The Spiritual Battle of Addiction

The Spiritual Battle of Addiction

The Spiritual Battle of Addiction

The Apostle Paul made an important response to the mind-set of the Corinthians, "Everything is permissible for me." He went on to say, "but I will not be mastered by anything" (1 Corinthians 6:12). This statement was not made as a "sound bite" or from a cliche he read in a church bulletin. He made this statement with much substance. He understood fully how to do battle with Satan and be an overcomer.

First, he understood spiritual warfare. He said, "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

Paul refused to manipulate people intellectually although he was very intelligent. He did not use personal charm through his speech, nor did he use empty philosophical or psychological jargon to impress people with his knowledge of human behavior. Instead, he focused on God to overpower the strongholds that were mastering the people.

Paul deals with one of the great areas of defeat of many Christians in this passage when he says, "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God." The battle in today's society is in the mind. To wage war against Satan, we must first demolish, cast down those imaginations, speculations, or even reasonings and logics that come against the truth of God's Word.

What do we do with those imaginations that trouble the Christians' minds? We bring our thought life, our framework of thought, into obedience to Christ. A daily time of prayer and Bible reading cultivates the soil of the mind and keeps us in active fellowship with Christ. John writes, "And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3).

The basis of our immaturity is self-centeredness that keeps us from fellowship with God, ourselves, our brother, nature, and life itself. Every immature person is tied in on himself and cannot be outgoing, friendly, and loving-cannot have fellowship. So the first thing in the Christian purpose is to produce fellowship. . . . The person who has no fellowship with God is an immature person (Jones, 25).

Second, Paul understood the character of Satan which was built on lies; therefore, his plan of attack or method of schemes would be devices and trickery. Paul said, "For we are not unaware of his schemes" (2 Corinthians 2:11). It is important that we understand the schemes the enemy is using to get us out-of-focus on Christ. He has three favorite tools that we all face.

A few years ago, my wife and I went on a "whale watch" in Hawaii. Concerned about seasickness, we asked the captain the best thing to do to prevent it while sailing the ocean. He directed us to focus our eyes on an object and not on the waves. When traveling in the beautiful mountains of Tennessee with our guests, I have noticed it is usually the backseat passenger who feels sick and not the driver. Why? Because the driver is focused.

It is the same principal in serving Christ. When we get out-of-focus by turning our sole attention to the waves of life, we will get sick. There are two prescriptions that will help us stay spiritually and emotionally well. First, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus" (Hebrews 12:2). Next, look up, not down. In Psalm 8, David proclaims the name of the Lord and says, "You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor" (v5). In verses 6-8, he tells how flocks and herds, beast of the field, and so forth, are under man. There is a significant point in this passage we need to see. We were made a little lower that the heavenly beings, not a little higher than the animal kingdom.

It could have been written the other way around. If man really is a mediating being, as the Psalm maintains, it would have been equally accurate to have described him as slightly higher than the beasts rather than as slightly lower than the angels. Although men and women have been given a position midway between the angels and the beasts, it is nevertheless humanity's special privilege and duty to look upward to the angels (and beyond the angels to God, in whose image woman and man have been made) rather than downward to the beasts (Boice, 70-71).

We have been made in the image of God; therefore, we are to look up, not down. It is not surprising that the proponents of evolution work diligently to trace man's origin to the animal kingdom. In their view, if there is no God, what other choice is available?

When we get out-of-focus, our attention will likely be directed to an idol. The second commandment says:

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:4-6).

Built on the first commandment, this commandment tells us that man is going to worship something and that God is a jealous God (2 Corinthians 11:2). We are forbidden to worship or use created things or even creation itself as an approach to God. Idols become God-substitutes and can include the environment (trees, flowers, ocean, land, etc.), church buildings, drugs, alcohol, money, statues, monuments, tradition, and the list goes on. These idols are often handed down to the next generation. (This will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 7.)

An idol becomes a focal point in our lives even though it has no helping power or substance. The power of influence is not in the idol but the one behind the idol-our enemy Satan. He uses idols to get us out-of-focus. Paul says, "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry" (Colossians 3:5). In Ephesians 5:5, Paul says an "immoral, impure or greedy person . . . is an idolater." Jealousy is also an idol (Ezekiel 8:5).

Paul says, "We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one" (1 Corinthians 8:4). He also notes from where the influence of an idol comes: "Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons" (1 Corinthians 10:19-20). Paul goes on to say that this arouses "the Lord's jealousy. Are we stronger than he" (1 Corinthians 10:22)? God is jealous on our behalf because He knows our loyalty to Him is important for our well-being.

As human beings, we are frail and weak, and idols only add baggage to our lives. Jeremiah says, "they must be carried because they cannot walk" (10:5). What about the conversation, kindness, or friendship of an idol? "They have mouths, but cannot speak . . . they have hands, but cannot feel" (Psalm 115:5,7). What about the outcome or benefit from trusting an idol? "Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them" (Psalm 115:8). David said, "My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only he will release my feet from the snare" (Psalm 25:15).

Three Tools of Satan
There are three active tools every person needs to be aware of that Satan is using to reinforce an addictive society. The first is delusion. We have already talked about this in Chapter 4, but remember it is a false belief system or seeing things that are true and acting as though they are not true. Isaiah 44:20 presents a vivid picture of delusion as the prophet addresses those who are serving idols: "He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, 'Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?' " It is possible to have an idol in our right hand and not see it. For example, a person controlled by a substance, behavior, or relationship is often blind to the destruction he is causing his family and himself.

Another favorite tool of Satan is isolation. When faced with a struggle, feelings of failure, or when a destructive stronghold develops in our lives, we often move into isolation by building a wall around ourselves. We sometimes go to church with our "Sunday smiles" and sit in our own "private phone booth." There are probably others on the same pew who are also in isolation. I have heard this statement many times: "I was dying on the inside, but it seemed that no one cared." I believe this statement is often incorrect; it just seems that way because isolation often separates us in an addictive society when we need each other so much. "As the problem intensifies, their delusional system allows them to justify their isolation. Since they've learned to lie to themselves, lying to others is easy. Gradually they hold onto their idol with both hands, turning their back on the only One who offers them hope for deliverance" (Perkins, 39). It is not wise to isolate ourselves from those who care for us. "A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; He rages against all wise judgment" (Proverbs 18:1 NKJV). The third tool is secrecy, or another way to describe it is hiding. Life-controlling problems grow in the soil of secrecy. Sweeping sin under the rug may hide it for a while, but it will eventually surface. When Adam and Eve sinned, "they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden" (Genesis 3:8). Hiding the use of an addictive substance, the practice of a destructive behavior, or the development of an unhealthy relationship often develops into worship of that substance, behavior, or person. Isaiah describes this: "for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood (or false gods) our hiding place" (28:15).

Everyone will have a hiding place. I hear people say, "He hides himself in his work, education, drugs, alcohol, etc." God recognizes this need we have for a hiding place. Paul says, "For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3).

Several years ago there was a popular book, The Hiding Place, which was about the faith and courage of Corrie ten Boom. During World War II, her family hid Jews from the Nazis in their home in Haarlem, Holland. This house, which had a clock shop on the first floor, was a refuge for Jews. The Nazi police would frequent the shop; therefore, there were certain symbols in the window which would indicate it was safe for Jews to enter the house.

My wife and I have visited the famous refuge in Haarlem on two occasions. We were told by those who knew Corrie ten Boom and her sister, Betsie, that Betsie's prayer was not focused on the safety of her family or the Jews. Her prayers were focused on the saving of the Nazis. Betsie ten Boom really knew who her "hiding place" was. It was more than a building. Her mind was set "on things above, not on earthly things" (Colossians 3:2).

Delusion, isolation, and secrecy all work together in the life of a person who is developing a life-controlling problem (a substance, behavior, or relationship that is mastering a person's life). When a person suppresses the truth, withdraws himself from those who care, and hides his actions, the journey has started to a problem that will end up mastering the person if corrective action is not taken.

God's Three Primary Resources
As in past decades, we have God's resources to defeat Satan's lies and schemes of delusion, isolation, and secrecy. First, we have the Word of God. "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:12-13). What about the Word of God in this addictive society in which we live? Psalm 119: 89-90 declares, "Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations." "Our responsibility is to tear down . . . strongholds through Spirit-filled prayers. How? There is only one weapon-the sword of the Spirit. We must fight these lies with God's Word. We must fight specific lies with specific truths" (Stanley, 118).

Second, we have the Spirit of God. "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13). Through the Holy Spirit, believers "put to death the misdeeds of the body" (Romans 8:13). Believers are "led by the Spirit of God" (Romans 8:14). Whether the Holy Spirit leads by inward urgings or by circumstances, His direction is always in God's will, in agreement with the Scripture, and in opposition to the sinful nature. We have the promise of the Holy Spirit to guide us through the maze of deception in this addictive society. Being our counselor, the Holy Spirit will make Jesus known to us in a personal way.

Third, we have the people of God. We have each other. The New Testament presents the Church as the people of God on numerous occasions with the words "one another" (love one another, bear with one another, comfort one another, forgive one another, etc.). Hebrews 3:13 points to the importance of the "one another" relationship: "But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." The picture of this verse can be seen as a long distance race, and the runner is weary and perhaps ready to give up. The encourager comes alongside him to offer support, encouraging the runner not to give up. This verse also shows the importance of the personal care for each other-"encourage one another . . . so that none of you . . . " The "one another" care is to be regular-"daily." It is more than friend day once a year. The word Today implies urgency. Now is the time.

Why are "one another" relationships important? "So that none of you may be hardened [a process] by sin's deceitfulness [the delusion of sin]." We need an active relationship with Jesus Christ and one another in this addictive society. Building relationships with one another can be hard work, but it is essential whether it is in a Sunday school class, home group, office staff, cell group, or support group. You need the people of God. The people of God need you.

The people of God are "God's fellow workers" (1 Corinthians 3:9). The death of Lazarus as recorded in John 11 is an example of Jesus and the people of God. Mary and her sister, Martha, sent word to Jesus that Lazarus, their brother and a friend of Jesus, was very sick. Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus but stayed two more days before leaving for their home.

When Jesus arrived, he "found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days" (v17). There were already many Jews there to comfort Martha and Mary in the loss of their brother. It is noteworthy that Lazarus means "God is his help." In this passage are four principles of help that are involved in being in partnership with Christ.

There Is Help for the Ifs in Life
" 'Lord,' Martha said to Jesus, 'If you had been here, my brother would not have died' " (v21). Martha was saying, "You're too late Jesus; my brother is already dead. Thanks for coming to show your concern." The words, "if you had" or "if I had only," speak of the past. There are relationships and circumstances in the past you cannot change. This was a situation Martha could not change-her brother was dead and had been dead for four days.

There have been times in life when we felt Jesus was tardy or not there at the time when we needed help. Even at a low time in Martha's life when all hope was gone, Jesus had a plan to help her with the past. The lesson here-let us place in the trust of Jesus the "ifs" of the past in our lives.

In the book, The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom tells of a night when German and English planes were dogfighting above them in the skies over Holland. After hearing her sister Betsie stirring in the kitchen, Corrie raced down. For an hour, they sipped tea together until the sky was silent.

Corrie returned to her bed in a darkened room. She ran her hand over the pillow and felt a piece of metal. There was a ten-inch piece of metal that had fallen onto her bed. She rushed to tell Betsie, " 'Betsie, if I hadn't heard you in the kitchen-' But Betsie put a finger on my mouth. 'Don't say it, Corrie! There are no "ifs" in God's world. And no places that are safer than other places. The center of His will is our only safety-O Corrie, let us pray that we may always know it!' " (ten Boom, 67).

There Is Help for the Hurts in Life
"When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, 'Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.' When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled" (vv32-33). Mary took her hurts to Jesus-"she fell at his feet." Being deeply touched by their sorrow, "Jesus wept" (v35). The old hymn says it well, "What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and grief to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer."

There Is Help to Help Yourself
When Jesus came to the tomb, he ask for assistance in removing the stone at the entrance of the cave. After the stone was removed, Jesus prayed to the Father then "called in a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out!' The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen" (vv 43-44). Notice, Jesus asked him to do all he could do, and Lazarus did all he could do to help himself. Jesus will not do what we can do for ourselves. What we cannot do for ourselves, He is there to help.

Hand-in-Hand Help
Throughout this passage, we see Jesus and the people of God working together. The people of God called for help, shared sorrow, removed the stone, and Lazarus did his part. However, the climactic display of hand-in-hand help was when Jesus said to the people of God, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go" (v44). Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, so was he not capable of removing the grave clothing? Certainly He was! However, He chose to have a partnership by involving the people of God in removing the grave clothes.

God involves each of us in this spiritual battle we face living in an "addictive society." To deal with the delusion, isolation, and secrecy, we need the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and each other.


Material from Understanding the Times and Knowing What to Do
Copyright © 1991, 1997 by Turning Point Ministries
All Rights Reserved


People who become entrapped by life-controlling issues follow a predictable pattern. We usually are lured into experimenting with a dangerous substance, behavior, or relationship because it is accompanied by a "high" or feeling of exhilaration. Whether the experience involves alcohol or other drugs, illicit sex, pornographic literature, work, sports, gambling, excessive spending, or another avenue to addiction, the pattern and end result are similar.

We call this the Trap because it often snares its victims before they realize what is happening. Every person has the potential to experience a life-controlling problem-- no one is automatically exempt. Even though no one plans to be trapped by such a problem, it can happen without a person's being aware. As Dr. Jimmy Ray Lee, founder of Turning Point Ministries, states, "Addiction is death on the installment plan. No one ever plans to be trapped by a life controlling problem, yet it happens all the time."

The best time to deal with a life-controlling problem is before it begins. Garth Lean, in his book On the Tail of a Comet, discusses Frank Buchman, the man whose ideas inspired change-oriented programs like Alcoholics Anonymous:

Buchman had learnt that temptation, of whatever kind, was resisted at its earliest stage. It was easier, he sometimes said, to divert a small stream than to dam a river. He defined the progression of temptation as "the look, the thought, the fascination, the fall" and said that the time to deal with it was at the thought. Tackle temptation well upstream. (80)

Myer Pearlman writes concerning this progression of sin, "A man is free to begin, but is not always free to quit" (54). The Bible is full of accounts illustrating the progressive nature of sin. The stages of temptation identified by Buchman (the look, the thought, the fascination, the fall) are illustrated in the Bible stories at the right.

Stages of Life-Controlling Problems
Vernon E. Johnson, founder and president emeritus of the Johnson Institute in Minneapolis, observed (without trying to prove any theory) literally thousands of alcoholics, their families, and other people surrounding them. He writes, "We came up with the discovery that alcoholics showed certain specific conditions with a remarkable consistency" (8).

Dr. Johnson uses a feeling chart to illustrate how alcoholism follows an emotional pattern. He identifies four phases: 1)learns mood swing; 2) seeks mood swing; 3) harmful dependency; 4) uses to feel normal. Man of the observations made by Dr. Johnson and others, including us, can also be related to other types of dependencies, although the terminology may differ.

In Living Free materials, these four stages are labeled: 1)experimentation; 2)social use; 3)daily preoccupation; and 4) using the substance or practicing the behavior just to feel normal. Not everyone progresses through all these stages, however there is no way to predict which people who begin the pattern will continue to stage four.

By the time people arrive at stage three, their developing life-controlling issues are clearly idols in their lives. They are beginning to suffer negative consequences from their involvement, but instead of slowing down in response to the pain, they involve themselves more deeply. They look to the behavior, substance, or relationship that is entrapping them for comfort or relief. Their delusion grows deeper until they no longer recognize the truth.

In the video, we looked at the stages an alcoholic typically goes through as drinking becomes a life-controlling problem. However, these stages can also apply to behavioral struggles. Below are the stages people often experience with an eating disorder, a sexual addiction, and several types of emotional struggles. Although the actual name used for the phase may be different and the details may vary, what is important to know is that even though life-controlling problems take many forms, they develop along similar predictable patterns.

Adapted from Living Free Coordinator's Guide, Jimmy Ray Lee and Dan Strickland, Turning Point, Chattanooga, TN, 1999, pp 40-42.
Used by permission