Identity and Hope in Addiction Recovery

I

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

Director of Recovery Ministries

Grace Fellowship International

Anyone who has struggled with addiction in any form knows the assault of hopelessness waged upon the heart. Shame abounds. Self-esteem gets mired in the muck of compulsion. Hope seems elusive amid the struggle. Both Christians and non-believers struggling with addiction often believe there is something drastically wrong with them. Experience tells us that broken things don’t usually produce good results. God offers a startling solution. He specializes in fixing broken things. God’s answer is vastly more effective than we can imagine.  God offers everyone a new identity and an unassailable hope as a birthright of that new identity. 1 Peter 1:3 (NASB), “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.”

What is the new identity God gifts to His children by grace through faith? According to Scripture, you have been given the gift of righteousness. Romans 5:17 (NASB), “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Christ Jesus.” This gifted righteousness is indeed a real gift. It is not just God through Jesus playing make-believe about who you really are. It is God giving you the most substantial gift He could – His life – through His son Jesus.” Romans 5:18 (NASB, explanation added), “So then through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness (Jesus’ death) there resulted justification of life to all men.” Righteousness comes through the gift of the Holy Spirit uniting with the spirit of the believer (1 Corinthians 6:17).

 You might be thinking, “How could I be righteous? I know that I make some sinful choices in life.” If we are honest, we know that we also have, or, have had strong sinful habits. Sometimes we, as children of God, confuse what we do with who we are. God never does! He clearly knows the difference between a son or daughter and a choice!

Sometimes we make sin choices fueled by the deception that we do not have life (2 Peter 1:3). Sin is described by Scripture as missing the mark. What mark are we missing when we sin? The mark of the fullness of God’s life. For born-again children of God, sin is an effort to produce something we already have -His life. His life in us has made us right before God. We are right before Him even when we make choices that are not. We are accountable for sin and its consequences.  However, sin does not define who we are in Christ and does not hinder the right to draw upon the resources of His life. 

Shame attempts to tell us that we are broken, at least to some degree. Shame attacks identity by attempting to devalue us by citing dysfunctional choices. Although we sometimes make sinful, dysfunctional choices, we do so only through being deceived. God’s children are not dysfunctional beings. God the Father established through Christ’s blood a clear distinction between what we do and who we are.  Believers are made the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

To walk in freedom, we must accept our gifted identity by faith. It is faith that unlocks the experience of wh we already are as children of God. Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV) states, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Romans 15:13 also states, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy-Spirit.”

Because hope is, Biblically speaking, a function of the believer’s new identity shame must be dealt with by placing faith in whom God says we are. Without exception, this is done in the face of shame’s deceitful attempts to get us to buy into an identity as someone who is “messed up,” broken,” or an “addict.”  The believer’s new identity complete with unassailable hope strikes a fatal blow to addiction. Our birthright hope is the greatest of all hopes – a right to and faith possession of – the infinite grandeur and glory of the life of God. When a child of God realizes his (or her) identity, infinite hope captivates the heart. Lesser loves, which elicit deficit thinking and the compulsive desire to fill what is missing, find no place in the light of His glory.

Any addictive choice is a function of someone setting their desire on something they feel they must obtain. We often place our hope compulsively on a person, place, or thing. The choice to pursue that which we perceive we don’t have always results in hopelessness. This is true even if we realize the objective of our pursuit. We still experience hopelessness because we are too wonderfully made and the heart of man is far too dynamic to be satisfied with lesser things. Blaise Pascal expressed this truth so aptly in his book Pensees, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

Addiction thrives on hopelessness. A sense of deficit related to one’s sense of being drives compulsive behavior of any sort. This deficit perception can manifest itself in one’s thought life ranging from severe self-abasement to subtle, yet substantial, deficit agreements such as, “I need to get high, or I need life to be different.” Remove the sense of self-deficit, whether real or imagined, and you remove the primary cause of addiction.  God has eliminated the deficit in His children by granting them His life. What we call brokenness, weakness, failure cannot diminish His life in His children. Sin, because of the work of Christ alone, cannot decrease His life in His children. Sin can only lessen the experience of his life by tempting us to operate in an alternate reality – one that is based on a perceived sense of need. This sinful reality substitute always includes some sense of the absence of His life such as love, acceptance, worth, security, or adequacy. All genuine human needs are descriptive of God’s life. The absence of His life leaves humans with raging, compulsive needs (Hebrews 2:15). Believers possess God’s life. Children of God who choose to place their faith in the fullness of God’s life within do not suffer from compulsion. Needs are met. Therefore, they are no longer needy. Hope replaces hopelessness because hope is set on God.

Believers do not have to internalize sin by allowing it to label us. We don’t have to conclude that our broken choices, weakness, failures, and sins constitute who we are. When we accept our new, blood-bought identity by faith, we remove the sense of deficit and thus the fuel of addiction.

The world, the flesh, and the devil continuously attempt to challenge a believer’s identity and the glory of Christ’s life within. All they can do is offer lie-based deception in an attempt to cover up the truth! Victory, like hope, is a birthright reality that can be experienced at any moment by faith.

Many well-meaning, Christian, recovery programs teach a false path to recovery. A person struggling with addiction is instructed to identify themselves as an “addict.” Such teaching, done in sincerity and for the welfare of the one struggling, is an attempt to foster humility. The hope is that humility produces a realization of the problem and fosters dependence on God as a means of recovery. True humility does not come from self-abasement – even sincere self-abasement. True humility is a function of God-dependence. Humility is letting God be God. He has the right to define you. If you are His child, God already defined you. He gave you the gift of His life and declared your righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Seeing one’s self as an “addict” opens the door to shame. It gives the enemy a point of leverage to deceive believers into thinking that the cross hasn’t fixed them. No! The cross worked! It is our belief system, beginning with identity (resulting only from the cross) and consequently, our choices that need fixing (John 8:31&32, Romans 12:1&2).

Seeing oneself as an addict fosters relating to one’s recovery in an idolatrous way. Individuals set their hope on being clean instead of the life of God. Such a misplaced hope is exceptionally shaky ground! Even if an individual manages to live in sobriety, their heart will not be free. Sobriety will define their experience not the life of God. Daily faith gets placed in whatever helps maintain sobriety instead of God. Abstinence is worshiped, instead of the life of God. Abstinence is terrific and genuinely desirable. However, it is no match for the glory of God.

Idols foster hopelessness. To remove a sense of deficit in our lives, we must voluntarily cooperate with the Holy Spirit and choose to replace our trust in idols with trust in God as the sum and substance of our life.  What is an idol? Anything we are looking to improve the quality of our life instead of God is an idol. Idolatry includes a belief that another person, another thing, or another self-achieved state can enhance the fullness of my life. If Christ is our life and Scripture clearly states that He is (Col. 3:4), then nothing can add to what He already is! Fostering idolatrous choices is a primary strategy that Satan uses to spread hopelessness. Hopelessness affirms a sense of not measuring up – of being less than. This deficit thinking leads to addiction. The deficit thinker is compelled to deal with the perception of emptiness.

God is self-proclaimed through Scripture as the God of Hope! He is willing and able to give Himself to all! A child of God has already received all that He is through His indwelling life. His life has given believers a new identity that includes eternal, unassailable hope. The truth is that all believers, even those experiencing the assault of hopelessness through addiction, have hope and are hope-filled! Only through deception can a believer be mired in despair. No substance – no addiction, no compulsion can touch the one true hope of a child of God – God! Let’s live in His fullness, celebrating His life with explicit faith and let’s lead others out of addiction by the hope of His life.

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!