Heath Lambert: Several weeks ago, Christians were concerned as they learned again of the fall of another pastor. In this particular case, an influential pastor of a large mega-church was revealed to be engaging in an abuse of alcohol as well as some other problems, as reported by various outlets, and he was relieved of his responsibilities of pastoral leadership at his church. These kinds of issues, when they happen, raised all sorts of questions for Christians who want to learn the lessons of these kinds of mistakes and sins on the part of leadership. But the issue that we’re going to address today on the podcast is the issue of addiction. This pastor again confessed in a written statement to letting himself slip into overuse of alcohol, and that gets Christians thinking about addiction. And so, that’s what we’re going to talk about on the podcast this week, right Amy?
Amy: Right. So, Heath, I think the best way to start this conversation about addiction is just to ask the basic question. What is addiction?
Heath Lambert: What is addiction is an important question to answer because the word is not really a biblical term. That doesn’t mean the idea is not in the Bible; it just means that the language we use to describe the problem today in our contemporary culture is a little bit different than what God uses to describe the problem in His Word. I think one way to capture a biblical reality of addiction is the biblical image of slavery. In the Bible, throughout the pages, there is this understanding of slavery, that human beings can be enslaved to sin. Now, that concept of slavery is something that is larger than addiction. People can be enslaved and enslaved to sin and, indeed, are enslaved to sin in ways that extend beyond what we today call addictions. But that idea of slavery – that I must obey my master – is a very important biblical metaphor. Another reality that we could talk about is the idea of habit. I do this thing that I keep doing over and over and over again and don’t know how to stop. Regardless of what we talk about with regard to addiction, whether it’s slavery or habit, we want to capture the idea that we have a heart that chooses, that wants, that desires, that lusts. And addiction, at the end of the day, is a heart – a greedy heart – that is demanding something to give itself comfort. Apart from that kind of spiritual side of addiction, we would also have to, at certain times, talk about the physical side of addiction. This is when we talk about things like chemical dependency – so alcohol abuse and drug abuse. What begins as a spiritual struggle – let’s say in the case of somebody who’s enslaved to alcohol – they want to check out, they want to break, they don’t want to be thinking about the stressful things that are happening during the day. So they go to alcohol to sort of get themselves some comfort from the stress of the day. Well, as you begin to use that over and over again in a habitual way, your body can become dependent on those chemicals. Your body forgets what it’s like to work without those added chemicals in your body. And so you increase the problem from a spiritual struggle alone, and that develops into a physical problem or a chemical addiction.
Amy: So, based off of your definition of addiction, who can be addicted? Can anyone be addicted? Can Christians be addicted? How do you explain this?
Heath Lambert: Yeah. Well, I think that’s the question, particularly in light of what happened with this fallen pastor. I think it raises the question, in fact, I’ve been asked three or four times just in the last few days, can a Christian be addicted? I want to say, yes, anybody can be an addict. If you’re a Christian, you can be an addict. If you’re an unbeliever, you can certainly be an addict. The question has added force because this idea of slavery as a biblical metaphor is complicated when you read the whole context of Romans chapter 6, where Paul says you are a slave to sin or a slave to Christ. You’re one or the other. And so we might think that, well, if I’m following Christ, if I’m trusting Him, then I can’t be enslaved to other realities. And what I would say is that metaphor of slavery in Romans 6 is what some theologians call an already not yet idea. Jesus Christ is fully our Master. He has conquered sin and death and the devil on our behalf, and He is as much our Master today as He will be when we’ve been in heaven with Him for ten thousand years. But that doesn’t mean that our life on Earth has caught up with that reality.
And so in Romans chapter 6, it says, for example, don’t let sin reign in your mortal body. It says, shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? The idea is there’s this challenge that we should not sin even in the context of this Biblical teaching that you have a new Master, whose name is Jesus. And so what Paul is doing there, is he’s saying there is this new reality, Jesus is your Master, but he gives those commands – Jesus is your Master, now don’t sin – and the reason those commands make sense is because we haven’t in our lives fully realized the Lordship of Jesus Christ. And so Romans chapter 6, I think, makes an argument that Christians must believe in order to accomplish actions that we need to take. And so the issue is, if you want to rephrase it and move it away from the slavery issue, we could ask the question a little bit differently. Can Christians, who are not yet fully saved, struggle with real and serious, and persistent problems? Can Christians, who are not yet fully saved, struggle with persistent problems that lead to physical issues and physical addictions? And the answer to those questions is yes. I don’t think the issue in whether you’re a Christian or not is necessarily, do I struggle with an addiction? I think the most important issue is, what am I willing to do in response to the addiction? And that’s where really going to get into the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian.
Amy: So how would you say that Christians should proceed then? How should they, or what should they do to overcome an addiction?
Heath Lambert: Well, we titled the podcast this week the secret of addiction, and that has a bit of a double meaning. The secret of addiction we impart mean to imply that addiction is this secretive thing that people engage in, and this is certainly the case with the pastor in the last couple of weeks who quietly, slowly let himself slide into an overuse of alcohol. It happened secretly, and once it was exposed, we saw what was going on, and it was really bad. But the secret of addiction, also we intend to communicate, that there are a couple of really powerful things. In fact, one, I think of the most important thing that is sort of the secret to defeating addiction. And so for Christians, if you find yourself right now struggling with an addiction, or if you know someone who is struggling with an addiction, the most important thing I think you need to do is the idea that we read about in Colossians chapter 3, verses 9 and 10. And there where the Apostle Paul is talking about instructions to believers as they live the new life in Christ; he says, do not lie to one another since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices and have put on the new self, who’s being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him. The idea is there that Christians need to live honestly. This is what is never happening in the life of someone who is struggling with an addiction. We sometimes say that lusts and lies go hand-in-hand. When you are nurturing the lust of an addiction, you will lie to cover it up. It’s so important because I know so many people who have struggled with addictions over the years, and they want to know, how can I stop drinking? Or how can I stop using drugs? Or how can I stop looking at pornography? Or how can I stop sleeping around? How can I quit gambling? How can I quit smoking? You name it. How do I quit? And one of the most important things we can say to those folks, and one of the most important things we can know if we are one of those folks, is to say the first thing that you need to do is not figure out how to quit drinking, but the first thing you need to figure out how to do is, to tell the truth. If you tell the truth about your weakness, if you will tell the truth about your struggle, then you’re going to open yourself up to a whole category of help and aid that will become available to you. As long as you’re covering it up, as long as you’re denying that there’s a problem, nobody knows that there’s a problem, and so nobody can help you, and you will continue to be stuck. This is a hard thing to do because it requires humility, and that’s an impossible thing to do in a way that honors God without the grace of Jesus Christ. And so the secret of addiction, of growing to be a person who lives openly and honestly, is grounded and founded on the secret of human life, which is, we need a Savior – to humble us, to exalt Himself, and to give us His power to depend on Him by faith, to do what He calls us to do.