Paths To AddictionErwin W. Lutzer | November 5, 2000
Selected highlights from this sermon
An addiction is the blinding self-absorption of sin. It doesn’t matter what the sin is. You just can’t tuck it away somewhere. It needs to be dealt with because a sin can progress into an addiction. It will become your master, and you’ll be its slave.
But freedom is attainable. Jesus can deliver you from the addiction. God wants to deliver us from sin. He sent His Son to die so that we could experience freedom from sin.
The transformation occurs when our love for Christ is greater than our love of sin. When we humbly submit to the will of God, He will begin to change our desires until eventually seeking and loving God is more important than seeking our next “fix.”
When we were in New York we heard that during the days when heroin was big on the streets of New York City (now it’s crack and some other kinds of drugs) there was a heroin addict who was absolutely determined to break the habit and he wondered how he could do it. And he was going to lock himself in his room but he realized that that wouldn’t work because if you lock yourself in somehow you can find your way out. So he chained one of his hands to the radiator, thinking that this would do it. He would have to stay there. He could not go out onto the street. But with one free hand he eventually was able to take care of that radiator, perhaps with a wrench that was nearby, and unscrew it, and he walked down the steps and onto the street carrying the radiator so that he could get another fix. And he explained it this way. He said, “Heroin has a voice and when it calls you have to go.”
Some of you have heard that voice, haven’t you? It may not be the voice of heroin but it may the voice of alcoholism, the voice of sexual addiction, the voice of pornography or the voice of gambling. For some of you it is the voice of cigarettes. When it calls you must go. Curse it a thousand times and it returns with as great a force as ever.
Well you know that this is a series of messages titled Why Good People Do Bad Things. We’ve talked about such issues as our desires because we are desire driven, as we shall see also in this message. We’ve spoken of shame. We’ve talked about the impact of the family. We’ve talked about anger. Today we are going to talk about addictions, and if you think that this doesn’t apply to you because you don’t think of yourself as an addict, in a sense it applies to all of us because an addiction is nothing more than the blinding self-absorption of sin. And even those of us who don’t consider ourselves addicts, we’ve all been there. We’re all on some kind of a continuum.
So what we’d like to do today is to begin by talking about how the human race got where it is, and then of course, we aren’t going to leave you in darkness. We aren’t going to leave you chained to that radiator. We’re going to set you free. We won’t but Christ is able to as we talk about our great deliverer. That’s the agenda for the next few moments.
Take your Bibles and turn to Romans 1. We shall be there at least briefly because I want you to understand how we got where we are as a human race. The Apostle Paul outlines basically the human race and how it fell from God, but in a sense, this is the story of every one of us. I shall read Romans 1:21-23. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”
How did we get the way we are as a human race? Well, first of all it says that the human race exchanged light for darkness. We just read it. Now what you need to understand is that the people who are walking in darkness think it is light. That’s the part that is so deceiving about sin. If you were to talk to people who were practicing what this chapter is about they would never say, “Now I’m walking in darkness.” Some of them might but most of them would say, “This is liberation. This is light.”
So notice they exchanged light for darkness. They exchanged the creature for the creator and they began to worship the creation. That’s what the Bible speaks about and certainly we see this no more clearly than in addiction where that particular substance or that particular experience is worshiped as the centrifugal force of somebody’s life. It is the hub into which all other spokes come together.
And then notice also that they changed the truth of God into the lie. I’m there in verse 25 where it says that expressly. “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” And lying at the heart of that worship is the worship of self. I am my own God. I have a right to fulfill my own desires. I have a right to call my own shots. And as a result of that we find that here in this chapter you have the deepest and darkest and clearest picture of addiction imaginable.
Notice what the Bible says three times. “God gave them over.” Verse 24 says, “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity.” Notice verse 26. “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.” And verse 28 says, “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” Can you find anyone more addicted to sin than someone from whom God has removed His hand and simply said, “Let him do whatever he wants to do?” What bondage!
I’d like us to look at these verses and make some observations on what we’ve just read. First of all, I want you to notice that this is the history of the human race, but as I’ve pointed out, it’s the history of all of us because we’ve all been there. We are all on some kind of a continuum, and later on the Apostle Paul lists all the sins, many of which we may struggle with. We think first of homosexuality, which is the focus of some of these verses.
This past week we heard a marvelous story of a man who came through a terrible, terrible experience because his wife left the marriage for a lesbian lifestyle, and he kept crying out to God saying, “God, I want you to show me how this could have happened.” Fifteen years later she came back and explained how it happened. A high school teacher had seduced her into the lifestyle. You know, the Bible says here in verse 32 that those who do these things not only approve of them (the things that they do) but also approve (we could add seduce) those who do them. What a lifestyle!
But it’s not just homosexuality. You’ll notice that he lists 21 different sins. This morning I debated whether I should read them all, and I think I will. You’ll notice it says in verse 29-31, “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.”
I read this and I say, “God, how can you know the human heart so well?” He lists it for all to see. So even though this is the discussion of the human race, in a sense we are all a part of it. Secondly, notice that all sins listed replace God. We’ve already emphasized that. Sin always makes the same promises that God does. That’s why it is so attractive. Jesus said, “I am come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly.”
Alcohol says, “If you really want a life, it’s here in the bottle.” The Scripture says that God is the one who is never going to leave us nor forsake us. Sin comes along and says, “I will be here to give you that euphoric experience. I will be here. If you gamble money, I will be with you until the day you die. You can depend upon it. It’s not like God who is invisible. I can give you something that’s visible in a bottle or a needle or in a bank account. I can give you something that actually works.” That’s the deception of sin. It replaces God.
Notice that in each instance the sin becomes the master and the person who commits the sin becomes the slave. People say, “Well, how do these addictions develop?” Well the answer is that all you need to do is to commit little sins and harden your heart against them and keep those little sins in your heart, and then in increments continue to sin more greatly, always believing the illusion that you are in charge.
Alexander Pope was right when he wrote,
“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”
And I think of the number of people I have met in my pastoral ministry who have said, “There was something in life I said I would never do, and now I’ve done it.” The deceitfulness of sin!
And of course all gods demand sacrifice. The true God demands a sacrifice, and believe me sin demands a sacrifice. People say of an alcoholic, “Does he not care about his family.” The answer is, “No, he doesn’t. His family has to be sacrificed upon the altar of his drink because all that matters is that precious bottle. And as a result of that all kinds of sacrifices are made in order to fulfill these desires. You’ll notice also that sin therefore can zoom easily out of control.
Could I say that in verse 32 also I think that you have a hint of the transformation of the personality? You’ll notice that the Bible says that they know better down deep. “Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
You know there is such a thing as an addictive personality. The addictive personality is driven by the sense of euphoria and the trance that is created by the addiction. I remember talking to a sex addict. He said that on Tuesday and Wednesday when he was working in the factory all that he was thinking about was what he was already planning on Friday. And he said the very act of thinking about it brought such a sense of ecstasy to his heart. He said, “I became weak inside from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. There was this sensation that seemed to overcome me. It was almost as if I was in a trance, and I could not think about the consequences. My mind was blinded to that. All that mattered was that experience.” And then each time as he did whatever it was that he was doing, he’d have to involve himself in more risk the next time to get the same sense of ecstasy. On and on it goes until you live in this trance world over here, and then you live in the real world over here, and you can go from one world to another.
Oh folks, I am describing something that is terrible that all of you, and myself included, are capable of. Wow! What a diagnosis of the human heart.
So the alcoholic drinks in order to solve problems that his drinking created. The gambler continues to gamble, hoping that he’ll be able to win back the money that he squandered the last time he was gambling. And the sex addict goes for another experience in order to cover the deadness of the pain and the emptiness that was left behind after his last experience. And on and on it goes.
Now listen to what the Bible says about sin. You say, “Well, can’t they get out of that?” Well, I’m reading from the book of Proverbs. “For a man’s ways are in full view of the Lord and He examines all of his paths. The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him. The cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline and be led astray because of his own great folly.” The cords of sin hold him fast.
What are some of those cords? One is denial. We’ve talked about this in other messages where a protective shell is developed because remember the truth of God turns into a lie, and from now all that is going to matter is this center of a man’s life as he begins to think about the sins that he wants to commit and the euphoria that he receives. He becomes cunning. He becomes devious. He becomes one whose word cannot be trusted. He lies even when the truth would serve him as well. And you reason with him, and there is no possibility of rational reasoning.
That’s the thing. Some of you have experienced that. You know you say, “Well, isn’t it as plain as the nose on your face that you are destroying yourself and your family?” He simply does not see it because everything is deflected. Everything is misinterpreted. Everything comes through the grid of this awesome deadly power of sin, and as a result he builds that protective shell so that he can sink more deeply into his world of trance. And so at the same time people are kept at bay. It’s one of the snares that hold him fast.
The second is shame and guilt. If he were to come clean, oh the price he thinks he would have to pay because he’d have to finally admit it. You see there’s a part of him that has to remain secret and he does things to convince himself that he’s not as bad as one part of him thinks he is.
The other day I was at a conference and a man whose wife was molested by her grandfather took me to the airport. And before he did those things he would always buy her hymnals because she loved to play hymns. But she’d have to play hymns for him before he did it. You say, “Well, how depraved can a man get?” Well, you see in his mind he’s thinking, “See, I’m not that bad. I’m a very generous person. In fact, I go to church. In fact, I buy hymnals.” Do you see the deception of the human heart?
And then, of course, there are those who tell themselves, “I’m not really addicted.” I’m reminded of the words of Mark Twain. I’ve smiled over them many, many times throughout the years. He said, “I’m not addicted to cigarettes.” He said, “I can give it up any time I want. I’ve given it up one thousand times.” Oh, how we deceive ourselves!
So the addict is faced with these increased desires with decreasing satisfaction. The cords of sin hold him fast and he begins to think there is no way out.
Could I say a word about those of you who may live with addicts of one kind or another? There is such a thing as being an enabler, which is sometimes destructive. You say, “Well, what’s the answer?” Well, we’re getting to the answer. Don’t be too anxious here, but Jesus did say that the truth sets people free, but you see, many of these people are insulated from the truth. That’s the purpose of the whole shell of denial. It’s to insulate themselves.
So if you are an enabler, and if you lie for him, or if you bail him out of jail, or if you are the kind of person who mops up after him after the vomit (or whatever), you know what will happen? He’ll be enabled to continue that lifestyle. What you need to do is to realize that only reality – only the truth – can set him free. And there are many, many stories of people who finally were set free when the truth finally dawned in all of its ugly reality. So there’s that part of it.
Also, here’s a little word of encouragement. You know there are people who actually have learned that it’s possible to help someone to reach the bottom more quickly with family members gathering around and simply telling that person what his lifestyle is doing to each of them so that reality somehow sinks in.
You say, “Well, what about Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous – all of those different groups?” I want you to know today that if you are attending one of them and you are finding it helpful I encourage you to continue. I would not be critical of those groups in that sense. Alcoholics Anonymous has helped hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people, and we can be grateful. But I do want to tell you this.
This summer I was in Whiting, New Jersey where there is the House of Mercy. It’s over a hundred years old and is committed to helping addicts. They primarily have alcohol addicts and drug addicts, and they put them through a program that lasts about five or six months, and then they have a graduation ceremony, and then they follow up on them, and they are receiving a great percentage of permanent deliverance. This is a Bible based program where the men have Bible studies; they pray together; they call on God; they are required to read the Scriptures and to memorize the Scriptures. I said to Bill, “What’s the difference between your group and these other groups out there?” He said, “Well, first of all we receive many from these other groups. And that’s not a criticism of them. It’s just simply a reality because all have their failures, including even the House of Mercy.” But then he said this. “After doing this for years and years and years, having hundreds of graduates throughout the country permanently delivered, the difference is that when you are in a program that only believes in God as a higher power, your desires do not change. When people come to Christ and are converted, their actual desire for that substance, whatever it is, eventually leaves them.”
I thought to myself, “Well, of course, that’s right. That’s Biblical. ‘A new heart I will give you. I will take out the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh’ says the Scripture. ‘If any man is in Christ he is a new creation.’” There’s something within you if you are a born-again Christian, and I hope you are but you may not be, and if so I want you to know that you can come to Christ so that you are. But if you are a born-again Christian there is a part of you that hates sin. There is a part of you that loves righteousness. There’s a part of you that wants to please God. I have seen this over and over again – people falling into sin but they are genuine Christians and when they repent the first thing they say is, “Oh God, you know how much I love you and I am sorry that I offended and that I grieved you.” That’s the first thing they think of. That’s Christ because the desires change.
Now as I was thinking about this message it was difficult to make because I thought of so many passages that I wanted to give the congregation, so I outlined one set of passages and I said, “I’ll use those.” Then I said, “No, here’s another set of passages. I’m going to use these.” And then I said, “There’s another set of passages here and I’m going to use those.” So aren’t you glad that I’m not going to use them all today?
But I do want to tell you this. I am going to give you some principles, and we will turn to some passages, but at the end of the day, I want to exalt Jesus as the deliverer. Scripture says, “He has come to save His people from their sin.” I talk to those of you today who are in despair. You’ve tried a thousand times. Would you listen carefully? Here are a couple of principles with some Scripture.
First of all, everything that God expects us to do is based on what He has already done. Does he want us to crush Satan who is a part of our battle? Yes! Has he crushed Satan? Yes, he disarmed all principalities and all powers and made a show of them openly. Does he want us to be able to say no to sin? Yes, He put us into Jesus Christ it says later in the book of Romans that we are united with Him and therefore we can be free. It’s this awesome work that Jesus did for us that becomes the basis of all deliverance from sin, and I’m not just talking about addicts. I’m talking about all of us in our struggles with sin.
For example, it says this in the book of Corinthians. It talks about those who were caught in various sins. It speaks about the sex offenders, the immoral, the idolaters, the thieves, the greedy and the drunkards. And then Paul says, “And that is what some of you were, but you were washed. You were sanctified. You’ve been justified in the name of Jesus.” What a marvelous passage. That’s one of the ones I wanted to camp on for about fifteen minutes, but we don’t have the time and it’s not necessary because the essence of it is clear. Jesus came and He washed them and He sanctified them. He set them apart and He justified them. Notice that what happened in their lives was based on what Jesus did.
Nearly 20 years ago in the lobby of this church I met a woman who said, “I’m living with a man,” and she said, “I know it’s wrong; we’re not married. I just need to break up this relationship,” and I said, “Well, just move out.” She said, “It’s not that simple. I own the apartment.” And I said, “Well, ask him to leave.” She said, “He won’t.” I said, “Go to the police and get an order that he has to vacate the premises because these premises belong to you.” She did that and later on she said that when she presented him with this piece of paper, whatever it was, he packed up and left.
Now I have a question for you. How does a 125-pound woman get a 200-pound man to leave an apartment? She doesn’t do it by power. She does it by authority. I want to speak to those of you today who say you have no power. I want to speak to women who have told me that they have no ability to say no to sexual solicitations, that they were brought up in such an atmosphere (maybe because of molestation or whatever) that they want to say yes to every man, no matter what he asks them to do, and they lack will power. I want to say to you today, dear people who are listening, that there is such a thing as exercising authority as a believer. You do not have to say yes, because Jesus died to set you free. He crushed the enemy and He broke the power of sin. Accept that and live by it.
First of all, everything God expects us to do is based on what He has done. Secondly, the transformation occurs when our passion for Christ is greater than our passion for sin. Our love for Christ is greater than our love of sin.
Now I want to talk to you very candidly. I think I’ve been doing that and I’m going to continue. Here’s why I think many people are never delivered from their addictions. They come to God and they say, “Oh God, I’ve got this problem. It’s alcoholism. Deliver me.” And God isn’t up in heaven giving out little packages of victory. “Oh, you’re an alcoholic? There’s a little bit of victory in this package.” “Oh, you have a problem with gambling? Here’s a little bit of this.” And “Oh, you have a problem with pornography? Here’s a little bit of victory that I’m giving out.”
What God wants is for us to see our problem is even deeper. Our fundamental problem is that we are not wildly in love with Jesus, and therefore He wants to deliver us. But He wants us to make a commitment in all the areas of our life to make Christ the Lord of our lives no matter what the cost in every area, not just because we want victory in this little area (important though it is, and it’s fine to call upon Him on that). But He wants to do something more radical.
I have two brief cases. One I bring to the church every day, and then there’s one that I just use for traveling. There are some things that I just like to keep in it and I always know that they are there. This one is the traveling case, and this one is the one I bring to work every day. So I was on a plane this past spring and I was served a sandwich but I wasn’t hungry, and yet I hate to throw food away. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m always told that there are a billion people in some big country that would give anything for the sandwich, but I didn’t want to throw it away so I thought I’d put it in my briefcase. (laughter) A couple of weeks later I noticed that in a part of my study at home there was this smell. Now, it wasn’t overpowering because the sandwich was wrapped, but it was kind of a dead smell. Well, about a month later I was going somewhere and so I reached in and there was this soggy mess that had turned white, and then I took it and threw it away and knew the source of the stench.
Sometimes we have things like that in our lives. We have hidden sins that we have tucked away that we’ve said nobody is going to know about. The problem is you can’t just tuck them away because the stench permeates everything you do. It affects your marriage. It affects your vocation. It affects the way in which you see life. It affects your inability to minister at church. It affects the way in which you see other believers. It’s amazing how one little package of sin can do so much damage.
And then we come before the Lord and we say, “Lord, this stench is unbelievable. Please send me some perfume that I might be able to manage it.” God says, “I don’t want to give you perfume to manage it. I want you to deal with it.”
And I want to tell you something, my dear friend. We exist as a church to help you deal with it. We really do. And there’s nothing that has to be shameful about the fact that you’ve got things that you’ve got to deal with.
You know, when I was out on the farm many, many, many years ago we once had a horse that got stuck in a slough. Now some of you maybe don’t even know what a slough is, you city folks, but it’s this messy body of water and mud. We had to take a tractor and put a rope around this horse to help him out. Now notice this carefully. He got into the slough alone, but he couldn’t get out of it alone. And there are many of you who have gotten into things alone but you can’t get out alone, and that’s okay. That’s why we exist. We come alongside of you and say, “We’re going to pray, and we’re going to fast, and we’re going to seek God until He brings deliverance to your life,” and we learn all the lessons in between in the deliverance process.
So that’s what we want to do. We want to see God set us free and to give us a new love, and do you know what God sometimes does to get our attention? He stirs up the stench of our sin until it becomes unbearable and we say, “I can’t take it anymore, and because I can’t, now God do anything, everything. Regardless of the cost, set me free.”
And number three, the path to freedom therefore is to pursue the Christian graces, and we shall turn very briefly to the book of James. This was one of the passages I wanted to use and then changed my mind, but decided in the end that I would use it.
It’s in James 4. Very quickly if you have a pen or pencil and you are in the habit of underlining your Bible I just want you to grasp some words here that are going to give us the direction that we need. First of all he says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” James talks about desires as hedonai from which we get hedonism. He says, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly.”
Number one is prayer with a pure motive, and what is a pure motive? A pure motive is, “Jesus, glorify Your name in my life no matter the cost.” It’s not just “Deliver me from one sin,” but “Do a cleansing in me. Help me to make you Lord of my life over everything. Point out everything. I’m going for broke.” So the first is prayer.
The second is humble yourself. It says in verse 6, “But He gives more grace.” That’s why the Scripture says God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. Do you realize why that is the case? Every one of the sins that we listed – the addictions you remember from the book of Romans - has self in the center instead of God. Now God sometimes humbles us but we can humble ourselves.
I was called to preach one time and before I stood on the platform I had this sense of pride, thinking that I’m the one that speaks, and just like that the Spirit of God said, “That’s sin. Deal with it.” And right there, silently I dealt with it and I said, “God, I humble myself in Your presence and I confess as sin those feelings of pride.” You see we need to deal with that and the pride that keeps our sin hidden.
Then, of course, there is submitting. Very quickly verse 7 says, “Submit yourselves then to God,” and here we do that thorough submission. We’ve talked about that. Then it talks about purifying yourself. “Cleanse yourself, you sinners and purify your hearts.” What is in my heart that is displeasing to God? “God, show it to me – all the areas and not just my sin, the one sin that I am concerned about.” And then it talks about grieving and mourning. This is repentance.
Sometimes people say when a man falls into a particular sin (a man or a woman) and may redo it they say, “Well, you know I thought that he repented. I guess he wasn’t sincere when he repented.” Of course he (or she) was sincere. There have been people who have repented with tears in their eyes and their tears have run down their cheeks. I mean you can’t manufacture tears, can you? I don’t think so. I think they were sincere but they misunderstood repentance.
Repentance isn’t something that I do at a point in time because of what I’ve done. Repentance is a lifestyle. Repentance is me confessing my sins yesterday as I asked God to search my heart. Repentance is asking God to search my heart this morning (as I did). Repentance is continual submission to the will and purposes of God. It doesn’t matter what you did five years ago or ten years ago, but my question is did you repent yesterday? Did you repent this morning through submission to God? That’s the issue.
I don’t know why God delivers some people from addictions instantly and others have a tremendous struggle, though I do know that the struggle often teaches them things about themselves and God and the joy of the Lord that maybe they couldn’t learn another way.
But I think of Mel Trotter. He was an alcoholic who walked into the funeral home and saw there in that little casket the body of his precious little girl who had died. He waited for everyone to leave. After everyone left he took the little shoes off of his dead baby and he put them in his pocket and he went to sell them so that he could get another drink.
Remember what I said at the beginning of this message. When these sins call they have a voice and if you are bound to them you must answer.
But Mel Trotter came to saving faith in Christ and God delivered him and he worked at a rescue mission helping hundreds of others through the process of deliverance.
I like the hymns of Charles Wesley. All of us do. One of the hymns has this stanza. Think of how wise Wesley was to write this. “He breaks the power of cancelled sin.” There are some of you who are listening here today, and your sin is cancelled because you’ve been to the foot of the cross. You’ve confessed it but the power is not broken. This week you will commit it again if God doesn’t intervene because “He breaks the power of ‘cancelled’ sin and sets the prisoner free. His blood can make the vilest clean, His blood availed for me.”
We all know the blinding absorption of sin, but He breaks its power. Don’t give up. There’s yieldedness. There’s fighting. There’s praying. There are believers helping you because we seek the deliverance that is promised.
Will you join me as we pray?
And Father, we ask in the name of Jesus, the strong and powerful name of Jesus, that You might reach down into hearts that have been so hurt, hearts that are so empty, and hearts that are so defeated. And we pray that You will generate faith in those hearts. And we pray today that Your people that are called by Your name would walk in victory over the sin that does so deeply beset us.
Before I close this prayer, if God has talked to you, I’d like to include you in this prayer. And you say, “Pastor Lutzer, please in the closing moments I want you to know that I need help and I want you to pray.” Would you raise your hand wherever you are across the audience? There are many who are raising their hands, more numerous than I can count, maybe also here in the front and back in the balcony. It’s difficult for us to see, but those of you in the balcony, has God talked to you – some of you? Thank you for those hands.
Father, we ask in Jesus’ name that every raised hand may receive Your hand sent down from heaven that there may be deliverance and freedom from their sins. Oh Father, help us to be able to pray and come alongside of them, to intercede and to fast for them that we might see Your glorious deliverance. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.