I always like a question to which I can give a direct answer, and the answer here is “Yes”. We live in bodies, and with hearts and minds, that if exposed to sin are often brought into bondage to those sins. Different people have different predispositions to addiction. For some it is alcohol, for others it is pornography or nicotine, for yet others it is homosexual lust. So prone are we to sinful addictions that we can turn otherwise good things into bondage, things like chocolate or success in the workplace. So, yes, Christians, like everyone else, can become addicted, because as Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.”
Let me point out here, however, that when we ask “Can some people be addicted?” we run the risk of greatly misunderstanding the nature of sin. According to the Bible, not only can sin lead to addiction but it always does; not only might we fall into addiction to sin, we all have done so. Our Lord taught, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” It is not that every sin leads to an automatic addiction to that sin – although the potential for this ought to fill us with dread. The point is that sinners are addicted not just to this sin or that, but to sin itself.
If you think that is not true, then I invite you simply to stop sinning. But of course, you can’t. In fact, the more you try not to sin, the more you will sin. This was the experience of one famous addict to sin, the apostle Paul. He wrote, in Romans 7:14-19: “We know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”
What that means is that we need to be cured not merely of an addiction but of the addiction, that of our whole lives to sin. Paul went on to explain how he came to know deliverance from addiction, what he called “the law of sin and death,” and how we can, too. In Romans 8, he writes, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (vv. 2-4). Paul means that God sent Jesus Christ to remove the guilt of our sin by dying in our place, and then sent the Holy Spirit to deliver us from sin’s power. The power of the Holy Spirit, working in our lives through faith, has the purpose of breaking the power of specific sins and ultimately of sin in general. This is why God’s Word can say to all who trust in Jesus: “Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). Law means the working of your strength in the flesh, by which there is no hope for deliverance. But grace is God’s mighty power, through which we have the hope, indeed, even the promise, of ultimate deliverance.
Let me say a word of encouragement, therefore, to all you sin addicts. Maybe it is a substance addiction, like alcoholism, or maybe a certain sin that has taken root in your flesh, in your mind, in your heart. It could be pornography; it could be vicious speech. In all of these cases, you can be delivered by the power of God through Jesus Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit.
Christians can go beyond the mere coping offered by groups like Alcoholics Anonymous – groups who offer people real help but not deliverance. You can be delivered because of the power of God available in Jesus Christ. Indeed, all who have come to Jesus are being delivered not just from this sin or that, but to sin itself. Jesus Christ is leading us out of our sinful state even now, sanctifying us progressively so that we are becoming more and more holy.
Progressive deliverance from sin is the normal experience of a growing Christian. For those areas where we as individuals as particularly under sin’s influence, we need to turn to God in faith and prayer, asking for a new work of power in our lives. In God’s timing, having waited on the Lord, we will be delivered.
But, even better, the day is coming when we will be completely cured, completely delivered, all our loathsome, filthy bondage to sin broken, in the light of the glory of heaven. The apostle John wrote, looking forward keenly to that day: “When he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” What glory that will be, to be free, to be like Jesus. Looking forward to it even now helps us to break the bonds of our addiction to sin. John thus concludes, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).
Richard Phillips is the chair of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology and senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church Coral Springs, Margate, Florida.
Can Christians Be Addicted?