PETA a few years ago came out with a billboard campaign. It said on top of the billboard in big bold letters, All animals want to live, then it had a lineup of animals. On the left-hand side, there were pictures of a few cats and dogs, then there was a bunny, then there was a horse, a chicken, a cow, a pig, a bull, and lastly a duck. Then it was asked “where do you draw the line”? It became a popular internet meme with people drawing lines in various spots. My favorite were the ones that suggested the lines are drawn between the chicken and the horse on a regular day, between the dog and the bunny in a severe economic crisis, and well if starvation is the only alternative they are all free game.
Why I bring up the billboard is not to write an article on PETA or what should be on your dinner plate. But I bring up the billboard for a far more pressing matter. An issue that polling suggests touches base with practically all-American extended families in ways big and small. What I’m talking about is addiction. Where do we draw the line when it comes to addictions?
We in the church can often be fairly thoughtless when facing addictions and compulsive habits. I remember a time in a previous church home I was in, when I was struggling with sin. I had first confessed it to my wife, and then knowing I needed others to come along side of me to help, I confessed it to an elder in the church I attended. He gave me what I’ve since learned, is called the moral argument. I was made to feel fairly awful about my struggle, a borderline pagan, and after he dressed me down verbally, his final two words were “stop it!” That was that. In a sad irony, within a year of that conversation, that same elder walked away from the faith he professed, his wife and family, and his career all to satisfy an addiction he had been struggling with. The moral argument he provided to others, had failed him in the end. Not because it wasn’t right in principle. I was already confessing it needed to stop.
So, what do we do with addiction? Where do we draw the line? Why is it, even as I type this article, I quickly want to head back up this page and delete my admission to struggling with sins to the point that I had to go to the church for aid? It’s not primarily guilt. Guilt is saying “I’ve done something wrong”. I can admit that I’ve done something wrong. That’s basic gospel 101.That’s the easier step in our Christian culture. I’ve done wrong, so I need Jesus to fix it. The real reason I want to delete the above is shame. Shame is that inner voice that tells us “I… am… wrong…”. It’s a far more complex emotion than guilt, and doesn’t quickly go away. When we let shame run rampant in our lives, we get stuck in situations where we believe ourselves to be unforgivable. We convince ourselves we are alone in our struggles, and without hope.
So, what are we to do with the addictions that arise in the lives of ourselves, our families, and our friends? First, we need to remember who our God is, and why His gospel is truly good news. Our God is a God not ashamed to be called our Father, or in coming down to be a brother to us, or even in residing and making temple within us – His people. Our God is a God who went to the cross with full knowledge of every sin and shameful act we have ever done, or would do. But why? Why would our God do such a thing for such an undeserving people? The answer of scripture, the answer of the gospel is that we have a God committed to our liberation from the disease of sin that has plagued the world since the fall, that shameful rebellion of our first parents. The dark shame all of us redeemed have earned in sin, is no match for the bright merciful glory of our gracious God.
So, what are we to do if we are addicted to something and need others to come alongside of us? I encourage you to find, with wisdom, fellow saints who can come alongside you. While one elder failed me, I quickly found a different elder, during that season of life who was a huge blessing to me, and helped minister to my being liberated from that addiction. Second, if you are struggling with addiction and feel yourself to be a leper of sorts, remember the grace of Christ is for the lepers. The grace of Christ is for the prodigal sons. The bible is full of prodigals being saved. Honestly, it’s the elder brothers being saved that are far more scantily found in the pages of scripture.
But maybe you consider yourself someone who has never struggled with addictions such as drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, video gaming, the internet, your smartphone, shopping binges, food, work, and alike. I suggest, if your assessment is valid, you start to look at the things you value in your routine in order to connect to a world flooded with a variety of addictions. Maybe your favorite thing in the morning is a cup of coffee, gossiping with friends, a morning scroll through a social network, chocolate and sweets, or a particular type of food. Relate to the addicts in your life, through thinking how hard it would be to give up certain habits of a more acceptable variety. In remembering the things, you personally would find hardest to give up, you can find common ground with the things the addict doesn’t want to give up.
But also consider this. if I asked you tomorrow to give up things like envy, all kinds of gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth, and wrath – if I told you to ‘stop it’ really loud and with great authority like how I had been told by a former elder, how confident are you, that you would then entirely stop it? I mean let us be blunt that Jesus encourages His people to go and sin no more. How well are we doing with that? Our encounters with those who are genuinely trying to battle against their addictions in community, need much less rebuke and much more mutuality as redeemed sinners needing deeper union with Christ.
Paul gave us good news in 1 Corinthians 10:13-14, as he told the church that all of the temptations and sins that had overtaken them were also common to broader mankind. Yet, God is faithful Paul states. God doesn’t allow us, to be able to be overtaken beyond what we can bare, because in our bearing temptations and sins, He gives us a means to endure it. His liberation of us will be the final word, and what are some of the things He gives to aid us in those moments?
First and foremost, Himself, the Holy Spirit. But also God gives us the church. Long before the modern profession of counseling sprang up as a specific job title, counseling work was almost exclusively found within the church, both in the pastoral office and the broader Christian community. For the record, I am not trying to say counseling is not a legitimate profession and isn’t a helpful one. If, you’re struggling, come to the church for aid. Feel free to reach out to the church office. Schedule a visit with your shepherding elders. If you are reading this as a woman, and find it more appropriate in your situation to talk with another woman, reach out to women within the community, who know the gospel well, and are trustworthy – not prone to gossip.
There is a genuine temptation to be an elder brother when it comes to facing those struggling with addictions both in our camps and even outside our camp. This does not mean all addictions are always ones we should tolerate in each and every way. Wives, husbands, sons, daughters, friends, and alike, all can have ample reasons to remove an addict from their lives. So, don’t take this article as an idea of welcoming all addictions in our homes at a moment’s notice, or in our family’s, or even in our churches without qualification. Quite often, the most effective treatments require the addict to live elsewhere, while they deal with their addiction. In some cases, even with repentance, there are still legitimate life-long separations as consequence for the addiction they had. David for instance lost a son and any right to potentially build the temple for the Lord, all because of His lust and murderous past. Redemption can be found in the already, but the already never promises the same fullness of the forgiveness that we will enjoy in the ‘not yet’.
But we still need to draw an appropriate line with the addict that includes hope. That tells them they are not unforgivable. A line which includes the free offer of grace, and mercy of Christ. A line which understands that while we might not have struggled with the same exact things as them, we too have had our battles with sin in which we were found lacking at critical moments, succumbing to iniquity. We all have crossed lines we shouldn’t have. Yet there is a call of liberation, a song of Christ, and its lyrics sing glorious words to all who are weary and heavy laden. The idols that consume too much of our lives find their cure in Christ, and we need to sing this truth boldly in the midst of the darkened areas of addiction we encounter whether personal or external. Christ’s promise of our redemption is our confidence. His passion for liberation, is salvation for all sinners who believe upon Him.