What the human heart desperately needs to overcome addiction is a supernatural transformation that gives the individual a new master who supplies new desires. If God’s grace changes the heart, which it does, then the addict can pursue the right values, treasures, rewards, and God will destroy the idols of the heart that are naturally destructive. We cannot merely put off wrong pursuits to find victory; we must replace those natural pursuits with the only true desire: pleasing and worshiping God.
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to (a person, experience, or substance) as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:17-23).
Universal Submission to Masters
Sin is a horrible slave-master that our hearts tell us we can master, but actually, sin masters us. In God’s moral system, we can either be addicted to our destructive heart’s desires and outworking sins or pursue and love God’s goodness and righteousness. Addictions do not describe abnormalities or diseases; they define normal human nature apart from God.
God made us to have strong desires, to pursue rewards and values, to repeat behavior based upon those desires and rewards, to submit our control to something outside of ourselves, and to long for satisfaction. The problem with “addicts” is not that they worship, but that they worship the creature over the Creator (Romans 1) as all people naturally do.
Those who become so out of control because of their passionate pursuit of pleasure or desire to escape a reality are singled out, but they are no different at their core than anyone else who desires to be accepted by others, who lusts after sexual experiences in the privacy of his/her home, or who desires to assuage guilt or traumatic events from their past.
As Oliver Underwood, who directs a Mission House in Seattle Washington and who God mercifully saved out of “a serious addiction” himself says, “I did not have a substance disorder. I had a worship disorder.” The object of desire determines a person’s patterns of behavior.
This Body of Death
Because our desires are carried out in our behavior and our physical bodies, our physiology is affected by our lifestyles—especially by habitual behaviors. If thoughts and actions are negative, the brain is negatively harmed and altered—neural connections are formed in response.
If controlling substances—such as prescribed or illicit drugs—are consumed, physical adaptations also occur. Conversely, if thoughts are healthy and behavioral patterns established accordingly, the brain also responds positively and heals over time. When a person has a brain injury or impairment, usually physical, occupational, speech, and other “therapies” are helpful in healing the brain.
When it comes to the body, therapy is merely a fancy word for controlled repetition that heals. By both a person’s right desire and engagement in repeated positive behavior, the human brain heals and remaps itself. This phenomenon is referred to within medicine and science as neuroplasticity; God made the brain to respond to our pursuits and lifestyles.
Of course, with psychoactive and psychedelic drugs, physical withdraw (coming out from under the drug’s chemical control) can be life-threating and typically requires medical supervision. Secularists do not wish to acknowledge the spiritual nature of desires and human pursuits, so they frame all addictions as being sourced in the brain rather than in the spiritual heart.
For example, secularists transform metaphysical desires into being sourced in the “reward systems in the brain” where they can first be seen in the body. Psychiatrists and other secular theorists view people who cannot overcome the control that their lusts and the substances or experiences produce to be abnormal and predisposed to the “illness of addiction,” since these people are said to lack self-control. The APA suggests that,
Individuals with lower levels of self-control, which may reflect impairments of brain inhibitory mechanisms, may be particularly predisposed to develop substance use disorders, suggesting that the roots of substance use disorders for some persons can be seen in behaviors long before the onset of actual substance use itself.
It is important to note the careful wording the APA uses in the DSM-5: “may reflect,” “may be,” and “suggesting.” Their assertion is not a proven fact, but a suggested theory on which the APA bases its entire approach to the common tendency of human nature it calls addiction.
Overcoming Is Supernatural
Secularists assume that ordinary people have self-control and can overcome their natural desires. In contrast, the Bible does not present self-control over harmful substances and experiences as normal. Instead, Scripture declares self-control over lustful pursuits and destructive behaviors to be a supernatural gift of God (Galatians 5:22-23).
We are all predisposed—not just some of us—to pursue destructive lusts, and we all lack self-control necessary to overcome these pursuits. Only some “addictions,” though, are considered to be illegal, because they are well-known to produce dependence and place people under their control to the extent of endangering self and others. Secularists theorize that addictions are brain disorders since the brain atrophies in accordance with destructive pursuits and patterns of behavior. But this process can also be reversed through right thinking and right living. The body is not the cause of evil enslaving pursuits but bears the observable effects. As desires and subsequent behaviors change, so too does the body’s chemistry and neurological connections. Proverbs states this idea well.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones (Proverbs 3:5-8).
The Hebrew word for “flesh” found in verse 8 is a unique word used only three times in the Old Testament. It means the “central life cord” or “strength cord.” In one usage (Ezekiel 16:4), the word is translated as umbilical cordbased upon the context in which the writer uses it.
Many biblical commentators note that the Hebrew word “shor” in Proverbs 3most likely means central nervous cord. Dr. Cohen, for example, states that the Hebrew word “shor” denotes “the centre of the existence of the body,” which neuroscientists today call the nervous system. The Pulpit Commentary explains,
The navel is here regarded as the centre of vital strength. This is the only place in the Proverbs where this word is found. Gesenius, however, takes shor, or l’shor’rekha, as standing collectively for the nerves, in which, he says, is the seat of strength, and translates accordingly, “Health (i.e., refreshment) shall it be to thy nerves.
Trusting in the Lord, seeking to know Him, receiving His wisdom, and fearing Him will bring healing to the nervous system. Of course, a full cure will not be realized until the believer who trusts in the Lord sees Christ face to face and obtains eternal life. This verse is not advocating a false prosperity gospel, but declaring God’s design of human nature—that our spiritual pursuits directly affect our physical bodies.
Pornography as an Example
Although many secular theorists consider controlling sexual sins to be addictions, Scripture presents sexual drive and temptations as normal human nature. When the pursuit of sex outside of God’s gracious plan brings harmful and controlling results—and it will, humanists see this as a physical malfunction.
Pornography, for example, continues to be a significant problem in many people’s lives. The desire for spiritual and physical intimacy and full revelation with acceptance for who we are is built into the very fabric of God’s design of humanity.
Before the fall of Adam in Genesis 3, God created the covenant of marriage, which is the only institution that God gifted to man before the fall (the church and government were established post-Genesis 3). We have a sexual drive not merely for reproduction but because God made us in His image, and He desires to be intimate and reveal Himself to us without restrictions or limitations. This perspective is the very basis of God’s grace—His revealing Himself to humanity despite humanity’s unworthiness. Titus 2:11 states that “the grace of God that brings salvation has been manifest or revealed.” Christ came to reveal the Father (John 1:1-15).
As human nature pursues lust instead of God, a person perverts God’s intended spiritual purpose for sexual drive and uses it to worship himself. Sex within a covenant of marriage as God intends is worship of God, but sexual pleasure apart from God’s design is idolatry.
The only way to overcome sexual addictions (harmful pursuits that oppose God and produce patterns of behavior) is to have Christ as the highest value in our lives. Job 31 provides us with a perfect example of how a man of God overcame his lusts and thus avoided “addiction” (destruction).
I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin? (Job 31:1).
In an interesting twist, Job starts this portion of Scripture making a promise to himself rather than accepting the false hope of his lusts. In other words, he became honest about his deceived nature and purposed in his heart to not pursue his natural lust.
What would be my portion from God above and my heritage from the Almighty on high? (Job 31:2).
The promises of God were at the forefront of Job’s promise to himself. God’s promises must be accepted and believed above the promises of lustful thinking if there is to be a victory over lust and addiction.
Stated differently, you must treasure God above all else: “Where your treasure is, there is your heart also” (Matthew 6:21). God made people to pursue what they value (treasure) most, and addictions are merely proof of both humanity’s fall and God’s original design.
If we treasure God, we also treasure His Word (promises) over the deceitful promises of our spiritual hearts, the world’s system, and the evil one. Paul explains this human tendency of normal human nature.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Ephesians 2:1-3).
In 2 Peter, we explicitly see how God’s power and promises revealed in His Word enable believers to overcome the lust of the flesh, the evil one, and the system of the world designed to fulfill that lust.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire (2 Peter 1:3-4).
It is no accident that Job pronounces victory over lust based first and foremost upon his relationship with God and the precious promises. If there is no promise from God, Job is not going to engage in it.
Conversely, if there is a clear warning from God or a false promise exposed, Job is going to accept that this desire is destructive and avoid it. Victory over our sinful desires and the corruption in the world can only be accomplished by believing God’s promises and rejecting the false and destructive promise of reward and satisfaction that lusts offer.