The Gospel and Addiction

November 2, 2023

This week, we are going to probe into something most of us struggle with, but rarely talk about publicly: addiction.

Here will be my working definition of the word addiction: "an unhealthy dependency upon some object, substance, or activity." This means addiction is not just a substance thing. Obviously, if you are addicted to a substance like heroin or alcohol, you are an addict. But you are also an addict if you have an unhealthy dependency on gambling, or your job, or pornography, or a hobby, or food, or your phone, or even a relationship. Anything that becomes an unhealthy dependency is an addiction.

Now, obviously, some of the things I just listed aren’t sinful in and of themselves. For instance, it is clearly not wrong to have a job. But is it wrong to give all of your time, energy, and attention to it to the exclusion of your family and your health? Yes! Same goes with food, sex, social media, video games, or any number of things. Many things may be completely innocent and used by tons of people in healthy ways, but for some of us, these things become addictions.

Another word I think we could use for “addiction” is “idol.” An idol is anything that takes the place of God in your heart. John Calvin famously said, "the human mind is a perpetual forge of idols." Calvin knew the Scriptures declare that all of humanity is born with a sin nature. And out of that nature, humans routinely craft idols to give their worship. In some cultures, that idol might be a little stone or wood statue. But in cultures like America, an idol could be anything you give priority in your heart.

How to Combat Your Destructive Idols

If you are a Jesus-follower who is giving too much of your affection, attention, and time to an "idol," how do you knock that idol off your heart's throne so God can take His rightful place? Let me give you a six-step process.

#1. Remember, you are loved.

I think many of us get addicted to our idols because they promise love, acceptance, comfort, control, power, and more. But these idols are very talented liars. They are like salt water which promises to quench your thirst, but only sucks you dry with each drink.

But if you remember you are already loved by God because His image is in you, and that you are accepted through the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross, sometimes the temptation to return to your idol dissipates.

#2. Confess the sin.

If you refuse to identify your idols, you won’t be able to defeat them. So confess your sin before your Heavenly Father. It’s not like He doesn’t already know about it!

The Gospel And Addiction • Riverwood Church

If you find yourself hesitant to confess because you think God will be angry, know the opposite is true. Confession honors God, because it acknowledges the reality of your sin and the work of Jesus through the cross. This is why we are told in 1 John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

#3. Remove the idol.

If you're addicted to pornography, you can’t just cut back from daily viewing to once-per-week. If you’re addicted to Instagram, you probably can’t just go from checking it 30 times per day to checking it only 10 times per day. To defeat your idol, you need to remove it entirely. If you don’t, you’ll most likely slip back to what you were doing before.

(I realize that if you struggle with substance abuse, an immediate termination could be physically damaging. We’ll talk about this in step #5.)

#4. Replace the idol.

As important as #3 is, you can’t just remove your addiction. You need to replace it. If you remove your idol but don't wisely replace it, you’ll just gravitate to a different idol.

For instance, at the end of 2019, I realized I was addicted to Twitter (rebranded as X). As we were about to start 21 Days of Fasting and Prayer for the new year, I knew I needed to break my addiction. So I deleted the app off my phone to "remove the idol." But guess what happened? I simply replaced my time on Twitter with time on the News app on my iPhone! In other words, I replaced one idol with a different one.

Don't be like 2020 me. Wisely replace your idol with something that will help point you to Christ. For instance, if your idol is entertainment, you might replace it with Scripture reading, a Growth Group, some Christ-focused podcasts, a RightNow Media Bible study, or reading a book. Remember: the goal is to knock the idol off its throne so God can take His rightful place in your life.

#5. Get Help

Help might be asking someone to hold you accountable. It might be sharing your struggle with your church small group. It might be going to a counselor. Help might even be admitting yourself to the hospital. (As alluded in Step 3, if you struggle with substance abuse, you might need to get medical help to safely get off these substances.)

I realize for many people, getting help feels like an admittance of weakness. But getting help could be the bravest thing you do. Think of it this way: If Jesus could bravely go to the cross for you, you can allow the Spirit to help you bravely ask for help.

At the same time, God isn't expecting you to fight this battle alone. Every Christ-follower has been given the Holy Spirit. So rely on the power that raised Christ from the dead. Make prayer your weapon and let God's Spirit give you the strength to say "no" to your idol.

#6. Give yourself Grace.

Lastly, if and when you mess up by returning to your idol, know there is grace (remember 1 John 1:9!). Just because you lost one battle doesn’t mean you will lose this war. God's mercies are new everyday. So if the perfect Judge of the Universe can mercifully forgive your sin, give yourself grace and keep fighting for your freedom by resting in His forgiveness.

If you need prayer or pastoral counseling to aid in your fight with addiction, feel free to reach out to us here at Riverwood. If you feel in need of deeper, intensive counseling, we recommend Candeo Counseling, which has an office in Waverly.

Erin Bird Lead Pastor - Riverwood Church

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