The Addiction of Sin: Lesson 9

As we consider the similarities between Larry Crabb’s approach and the addiction model of sin, we examine the following resources: Larry Crabb, Inside Out (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1988); Gerald G. May, M.D., Addiction and Grace (New York: HarperCollins, 1988); and Patrick T. McCormick, Sin as Addiction (New York: Paulist Press, 1989). Although Crabb does not embrace the addiction model of sin, his perspectives are similar to those who do.

In this lesson, we will further develop the significance of the addiction model for recovery from sinful behaviors. As May puts it, “For the power of addiction to be overcome, human will must act in concert with divine will.”

When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is  indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (Luke 11:2-4, NKJV).

It is beyond our ability to force divine empowerment. But this does not mean our role is passive: “… we can pray for it, seek it actively, open our hands for it, and try our best to live it.”

He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” . . . Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from me unless I drink it, Your will be done” (Matthew 26:39, 42, NKJV).

We can confront our addictions as honestly as possible; we can claim responsibility for the choices we make, and we can turn to God.” (See Psalm 51.)

In the final analysis, the “only effective way of ending an addictive behavior is to stop it.”

My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (I John 2:1, NKJV).

The Greek word hamartano, translated “you may … sin” is in the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive mood “normally presents the verbal action as being probable or intentional” (Michael S. Heiser and Vincent M. Setterholm, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology (Lexham Press, 2013).

He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God (I John 3:8-9, NKJV).

The KJV translates these verses as follows:

He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

This translation troubles some readers who think it means that those who commit a sin are of the devil and are thus not saved. In this view, it is impossible for a person who is born again to sin.

To interpret these verses in this way is to miss the subtleties of Greek grammar. The verb translated “committeth” by the KJV is a present active participle. The point is not that a person who commits an act of sin is devilish. It is that it is devilish to continually commit sin as the devil has from the beginning. Any other view would have John contradicting his previous words. (See I John 1:7-10; 2:1-2.)

Similarly, the translation “doth not commit sin” by the KJV does not easily reflect the present tense, active voice, and indicative mood of the Greek text. The idea here has to do with an ongoing, consistent life of sin. Such a life does not characterize those who are born again. A person who is born of God cannot practice sin as normative.

Even though the “only effective way of ending an addictive behavior is to stop it,” we cannot stop it short of divine intervention:

O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25, NKJV).

Paul’s question was not “what,” but “Who.” Techniques or willpower cannot break the addiction of sin; it can be broken only by God’s grace. (See Romans 8:1-14.)

A specific kind of repentance is required for change: “To change from the inside out requires that we repent of our self-protective commitment.” Self-protection is counterproductive. Jesus said, “Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33, NKJV). Although many of our relational strategies are intentionally designed to “maintain personal safety,” there is reason to believe that God is at work in our lives to bring us to the place of losing our life for His sake.

In Lesson 10, we will discuss the requirement of abandoning pretense. Real change cannot occur apart from this.