How to Know When You're Addicted
In a sexualized culture, it can be hard to know what exactly qualifies as a serious problem with sexual sin. Biblical counselor Ken Larkin explores what addiction actually looks like.
Let’s discuss the difference between this common idea of having a struggle with sexual sin and the idea of addiction. As a biblical counselor, how would you define those different words? Maybe a better way of asking it would be: what does addiction really mean biblically?
Well, when we talk about a struggle, it means someone has a momentary lapse or a failure with sin, but they're not just totally given over to their sin. Whereas in addiction, basically, it's regular and habitual. I guess a good biblical way of describing addiction would be habitual sin, where your life is characterized by this sin. And there's a certain element of bondage involved. Someone says, "I'm struggling. I am not really stuck in this thing. It's not consuming my life. But I'm having some issues, and I occasionally fall." But an addiction becomes a lifestyle, and your life revolves around this thing, and it seems like it's a besetting sin that you can't break free from.
You said that one thing the Bible does is help us define addiction as habitual sin. Can you give us more of the biblical picture of what's going on with habitual sin?
One thing is that sin—especially when it gets to the point of what we would call an addiction—is idolatrous. The Apostle John said in 1 John 2, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." That's a strong statement. If you're giving over to a sin and you're loving this thing, and it's displacing your love and affection for God, that becomes idolatry. And he even mentions what the world is: "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world." And certainly these things are involved in sexual sin or sexual addiction.
The second thing is: sin is slavery. It leads to slavery. It's bondage. And that's where addiction comes in. We use that term for someone that's in bondage. It seems they can't break free. So Paul said in Romans 6, "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death or of obedience resulting in righteousness?" And I would say this: someone might think, "Well, it's not that bad. I'm not a slave of sin." Well listen to what Jesus said in John 8: "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin." And here it is. When you come to the point where you're an addict, you just realize you're a slave. Because originally, maybe you made the choice to get into sin. But now it seems like you have no choice, and you become a slave. It's apparent. It's basically controlling your life now.
Can you describe a scenario where this kind of pattern would unfold in someone's everyday life?
Well, since pornography is so prevalent in our culture today, I would use that example. Maybe someone was online and something popped up, and they went to this site or whatever and saw something. And now they want to go and dabble, and they’ve heard about different people watching porn. They try it once. With some people, the first time, they're hooked, just like drugs. With other people it's over a course of time. But the more you give over to sin, the more becomes habituated in your life and the more its tentacles wrap around your heart. Eventually, it seems like you can't get out of it. If you're constantly giving over, even if it's maybe only once a week or once every couple weeks, it's a lot bigger issue. If your life is actually characterized by something, that's part of your character. Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out.” He said, “If your right hand cause you to stumble, cut it off.” You're better off going to heaven to have life with one eye or one hand. So it's a serious situation. It’s a lot more serious than we think it is, becoming a full-blown slave of this thing.
Once a person grapples with where they find themselves and they say, “Yeah, I guess I am addicted,” what's next? What's the turning point that they need to come to— the basic answer for them as an addict—as well as some practical first steps that they can take?
If you're trying to see how close you can get to that cliff of giving over to your sin without giving over, then you're already moving in the wrong direction. It's that simple. They need to come to true repentance over their sin. And the first thing is really just coming to terms with the fact that they're responsible for their actions. And also, I would say: brokenness. If someone is living a lifestyle of sin, they're on the throne of their life. They're serving God, but somehow, they're serving God on their terms. And they need to stop. It's that simple. Now I'm not saying you just determine it in your own heart. If you really see that you have an issue and a problem, you need to get desperate and you need to cry out to the Lord for deliverance, because he's the only one that can ultimately set us free. Jesus is the Savior, and He's the source of your victory.
The second thing is: none of us like to admit we're wrong. So it's not enough just to admit to the Lord that you’re wrong. We need to bring our sin into to light with other people. That's a huge thing, because with sexual sin, there's a stigma behind it. There is shame, if you call yourself a Christian and you're involved in this behavior. And the devil himself, our adversary, wants to keep us in that darkness. So a huge key to coming into freedom could be simply admitting to one other person— your pastor or some leader in your life— that you have an issue.
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