By Larry Robertson
Sr. Pastor, Hilldale Baptist Church, Clarksville
As pastors, we are often confronted with issues that we don’t necessarily feel equipped to handle.
Addictions might fall into such a category for many of us.
It’s easy to preach salvation to a fictional addict we’ve never met. But through the years I’ve witnessed the slavery aspect of sin and it’s made me reconsider how we as pastors, Christians, and churches should respond to addicts and their addictions.
First, humility marked with grace should be our guide. How quickly we rail against others’ addictive behaviors without really considering our own. Those who give themselves to alcohol, drugs, or sexual immorality become easy targets for Sunday sermons. But what about gluttony, lust, or pride? Can we really boast because our sin is different from someone else’s? “There but for the grace of God go I” was one of the most valuable phrases I ever learned.
Second, simplistic sound bites rarely, if ever, answer complex questions. I’ve told people whose lives were wrecks to “just have faith” or to “just pray the sinner’s prayer.” I didn’t understand the complexities of their past and current situations and, honestly, didn’t care. I didn’t have time to get involved in their messed up lives, or at least that’s what I told myself. I’ve since repented and strive never again to respond glibly to a broken life. Bumper sticker theology offers little hope to someone in the clutches of addiction.
Next is the question of where addictions come from. Some say we’re born with certain addictive dispositions, so we come by addictive behaviors honestly. Some use the word “disease” to describe particular addictions, declaring the addict a victim. Still others blame addictions on demonic activity, but we have to be careful not to give the devil more credit than he’s due.
The heart of what we call addiction is sin, and all sin is rebellion against God. Yet we are all born into the world with sinful natures. At some point, though, all addictions begin with a decision. Decisions repeated become habits. And, as Augustine said, “Habit, if not resisted, soon becomes necessity.” So we could say that the addict is both a rebel and a slave.
What hope, then, can the church offer the addict? That’s easy — the hope of the gospel. But God’s gospel is not superficial; it’s deep. God’s gospel is greater than a three-minute presentation. God’s gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”
But gospel work often means getting your hands dirty with people’s muddy lives. Are we willing to do that for the sake of the gospel?
If we’re truthful, we’ve relegated help for addicts to groups outside the local church. And while some organizations weave spiritual elements into their treatment programs, few are really biblically-based. The church must regain her voice as one of hope for the sinner, no matter what the sin might be. And, as my friend Dr. Charles Roesel says, “As long as a church ministers to hurting people, it will never lack for an audience.”