The Medical Model of Addiction and the Life of Christ in a Believer

Rev. Don Steve M.A.B.C.

Director of Recovery Ministries, Grace Fellowship International

Proponents of the medical model of addiction view, broadly speaking, addiction as a disease that has biological, neurological, genetic, and environmental sources of origin. Recently much focus has been given to the neurological components of addiction as foundational to understanding addiction. Science has found that the brain literally rewires itself to produce neurological desire for the object of the addictive behavior. The driving force of the addictive pattern is thus assumed to be the neurologically altered brain.

There are at least two errant assumptions in this view.

The first is that the brain is the foundation of (or the center of) human motivation. This would be a logical conclusion for those who only accept material realities. However, human beings are not simply the composite of their physiological components. Man is body, soul, and spirit (1 Thess. 5:23 and Heb. 4:12). Biblically speaking the foundational part of man is the human spirit. It is the condition of the human spirit with respect to the life of God that is most relevant to human wholeness and healing. This is why Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again (John 3:3-8). Jesus, the consummate Healer, refuses to simply treat symptoms. In order to set the captives free Jesus’ finished work had to include an eternal, comprehensive, spirit fix for those willing to receive it by faith. Christ gives new life (His very life), through the union of the Holy Spirit with our human spirit to the believer the moment faith is exercised in His redemptive work (John 3:36). He changes us from spirit beings completely void of His life to spirit beings possessing of all of His life (Eph. 2:4&5).

I am not implying that every problem is a spiritual one. We live in a mortal body affected by sin and death. There are physiological reasons for some psychological issues. However, science naturally tends to evaluate every psychological dysfunction on the basis of that which is known about the physical realm discounting what are often spiritual roots.

Human motivation is far more than a neurological phenomenon. Human motivation is ultimately determined by one’s faith response to the love of God. In his book Effective Biblical Counseling Dr. Larry Crabb stated that human motivation falls into one of two categories expression motivation or deficit motivation. Dr. Crabb, while not explicitly Exchanged Life in his counseling model, biblically articulates two basic foundations of human motivation – expression motivation and deficit motivation. Expression motivation corresponds to receiving the love and life of God by faith and manifesting that love and life out of Christ’s fullness in the believer. Deficit motivation corresponds to walking in the flesh which is an attempt to meet one’s own needs or produce a sensation of fullness of life. The two are mutually exclusive (Gal. 5:16&17). Addiction, in any form, could be correctly described as a symptom of deficit motivation. In a believer, we know that deficit motivation is fueled by deception. Why? Because believers are complete in Christ (Col. 2:10).

The second assumption is that the neurologically rewired brain represents a diseased state. The fact that the brain rewires itself to support one’s choices is the way God made the brain to work. We are created to track with divine love – to relationally, intimately know the living God. The root problem is not neurological even when the neurological conditioning of the brain supports destructive choices. Neurology, in this case, is simply reinforcing a preexistent choice.

Biblically based, Exchanged Life counseling allows for every neuro-reality that science uncovers. However, a Christ focused counselor would never exalt the power of the brain and its neuro-chemical motivators above that of the Spirit of God in the life of a believer. The power of the life of Christ in a believer is easily able to deal with the suggestive power of a brain wired to support addictive behavior and substance usage. In fact, the brain and the spirit of man as part of a God created triune being are designed to complement each other. Romans 8:28 states unequivocally, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, and to those who are called according to His purpose.” The self-proclaimed purpose of Jesus can be found in Luke 4:18. Jesus came to bring freedom, healing, and true perception. A brain rewired to strongly suggest addictive patterns is not a good thing. But Scripture says that God can use it for good! How could that be? For a believer who understands the dynamic, resurrection power of the indwelling life of God the shouts of a brain wired to complement and suggest addictive choices can serve as a stark reminder to trust in God’s indwelling life. Dependent faith exercised in Christ within (Col. 1:27) is the doorway to experiencing freedom, to healing, and to truth-based perception. Truth-based perception comes from the Spirit of God registering truth in the spirit of man even before that truth registers in the brain (See Romans 8:16). The brain then becomes engaged in the renewing (rewiring) process being led by the Spirit’s witness within the human spirit (Romans 12;2).

Specific memories of addiction, which is at its core are choices made to try to produce life apart from God, may present themselves in opposition to the Spirit of God as they register in the mind and emotions. But, in a Spirit-led believer, the neurology of memory brain function and the new human spirit do not work in opposition to each other. Such an opposing internal state only occurs when a believer chooses to walk in the flesh (Gal. 5:16&17).

Diseased neurological brain function can lead to psychological and emotional impairment. However, addiction is not the result of diseased neurological dysfunction. Some forms of addiction, such as alcoholism, are actually a cause of neurological dysfunction.

As Spirit-led Biblically based counselors and helpers we can avoid the errant, impractical, helping strategies that result when we draw conclusions about human dysfunction and suffering that are not consistent with Scripture. By recognizing the infallible authority of the Bible, we can readily accept scientific truth and also sort out assumptions that sometimes masquerade as science. With God given Biblical perception we can avoid helping strategies that diminish the power of the Life of Christ. Such errant assumptions and misinformed strategies are becoming common. One prominent Christian ministry to men struggling with sexual addiction went so far as to state that the choice to use pornography was a sin when the first choice was made. But, after that first choice it is not a sin because the brain quickly rewires itself to provide the motivation to make like continual choices. This error comes from assuming that the brain is the center of human motivation, exalting the power of neurology above the life of God, and exalting the ability of science to describe reality above that of God’s word.

Jesus, the ultimate healer, uses every reality He created as a catalyst to bring healing by the power of His life. Living by His life is the birthright of every believer! So is God-given perception, freedom and healing. Let us minister healing grace with His love, by His life, with His power!