No More Idols
Lesson 22: Overcoming Addictions
All scripture citations are from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.
In the previous lessons on strongholds we examined each one in its uniqueness. With this lesson we will explore the common elements that constitute their binding power. Although this is a lesson focused on overcoming addictions, it actually applies to anything in life that we can't 'just say no' to. That is because the ground beneath the cross is level.
People with addictions are not a special class of sinners. All of us have been badly broken by the Fall and need to be saved and mended by the love and mercy of God. The root issues are the same for all of us. The path of redemption and restoration is also the same: We are all saved by grace through faith.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8
Narrowly defined addictions have to do with substance abuse; a wider term for addictions, one that is Biblical, is a besetting sin. The besetting sin is the sin that 'besets' us—assails us and hems us in—whenever the temptation for it comes along.
Certainly this scripture applies to those who are beset with substance abuse issues, but it applies equally well to those who can't seem to give up being judgmental or jealous or worried. Carefully study this passage from Hebrews. These are deeply instructive of our freedom. For instance, when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired, it is time to H.A.L.T.—lay aside that weight, then get your focus back before trying to go on. Where should our focus be? On the Lord. Looking to Him we prevail!
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 KJV
What is an addiction? An addiction is anything that controls us and holds us in bondage.That which controls us, rules us, and whenever it gets triggered, God is not our master—sin is.[i] Whatever we cannot just say no to (that which is not of God) holds us in its power. It seeks to enslave us,[ii] then destroy us and in the process, destroy as many others as it can.[iii] Some things that are good can become an addiction when moderation is exceeded.
Some things are no good to begin with; others are corrupted by excess. There are many forms that addictions can take:
Legal and illegal drugs
The love of money
Worry, anxiety, panic
Learn the 'want to want to' prayer: 'Lord, help me want to want what You want and hate what You hate.' This enlists the Lord to work with your emotional life and honestly admits to God that deep down in this moment a large part of you doesn't want His will. Like Esau you are being strongly tempted to trade your inheritance for a bowl of porridge.[iv]
Remember the teaching on who we are in Christ (Our New Identity)? No matter how much we may crave the wrong thing, that desire is still not who we really are now as New Creations. The real you truly does want what He wants. The real you already has the nature of Jesus joined to you by the Spirit. Even so, all you may 'see' of the new you is a tiny wish that you weren't so weak against the temptation. That's the 'David' in you wanting to take down your 'Goliath' side. Don't get in his way!
The number one way of escape is running to God.[v] Many run from God, instead of to God. Many run from their troubles, their weaknesses, their failings, rather than face them, winding up in even worse predicaments. Hear this life-saving promise: We are absolutely, unconditionally promised that everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved (rescued, delivered, restored). This is our number one way of overcoming addictions.
The same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For 'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' Romans 10:12-13
To get free of any besetting sin we have to learn to call and keep on calling on the Lord—learning how to lean hard on Him and draw on His saving help, casting all our hope on Him and hanging on for dear life. How much do you have to call? As much as it takes, as often as it takes, as long as it takes.
Our full recovery requires becoming 100% surrendered to and committed to God. There is no peace, no victory without surrender. We cannot be 90% surrendered to the Lord and still gain lasting victory over any besetting sin.
Since we will never be more committed to God than we believe deep down that God is committed to us, believing the truth about our Father's love is truly a life and death issue. It was for Jesus—He was willing to die to reveal the Father to us.[vi] Believing the truth about your Father's unflinching and amazing love for you is the cure for backsliding—once it is believed in enough for you to run to Him, rather than from Him.
Three Powerful Lies
Three deadly deceptions of the enemy have tremendous binding power.[vii] These lies must be recognized and cast down.
Lie #1. The Lie of the Idol: The spirit behind the idol promises to give life to those it seeks to capture. The strong grip of addiction upon the soon-to-be enslaved one comes from a spiritual power working through the idol to steal, kill or destroy. Remember that an idol is anything that we place above God, anything that we want more than God.
What am I saying then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? But I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God, and I don't desire that you would have communion with demons. 1 Corinthians 10:20 WEB
Demons still offer a 'fix' in exchange for worship. Worship means 'to ascribe worth to.' It also translates as 'to serve.' How have you been serving them? What are they saying to you? Does it sound anything like this?
Come to me and I will give you power to mend your life. Give yourself to me and I will satisfy you. I will ease the pain and give you gain.
Lie #2. The Lie of the Wounded Heart: This keeps the one bound looking in the wrong direction, but the problem is not 'out there' (in the world of things to get or people to blame) and can't be fixed out there. The problem lies within - in a heart so broken that it desperately needs a great love to heal it.
The root cause of addiction is pain where love should have been. It has been famously observed that 'the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.'[viii] All such attempts to fill the 'God void' the wrong way are doomed to failure, often resulting in bondage. Being disgusted with one's self over the besetting sin doesn't help; it actually increases sin's bondage through self-hatred and self-rejection (review Love Thyself).
Lie #3. The Lie of the Distorted Image: Only the revelation of the Father's great love can mend such a broken heart, but a distorted image of the Father keeps the one bound running from God, rather than to Him—the root cause of backsliding. A distorted image of self binds the pain of self-rejection in the heart (Lessons 8-10). Both images need thorough cleansing and mending in order to liberate the heart from these deep roots of the besetting sin.
Satan is a liar from the beginning. His lies are very convincing and once they have had a chance to impact our feeling system, they become powerful strongholds within us. Our task is to recognize and renounce those lies, carry them captive to Christ and then come into agreement with God's truths.[ix]
This is war so be prepared to go to battle stations at a moment's notice. Don't tarry in the pig pen like the prodigal did - race to your Father at the first sign of weakness. Take that Hebrews 4:16 elevator straight to His throne of grace. As quickly as you can, obtain the mercy and find the grace He so freely wants to give you. The great thing is not walking perfectly, so that you never stumble over bumps in the road, but learning to recover quickly before falling on your face.
Prepare to Persevere
We are clearly instructed that we are saved by grace through faith.[x] Therefore, in order to make solid progress at overcoming addictions, besetting sins and compulsions we will need to grow a great faith in the greatness of the saving grace of God:
1) We will need to call on the Name of the Lord for rescue.[xi]
2) We will need a 'love of the truth that we may be saved' - so that we will stay determined to fight to the death against believing the three lies in our moments of doubt and pain.[xii]
3) We will need balance concerning our struggle with the flesh. At times we can simply 'rest in the Lord,' trusting that the flesh has been 'crucified for us' and that His work in us will prevail.[xiii] At other times we must be prepared to 'crucify the flesh' ourselves, praying and persevering against the stronghold as if it all depends upon us.[xiv]
4) We will need wisdom in discerning when to fight and how to trust: Under attack we fight as if it all depends on us, yet trust even then that our victory depends entirely upon Him.[xv]
5) We will need a willingness to fight to the death. Depending upon the power of the stronghold that has grown in us from habitual past sins, we will need a holy resolve and determination to choose to die fighting for our freedom (if it comes to that), rather than give in to the old bondage and become slaves to sin again (Luke 9:23-25; Revelation 12:11).
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. Hebrews 12:3-4
If you find yourself in a season of protracted struggle and fierce temptation, don't let your trial be wasted! Don't try to get out of your trials so quickly that you don't take the time to look up to the Father and make sure your heart believes that even while you are 'at your worst,' even when your weaknesses are in your face, even when you seem filled with wrong desire or shameful emotions, even in those moments He is loving you, covering you with immense mercy and grace, cheering for you, and desiring your conversation and fellowship—over the sins or temptations you are struggling with!
Get a good look by faith at the beautiful, grace-giving God who loves us even in our places of disgrace—even in our prodigal 'pig pens.' This breaks the deep grip of shame over our fallenness that came in through Adam's nature. But don't try to feel these things, just refresh your heart by saying to Him what His Word says is true about Him.
The Way to Freedom
The self-blinding barrier of denial must be broken through before any addiction can be recognized for what it is and honestly resisted. Assuming that has already happened, then the following steps can be doggedly pursued. Victory rarely comes easily.
1) Take full responsibility for every aspect of the addiction you have recognized: Repent, renounce making it an idol you worshiped and served so whole-heartedly.
2) Carry every area of disobedience and rebellion captive to Christ until you see something in Him that restores your trust and confidence in God's love and mercy for you and His power to help you.
3) Turn to the Father and release gratitude to Him that even in your worst places of disgrace He covers you with His grace! Pray for a passion to worship and serve Him instead of the idol.
4) Be prepared to call on His Name at a moment's notice!
Learn to let your place of disgrace reveal Your Father's greater grace!
Father, thank You that You are loving me with perfect, unconditional love even now, even in times of great trial and temptation. You are not holding my weaknesses against me. What an amazing God you are! Your gentleness is making me great and giving me strength. Your strength is even now being made perfect in my weakness! Your perfect love is casting out my fears! You are at work even through this for my good. I am truly finding Your grace in my place of dis-grace! Keep coming to my rescue as I call on Your Name.
Take It to Heart!
Don't just give these truths a 'head bob'! For further study and for help working these truths into your heart and life, see The Head to Heart Guide for No More Idols and 'work out' with exercises, discussion questions, review of main points, digging deeper, more scriptures, model prayers, renunciations/affirmations and practical steps of life application.
[i] Genesis 4:6-7
[ii] Romans 6:6
[iii] John 10:10
[iv] Genesis 25:29-34
[v] 1 Corinthians 10:13
[vi] John 14:9-11 and 17:1-5
[vii] See Ecclesiastes 4:12 for the metaphor of a threefold cord's strength.
[viii] Bruce Marshall, The World, the Flesh and Father Smith (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1945), p. 108. Often mistakenly attributed to G. K. Chesterton.
[ix] 2 Corinthians 10:4-6
[x] Ephesians 2:8
[xi] Romans 10:12-13
[xii] 2 Thessalonians 2:10
[xiii] Romans 6:6; 7:5-6; 8:10-11; Galatians 2:19-21
[xiv] Romans 8:13; 13:12-14; Galatians 5:22-25; Ephesians 4:20-24; Colossians 3:1-5
[xv] Matthew 11:12; Ephesians 6:13; Exodus 14:13; Zechariah 4:6