Addiction and the Bible

Is addiction in the Bible?

This is challenging to face as Christians, but the concept of addiction is found throughout the Bible. From the beginning every part of our humanity was impacted through the fall recorded in Genesis 3. We came under the dominion of sin and therefore became ‘sinners.’ Sin impacted our sexuality and gave birth to sexual sin.

God however moved to restore us in Jesus Christ: “But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8) and 2 Corinthians 5: 17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!”

Addiction in the Old Testament

We have two striking examples in the Old Testament that show us the two paths that people have chosen in their relationship with God.  

  • The first is Samson, an anointed man and addict who never humbled himself and ended up reduced and humiliated. In his last months God still graciously moved to restore him. (Judges 13 – 16)
  • The second is Joseph, a gifted man who humbled himself and rejected the advances of Potiphar’s wife. He fulfilled a great destiny. (Genesis 39 – 50)

As for Israel as a whole, they too often followed Samson. In the Old Testament we see examples of sexually compulsive behaviours whenever God’s people rebelled against him. The LORD warned Israel against the sexual behaviours of the nations in Leviticus chapter 18. They however chose to follow the practices of the nations.

Judah did evil in the eyes of the Lord …There were even male shrine-prostitutes in the land (1 Kings 14: 22 – 24).

We read in 1 Kings 14: 22 – 24

22 Judah did evil in the eyes of the Lord. By the sins they committed they stirred up his jealous anger more than those who were before them had done. 23 They also set up for themselves high places, sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree. 24 There were even male shrine-prostitutes in the land; the people engaged in all the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites

Weaved into the worship of ‘other gods’ was sexual perversion as a mood altering behaviour. It was a relationship with sex as a type of narcotic. This is what addiction is.A pathological behaviour with a mood altering process (gambling / porn) or substance (alcohol / drugs). This is why these foreign cults were powerful.  They had demonic forces behind them and involved intoxication as well as sexual acts (See Hosea chapter 4). The ancient Historian Herodotus makes an interesting comment which sheds light on what this looked like:

“The foulest Babylonian custom is that which compels every woman of the land to sit in the temple of  Aphrodite and have intercourse with some stranger at least once in her life…

TempleOnce a woman has taken her place there, she does not go away to her home before some stranger has cast money into her lap, and had intercourse with her outside the temple; but while he casts the money, he must say, “I invite you in the name of Mylitta” (that is the Assyrian name for Aphrodite). It does not matter what sum the money is; the woman will never refuse, for that would be a sin, the money being by this act made sacred. So she follows the first man who casts it and rejects no one. After their intercourse, having discharged her sacred duty to the goddess, she goes away to her home; and thereafter there is no bribe however great that will get her. “

We see throughout the Old Testament and particularly in the prophets, God’s people going back to their idols …

God would draw them back from their addictions and idolatry and they would again experience as a nation, no longer drinking from broken cisterns and polluted sources, but from him, the spring of living water. (Carefully read through Jeremiah Chapters 30 – 33 as well as the whole book of Hosea).

If you read the Bible carefully you will in fact see that David, Solomon, Manasseh, the Prodigal Son, Paul in Romans chapter 7 – they all displayed classical symptoms of addictive behaviour

Addiction in the New Testament

Addiction in the New Testament is spiritually speaking a Christian continuing or starting to drink from a ‘broken cistern’ or polluted source to find life, even though he is in Christ and should now be experiencing rivers of living water flowing from within him. For the believer addiction is the compulsive habit of seeking to quench one’s spiritual thirst outside of God himself in order to get comfort and medicate the pain of one’s life. In 1 Corinthians chapters 5 and 6 we read of two interesting scenarios with which the Apostle Paul was faced. This was the charismatic church full of addicts. They were God’s people, but clearly still had some major problems when it came to sexual issues.

The Corinthians – A charismatic church full of addicts

If you study the history of Corinth you will understand why. Corinth was home to the Temple of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sexual love. This set the spiritual moral tone for the city. In fact to “live like a Corinthian” became a phrase used to describe someone who lived a debased immoral life. The folk in this wonderful church came with that underlying software to Christ and the Apostle had to correct their misunderstanding that they could be ‘spiritual’ and ‘gifted’, but continue to indulge their old addictions. In chapter 6 he addressed those who were ‘in the habit’ (addicted) to visiting temple prostitutes:

“The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh.17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.

Today we have the spirit of Aphrodite everywhere in our modern western culture. It might look slightly different to a religious temple, but in essence it’s no different to what was happening back then: Sexual addiction today takes the form of a quick ‘high’ through pornography, cyber sex, phone sex, or acting out through casual encounters.

Why is sexual sin against your own body?

Paul had the revelation that sexual sin is sinning against your own body, not just because of STD’s (which you won’t get looking at computer images), but because when you sin sexually a) neurochemically you get attached b) your body develops tolerance so that more sexual highs are needed to get a high, c) you are sensitised so that even the slightest sexual stimuli can arouse you and trigger you.

Neurochemically you get addicted

Welcome to living hell! It leads to a hijacked brain and feelings of emptiness, detachment, irritability, further shame,  numbness and compulsive behaviours. It grieves the Holy Spirit deeply, despite God’s love for us. It invites his discipline and consequences because of his love for us.

The Prodigal Son

The story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 is a powerful story of a young man who gets caught in addiction after leaving home. His addictive lifestyle has interfered with all the healthy relationships he once had. He only returned because “no one was giving him anything”. He was at his wits end, wanting to eat from the pig trough and had reached rock bottom. Then he “came to his senses” and turned his heart towards home.

“This son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home”

His motives were mixed at best and he had his addicts verbal spiel, but the Father was waiting for him and was ready to receive him in love and mercy, because he saw that despite these imperfect motives, he had turned his heart back home. Paul in Romans 7 also speaks of the emotional intensity and trying to ‘white-knuckle’ obedience, but yet finding himself in his subconscious actions being drawn back again and again.

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. 

“His great epiphany comes after recognizing and coming to terms with his own limits, that his brokenness cannot be managed by himself.”

“For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing”

“Recognizing his need for God to do what he cannot do, there is a poignant appreciation of the provision of grace appropriated by Christ and his finished work on the Cross.” “This introduces a great paradigm shift for Paul: a relationship orientation as opposed to a performance-based orientation to God, initiated by God. This is a reorientation to an intimate bond as opposed to his prideful self reliance for his care and actualisation. Christ not only removes his guilt and condemnation, but enables him by the Spirit to live in his new identity of adoption, belonging, and intimacy with Father God.” (Clergy Sexual Misconduct, page 135)

“His great epiphany comes after recognizing and coming to terms with his own limits, that his brokenness cannot be managed by himself.”

God invites us into freedom

The good news of Jesus Christ is that God himself invites us into a freedom from the pathological relationship and idolatrous behaviour of sexual addiction, to find life and quench our spiritual thirst in him and the body of Christ. “Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come buy and eat!” (Isaiah 55: 1, Matthew 11 ).

“God is for us” – Romans 8:31

Paul found that his freedom came when he realised that his relationship with God was not based on a performance orientation and upon the revelation that there is no condemnation for those in Christ. He had the experienced the Life of the Spirit in Christ Jesus which had past tense, set him free from the law of sin and death. His life in the Spirit was under grace and in relationship to the Father. He did not have to get God and others to love him. He was beloved.

“Little children, guard yourselves from idols” – 1 John 5:21