take you further than you want to go. 
It will keep you longer than you want to stay,
and it will cost you more than you want to pay

But the reality is that the message of Christ is so good that joy overcomes the loss. And once the truth takes root, the addict can agree with the puritan, Thomas Chalmers- There really is "The expulsive power of a new affection." Once you experience the depth of Christ's love, you gladly participate in the new 'exchange' where Christ takes your sin and you take His righteousness. 

He has set the captive free! It makes you break into singing and praise!

So, one brother is healed... we now turn to a harder case... the gospel confronts the cynic....


Anonymous said...

Such a great read! I just immediately grabbed my husband by the hand, sat him down, & we read over this together. We try to make time together daily for God but don't always stick to that plan. This message brought us together today to search out God. Thanks Jay! Love always, Marcia

Jayopsis said...

Thanks Marcia- that is always encouraging!