Rev. Don Steve MABC
Director of Recovery Ministry
Grace Fellowship International
New evidence-based insight in the field of addiction highlights the role that relational dysfunction plays in substance abuse. I believe that relational dysfunction is a precursor to any compulsive stronghold. Relational dysfunction began in the Garden of Eden with man choosing to believe Satan’s lies rather than relate to God for who He is. The fall of man established relational dysfunction between man and God. Consequently, relational dysfunction spread through the human race. Relational dysfunction between God and man is a primary cause of most psychological dysfunction. There are physiological reasons for some psycho-emotional disorders. However, it is my conviction that while there may be many such cases, they are not predominate. When one’s relationship with God through Jesus Christ is experienced in its fullness, by His grace through faith, most psychological disorders resolve. This fact has been dramatically evidenced during the half-century of the ministry of Grace Fellowship International.
Christian Ministries are, wonderfully so, beginning to take note of relational dysfunction’s role in addiction. One faith-based recovery ministry even formulated this relational definition of addiction, “Addiction is an escalating, needs driven relationship.” They were speaking, of course, primarily about a relationship with a substance or object. I believe that this definition helps open our understanding of the problem. It is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. This same ministry goes so far as to state that intimacy, not sobriety, is the opposite of addiction. Treatment based on this understanding is then focused on helping individuals enter into intimacy with God, self, and others. Indeed, Biblical truth, not merely evidence-based research, undergirds this treatment approach. Jesus, the consummate healer, stated that the greatest commandment was to love God, self, and others in that order (Mark 12:30&31). The question then becomes how do we help others enter into intimacy in these three areas? Let’s begin in this post by looking at relational intimacy with God. In our next two blog posts, we will look at relational intimacy with self and then others.
A relationship with Jesus Christ is the only foundation upon which we can have intimacy with God. Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me (John 14:6 NKJV).” After choosing to place faith in Christ, believers are commonly instructed to join a church, read the Bible (devotionally), pray, serve God, and witness for Him if they are to have an intimate relationship with God. All are beautiful things and fundamental expressions of life in Christ. However, attempting to perform each one does not equate to intimacy with God. To, help those struggling with addiction walk in intimacy with God our helping strategies must be laser-focused on the effectiveness of Jesus work on the cross and the power of His life within to produce and maintain intimacy with God.
Consider the words of Jesus to His disciples recorded in John 15:15 (NKJV), “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” The verse exudes intimacy! Jesus was issuing an invitation to intimacy with God. He was, and is, in the business of revealing the Father! Real intimacy always involves the willingness to be known and to know another. Real intimacy also involves valuing and respecting one another.
Transformation founded upon self-effort is the enemy of intimacy. John 15:15 is prefaced in its Scriptural context by John 15:1-11. This passage is commonly referred to as the vine and the branch passage. John 15:1-11 highlights the absolute futility of attempting to bear fruit outside of abiding in the vine (Christ). The vine and branch metaphor, straight from Jesus’ lips, highlights the futility of self-effort in one’s attempt to overcome addiction or anything else for that matter. Successful effort and action must be focused by faith on what Jesus did on the cross. How can I be intimate with another when I am more focused on self-effort, and by default – self, than God. Self-effort mandates self-focus. As Biblical counselors and helpers, we must avoid giving individuals a to-do list to obtain, or even maintain, intimacy with God. The right to be intimate with God comes by grace through faith only. Colossians 2:6&7, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.” Walking by grace through faith is being intimate with God. Intimacy is openness before God concerning personal sin and a faith-based realization of His grace as He is intimate with us. Walking by grace through faith with God in intimacy produces genuine, Spirit-led action and sometimes substantial Spirit-led inaction.
Walking in intimacy with God will produce more experience of intimacy. However, intimacy with God is not primarily a process. Intimacy is a birthright that Jesus won for His children. It holds true even in our worst sin. Hebrews 4:16 (NKJV), “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Intimacy with God never equates to complacency with sin. The choice to be intimate with God by grace through faith will always lead one out of sin and bondage. Trusting in the life of God and walking in victory is intimacy.
Intimacy with God is indeed an accurate description of what happens in genuine repentance and faith. Repentance is turning one’s mind to God. It is a distinct 180-degree change concerning God alone. In repentance, one turns their mind’s focus from self, circumstances, and even feelings to God. In doing so, one owns their circumstances and sin without letting it define them or characterize their life. God is acknowledged as the only one who has the right to bestow identity and life. Repentance is receiving the self-revelation of God and being revealed before Him. This is intimacy.
Repentance is not changing one’s behavior by one’s own means. This would simply result in more self-focus with some God acknowledgment. Repentance precedes faith in that it is impossible to trust God without turning the mind to Him in response to His grace. Helping, healing, stronghold-breaking strategies must facilitate repentance and faith that comes from God’s initiating grace. Those in the bondage of addiction must realize that freedom is the result of a dependent faith that is trusting God’s life within for anything and everything relevant to life circumstances of the present moment.
Walking by faith is not general dependence upon God. It is knowing that He is enough in every specific moment. It is trusting Him for everything relating to life at any moment. Sound like a hyper-spiritual fantasy or unrealistic faith? Remember, Jesus is the author and the finisher of the believer’s faith (Hebrews 12;2). He is enough! Faith is not for His children to muster up. We simply repent (turn from self-sufficiency). This includes turning from unbelief to Jesus sufficiency. We do not bring faith to Him. We bring unbelief in dependence upon Him and He both authors and finishes perfect faith at that moment! He is true to Himself in every moment, and there is never anything that stands between a believer and repentance. Consequently, there is never anything that stands between a believer and faith.
As counselors and helpers, our faith must always be in the person of Jesus Christ, who easily creates faith in anyone willing to turn to Him. Our methodologies must be secondary and complementary to the cross of Christ. It is the cross of Christ that won the right for Jesus’ children to turn to Him in unbelief. It is the cross of Christ that allows us to relate intimately to the sufficiency of Jesus as we willingly expose our need to Him. It is the cross of Christ that unleashed the life and glory of God concerning every human need! We must communicate the relevancy of the cross.
What is the relevance of the cross? What exactly did Jesus accomplish for us and change in us when He died on the cross? Here are two fundamental, Biblical, relevant truths on which all counseling and helping must rest.
First, the cross of Jesus Christ and the corresponding resurrection of Christ thoroughly dealt with the law of sin and death in a believer. Sin can no longer block a believer from being intimate with God. Sin can lead to a perception of separation from God and hinder our experience of intimacy, but the right to relate intimately with God remains regardless. His life is always available and present within a believer. Romans 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.” The law of sin and death is the root cause of addiction. (death being the absence of God’s life as described in the previous post Addiction, CO-Occurring Disorder, and the Great Physician).
The second thing that the cross accomplished for believers is to change the very core of our being. Gal. 2:20 (NASB) states, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Human beings have a spirit, soul, and body (1Thess. 5:23). The condition of the spirit determines the standing of the individual concerning a relationship with God. Everyone is born with a spirit separated from the life of God and outside of intimacy with Him. There were two deaths on Calvary’s cross! The dead spirit of the unbeliever dies at Calvary with Christ the moment saving faith is placed in the work of Christ. The outcast that we all were, the one isolated from God died with Him! Colossians 1:22 (NASB), “yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.” God then placed believers in Him and put all of His life in them (1 John 4:13). This is intimacy! When a believer understands this truth, repentance can readily take place from the heart because of the reality of God’s presence and the provision of all that He is known by faith. Effectively, this means that a believer can, simply, freely turn to intimacy with God at any moment. In doing so, transformation happens by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.
Anyone struggling in sin has two critical choices to make – to trust in what the cross has done and to abandon self-effort. Only when one is willing to die to self-effort can they live life alive to God. Romans 6:10&11 (NKJV), “For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise, you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Only by who reckoning oneself dead to self-effort (which is a sin) and alive to God will anyone be free from compulsion and addiction. Reckoning is done with intent. It is a clear choice to believe, backed by the work of the Author and Finisher of faith – Jesus.
How then, as counselors and helpers can we avoid creating God referencing paths that actually promote self-initiated attempts at healing? How can we focus on the efficacy of the cross while ministering to others and lead them to experience intimacy with God? Only by reckoning self to be dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Only then are we ministering out of intimacy with God and only then will the cross become the focus of our efforts. As we relate to God by grace through faith, we will be leading others to do the very same thing. The only way to reckon ourselves alive with Him is to reckon upon our death with Him. Let’s do so and live. Live and love in the glory of the cross and the power of the resurrection!