The sinful flesh exists in every human on earth. The only exception was Jesus. It’s one of the three enemies of our faith and salvation, the other two being the fallen world around us, and the devil with his legion of demons. God did not originally create us with this fallen nature, but neither have we had any choice in the matter. From the moment we are first conceived (Ps. 51), when we are incapable of *doing* anything at all, the sinful flesh is already there, inherited from our fallen parents. “Flesh” is a bit of a confusing word for it, because it includes not only our bodies, but our souls too. Having “original sin” includes having a sinful flesh, which constantly seeks to have its own way, regardless of God’s will or any other order.
Addiction is a condition much like slavery. A slave might think to himself a thousand times as he works, “I could leave my master any time I want; just run away and never look back.” But he doesn’t. In many times and places, a runaway slave was risking great punishments, and even death, if ever he was caught. (Read the short book of Philemon in your Bible to see how Paul recommended one runaway slave be treated.) Likewise, if a person tries to drop an addiction, he is in for great suffering, and with some addiction, perhaps even death. Addiction is a kind of slavery, where a person’s will is bound and chained to something that’s probably harmful to him and to others. It can be a substance taken into the body. It can be a behavior or habit. It can be a kind of relationship with other people. It can be many things.
The pattern of having an addiction often results in a love-hate relationship with the addictive thing. The addict loves it, because it seems to satisfy a need (though never completely). The addict hates it, because it’s a cruel slave-master that will never set him free. Instead, the addiction will continue destroying the addict’s freedom, and then his health and relationships to others, and eventually his life. It’s a far more cruel master than many slave-owners ever were.
We prefer not to associate addiction with ourselves. It’s embarrassing and deeply shameful, so addicts prefer to deny that their addiction has such power over them. They prefer to claim that there’s no problem.
Some addictions involve illegal behaviour or substances. Some are obviously immoral. But many are quite legal, and seem morally acceptable. I have been blessed to avoid the clutches many kinds of harmful addictions in my life thus far, but not all of them. I can now describe what it’s like to be enslaved to an addiction, and the physical and psychological suffering required to become free. But I probably don’t know about the addictions that have enslaved you. *You* may not know about them, if you are still in denial.
There are many successful programs that can help us deal with addictions. You may have experienced one or more of them. As Christians, we have an important advantage in this area, because the power of addiction lies in the sinful flesh. Successful graduates of Alcoholics Anonymous call themselves “recovering” alcoholics because they still carry the sinful flesh within themselves, and it is always seeking opportunities to reassert itself to our own hurt. But a Christian has been given something to *replace* the sinful flesh: the New Man. The day our Lord calls us home, the sinful flesh will be gone, and the new man will live before God in righteousness and purity forever. We will be forever free of the enslaving power of sin and addiction.
Meanwhile, God uses two general tools to help us with problems of the sinful flesh, like addiction. One is the heavy cross of afflictions in our lives, which drives us to our knees. There we must give up all hope of escape from our enslavement to sin, and place all our trust in God alone. The other general tool is God’s Word. One part of it, His Law, pricks our hearts like a sword, working with the cross to kill our sinful flesh. This is quite unpleasant for us, because the flesh does not kill easily, nor die quickly. Remember too, that the flesh is a part of *you*. The other part of God’s Word is the Gospel, the Word of forgiveness through the atonement provided by Jesus.
The Gospel is not something you will find just anywhere. It must come from God Himself, or else the forgiveness cannot help you. We receive it most effectively by *hearing* it, but God also provides it in several other ways. We sometimes make the mistake of assuming we already have the Gospel, because we may remember receiving God’s forgiveness in the past. But that memory is not always reliable. We easily forget, or change the message of forgiveness into one that simply excuses and overlooks our sins. For help against a problem like addiction, we need to be *absolutely* certain. We need to know what God has done with *our* guilt. We need to receive God’s forgiveness again and again, from as reliable a source as possible.
I’ve only scratched the surface of this topic, but I hope you can see that the problem of addiction is far more prevalent than many people suppose. At the same time, we have an unlimited source of hope, strength, and healing in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ for the sins of the whole world. Come and receive His rich and powerful gift for you, this Sunday.