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Addiction to Drugs and the Grace of God

A Message of Hope

To those drug addicts whose eyes are opened to the harsh reality of their addiction, there is a personal word of hope for you. This hope begins with believing that, while you were created from dust, you are destined for glory in Christ. Contrary to the accepted secular concept of evolution, you are not a cosmic accident, or a mass of protoplasm wandering aimlessly on planet Earth while circling the galaxy.

Rather, you were made distinct from the animals by a loving Creator who intends for your life to be full of meaning, definition, and direction. God made you in His image. You are an eternal, spiritual being with a miraculous mind and body that bears His innate reflection. God wants every part of you to be pure and holy. “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification.” (1 Thess. 4:3)

Freedom from the pollution of sin, which is the transgression of the will of God, and freedom from the bondage of your addiction is only possible when you return to God and walk in His ways. This is done by the power of the Holy Spirit who will guide you, keep you, and protect you.

Do not think that your sin of addiction is too great for the grace of God. Do not believe the lies of the flesh, and the devil, that your addiction is too powerful to be reversed. Rather, believe the promise of God that if you will forsake your present path, God will show you grace and mercy. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Isa. 55:7) It is good to accept personal responsibility and call upon the name of the Lord. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Rm. 10:13)

Taking Personal Responsibility

After embracing the gospel message of hope while depending upon the power of the Holy Spirit, and the promise of God, there is personal responsibility to be considered. The addict must take specific steps to walk in a new way.

The first step the recovering addict must take is to completely avoid any substance of choice that can induce an alternate state of consciousness. This principle is well established in Scripture. For example, the apostle Paul writes, “And be not drunk with wine wherein is excess.” Why? Because drunkenness leads to debauchery just like drug addiction can lead to a high, and on to illicit behavior which is hurtful to self and to others. Rather, “be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph. 5:18) Drug addiction confuses a person’s thoughts, weakens their inhibitions, and makes them more vulnerable to other transgressions. Any depressant or stimulant, psychedelic or dissociative, legal or illegal, substance that alters the mind is to be avoided, and for good reason. “At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.” (Prov. 23:32) “Your eyes will see strange things and your mind will utter perverse things” (NASV, Prov. 23:32-33).

The second step the recovering addict must take is to remember that a Christian’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. God instructs His children to honor Him with their bodies. “What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

The world may say, “It is my body and I can do with it what I want.” The Christian must say, “Now, I belong to Jesus. My body is His home.” God does not want His holy habitation to be harmed in any way in the pursuit of personal pleasure. God is not against pleasure.

God is not against joy. Jesus came to give joy. “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” (John 15:11) Drug usage does not bring lasting joy. Momentarily, when a substance is used there might be a euphoric rush. However, from that point on the “monkey” is chased trying to bring back the initial happiness. The search for the initial high is necessary because there is pleasure in drugs, but only for a little while. (Heb. 11:25) In the end, the happiness an addiction promises proves to be a lie.

A person is left with a weakened body, depressed in spirit, and in bondage to self-destructive behavior. Long ago the people of Israel searched for satisfaction in an inappropriate way. Jeremiah compared them to broken cisterns, or man-made reservoirs, designed to store water. “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” (Jer. 2:13)

The third step the recovering addict must take is to reconstruct their life in order to grow in freedom, strength, and grace and knowledge. Daily behavior must change moment by moment so that the heart can reconnect with God. The usage of drugs dulls and deadens a person’s desire to pursue God and fulfill His purpose in life. Paul exhorts Christians to be careful how they live. “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, 16 Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. 17 Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.:” (Eph. 5:15-17)

The Triggers That Lead to Drug Usage

Because drug usage is often triggered by something going on in a person’s life, the underlying causes of drug usage must be addressed lest poor choices, rooted in an emotional response, continue to be made. Consider the various triggers that lead to drug usage and learn how to cope with each one.

There is the trigger of stress. Stress is the body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When a person feels threatened, the nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which prepares the body for emergency action. The heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and the senses become sharper. These physical changes will increase a person’s strength and stamina, speed their reaction time, and enhance their focus. A person is ready for a “fight or flight”.

In this way stress is a gift of God for it protects the individual. As long as stress remains in a person’s zone of comfort, all is well. However, some people are overwhelmed by stress. They just want to be at peace and without stress of any kind. So, they turn to eating too much, or too little, sleeping too much, or too little, withdrawing from others, procrastinating or neglecting their responsibilities, or using drugs to relax. The recovering drug addict must find ways to improve their ability to handle stress. The following activities should be considered.

Exercise by getting involved in an athletic problem. Many drug users have found therapeutic relief by exercise. The more vigorous the better. Activities that require moving both your arms and your legs are particularly effective at managing stress. Rhythmic exercises such as walking, running, boxing, swimming, and aerobic classes are excellent ways to redeem time. Drugs tend to immobilize people. Get moving.

Connect with others. The Vietnam War, which lasted for twenty years (November 1, 1955 to April 30, 1975), produced a lot of drug users leading many to drug addiction. No less than twenty percent of the soldiers stationed in Vietnam used heroine. The fear in various governments, the health care industry, and in the military hierarchy was that when the soldiers returned home there would be hundreds of thousands of junkies. While many soldiers did go into some sort of a rehabilitation program after returning from Vietnam, studies indicated that sixty-five percent of the soldiers using drugs in the war zone just stopped. Why? One conclusion reached was that addiction is not always about chemical addiction, but is about adaption to one’s environment. When people are happy and healthy they connect and bond with each other. The soldiers in Vietnam were unhappy and felt disconnected.

Many drug addicts are traumatized by life. They feel isolated, and beaten down by life so there is stress. Therefore, a way must be found to reconnect them with others. The addict must reach out to those who are reaching out to them. Here, the Church can be a vital force in helping to transform individual lives.

Many local churches are afraid of addicts and retreat to a secure fellowship. Addicts are told in one form or another that they are not welcomed. That is wrong, of course. The Church must be more like Jesus who connected with sinners. He loved them and they responded to His love. Jesus invited sinners to come to Him. “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)

Jesus understands that a core reason for addiction is the inability to bear the pressures of life. The Church must understand this too. The Church must accept the fact that drugs do become a viable alternative for many and avoid the temptation to punish and shame an addict by shunning them. Society already gives many addicts a criminal record, which cuts the individual off even more from connecting with decent humans. All of this makes the addiction worse.

It is only when the addict rediscovers a purpose in life, when an addict reconnects and rediscovers bonds of relationship that they are helped. If the Church wants to help with drug addiction, then Christians must love. It is hard to love an addict. It is easy to be angry with an addict, and stay angry with them. Only unconditional, authentic love will do. It is hard to tell an addict, “I will come and sit with you in your struggle. I do not want you to be alone.” It is not sobriety alone that the addict needs but reconnection with Christ and Christians.

A Word of Caution for the Local Church

With that being said, there is a word of caution for the local church. It is possible for a local assembly to want to specialize in a drug addiction program. If care is not taken, an auxiliary program, as important as it may be, can overshadow the normal life of a congregation causing Christians who do not understand addiction, its causes and cures, to flee. A specialized program for drug addicts is commendable, but do not neglect the whole body of Christ.

Eat properly. Drugs diminish a person’s appetite. The recovering addict whose addiction is triggered by stress must seriously begin to eat properly because the body needs to be healthy, strong, happy, and properly fueled. Water helps. When the body is dehydrated, a stress hormone is created called cortisol. Caffeine and alcohol does not help. Stress levels are raised by consuming these beverages. A healthy breakfast helps reduce stress and should be supplemented by healthy snacks throughout the day.

There is the trigger of sleep apnea. On June 25, 2009, Michal Jackson died of drug overdose. Following his death the discovery was made that one of the leading causes for his drug usage was an inability to sleep. Exhausted by his work, and his usage of various medications to help him perform, Jackson was unable to sleep. Sleep apnea is a serious sleeping disorder which can be recognized by many signs such as loud and jarring snoring. When snoring is combined with periodically choking or gasping while sleeping, the body is struggling for oxygen.

Insomnia or the inability to fall asleep is another sign of sleep apnea. Insomnia is often association with other issues such as anxiety, or physical pain. Michael Jackson chose to turn to drugs for his insomnia. It was the wrong choice because sleep apnea can be treated by changing behavior. For example, losing weight, avoiding alcohol and sleep pills, changing sleep positions to improve breathing, stopping smoking to decrease the swelling in the upper airway, and avoid sleep sleeping on one’s back are helpful practical ways to get the rest that is needed.

There is the feeling of being unwanted and unloved. A feeling of being unwanted and unloved can trigger drug usage. Again, in this area, the local church can be of particular help. The church can love the drug addict. It is not easy to love the unlovely. The addict will lie. Lies are told in order to mislead people about bad behavior. Lies are told to justify the squandering of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Lies are told to feed the need for drugs. It is not easy to love the unlovely who manipulate family and friends.

There is the desire to party. A desire to party can trigger drug usage. People party for many reasons, some are valid, and others are not. When a person parties to escape their harsh reality, that is not healthy. When concern is expressed, there is a backlash of comments, some of which are cruel. “I have my party life under control.” “I can stop any time I want.” “You are just jealous because I can have fun and you can’t.” “You never want me to enjoy myself.” “It is your fault I am this way.” “You do not even try to understand how I feel.” “You would not say that if you loved me.” These are not healthy comments, nor is the behavior healthy.

What is healthy is to know that when the mind is engaged in order to discern what triggers drug usage, different emotions will be produced in as far as a radically reconstructed lifestyle is embraced.

The fourth step the recovering addict must take is to bring their thought life under control. When a person changes their thoughts, they change their emotions, and then they change their behavior. God cares about what a person thinks for as a person thinks in their heart, so are they. (Prov. 23:7) Therefore, “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Phil. 4:8)

The exhortation is easy to give, the power of concentration and thinking wholesome thoughts is not. Even before the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden there was a battle for the mind. After the Fall, the battle continued. The apostle Paul describes this conflict in terms of a war between the world and Christ. The world does not wage war as a Christian might. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. The believer in Christ can demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. The Christian can take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. Only believe. (2 Cor. 10:3-5) The way a person thinks is the way they will live. How a person thinks about drugs and how drugs make us think is important. A mind that is clouded by drugs will keep the individual from thinking right, feeling right, and doing right, in many situations.

The fifth step the recovering addict must take is to pursue new virtues. There are many virtues in the heart of a person that God wants to cultivate. One godly virtue is that of self-control. Self-control is one of the primary virtues of the Christian life. Christians are instructed to be in control of their decision-making processes. Christians are not to become enslaved to anything that diminishes their ability to honor God. A clear mind is essential to self-control, which in turn affects our ability to grow as Christians.

In his article of “The Fierce Fruit of Self-Control”, John Piper has some very insightful thoughts on the virtue of self-control.

“The very concept of “self-control” implies a battle between a divided self. It implies that our “self” produces desires we should not satisfy but instead “control.” We should “deny ourselves” and “take up our cross daily,” Jesus says, and follow him (Luke 9:23). Daily our “self” produces desires that should be “denied” or “controlled.”

That path that leads to heaven is narrow and strewn with suicidal temptations to abandon the way. Therefore Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:24). The Greek word for “strive” is agonizesthe, in which you correctly hear the English word “agonize.”

We get a taste of what is involved from Matthew 5:29, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you.” This is the fierceness of self-control. This is what is behind the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:12, “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.” Are you laying hold on the kingdom fiercely?

Paul says that Christians exercise self-control like the Greek athletes, only our goal is eternal, not temporal. “Everyone who competes in the games (agonizomenos) exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9:25). So he says, “I pommel my body and subdue it” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Self-control is saying no to sinful desires, even when it hurts.

But the Christian way of self-control is NOT “Just say no!” The problem is with the word “just.” You don’t just say no. You say no in a certain way: You say no by faith in the superior power and pleasure of Christ. It is just as ruthless. And may be just as painful. But the difference between worldly self-control and godly self-control is crucial. Who will get the glory for victory? That’s the issue. Will we get the glory? Or will Christ get the glory? If we exercise self-control by faith in Christ’s superior power and pleasure, Christ will get the glory. John Piper offers good insight on this topic.

“Fundamental to the Christian view of self-control is that it is a gift. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace . . . self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23). How do we “strive” against our fatal desires? Paul answers: “I labor, striving (agonizomenos) according to His power, which mightily works within me” (Col. 1:29). He “agonizes” by the power of Christ not his own. Similarly he tells us, “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live” (Romans 8:13). “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). We must be fierce! Yes. But not by our might. “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD” (Prov. 21:31).

And how does the Spirit produce this fruit of self-control in us? By instructing us in the superior preciousness of grace, and enabling us to see and savor (that is, “trust”) all that God is for us in Jesus. “The grace of God has appeared . . . instructing us to deny . . . worldly desires . . . in the present age” (Titus 2:11–12). When we really see and believe what God is for us by grace through Jesus Christ, the power of wrong desires is broken. Therefore the fight for self-control is a fight of faith. “Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Tim. 6:12). (John Piper, Founder and Teacher of Desiring God Ministry)

Learn to Trust in God

God can be trusted with a person’s addiction. However, a person must listen to what God say in His Word, by His Spirit, and through His Church. When a person is in pain and is being crushed by circumstances it is not easy to listen to God. But listen to what God says, and take hope. “Can a mother forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands” (Is. 49:15-16, NKJV). Though parents might abandon their children, God will never leave His.

Learn to Trust the Church

As God can be trusted, so can the Church. The Church is still the most glorious institution on earth. It alone is promised ultimate triumph against the forces of evil. Addiction is a force of evil. Therefore, let the Church help the addict in their time of need. The addict can find a concerned Christian to talk to as they work through the pain and suffering of addiction.

A Grand Decision

Now, it is time to make your own personal plans for quitting, seeking help, and preparing yourself for the obstacles you will certainly encounter. May the Lord guide you, and bless you in your grand decision to live for His kingdom and His glory.

“I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
no turning back, no turning back.

Though none go with me, I still will follow;
though none go with me, I still will follow;
though none go with me, I still will follow;
no turning back, no turning back.

My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
my cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
my cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
no turning back, no turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me;
the world behind me, the cross before me;
the world behind me, the cross before me;
no turning back, no turning back.”

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