God's word tells us that if we want freedom from addiction of any kind, we must come to the cross of Jesus and experience the power of the Holy Spirit.
Truly, there is no hope for us to win the battle against habitual sin on our own. By ourselves, we are helpless against the pull of habitual sin. In our strength and with the best intentions, we might resolve to keep God's laws, sign pledges, and make promises to change, etc., but sooner or later, difficulties come, we get stressed or upset, and then we fail. "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all." (John 6:63 ESV).
Galatians 5:16-26 speaks to this truth:
"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another." Galatians 5:16-26 (ESV)
Here we see that if we walk by the Spirit, we will not gratify the lusts of our flesh (Galatians 5:16). If we want to experience freedom from addiction, to escape the sin traps of drunkenness, drugs, lust, sexual immorality, anger, divisions, jealousy, and any works of the flesh, we must walk by the Holy Spirit.
Christians miss the mark when they take the approach of focusing on sin struggles and how to stop them; instead, we believers must focus on walking by the Spirit, for when we walk by the Spirit, the automatic result is that we do not gratify the lusts of the flesh.
But what does it mean to walk by the Spirit to experience freedom from addiction? Let's consider that now.
In Galatians 5:16-26 we are to:
If we walk by the Spirit, we will not gratify the lusts of the flesh (verse 16).
Because we live in bodies of flesh that are affected by sin, our flesh will always have wrong desires (verse 17), which are against the Spirit of God so that there is an ongoing conflict in the life of every believer. This internal conflict can lead us to do what we don't want to do, to stumble and fall, to sin, and disobey. But we can learn to walk by the Spirit, and as we do, we will not gratify the lusts of the flesh as the habit pattern of our life.
An addict is just the world's label for someone who is habitually living to gratify their flesh, the biblical words being “trapped”, “captive” or “slave.” The works of the flesh are evident (Galatians 5:19) because they are selfish; they do not prioritize God and others over ourselves. This selfish, flesh-centered, self-focused life is the way that we lived for many years, and it wreaked havoc in our lives.
But now, if we live by the Spirit, we are not under the law; that is, we are not under the condemning sentence of the law, so we are not under the power of sin. "...the power of sin is the law" (1 Corinthians 15:56). The power of freedom is grace (Romans 6:14).
The Holy Spirit performs a transforming work of grace in the life of the person who walks by the Spirit (5:25). He changes our hearts, renews our spirits, sets us free from bondage, and turns our weaknesses into strength. "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Corinthians 3:17). This life in the Spirit produces fruit consistent with the character of the Spirit.
Living in the flesh leads us to commit all kinds of sin: immorality, drunkenness, impurity, orgies, anger, and all manner of things that displease God. But we who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh, nailed it to the cross, and put it to death (Galatians 5:24). This happens as we come to the cross of Christ Jesus. Christ's flesh was crucified on the cross, and our flesh dies there with Him. "But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14).
Practically speaking, if we live by the flesh, that is, by the dictates and cravings of our natural self, we will live in sinful bondage. We are empty, selfish, unloved, and unloving by nature, and apart from the Spirit of God, our only option is to live in captivity to sin.
So now, we can see that the key to freedom from addiction is to experience the power of the Spirit of God and to learn to walk by Him. But this begs the question, how do we do this, where do we find Him, how do we experience Him?
Earlier in the book of Galatians, Paul had written:
"O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?" Galatians 3:1-2 (ESV)
The Galatians were in danger of turning away from the gospel because they were mixing in law and works with the grace they initially received through Christ's death and resurrection. Having been saved by grace, they were now trying to be set free by their own efforts, by keeping laws and rules. So, Paul reminded them of two essential things: the cross and the Spirit!
Notice how believing the message of the cross (Galatians 5:1) precedes receiving the power of the Spirit (Galatians 5:2). Paul "portrayed" Christ as crucified; painted a picture, as it were, of the cross of Jesus Christ (he thoroughly explained the cross to them, from the Old Testament Scriptures). And as they saw the cross in living color and began to understand that Jesus died for them, the Galatians put their faith in the good news, and they received the Spirit of God.
This is precisely how we receive the Spirit of God too, and how we begin to experience His power to change our hearts and our lives. You might remember it like this: the cross and the Spirit. The two always go together. Do you want to receive the Spirit of God? Go to the cross. Do you want to experience the Spirit's power? Go to the cross and meet the Spirit there.
In the book of Exodus, we find a great illustration of this truth.
"But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?" (4) So Moses cried to the LORD, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me." (5) And the LORD said to Moses, "Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. (6) Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink." And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel." Exodus 17:3-6 ESV
The Israelites had been sinning again, grumbling against God and Moses as they did not like the provisions God had given them. And at this point in the narrative, they were thirsty, so more grumbling and complaining ensued. They were so thirsty and angry that they were almost ready to murder Moses by stoning him. But Moses interceded on behalf of these ungrateful people, and God provided an unusual solution to their difficulty.
God told Moses to strike the rock. Notice it was the Israelites who were in the wrong and were sinning against God, but it was the rock that received the beating. And then at the moment of being struck, this rock did something even more surprising; it gushed out pure water to satisfy the thirst of the people.
God's ways are not our ways, and His solutions sometimes don't make sense to us humans. What is God teaching here? We get some help with understanding this passage by reading Paul's comment about it in the New Testament:
"...they and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ." 1 Corinthians 10:4 ESV
Ah, do you see it now? "That Rock was Christ!" So, now we understand that this story is an illustration of the gospel. On the cross, Jesus was "beaten" and "struck" as He poured out His life unto death for you.
At the cross, Jesus took our punishment. He was beaten instead of us; He died our death. This story teaches us that it is the cross of Jesus Christ that quenches our "thirst," in that Jesus gave up His life and poured out His Spirit for us!
You see, in sin, we are just like the Israelites in the desert: continually "thirsting," yearning, craving, with unmet longings, and continual desire for more. But as we come to the cross where Jesus was struck for us we receive the Holy Spirit, our thirst is quenched and our soul is satisfied forever!
Just like the rock was struck, Jesus was "wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities" (Isaiah 53:5), and out of Jesus' death flowed the Holy Spirit to all who believe. That precious, thirst-quenching, sin-destroying Spirit-flowing river comes straight from Calvary to you, to be the satisfaction of your heart, to meet your needs, to free you from craving and yearning, to fill you with power and energize you with love. That's the power of the Holy Spirit!
Notice how Jesus connects the thirst-quenching Holy Spirit with the cross:
"Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." John 7:38-39 (ESV)
Whoever comes to Jesus and believes in Jesus will experience "rivers of living water," which He said, "about the Spirit." The Spirit is, to the believer, refreshing, thirst-quenching, satisfying, and like a river, ever fresh and ever new. There are new gospel stories and fresh gospel insights just waiting for you to discover under the guiding influence of the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit begins to flow through you to others, bringing love and life-giving words to them, through you.
And this Spirit-power is the power to deny your own flesh, to turn from false comforts, to die to yourself, and to live for God.
But the Holy Spirit would only be given after Jesus was "glorified," that is after He was crucified and raised on the third day. Remember the cross and the Spirit!
Think for a moment about merely "trying to stop" doing wrong behaviors on our own. What happens when we just try to stop being angry or quit getting drunk, smoking, abusing drugs (prescription or illegal), using pornography? Are we able to just stop being bitter and unforgiving?
Frequently, what happens is that we trade one vice for another, but sometimes, if we are highly motivated, we might be able to avoid our sin struggle for a couple of weeks or months until we eventually cave. When we seek freedom from addiction or try to overcome a sin struggle in our own power, we always end up craving and yearning like parched people in the desert, longing for our previous pacifiers. On our own, we have nothing to quench this kind of deep soul thirst and craving within us that comes from the very depths of our being.
But, friend, when we come to the cross and drink of God's Spirit, we are not only satisfied and refreshed, not only filled to overflowing with the Spirit-river, but we also end up worshipping and rejoicing in Jesus! Just like when someone drinks an ice-cold bottle of water on a hot summer day, and then says, "Ahhh," so when we come to the cross and experience the thirst-quenching work of God's Spirit, we begin to worship Jesus from the depths of our hearts. And as we do, our flesh is subdued, and the Spirit transforms our desires.
What a difference this way is from merely trying to stop a behavior! With the first way (the self-help way), we become grumpy, get self-focused, go through some form of withdrawal, and are generally miserable. With the second way (God's way of the cross and the Spirit), we are quenched and drenched in God's Holy Spirit river, satisfied in Christ; and we experience freedom and fullness in God's presence.
If we are thirsty (craving, yearning, longing to gratify our flesh sinfully), then we should go straight to the cross of Christ. The "rock that was struck" provided the thirst-quenching water for the Israelites; similarly, the life-giving Holy Spirit flows out of the cross where Jesus was "struck" for us.
There are many ways to "come to the cross." Here are some suggestions to get you thinking:
If it centers your mind on the cross of Christ and draws out love from your heart, then it will be a help to you in your time of temptation.
Come to Jesus, dear friend. Come and kneel at the foot of the cross where Jesus stood in your place, took your punishment, and died your death. Come and drink up the amazing love of Jesus for you. Drink in your forgiveness and satisfy yourself in His declaration of a full pardon for you. Quench your thirst in the righteousness Jesus purchased for you through death. Content yourself in the blood He shed to cover your sins; be refreshed in the gift of eternal life your Savior died to give you. This water will be fresh and new for you, like a river, as often as you come to drink, and it will enable you to experience true freedom from addiction.
At Setting Captives Free Publishing our goal is to ONLY publish books that are centered in the gospel, that display the power of the cross, that bring the power of the Holy Spirit to you, the reader.
If you would like freedom from addiction, which is freedom from slavery, being released from a trap, being set free from sin’s prison, we invite you to read any of the following books: