Seeing Addiction Through A Biblical Worldview

Drug and alcohol addiction are a serious problem worth deep consideration for the well-being of our society, our families, and our souls. In my research I make no claim of superiority, I lay no condemnation on those who struggle with addiction, or guilt any who have close friends ravaged by substances. I only seek to bring into view an understanding that addiction is not what much of the world says it is today.

MY THESIS: Contrary to popular opinion, substance addiction is not a chronic disease for which there is no cure. It is a sin problem for which Jesus is the cure.

The Christian worldview makes sense of life. It sheds the best light on the social disorders that plague humanity. One of those plagues is addiction to chemical substances like drugs and alcohol. The Bible is not silent on the issue. It provides answers to why the world is broken, why people struggle in marriage, why natural disasters happen, why people hate and murder others, and believe it or not, why millions of men and women are addicted to drugs and alcohol to the point of slavery and ruin.

At the core of all human struggle is a three-letter word called sin. Sin is rebellion against God. Sin is willfulness. Ultimately, sin is a choice to serve someone or something other than the God who made us and can truly satisfy us. In Genesis Chapter 3 a scene unfolds that gives us a foundation for the topic of addiction, and why so many are gripped by it. There, we find Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with the Serpent. The Serpent lied and twisted God’s clear command, a command that, if followed, would have continued a harmonious relationship of eternal satisfaction between God and man. The consequence for disobeying God and eating the fruit from that tree was death and spiritual separation from God. Eve made the choice to listen to the Serpent instead. She gave the fruit to her husband, and both died. Every human since then has inherited their sin nature. This nature motivates and influences the thoughts and actions of every person not submitted to Christ. The Serpent’s lie to Eve, “You shall not surely die”, was designed to plant doubt of God in the heart and turn man’s attention to cheap substitutes that cannot fulfill. All sin can be boiled down to a cheap replacement of what God alone can provide for the human soul.

Not everyone sees the addiction issue in the same way. One popular view on the topic is called the disease model. I want to emphasize again that this view, though popular among many professionals and medical practitioners, is not the only view.  I do concede that drug and alcohol addiction in many cases manifests like a disease, but I believe there is a better response that simply calling it such. Alan Leshner is the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health and is a leading voice for the disease model. In an article written for Issues In Science and Technology, Leshner writes:

A core concept that has been evolving with scientific advances over the past decade is that drug addiction is a brain disease that develops over time as a result of the initially voluntary behavior of using drugs. The consequence is virtually uncontrollable compulsive drug craving, seeking, and use that interferes with, if not destroys, an individual’s functioning in the family and in society. This medical condition demands formal treatment.

The idea that addiction begins with an initial voluntary behavior is one I agree with. Leshner goes on to say, “Over time the addict loses substantial control over his or her initially voluntary behavior, and it becomes compulsive. For many people, these behaviors are truly uncontrollable, just like the behavioral expression of any other brain disease.” Uncontrollable behavior is certainly a characteristic of addicts. But does that mean that it must be a disease? Leshner and others who hold to this model argue that the use of drugs for an addict can even be compared to the tremors of a Parkinson’s patient, or the mood changes of the clinically depressed. If this is an accurate comparison, then an addict cannot be responsible for his or her decisions to use drugs. This is the crux of the argument. People with diseases inevitably become patients. Patients need doctors. Doctors give medicine and treatments. Patients must listen to the professionals. If addiction is a brain disease like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other chronic conditions, then an addict should not expect a cure.

In His book, A Disorder of Choice, Harvard PHd, Gene Heyman explains how opponents to the choice model of addiction (the view I am arguing for) leave addicts little to no way out of their plight. He says that the majority of clinicians doom addicts to a lifetime of medical treatment, while calling any sort of cure an unrealistic hope. Heyman helps us to understand the hopelessness behind the disease model. Most proponents of this model probably do have good intentions, and want to help, but is it helping? Is it doing more harm than good? Perhaps this is a surprise to many, but statistics show that most addicts do quit, eventually. This a massive challenge to the popular view that addiction is a chronic disease.

One reason why the disease model has so much traction today is because the brain does undergo physical change under the influence of drugs and alcohol. The human brain learns through repetition. When a person uses a drug or drinks alcohol for the first time the brain responds by learning that the pleasure, the relief of pain, the ecstasy, or the numbing it was seeking can be found in an instant. The craving that was there is now satisfied, but only temporarily. Thus, the unending cycle of an addict seeking his or her “fix”. As time goes on, the brain physically changes. Mark Lewis, a neuroscientist, and author of, The Biology of Desire, explains the disease model this way. “In its present-day form, the disease model of addiction asserts that addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease. This disease is evidenced by changes in the brain, especially alterations in the striatum, brought about by the repeated uptake of dopamine in response to drugs and other substances.” Dopamine is the chemical sent to the brain every time we experience something pleasurable. Drugs trick the brain to believe that the experience is worth remembering, and the user is consequently rewired to seek out that experience repeatedly.

Lewis goes on to explain that many call addiction a disease because of, “changes in the prefrontal cortex, where regions responsible for cognitive control become partially disconnected from the striatum and sometimes lose a portion of their synapses as the addiction progresses. These are big changes. They can’t be brushed aside.” But I make no attempt to brush this aside. Neither does Lewis. The changes are real. And these changes are the entire basis for which scientists and doctors hold to the disease model. This is an important distinction between the two views. Does brain change, though, equal disease when research has shown that literally everything changes the brain? From the time the brain is developed in the womb the brain begins to learn, and thus, to change. Any experience that we are motivated to pursue is a literal dopamine inducer. When you visit your favorite vacation destination, fall in love, or cheer for your winning team, your brain is learning, and changing. But these are not diseases. Again, the disease model is based primarily on this reasoning, that the brain undergoes change. 

Lewis claims, and I agree, that the disease model is only useful in helping addicts escape the stigma of the lifestyle, as well as having some way of explaining the difficulty of quitting. But as we can see, a person can repeatedly pursue any number of attractive things and undergo similar brain changes. Studies also show that when an addict quits and then begins to make better decisions over a long period of time, the brain changes back to normal. A typical brain disease produces physiological malfunction, something we do not see with addiction. We see brain change, but I believe that is not proof enough to call it a disease.  

As Christians we have a higher authority and a clearer lens through which to look at life and its problems; the Word of God. Scripture is the only system that will never need improvement, which means that when we look to the Bible to understand the brokenness that addiction is, we can expect answers from God that are both helpful and applicable. The choice model of addiction that I am arguing for is based on the biblical doctrine of sin, that all humans are prone to self-destructive choices because we are born, in a sense, with chains on. Sin is a word that is despised in our culture, even by some professing believers. We do not want our choices attached to a word that brings grave consequences with it, especially if those consequences are directly from God.

Family members and friends of addicts have seen so many disastrous decisions made, decisions that have cost people their lives, consequences that do not seem to sway the user from abusing, that calling it a sin seems insensitive and harsh. The alternative, though, to call it a disease of the brain for which there is no cure at all, is a damning alternative. The choice model (or sin model) is not saying that drug addicts and alcoholics are worse that everyone else. Addiction is only one manifestation of the broken world we live in, and the stigma that follows those who are bound to it is real. I am not a proponent of shaming. But I do believe that avoiding the truth will not do anyone any good. Sin is the root cause of all destructive human behavior. If addicts are to find freedom, we should not look primarily to a model that is self-admittedly unable to offer that freedom.

The choice model is a better alternative to the disease model and brings us much closer to a biblical world view. What is assumed about the disease model is that humans do not make self-destructive choices, and because addicts do exactly that, it must be a disease. Drug users and alcoholics are told that in their addictive state their choices are compulsive and involuntary, and because brain diseases like Parkinson’s and others have compulsive and involuntary symptoms, they, too, must have a disease. Alan Leshner argues that “we are going to have to rise above moral outrage that addicts have ‘done it to themselves’ and develop strategies that are as sophisticated and as complex as the problem itself. Whether addicts are “victims” or not, once addicted they must be seen as ‘brain disease patients.’” Leshner seems to believe that the solution to addiction is to ignore the core problem that causes a person to enter a life of drugs in the first place, then prescribe them treatment.

Ed Welch, author of Addiction: A Banquet in the Grave, argues that “Even among Christians, sin is not always seen as our deepest or primary problem.” He continues, “If sin is not our core problem, the gospel itself – the thing of first importance – is marginalized.” Welch would wholeheartedly disagree with Leshner and others on the disease model. He points out that many well-meaning Christians who would generally hold to the authority of Scripture have abandoned this conviction. This is due partly because these same people believe that Scripture misses the modern diagnoses on drug and alcohol users. After all, the disease-model data was not available in biblical times, so we must listen to modern science, right? Wrong. Drunkenness dates all the way back to Genesis when Noah came off the Ark and drank so much wine that he ended up naked in his tent, having done who knows what. Throughout Scripture, drunkenness is never associated with disease, but always sin. It is always a moral failure for which the person is fully culpable. Proverbs 29 contains a surprising description of a drunkard. Solomon describes a person that “lingers over wine”. He has blood-shot eyes, needless bruises, sorrow and woe. The picture is painted so clearly with this verse, “When will I wake up so I can find another drink?” Is the Bible unfamiliar with drunkenness? Clearly not.

Still, one might argue that this is not the same as alcoholism, the modern “disease” we know today, but there is no reason to conclude there is any difference between what we call an alcoholic, and what many throughout history referred to as a drunkard. “Is there a difference between a drunkard and an alcoholic? Scientifically, no. There are no medical tests or brain scans that distinguish them, and their behaviors are identical”, confirms Welsh. The New Testament goes on in 1 Corinthians 5:11 to list drunkenness (the sin of the drunkard) along with the sexually immoral and greedy. The Bible does not call these diseases, but sins. If the Bible cannot speak sufficiently on this issue because that data was not available to Moses, Jesus or Paul, then where do we draw the line? Can the bible speak accurately into our culture on issues of sexuality, gluttony, and depression, even though the “science” has produced more data since then? The answer is yes. All immorality is a result of the sinful human nature. Until a person comes into a loving relationship with God, he or she will seek to fill the void with all manner of unworthy substitutes. This leads to what Scripture calls, slavery to sin, and is where we finally begin to find a lasting answer for the problem of addiction.

This disease model claims to give addicts the only real answer for uncontrollable and compulsive choice. These are false claims. Scriptures teaches that destructive behaviors such as sexual immorality, lust, greed, and drunkenness begin in the heart. Everyone is born with the capacity for these behaviors. Sin is so comprehensively a part fallen humanity, and yet the secular world, and even some Christians, refuse to associate addictive behaviors with the notion of sin. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 7:18-20 says, For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For 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. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. Paul’s sinful nature was waging war against him. It seemed uncontrollable at times. This is not far from the nature of addiction itself. In Chapter 6 of Romans Paul tells us that sin reigns in the mortal bodies of men and women. It is like a slave master ordering its subject around wherever it wishes, and the only way out is to be set free. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

Not every drink is an act of lawlessness. Drug users do not usually plan on becoming enslaved. Depending on the person, the motives and other social influences, the first use can turn into a second, a third, a fourth, and then eventually on to habitual using and a chemical addiction that cannot be shaken by shear willpower. This is when the disease model takes its full swing. The user cannot say no to drugs anymore, so they sat it must be a disease. The proper recourse may very well be to medically treat a person through detoxification in order to break chemical dependence, but as soon as that is broken, then what?

There are some ways in which sin is like a disease. It ruins. It rots. It creates dependency. It seems beyond our control. But the most significant way that it is not like a disease is that, though it affects the physical body we live in, it is first a matter of the heart: a spiritual problem. The slavery of addiction is one manifestation of humanity’s longing for God and his eternal love. The cravings, the desperation, the need for fulfillment and satisfaction…they are all part of what make us human. God has designed us for relationship with Him. The addict who quits after years of ruin to himself and his surroundings usually does so because the damage becomes too much. Too many lost jobs. Too many broken relationships. Too many months away from the kids he loves. Eventually the bottom is hit and there is only up. This is precisely why faith-based programs are the among the most successful for full recovery and freedom because it is at this place of rock bottom that one is introduced to Jesus Christ. The desperately sinful person who surrenders to Jesus Christ as Lord is given a brand-new heart. With this new heart comes new desires and affections. Instead of idols and worthless substitutions for God, the truth is realized, and freedom found. Instead of unrighteousness being the slave-master, the Master is Christ, who came to earth in the form of a man to suffer and die for the enslaved and reconcile them to God forever. Uncontrollable desire does not get the final word in God’s economy, but people need to be reeducated as to where the battle line needs to be drawn. Welch puts it so eloquently. “The only possible attitude toward out-of-control desire is a declaration of all-out war.” The war on drugs is not won by studying the brain and diagnosing patient after patient with chronic illness. It is won when the faith of the addict is made alive, and new life is given, and sins are forgiven, and Jesus takes becomes a forever-resident in the heart.

CONCLUSION

As you can see from the product of my research this is a vast issue. I admit have merely scratched the surface. I am sure I have not answered all the questions. I have simply sought to adequately show you that calling addiction a disease is largely unhelpful to the cause. Proponents of the disease model of addiction spend millions of dollars a year on researching the brain, hospitalizing and institutionalizing patients, all the while admitting that there is no cure or end. I believe Christ offers hope, and the Bible rejects the notion that addicts cannot become free; completely free. Though brain-change is a real result of drug use, there was an initial choice of the heart to take the drug. Research shows that better choices can be made, and the brain can reform. In conclusion, I am convinced that the most helpful approach is to concede that addiction may look like a disease at times, may need medical intervention in very serious cases, but freedom can be found through a relationship with God who gives a new heart and new desires to those who worship Him over every substitute this world has to offer.

Bruised Reeds Among Us

I’ve been reading Richard Sibbs book, A Bruised Reed. Sibbs seems to understand something of the heart of Jesus that I desperately need to grasp in a deeper way. Perhaps you do too. The title of his book is based on Isaiah 42:3. I’m sure you’ve heard it before. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.” I feel few have mined its depths like this puritan did. I’m thankful for what his efforts have caused my heart to consider.

The Weak of the Weak

A reed is weak. A bruised reed is utter frailty and inability. The heart of Jesus for sinners is such that He knows how to deal with the weakest.

I have a few questions for you. Are you frail because of life, or relationships, or self-inflicted suffering from sinful choices? Are you feeling useless, disqualified, and spiritually drained because of repeated failures? Is Satan accusing you, persecuting you, and discouraging your soul daily and seeking to draw you away from the grace of the gospel? If the answer is yes to any of these, then you could be this bruised reed. So I have news for you. Though some might write you off, cast you aside, quit and give up on you, Jesus is the one that is still drawn to you. It’s as if Jesus operates best in this condition. Not that He is limited by other conditions. He’s not, but think about the number of stories in the Bible when Jesus interacts with a person of immense weakness. The woman with the issue of blood. The blind he gave sight to. The man with the withered hand. The demon possessed. The woman caught in adulatory. Jairus’s dead daughter. Why were these recorded for us? Why don’t we find more stories of Jesus simply life-coaching and assisting able-bodied warriors, powerful politicians, successful business men and women, elite members of society, and high-class moms and dads along the road of life? We don’t need a life coach. Sinners need a sympathetic Savior who understands and is not turned away by inability. That’s what we have in Jesus.

How We Treat Weak People

Think about how unlike Jesus your heart can be in your treatment of weak people. I don’t just mean physically weak, necessarily, but spiritual weakness. The person who doubts God, misunderstands Scripture, mishandles theology, stresses about risk, fails in faith, wrestles with worry, and walks in fear daily. Do you despise them? Do we deal harshly with them? I’ve been thinking about this more since reading Sibbs’ book. Sibbs says, “The power that is given to the church is given for edification, not destruction.” And yet, so often we are impatient, unloving, unkind and we do not bear with weakness as we should. More tragically, we ignore the very heart of Christ, and how he bore with us in our own weaknesses.

By His grace, we need this to change. The Church needs to be known for how it embraces weak people, not for how we discourage, discomfort, or snuff out the barely burning flames among us.

Jesus is so Kindhearted

There is a kindness in the heart of Jesus that is uniquely for those who belong to him through faith. It is this kindness that leads us to repentance. He is so good to help us see our sin as worthless, so that we turn from it for good, and look to him as infinitely worthy. His kindness is like that feeling a child gets when drawn to her fathers lap as he sits in a cozy chair with a book and a blanket. You just want to be there. He is utterly kind to save and secure us in His salvation, though we’ve done nothing to deserve it. He’s kind to bestow upon us the Spirit of comfort who teaches us all things, convicts us of sin, disciplines our waywardness, and points us to truth. He was kind do suffer for sinners. It wasn’t just any suffering. It was a substitutionary punishment. He didn’t deserve the affliction, but as our perfect High Priest and Mediator, He sought to understand us in our weakness so that in the very moment of our bruising and discouragement, and as He’s binding up our very wounds we can here Him say, “I’ve been there.” He is so kind!

Fanned Into Flames Again

If he doesn’t break the bruised reed, nor snuff out the smoldering wick, then what does He do with them? He heals. He repairs. He restores. He saves. He redeems. He resurrects. He looks upon the bruised reed of a man or woman’s soul in Christ, even if possessing only the smallest amount of faith, and He repairs us with the promises of His Word, producing faith. He fans the flames again with His Holy Spirit and the assurance of His love. He does it through the Word. He does it through the Church, through faithful men and women of God who make it their aim to imitate the heart of Jesus for sufferers.

If you’re wondering how this might apply to you, this could be how. You might be the bruised reed. You might be the smoldering wick. This means there’s an element of unyielding weakness that you feel and cannot help by any natural means. You are weak, and in need, but I tell you that Jesus is not going to be the one to end you, to hang you up or shelve you. Trust His goodness and the kindness of His heart, and rely once again on what He’s already accomplished for you, and find your strength in Him again.

Think about those who are spiritually bruised in your life. They are not less than you. And because Jesus is drawn to them, so should we all be. Think about what encouragement does to a soul. Think about the life-giving power of simply preaching the gospel of Jesus to someone rather than proving a point or attacking a weakness. I know I need help in this area. Do you? I’ve been praying a lot this year for two things in particular; graciousness and mercifulness. I see these so much in Jesus. Do we want it said that Jesus doesn’t break the weak, and yet we carelessly do? Let’s ask the Father to make us much more like the Son, and rely on the Spirit and the Word to see the transformation take place.

When Is Someone Ready For Baptism?

Baptism is a means of grace for the Church. There are varying views within Christianity about the purpose and how it should be done (sprinkle with water, or immersion), as well as what actually happens when one is baptized. Is there any cleansing that takes place spiritually? Is it effectual for saving someone? Do you need to be baptized in order to go to Heaven? With all of this, though, there are several things that come to mind when I consider the subject, especially when talking with or counseling a new believer who is saying they want to be baptized.

What Is The Gospel?

This is probably the most important question to ask someone who wants to be baptized. If they get this wrong, then they’re probably not ready to go under (can you tell where I stand on the sprinkle or dunk debate?). So I’ll simply ask a person, “What is the Gospel?” Then I’m listening for some key things to help me determine genuine faith, or if the person believes that being baptized will save them, or get them closer to God in and of itself.

I’m listening for things like…

“The gospel means that if I live a good life, and try hard enough, then…”

Most likely you see the rub here. It’s paramount that a person understand that the Gospel is a work of God’s sovereign and initiatory grace, and not human effort or a performance before God. When someone believes this, truly, and God has done a saving work on them, that person will not lean on their own works. I’d much rather hear…

“The Gospel is the truth that Jesus…”

Of course there are many things that could follow this statement, but at least I know then that they are not leaning on themselves. Their eyes are not inward, but Godward. They recognize that their salvation is something that Jesus, and Jesus alone could have accomplished FOR them. This is a HUGE deal. But let’s just say that they do misunderstand, or give a “wrong” answer to the question. That doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t in Christ, but it does mean that you, or another mature believer, should teach them what is true, and help guide them to a clearer perspective. The reason this is so important is because baptism is picture of the Gospel in a tangible and visible form. So It’s important to protect and guard with truth. It is those who do not guard this, and willy-nilly go about having people step into the baptism waters, to then end up with a group of professing Christians walking away from Christ, or living in habitual sin, and thinking that the first baptism must not have “work”.

Again, baptism doesn’t “work”! Jesus does!

If a person knows, believes, and is fully convinced that Jesus is the ONLY way to their personal salvation from sin and death, and they can articulate some manner of that truth from the heart, there’s a good chance they’re saved, and should be baptized.

What Has God Done to Change You?

The first, or at least one of the first visible signs of a person’s believing the Gospel is repentance from sin. This is seen all throughout the New Testament.

Mark 1:15 “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Acts 2:38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 20:21 “Testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Mark 1:4 “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

If these Scriptures are true, and they indeed are, then we have to believe that a person’s profession of public faith is rooted in a real desire to turn from sin and follow Jesus. So I will ask a person wanting to be baptized to be ready to confess such things.

“I was an angry and bitter man, but Jesus has loved me and died for me, and today he’s taught me to love others like he does.”

“My life was enslaved by drugs, but Jesus saved me from my sin, and I no longer need a substance. I have Christ, the all-satisfying God who loves me and died for me!”

But it’s not just the individual sins that a person is repenting from when redeemed by God. It’s the underlying sin of unbelief. The unsaved sinner does not believe that God is the greatest good that we need, and that Jesus alone can bring us to him. All of our rebellion and sinning and wallowing in the mire of specific sins and vices is a result of that greatest sin, the sin of not loving God as God, and ruler of our lives. At the root of a repentant heart is at least a small understanding that a person’s whole life before coming to believe in Christ, whether it was a reasonably good life by human standards, or a wretched life of sin and shame, was a life separation from God, a consequence we deserve. So, the most important change I want to see in a person who desires to be baptized, is not that they don’t want to be “bad” anymore, but that Jesus is now the all-satisfying object of their worship and deepest affections. Everything else that needs to be changed will change in His timing, when Christ is at the center.

Public Proclamation of New Identity

One thing that the Bible is very clear about, and that our culture seems to sadly diminish, is that Christian faith is meant to be public, not secret. A biblical understanding of baptism helps a person to begin their journey with Christ on the right (correct) foot. Case after case in the New Testament narrative we see faith in Christ, then immediate baptism. We even have one occasion recorded in Acts where we see a new believer searching for water along the roadside so that he could be baptized soon after his believing. “Here’s water! What hinders me from being baptized?” That story does not prescribe a method or manner we are to follow today, but it does give us an example of new believers desire to go public with what Jesus has done in his or her heart.

Identity in Christ means that who we are now, is not who we were. What masters us is different. Our family is now different. Our father was Satan, now it’s God. So when Jesus told the disciples to “Go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit…” he was talking about new identity. To be a new disciple, in Jesus’ mind, was to be inducted and immersed into the life of the God-head, with God as Father, Jesus as servant and Savior, and Spirit as Comforter and Helper. And because Jesus placed water baptism at the beginning of a Christian’s journey, and that the person who made the new disciple (another believer) has performs the baptism, this is a family affair.

When a person is ready to be baptized, ask them about the Gospel. Make sure they know it’s a work of grace, not human effort. Listen for and watch for fruits of repentance from sin. Encourage hearts that to be buried in the waters of baptism, and to rise up from that “grave”, is a mark of new identity that they now share with the Church, locally and globally, and more importantly, an identity they share with the risen Christ. Baptism is a beautiful means of grace. Let’s take it seriously, and disciple people with wisdom and care.

Strengthen The Souls of the Disciples

Joel Littlefield

When Paul entered Lystra for the second time after being beaten and left for dead, it was no question as to why he was there. He had returned to the city to “strengthen the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)

What is the message in the Church today regarding faith in Jesus, Christian suffering and perseverance through tribulation?

Strengthen the Souls of the Disciples

Souls need to be strengthened because souls get weak. That’s why Paul was there; to comfort the saints. But when they witnessed the horrible treatment of Paul by those who hated him for his faith, they grew discouraged. Just like when we hear of the slaughter and persecution of our brothers and sisters around the globe today, we feel a sense of weakness and helplessness; maybe…

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Lest We Drift Away

Through outright neglect and apathy a person can fail to hold on to what is good and true, and over time or overnight, find that they are far from the safety of the shore they once held to, or thought they held to.

“Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” Hebrews 2:1

Chapter one of Hebrews gives the context. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son.” What Son? The appointed heir of all things. The Creator of the world. The radiance and the glory of God’s nature. The upholder of the universe that we live in. The one who purifies sinners and was exalted to the right hand of the Father on high, showing superiority over all beings and all things, including angels. (Read Hebrews 1:1-4)

Throughout all thirteen chapter of this letter the author faithfully drives home this point, that Jesus Christ is singularly the supreme glory and Savior of the universe. And that means we MUST listen to Him!

So when Chapter two begins with the words, “Pay close attention to what you have heard“, we know exactly what he’s referring to. Listen to what God is saying through Jesus Christ because truth comes from no where else but Him.

How might one learn to listen to Jesus, and thereby, not drift away?

The whole of Scripture collectively argues that the Bible, the written Word of God, is the essential source for hearing from God, and more specifically, hearing God’s message to us about Jesus Christ. The Old Testament repeatedly foreshadowed the Messiah to come. The prophets predicted Him and the angels heralded His first advent. When he arrived and began to physically act and speak on earth, the men who followed him, and whose lives He miraculously transformed, penned (or had transcribed) the words and actions that were necessary for our knowing Him and being saved by Him, namely, his message about the Kingdom, how to be forgiven, how to get to God, culminating with the account of His death, burial and resurrection. All of these perfectly fulfilled what had been previously predicted in Scripture thousands of years before.

“Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.” Psalm 40:7

Here’s the point. We keep from drifting by actually listening to Jesus. What is to be said of the Christian who regularly neglects to listen to Jesus and obey His Word? Are they imposters? And how many “spiritual” people outside of the local church claim to have found a better way while they reject Jesus who says, “I am the only way.” To reject the clear voice of God in Scripture, and to reject the people’ who faithfully obey the call to speak His Word, is to drift. Many have heard things about Jesus. Even more still are making up their own versions of Christ in order to suit their sin and give an excuse to their choices. These are the drifters.

And we’re not to think of a gentle drifting like a picturesque scene of a sailboat drifting off into the sunset. The drifting referred to in Hebrews is synonymous with neglecting the free gift of salvation itself. v3. “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” So the warning is serious because, in this case, drifting leads to Hell and a person’s separation from God for eternity.

The writer says, “Pay much closer attention to what you have heard”.

It is both the one who says he loves God, as well as the one who could care less at the moment, who are in danger of drifting from Christ. By failing to trust His every word as the supreme source of truth and life for the human soul is to neglect being saved.

Unfortunately, drifting will be a regular part of the scenario in these last days. Christ himself said that in the last days, “The love of many will grow cold.” So the best thing we can do is continue to warn with love from Scripture. Warn believers and none-believers alike about drifting. Warn the professing Christian that eternal security is found only through a faith that perseveres, not one that constantly drifts from the Word, and remind them to cling to Christ. If you know someone who is drifting right now, then pray. Pray desperately that God, in His timing, would draw them back to the shore of His grace. And you, yourself, don’t give up hope. Don’t drift with the drifters, but cling ever more to the anchor that is Christ!

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain – Hebrews 6:9

Wringing out the Scriptures (#2) Broken Cisterns

Jeremiah 2:13 “…for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

What an indictment against the people of God who have tasted the goodness of the Lord. Think carefully about this. These words need to be spoken still to this day.

Are there any evils worse than these two?

  1. To forsake the God who saved you from sin and slavery.
  2. To turn to another god that is not god at all, and serve it.

We often think that to be God’s people means that God cannot be displeased with us any longer. It is true that we’re loved, and that nothing can separate us from that love in Christ, but we’re wrong if we think that God loves ALL our behavior. He doesn’t.

Just look at the previous verse in the text.

v12 “Be appalled, O Heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils…”

When the heavens are appalled at something we need to pay attention.

Who had Israel forsaken? “The fountain of living waters”

Consider this: If you’re on a trail in the mountains and you thirst after miles of journeying on foot, and you come upon a fresh spring of water, what do you do? You lean forward and drink deeply. You drink long until you’re satisfied, savoring the cool water. From that day forward you will remember the exact location of the spring that quenched your thirst. You will tell your friends who hike that same trail to look for the living water, for it will save them much trouble. How absurd it would be to forsake that fountain for a broken cistern dug by your own feeble hands. Sure, you could say “I dug this. I found the stones, and laid them out.” But look what happens. It soon fills with the filth of the earth. As you drink you are poisoned. It is utterly inadequate. There’s no fresh nutrients and the pool of stagnancy cannot satisfy you. The water that is there one minute, is gone the next. It cannot even hold the water.

Oh church! Don’t reject this warning. The nations of the world are corrupt and walking away from truth. Is there light shining from God’s people, declaring to the world who He is, what He’s done and how He satisfies?

Jeremiah 2:11 “Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods?”

The fountain of life is Jesus Christ, the only God who satisfies deeply to the inner most needs of the soul. Look, He says so himself. “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

When we forsake the living water for broken cisterns what are we saying? We’re saying that the cisterns, inadequate as they really are, are more lovely, more beautiful, and more able to rescue us from our sinful plight than God is. So, what are these cisterns? Look no further than the Samaritan woman herself, who spent a lifetime drinking from cracked cisterns. Her cisterns were relationships with men in hopes to find her identity there. She was never satisfied. The longing to love and be loved fell short every time, and in her despair she lay at the bottom of her cistern, parched. Then she met Jesus and drank His living water by faith. She believed that He was enough and never went back to the broken cistern again.

What is that cistern for you and me? Is it a relationship, like with the Samaritan woman? Is it your pursuit of accomplishment and success that has you digging a career cistern week after week? Perhaps it is a pursuit of fulfillment in a vice, a drug, or a quick fix of pornography. So you dig, and you dig, and you find water for a moment. But when you return again you find the disappointment of a dry well again and again.

It is time to return to the Living Water! You’ll find that when you do, God is there. Consider these merciful words to Israel from Jeremiah. Hear them in your heart, and if need be, repent and return.

“‘Return, faithless Israel,
declares the LORD.
I will not look on you in anger,
for I am merciful,
declares the LORD;
I will not be angry forever.
Only acknowledge your guilt,
that you rebelled against the LORD your God
and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree,
and that you have not obeyed my voice,
declares the LORD. Return, O faithless children,
declares the LORD;
for I am your master; (Jeremiah 3:12-15)

Wringing out the Scriptures (Bread From Heaven)(Part 1)

I’ve been reading Dane Ortlund’s new book, Gentle and Lowly. It’s heavily inspired by puritan style writing, namely, those puritans like Bunyan, Owen and Goodwin who could select a single verse of Scripture and squeeze it out for all it’s worth, usually writing a several hundred page book by the time they’re finished. I do not think I have that in me just yet. And I’m definitely no Bunyan or Owen. But for now I’d like to put forth a series of blog entries with that as my inspiration. Let’s call it, “Wringing out the Scriptures”. For the next several blogs I’ll share a text as my intro, and then simply squeeze it out for all that I can find. I have no particular length in mind, but will go until I think I’ve sufficiently made the point, or at least a point.

NOTE: I would greatly appreciate feedback in the blog comments, or on social media. I’d also love to hear you thoughts, or how the lord is ministering to you. Perhaps you could share a Scripture that you’d like to see me “squeeze” out in one of my posts.

Here goes! I’ll begin with a well known word from Jesus.

For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” John 6:33

Bread is such a simple food. Simple ingredients. Not too expensive. Kings and peasants, rich and poor, have eaten it for millennia. It’s no wonder that Jesus used this to express himself to the world. The Bread of God. God’s bread. Sustenance from the holy God of the universe who formed man, and knows what mankind needs. From the least to the greatest, God knows the needs of men and women.

Look beyond physical bread now. It’s not just your bellies that need filling, It’s your hearts. The religious are content with filling up on what they can flaunt to the world. But Jesus is not interested in that.

Jesus says “The bread of God is He…” So It’s a person. The soul-filling sustenance the world needs is a human. Not just any human, mind you, but the God man. God and man at the same time. The mystery of the triune God, Father, Son and Spirit. The Father sending the Son. The Son willingly going. The Spirit applying the spiritual food to those who know they need it, need Him.

He came down from Heaven. Such grace. If He were like any one of us he would have backed down from the mission.

Go down there? To those sinners? They have rejected me, and some are planning to kill me! Ungrateful creation.

But no! He came down. The Bread of Heaven could not be reached by human effort or religious human ingenuity. We had to be served. “He who is the greatest is servant of all.” That’s Jesus. He’s the bread and the Server all in one, offering Himself up to lowly sinners who are not even worthy of the scraps on the floor. He gives us himself.

He gives life to the world! This is to acknowledge that there is no life outside of Christ. Not true life anyway. How does he give life to the world? Through His death. We come to Him to eat of Him believing that the death He died was our death and the life He gives is acceptable to the Father. Our sins placed Him there. Not His. What did we have to offer him for this life he gives us? Nothing. We came to Him naked and tattered with sin and shame, having no righteousness of our own, dead in our trespasses and stuck in the grave. Yet He loved us still. “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” By faith, we die with Him, our sins are buried and cast as far is east is from the west, and because he is raised, we are raised with Him.

We have but one thing to do now. Say, “give me this Bread!” Having eaten and tasted the goodness of His redeeming love, we must give this bread to more poor and hungry sinners, such as we were.

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