I Can’t be an Addict, I’m a Christian
Romans 8:6-13 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace…Those who are in the flesh cannot please God… If you live according to the flesh you will die…
When life fell apart due to my addiction, those around me quoted this passage to me, asking if I was even a Christian. How could someone who knows God participate in such destructive behavior? I could not blame them. It was a fair question which I was asking myself. What did my behavior mean about my spiritual condition? I was obviously an addict. There was no denying that fact. Did that mean I was not a Christian, that I did not know God at all? It was a desperate question to which I desperately needed an answer.
In my black and white thinking, I have often read passages like this one and assumed they refer to being a Christian or not. It seems clear from this passage that the one pursuing self is on a collision course with death and thus, is in opposition to God. The passage goes on to say that the one pursuing the flesh is hostile to God and cannot obey him. This certainly sounds like someone who is separated from and does not know God.
The danger in seeing the passage only this way, is that I may now use it as proof that I am incapable of pursuing the flesh. If I have faith and confidence that I am a Christian, then I cannot be in opposition to God, right? Because Christ lives in me, my mind cannot be set on the flesh and I cannot pursue destruction and death. I manipulate Paul’s words to suggest that I am now incapable of pursuing my flesh nature and I use grace as a badge to prove my immunity to destructive behavior. I’m a Christian so I cannot be an addict. In this mindset, to admit that I am pursuing the flesh is to admit that I am not a Christian.
This is of course, ludicrous and dangerous. Christians obviously can and do pursue the flesh nature to painful and miserable consequences. Though God gives us an alternative to pursuing self, we still sometimes pursue instant gratification in our flesh nature. Though we are Christians, we still fail, sometimes spectacularly. To deny this possibility is destructive in itself.
Admission of my addiction did not solve it, but I would never have found recovery if I had not admitted my problem. In the wreckage of my addiction, I was right to question my condition. I desperately needed to understand it. It would have been tragic to conclude that I was not an addict because I was a Christian. My so-called faith would actually have become a hindrance to my recovery.
It also would have been tragic though, to decide that I was not a Christian because I had failed. I was both an addict and a Christian. I was a Christian who had failed spectacularly. Thankfully, God’s grace is always spectacular enough to cover my failures.