Once an Alcoholic, Always an Alcoholic?
Acts 8:18-23 Simon offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you… For I see that you are in the bond of iniquity.”
I am fascinated, and perhaps obsessed, with how God changes me. Currently, that obsession is playing out in the battle over my appetite for food. I would much prefer that God magically transform my appetite so that I desire broccoli. I have actually prayed that He make me dislike donuts and pizza (gasp). Not to worry, so far, nothing. I still prefer chips over vegetables. I expect that as long as I remain in this flesh, that is not going to change.
As amusing as my struggle may be, the question has much broader implications. Many of us have gone to God with similar requests. God change me! We may have even been told that when we come to God, we are transformed and no longer have a sin nature. Verses like Romans 6:6, seem to support this. Our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. When we still struggle then, we wonder why. Why has God not removed my desire for donuts, pornography, sex, alcohol or money? Does He not care? Is He there? Am I not a Christian?
I wrote a few days ago of one of the rifts between the church and Alcoholics Anonymous. This question (of how God changes us) exposes another rift. Some in the church vehemently object to the idea that one will always be an alcoholic, while AA insists upon continually recognizing that the defect remains. So, which is it? Does God deliver me from my defects or do I continue in them?
In the book of Acts, we are told the strange story of Simon the magician. Simon was a con man. He made his living by sleight of hand, impressing onlookers with his ruse of the dark arts. Then, he met the disciples, learned of Christ and believed. The passage seems to clearly indicate that Simon found God.
When temptation came though, Simon went back to his old tricks. He saw the miracle of God’s Spirit and he wanted in on the action. Accustomed to making money from such displays, he tried to buy the disciples off so they would teach him how to make God move. His old patterns of behavior were not magically gone and when opportunity arose, he went straight back to the old life.
Peter rebuked him harshly. May your silver perish with you… You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God… You are in the bond of iniquity. Peter did not say that Simon was not a Christian. He did insist though, that his addiction to power and money would lead to destruction. He commanded Simon to do whatever it took to turn around. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray…that the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.
Just as Simon’s defect was not immediately removed, our defects are not all removed when we come to know God. God does of course, work differently with certain defects. I know of many who report that they were immediately delivered from a specific addiction when they came to God. A man once told me that God had delivered him from a heroin addiction 12 years prior. As I was visiting him in a drug treatment facility, I asked him why he was there. He informed me he still had an alcohol problem.
Though God may miraculously transform in some areas, no one is completely delivered from all of his or her defects in this life. Though some may be shown more grace in one area, our flesh nature remains defective. We all still wrestle with something. Today, I struggle very little with taking pills. I am no longer in bondage or active addiction. I doubt that my defect is completely gone though. I am convinced that if I stopped following God daily and surrendered to my other defects, I would soon be back using pills. For me, I will always have addictive defects. This just now has manifestations other than drugs. It now seems to apply to carbohydrates.
God, in his infinite wisdom, allows us to remain in our defects so that we may continually be aware of our need for him. As long as I use my appetite for the unhealthy to turn me to God, my defect can be useful. The choice is continually mine. I may pursue self, indulging in my destructive appetites, or, I may daily, do what it takes to deny self and follow God.
So, does God deliver or is an alcoholic always an alcoholic? Yes. Denying self and following God may continually deliver us from bondage to a thing, but the defect remains. If we stop denying self and stop following God, we will indulge in and grow the defect. We again, will return to slavery to that defect. We are daily delivered from ourselves as we daily deny self and follow God.