Scripture: Titus 2:11–14
Overcoming AddictionsTitus 2:11-14
Sunday, August 23, 2015
Pastor Randy Smith
When we read the Bible, all humans are reminded of an awful reality - our sin separates us from God. The Bible employs graphic terminology, stating we are His enemies, children of the devil, under His unquenchable wrath and destined for hell. There is nothing we can do in and of ourselves to change this tragic reality.
Yet Christ came and took the penalty we deserved. He shed His blood to purchase our salvation, remove all our sin, bring compete forgiveness, reconcile us with God, adopt us into His family, empower us by His grace and promise us citizenship in heaven.
No wonder the Bible repeatedly calls, even to the point of commanding us, to rejoice (Phil. 4:4). No wonder Jesus expects His children to enjoy "life…abundantly" (Jn. 10:10). No wonder the expectation for Christians is to be "Overcomers."
Yet if we were to analyze God's church, I believe too often most Christians feel overwhelmed, unhappy, confused and defeated. Perhaps I am describing you this morning.
I remember hearing a story about a billionaire art collector that saw a picture of a painting that he deemed absolutely necessary to add to his collection. He summoned his servants and told them to locate the work of art and purchase it regardless of the price the owner of the masterpiece demanded. After months of grueling investigations, his servants returned with the news. "We have located the painting you are looking for." The billionaire replied, "Great, where is it?" To which they said, "Sir, we found it in your collection."
If Jesus has purchased for us "every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" (Eph. 1:3) and has given us His peace and His joy (Jn. 14:27; Jn. 15:11), why are so many believers not experiencing it? We already have been granted "everything pertaining to life and godliness" (2 Pet. 1:3). So what's blocking the enjoyment of these blessings? Why do we keep searching for purpose when we already have not only His treasures but Jesus Himself already in our possession?
There are several reasons, but I believe one of them is what we are calling life dominating sins. Life dominating sins control, rule, dominate and enslave us. Jesus came to liberate the captives. Life dominating sins only lead us back into slavery. We've studied fear and bitterness already. This morning I'd like to take a look at addictions.
Normally when we think of addictions, the first thing that comes to our minds is the junkie on the street corner or the alcoholic husband or the chain smoker or the compulsive gambler. The world has a way to separate these individuals in a category whereby people can condemn their behavior and personally feel they are in no way an addict themselves. What I want to tell you right off the bat is that according to the Bible, all of us are addicts.
Let's start with a definition. An addiction is any pleasure that becomes an obsession (a mental preoccupation) which often then results in a compulsion (a behavior that acts out the obsession). Addictions can be chemically based, but they can also be emotionally or behaviorally based as well. An addiction is not a disease. You can't catch an addiction. An addiction is a sinful disorder which therefore stresses responsibility for your addiction, but also gives hope for recovery from your addiction. An addiction is anything we depend on that draws us away from giving greater dependence on God. An addiction is not trusting in the sufficiency of Christ. An addiction is a false god. An addiction is an idol.
We'll get more into the heart of addictions, but now I believe it's a good time to ask ourselves if we believe we might have an addiction.
- Is there anything that you believe you "really need?"
- Is there anything that you could not imagine losing for a few weeks?
- Do you plan your life around the ability to get or use something?
- Is there any behavior, habit or unhealthy desire that you can't stop?
- Are other areas of your life suffering (family, friends, career, finances, health) because of a certain behavior?
- Is a certain behavior preventing you from growing in Christ?
- Do thoughts of a certain item or action or person consume you more and bring more pleasure than thoughts about God?
- Is there anything that is wasting your money and time?
- Is there anything in your life that you keep hidden from others?
- Is there anything in your life that leaves you anxious, guilty or empty, but yet you still desire more of it?
- Is there anything that is mastering you?
- When you are grumpy, depressed, scared, bored, stressed or irritable, where is the first place you turn?
- What or whom do you trust for comfort and protection, adventure and satisfaction, purpose and pleasure?
Not all the things we can be addicted to are necessarily evil, but if God is not on the top of the food chain you have an addiction. You are worshipping and idol.
So here's far-from-complete list of possibilities:
- Smart phones
- Social media
- Video games
And the list continues…
Now that I probably have the attention of all of you, we need to ask the question, what's wrong with an addiction? Well, if you have ever lived with an alcoholic or can't get a kid away from playing Minecraft or are married to a compulsive shopper, you know how much one's addictions can have a negative effect on you. We also know the physical consequences that our own addictions can have on ourselves. The documentation is there revealing cirrhosis of the liver, lung cancer, sexual disease, heart disease and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. But we have to go deeper. A sixth grade health teacher can tell you what I've already stated. There is a much more significant problem with all addictions. It is spiritual, deeply demonic at its core.
The initial problem of addictions is idolatry. Paul makes this clear in Colossians 3:5 when he says, "Greed, which amounts to idolatry." Addictions are greed. Addictions are the lust to satisfy passions with idols outside of Christ. Ephesians 5:5, "For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God."
God is our all-sufficient Creator and Provider. In the first of the Ten Commandments He says, "You shall have no other gods before Me" (Ex. 20:3). Yet with addictions, we are revealing the fact that our hearts are bowing down to something we believe God cannot provide. The alcohol and drugs are not the essence of the issue. The problem is a heart that worships other gods. Maybe it's the god of pleasure or the god of love or the god of acceptance or the god of peace or the god of control. You see, the problem is not outside of us. It's not ultimately at the liquor store or on the Internet. The problem is within us and the booze and pornography are only satisfiers of deeper idols in our hearts. The problem is not the idolatrous substance. The problem is a passion in our heart that is wrongly satisfied with a false god (Ed Welch, Addictions, p. 49).
Yet here is where another problem of addictions surfaces. It's the cost we rarely consider, but one we will all be forced to pay regarding our idols. Tim Keller stated it well. "It starts like this: There's some kind of disappointment or distress in your life. As a result you choose to deal with that distress with an agent; it might be sex, it might be drugs, it might be alcohol. The agent promises transcendence. The agent promises freedom, a sense of being in control, a sense of being above all this, a sense of being liberated, a sense of escape. And so you do it. But when you do it, when you take the addicting agent as a way of dealing with life, the trap is set" (Tim Keller, Fighting Sin With Worship).
You see, our hearts are a factory for making idols. We create them very easily to deal with the pressing issues of life. We often know we should turn to God, but the idols seem to hold out greater promise with greater ease, in a quicker time frame and with much less responsibility. However, what we fail to realize is that these cleverly created idols, which we seek to use and rule (after all, we circumvent God because we want nothing above us) do not cooperate in a way we were expecting. Rather than mastering our idols, our idols betray us, master us and bring us deeper into their bondage. Eventually we find ourselves unable to break free from the increasing chains of dependency.
This is why the Psalmist prayed, "Establish my footsteps in Your word, and do not let any iniquity have dominion over me" (Psm. 119:133). This is why Paul said, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything" (1 Cor. 6:12). This is why Jesus commanded, "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other" (Mt. 6:24).
So can we all admit we are or clearly have the tendency to be addicts? Can we agree that this debilitating sin will definitely stifle our Christian life, dishonor the Lord and prevent us from being an overcomer? Can we also agree that God's Word is sufficient to not only expose this issue, but provide for us the help we need to deal with this important issue?
Obviously we need to come in line with the truth of Scripture. Sin loves to hide. Addicts love to hide. Sin hates the light. Yet the light of God's Word exposes our sin. The sword of the Spirit must be allowed to carve away our many layers of self-deception (that plagues all addicts). It beckons us to live in the truth in our desire to forsake Satan, the father of lies, for the God who is truth. It's being honest with ourselves, admitting we have a problem and confessing that problem as sin to the Lord. Apart from this we have no hope in moving forward.
Next we need to flee from the sin. This is much more than "just say no." This is more than human will-power and moral resolve. If you depend on even the world's best tactics, you are bound to fail and continue the repetition of your behavior.
In Titus 2 we hear that "the grace of God has appeared" (Tit. 2:11). For those of us in Christ Jesus, our power is a power beyond our human resources. Our power is resurrection power from the Holy Spirit that dwells within us. "The grace of God has appeared." Why? The next verse in Titus tells us, "Instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires" (Tit. 2:12). God's grace instructs us who we are in Him. And God's grace empowers us to be like Him.
The Spirit of God dwells within us. He produces fruit. Verse 12 in Titus 2 calls this fruit living "sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age." Galatians 5 says that the fruit of the Spirit includes a concept called "self-control" (Gal. 5:23; cf. Tit. 1:8). God's grace is the empowerment we need.
Many addicts will tell you that they are not happy with their behavior. They often know the effect it's having on their family, finances and personal health. When caught they will often swear they will never do it again. Yet their feelings do not mean their desires have died. They are like the person who can overeat at Thanksgiving and then say he'll never touch food again, but is found around the breakfast table in the morning scarfing down pork roll sandwiches. For the addict, the consequences are soon forgotten and the desire again masters his life.
Too often we try to battle sin without the Lord. That's why we must depend on Him. We must have His strength. It's our own self-serving attitude that gets us in the mess of addictions. It's only a surrender to Christ that will get us out of it. Through the grace of Christ, we are no longer a slave to sin, but now a slave to righteousness (Rom. 6:16). We have been set free from serving dead idols to serve the living God (1 Thes. 1:9).
Second, there are many practical steps we can take as well. Romans 13:14 say to, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts." We should do all we can to minimize temptations that drive us toward addictions. That might mean avoiding the beach. Perhaps it could mean getting a filter for your Internet or cancel the Internet service all together. Possibly you need to abstain from alcohol or coffee altogether. Maybe we need to get more radical as Jesus commanded and start amputating sin (Mt. 5:28-30) - get rid of the computer, toss the television set, sell the X-Box, cancel the iPhone or cut up the credit cards. Maybe we need to develop new friendships. Maybe we need prayer and accountability partners. Galatians 6:24, "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." I could spend a lot more energy on these practical thoughts, but time prevents me.
Yet I believe the greatest way to overcome addictions is with a greater desire. Addictions are a problem of passion. The problem is not with the passion. The problem is with the object our passion calls us to pursue. So why does our passion call us to run to an idol? Because we believe that idol is most attractive. The power to change is available in Christ, yet we don't go there because the pleasure of the idol is more desirous that Christ. However, if we can see Jesus Christ as more satisfying, we will never pursue another idol again in our lives.
In one of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis, he said, "If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."
When I talk about the power available for us in Christ, too many Christians adopt a "let-go-and-let-God" mentality. It's a battle to overcome addictions. We must be engaged in spiritual warfare. And one of the greatest ways we fight is to fight a lesser pleasure with a greater pleasure. Whatever wins our affections will control our lives. So do you see and know Jesus Christ in such a way, do you marvel over Him to such a degree, that He is your greatest affection?
When I was recently in Armenia, I shared the mythological story of Ulysses. Interesting thing about this hero of Greek mythology was his encounter with the Sirens. Countless were the unwitting sailors who, on passing by their island, succumbed to the outward beauty of the Sirens and their seductively irresistible songs. Once lured close to the shore, their boats crashed on the hidden rocks lurking beneath the surface of the sea. The demonic cannibals whose alluring disguise and mesmerizing melodies had drawn them close wasted little time in savagely consuming their flesh.
Ulysses was warned about the Sirens, so when approaching their island, he ordered his crew to tie him to the mast of the ship and put wax in their ears. "I want to hear the song," said the foolish leader. "No matter what I say or do. Don't untie me until we are safely at a distance from the island." As the ship passed by, Ulysses inwardly wanted to pursue the Sirens, but outwardly the ropes prevented his indulgence.
This is how many well-meaning believers seek to get through the Christian life. In their battle against sin they are living in guilt, frustration, despair and hopelessness, hanging on by their fingernails, hoping to persevere through the Christian life. Is this how God really wants us to live? Obeying like Ulysses only because we are shackled by external restraints? Obeying not because it is the glad product of a transformed heart, but because we are motivated by fear and shame? Does external obedience bring you joy when your heart wants just the opposite? Does this bring God glory?
Jason, like Ulysses, was himself a character of ancient mythology. Like Ulysses, Jason also faced the Sirens, but he brought a different solution to the problem. Jason brought with him Orpheus whose musical ability surpassed the Sirens. As the ship passed by the Sirens, Orpheus played his beautiful sound and the Sirens didn't stand a chance.
Like the merchant in Jesus' parable who sold all he had for the one pearl of great price (Mt. 13:45-46), the Christian life is about full-in, sold-out devotion to Jesus. It's the journey of discovering His infinite worth and exquisite beauty. It's the experience that His commands are for our good and His promises are better than anything the world can offer. It's knowing that the greatest needs of our hearts are met in Him and that He always comes through.
It's a question for me every second of the day. Who is my Master? And who will I choose to worship? Will it be the seduction of false idols or the living God Himself who has proven Himself sufficient? It is not about getting rid of the desires. It is about finding my deepest desires met in Christ.