The Addiction of Sin: Lesson 5

In this lesson, we examine additional observations offered by Patrick T. McCormick concerning the idea that sin is an addiction to see if these insights reflect biblical values related to specific expressions of sin. (See Patrick T. McCormick, Sin as Addiction [Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1989]; Gerald G. May, M.D, Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions [New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988].)

A point of difference between McCormick’s perspective and that of May is that McCormick refers to the addictive character (a personality that leads to addiction) in contrast to May’s addicted character (a personality that is changed by addiction). As far as the relationship of sin to the concept of addiction is concerned, this may not be significant, for sin is universal.

“[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NKJV).

As it relates to Romans 3:23, it is important to note the grammatical variation between “have sinned” and “fall short.” By its use of the aorist tense (have sinned), the verse describes the past behavior of its readers. In their past, all people have sinned. But the word translated “fall short” is in the present tense, portraying the action in process or a state of being with no assessment of the completion of the action (Logos Bible Software). In other words, Romans 3:23 asserts universal sinfulness in both the past and present.

The Desire to be God-like

McCormick offers some insights that are not emphasized by May into how sin functions like an addiction. First, there is the desire to be god-like, to live above the rules, and to refuse one’s own limitations. This is seen in the first account of temptation and sin in Scripture: “Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5, NKJV).

That there is indeed a kind of “god-likeness”  to sin is seen in God’s assessment of sin’s result: “Behold, the man has become like one of us, to know good and evil” (Genesis 3:22a, NKJV). Although man becomes “god-like” through sin, he is a false god.

Sin Leads to Loss of Meaning and Direction

Second, sin, like addiction, leads to disintegration. There is a loss of meaning and direction in life. In a national sense, this can be seen in the history of ancient Israel. God warned them of the consequences of disobedience:

“Then the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods. … And among those nations you shall find no rest, nor shall the sole of your foot have a resting place; but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and anguish of soul. Your life shall hang in doubt before you; you shall fear day and night, and have no assurance of life. In the morning you shall say, “Oh, that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Oh, that it were morning!’ because of the fear which terrifies your heart, and because of the sight which your eyes see” (Deuteronomy 28:64-67, NKJV).

What was true for national Israel is true for each individual who rejects God.  Since humans were made to know and follow God, those who reject Him are left without a compass in life. The parable of the prodigal son demonstrates the disintegration that occurs in the lives of those who turn away from God. (See Luke 15:11-32.)

Does Sin Lead to Alienation?

Third, alienation — affecting all relationships, including one’s relationship with oneself — is the result of addiction. Although sinners may crave companionship (Proverbs 1:10-14), sin by its nature destroys all relationships:

“But they lie in wait for their own blood, they lurk secretly for their own lives” (Proverbs 1:18, NKJV).

Enduring relationships are nurtured by unconditional love; love is absent where sin prevails. The second of all the commandments is that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31). The only alternative to love is alienation.

In Lesson 6, we will continue to examine McCormick’s view of sin as addiction. This will include the way in which addiction leads to death and five advantages to the addiction model.



The Addiction of Sin: Lesson 4

Patrick McCormick’s view of sin as addiction has points of commonality with Gerald May’s view, with some differences of opinion and some additional insights. (See Patrick T. McCormick, Sin as Addiction [Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1989] and Gerald G. May, M.D., Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions [New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988]). In common with May, McCormick sees addiction as having to do with deception (May: “self-deception”), ethical deterioration (May: “loss of willpower”), and idolatry (May: “distortion of attention”).

Some additional insight is offered by McCormick’s view. He sees the characteristics of addiction as including dependence (addicts are dependent on someone or something else), self-centeredness (extreme narcissism), an external referent (addicts are obsessed with what others think of them; they have lost their own self-center), and loss of feeling (addicts have lost the ability to detect their feelings).

Is dependence a characteristic of sin?

Solomon wrote, “Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished” (Proverbs 11:21; see also 16:5). Dependence is characteristic of sin. In an extended treatment of the same theme, Solomon wrote, “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, ‘Come with us, let us lie in wait to shed blood; let us lurk secretly for the innocent without cause; let us swallow them alive like Sheol, and whole, like those who go down to the Pit; we shall find all kinds of precious possessions, we shall fill our houses with spoil; cast in your lot among us, let us all have one purse’ — My son, do not walk in the way with them, keep your foot from their path” (Proverbs 1:10-15, NKJV).

Is self-centeredness a characteristic of sin?

In the parable of the rich fool, Jesus warned of covetousness with these words: “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21, NKJV). The essence of covetousness is self-centeredness,  included by McCormick as a characteristic of addiction.

Is it characteristic of sin to have an external referent?

The role of the external referent as a characteristic of sin is seen in the first response that Cain made to God when he learned that God held him accountable for the murder of his brother. Cain protested, “I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me” (Genesis 4:14, NKJV). There is something about the nature of sin that elevates the importance of one’s peer group above the importance of God’s judgment.

Is it characteristic of sin to have a loss of feeling?

Jeremiah wrote, “O Lord, are not Your eyes on the truth? You have stricken them, but they have not grieved; You have consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to return” (Jeremiah 5:3, NKJV). This description of the insensitivity of those who rejected God sounds very much like the addict’s loss of feeling. Perhaps even more to the point is Paul’s description of those who walk “in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Ephesians 4:17-19, NKJV).

In lesson 5, we will examine further insights offered by McCormick to see if they reflect biblical values related to specific expressions of sin.





Sin as an Addiction: Lesson 3

This post is the third in a series discussing the possibility that sin is a form of addiction. I first began to think of this in 2002 while taking a course titled “Wrestling with Sin and Temptation” taught by adjunct professor Gary Thomas. Thomas has appeared multiple times on Focus on the Family and Family Life Today and has written more than fourteen books.

This course was among those that led to the completion of the Master of Theology (Th.M.) degree offered by Western Seminary, located in Portland, Oregon. When I took “Wrestling with Sin and Temptation,” I had already completed the Master of Arts in Exegetical Theology (M.A.E.T.) in 1990 with Western Seminary. The M.A.E.T. included a study of sin in a theology course. It was valuable in that it approached the study from the standpoint of the historical hypotheses, the use of the Hebrew and Greek languages in Scripture, and a systematic formulation of these findings.

Today I reviewed a paper I wrote on the subject of sin for the M.A.E.T. course. The various English words and phrases translated from the original languages to describe sin include “ignorance,” “error,” “inattention,” “missing the mark,” “irreligious,” “transgression,” “iniquity or lack of integrity,” “rebellion,” “treachery,” “perversion,” “abomination,” “agitation or restlessness,” “evil or badness,” “guilt,” and “trouble.”

However, the word “addiction” does not appear in my paper.

I was intrigued by the new idea that addiction might be another way to view sin or another aspect of sin that we should explore. During the years since I took the course taught by Thomas, I’ve noticed that the preaching and teaching I hear from our pulpits and even the songs we sing in the United Pentecostal Church International give increasing recognition to the problem of addiction and its consequences. Here, therefore, I offer my third post on the idea that it may be possible to think of sin biblically as an addiction, a sin Scripture recognizes and for which it provides specific guidance leading to victory.

Sin as an Addiction: Lesson 3

Daniel L. Segraves

We will continue to examine the characteristics of addiction from Lesson 2 identified by Gerald G. May, M.D. in his book Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions (New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1988). Our study involves the final two items included in May’s list.

According to May, the first three essential characteristics of sin are these:

(1) tolerance; (2) withdrawal symptoms, (3) self-deception.

As we pointed out in our first lesson on viewing sin as addiction, to determine whether the addiction model is biblically accurate, we must compare the nature of addiction, the cause of addiction, and the five characteristics of addiction to what the Bible says about sin. We have attempted to do that related to the first three items; now, we will move to the final two.

Is sin connected with a loss of willpower?

As it relates to addiction, the loss of willpower involves the fact that by making any attempt to control “truly addictive behavior by making autonomous intentional resolutions, one begins to defeat oneself.” This “defeat is due to mixed motivations. One part of the will sincerely wants to be free. Another part wants to continue in the addictive behavior” (Mays, 28).

As Mays points out, “a fundamental mind trick of addiction is focusing attention on willpower” (Mays, 28), which seems to be the problem described by Paul.

“For what I will to do, that I do not practice…. I do what I will not to do…. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. … to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Romans 7:15-20, NKJV).

As long as Paul focused on his will, he remained frustrated and thwarted in his desire to resist temptation. It was not until he refocused on Jesus Christ that he found freedom (Romans 7:25).

Does sin cause a distortion of attention?

As it pertains to addiction, this characteristic could also be described as “the distortion of ultimate concern” or “idolatry” (Mays, 30). This is fundamental to the nature of sin. People who exchange “the truth of God for the lie … worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25, NKJV). Since the first of all the commands is to love God with all within us (Mark 12:29), sin is anything short of this. Sin is to be concerned ultimately with anything other than loving God.

May’s views of addiction’s definition, cause, and characteristics fit with the biblical understanding of sin without attempting to force the issue.