Jesus Saves Us From Addiction's Grip

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : John 8:34-36

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the Son continues for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

John 8:34-36 rsv

ADDICTION

What does it mean to be an “addict”? What is it like to be, as we say, “addicted to” something? In our time, an addict is usually understood as someone who habitually uses and has an uncontrollable craving for a certain drug. Maybe it’s heroin or cocaine, maybe nicotine or alcohol. It may be a pain-killer like morphine. The person who starts using it gets hooked. The habit of taking the drug becomes fixed. The urge to have it is all-consuming.

You’ve known people like that, and so have I. They have become dependent on this chemical substance. In the latter stages of addiction, they may lie, steal, sell their bodies, and even kill to get what they crave. Sometimes they contract AIDS and other infections from unsterilized needles. Sometimes their hearts are overwhelmed by overdoses and they die. Although sometimes the decline in health is less dramatic, the addiction, if unbroken, threatens to destroy them.

But the word addiction is not used only for chemical dependency. The root meaning of “addicted” is simply “being devoted to” or “given up to” something. If you give over yourself, if you give up yourself, if you attach yourself as a follower to a person or as an adherent to a cause, you are in that sense addicted. If you surrender habitually to another’s authority and leadership, you have become an addict.

So being addicted is not always a bad thing. Addiction is a strong disposition or inclination toward something or someone. It’s enthusiastic devotion to, frequent participation in, something. What we are addicted to takes priority in our lives. It comes first. Its demands are the most heeded and obeyed of any, whatever else may be kept waiting in the process. Our addiction becomes more and more our happiness, our treasure, our god.

Everything depends, then, on the nature of our addiction. To what or to whom are we ardently devoted? What claims priority in our choices? What comes before everything else? What for us is the highest value, the supreme good, that for which we stand ready to sacrifice all else? Is that thing or person worthy of such an all-out commitment? And will our addiction, whatever it is, ultimately destroy, or save us? That’s the question. It’s possible, you see, to have a benign addiction, a healthy devotion. A Christian named Thomas Fuller used the term in that way. “We sincerely addict ourselves,” he wrote, “to Almighty God.”

Now with those thoughts about addiction in mind, let’s listen again to these words of Jesus from the Gospel according to John, chapter 8, beginning at verse 34:

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the Son continues for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

Notice how Jesus here describes sin as a kind of addiction that gains control over us. He makes it clear that we can’t break free by ourselves, but He says that He can save us from its power. Think with me about that somber but thrilling message of addiction and deliverance, of bondage and freedom.

THE GRIP OF SIN

First, how is sin like an addiction? Jesus says, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” It’s important to see that the word commits here is in the present tense. In the Greek language, that means a continuing action. We could well translate it in this way: “Everyone who keeps on committing sin is a slave to sin.”

You know how that works. We see it in habits of almost every kind, from the most harmless to the most pernicious. As someone has said, “We first make our habits and then our habits make us.” Or again, “Habit is like a cable. We weave a thread of it every day and at last we cannot break it.” The more you indulge an attitude, the more you practice an action, the more ingrained it becomes, the more it molds and governs your life. If early in life, for example, you make a practice of diligently saving money, you probably will never be a spendthrift. The longer we continue our habits, the more strongly they influence our conduct.

Jesus says that this is true in a particular sense of sin. Sin has a special kind of appeal and exercises a special sort of power. At first, it’s a choice. Nothing compels us to do this thing. We simply decide that we want to. Let’s say it’s a small untruth. We’re in a tight situation. We’ve done something that we’re ashamed of and to admit the truth about it would be embarrassing and humiliating. It seems a whole lot easier to us, and less threatening, to stretch the truth a bit and get off the hook. We don’t see at the time that we are being hooked.

Think of Simon Peter’s denial of Jesus (see Mark 14:66-72). The first time, he simply declared that he didn’t know who Jesus was. It seemed to him prudent not to admit that he was one of the Lord’s followers. There were enemies all around that might have harmed him if he told the truth. “I don’t know the man,” he said.

A little later someone asked him again, “Weren’t you one of those with Jesus?” This time Peter got more vehement. He strongly denied that he knew Jesus. He said he had nothing to do with Him. Then the question came up a third time. Now, with oaths and curses, the disciple calls heaven to witness, swears to God that he doesn’t know Jesus. One lie had opened the way for another. The second lie made truth-telling even more difficult. And so the cycle goes on. The more lies we tell, the more we need to tell, and before we know it, we’re caught in a web of deceit.

A friend of mine talks of the way he’s affected by cigarettes. On several occasions he has decided to quit smoking and has enjoyed some success for a time. On each occasion afterwards, when he stumbled, he started by deciding that he would smoke one cigarette and only one. That would be all. But when once he did that, he found his resistance to smoking all but destroyed. Before he knew it, he was enmeshed in the habit again.

That’s what happens with sin, at more sinister levels. In a small act of theft, a seemingly innocent flirtation or a momentary indulgence, we think we’ll “do it just this once.” That will be the end of it. But it seldom works out that way, does it? The Bible speaks of sin, that is, all transgressions of God’s commands, all disobedience to Him, all turning away from Him to go our own way, as a kind of power. Sometimes the Bible almost personalizes that power. It’s as though in disobeying God, we surrender ourselves, without realizing it, to an alien master. Thinking that we are simply expressing our freedom, doing what we like, we actually become more and more ensnared. We lose something of our real freedom. More and more, as we get drawn in deeper to a pattern of disobedience, we find ourselves in bondage. “Whoever keeps on committing sin is a slave to sin.”

WE CAN’T GET FREE

Jesus means by that that once we become caught up in this pattern, once we give free rein to this sin, we lose our ability to break free. While it’s happening, we usually aren’t aware of that. Samuel Johnson observed, “The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” Sin deceives us in that way. We think we’re choosing it. We think we’re in control. We keep telling ourselves we can quit any time we want to. But somehow we don’t, and we find that even the desire to quit gets weaker and weaker. It’s as though we’re duped. We’re tricked. We’re trapped. Something has sucked us in beyond the point of no return.

But we find it desperately hard to admit that, don’t we? The Jews to whom Jesus was speaking were indignant when He began to say these things to them. “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered, with some indignation, “We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to any one. How is it that you say, `You will be made free’?” (John 8:31-32). It seemed to them ridiculous and insulting to be told they weren’t free, that they were in some kind of bondage.

Addicted persons are notorious for responding like that. Try to tell an alcoholic that he or she needs help and they will assure you that there’s no problem. They know what they’re doing. They have the situation well in hand. They may become quite angry if you say that they’re helpless, that they can’t stop. But it’s true. And oddly, it’s the truth which is the first step toward freedom.

You have to know that you can’t escape on your own. You have to acknowledge that you’ve become a kind of slave. You have to look away from yourself for outside help.

Jesus is saying to us that this is not only true for drug addicts, for alcoholics, for compulsive gamblers. It’s true in some sense for every one of us. Who of us can say that we never commit sin, that we never give in to temptation, that we never get tangled up in the web of some disobedience, that nothing ever gets control over us? Though not as dramatically, perhaps, as the heroin addict, we let ourselves become similarly trapped. Let’s not kid ourselves, friends. At some level, to some evil, we’ve all become addicted. And we don’t have within ourselves the resources to straighten that out, to struggle free.

OUR LIBERATOR

I hope you can recognize that today. I hope that I can really face it about myself. Because then, if we do, we’re ready to hear the good news. “If the Son, Jesus Christ, makes you free,” He says, “you’ll be free indeed.” You’ll be really free.

How does Jesus go about rescuing us from addiction’s grip? How does He liberate us from enslavement to evil? It begins in His blameless life. He faces the tempter, and at every point refuses to give in. He learns obedience by the things He suffers. Then having lived a life of obedience to His Father, He gives Himself up to die for your sins and mine. In dying, He takes us who believe in Him down into death with Him. It’s as though we have been slaves in the household of a cruel tyrant. In Jesus’ death we die to that old tyranny and we rise again to become the servants of a new master. We are liberated to live a new life. Jesus has done it all, all that needs to be done to set us free. He makes us the children of God and gives us a new start.

Involved in our being liberated, says Jesus, is listening to His voice, continuing in His Word, becoming His disciples indeed. Because, you see, the only way to become free from the power of sin is to be given over, addicted to, a new master. When you believe in Christ, it’s as though you have died with Him and have been raised to a new life. But now you don’t live the remainder of your life idle, in neutral, as it were. You’ve got to go forward. You aren’t redeemed to be an independent, a lone ranger. You’re a member of the body of Christ. You’re a follower of Jesus, a bond slave of Christ.

Just as you first got involved in sin by a choice on your part, this is your choice as a newborn child of God, to belong to the Lord. It’s a yielding up of yourself and all your members as a living sacrifice to Him to be His. Entering into the freedom of the Christian faith is a matter of becoming addicted to, devoted to, Jesus Christ and His lordship. It’s when you yield up the controls of your life to Him that you become free from every alien master, free from any tyranny that threatens to destroy you. When you give yourself to the Lord, you end up being a child of the living God, with new resources to become what you are meant to be.

A friend of mine in New Jersey has a richly fruitful ministry among young people. A few weeks ago, he was talking to them about the drug issue, about all the things that young people turn to to “get high.” He dared them that night to “get hooked on Jesus.” Maybe the expression seems crude to you. Maybe you would say it in another way. But there’s a profound truth hidden in the challenge he gave. We taste real freedom when we dare to devote ourselves entirely to Christ. The more we renounce our own way to follow Him, the more we understand what it is to be free. Jesus saves us from addiction’s grip. Yes! May that be true for you and me today!