The Addiction of Sin: Lesson 10

This is the tenth lesson in a series examining the possibility that sin can be viewed as an addiction. If this is a biblically sound idea, it can be useful in gaining freedom from addictive behavior.

At this point, we are looking at the following resources: Lawrence J. Crabb, Inside out, Rev. & updated, 10th anniversary ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1998); 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 brief lesson, we will discuss the requirement of abandoning pretense. Real change cannot occur apart from this.

… deep change comes about less because of what we try to do and how hard we try to do it, and more because of our willingness to face the realities of our own internal life. Personal integrity, a commitment to never pretend about anything, is prerequisite for change from the inside out (Crabb,187–188).

In the final analysis, what is necessary for change cannot be reduced to a formula:

Change from the inside out will always be … a work of God, and must therefore remain a mystery (Crabb, 190).

It is a process, not an event. And it is a process never completed on this earth.

In order to experience the change possible during this lifetime, we must abandon the vain insistence that “the real change heaven will bring (an end to all pain) be ours today” (Crabb, 205). It is a false gospel that declares that we can ever reach a place in this life where pain and suffering are banished. The genuineness of hope is rooted in the promise of a better world and a better life to come. Paul wrote, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (I Corinthians 15:19, NKJV).

The common core in every effort to change must be “a shift in direction away from dependence on one’s own resources for life to dependence on God” (Crabb, 211).

In our next lesson, we will consider Keith Miller’s proposed adaptation of the Twelve Step program developed by Alcoholics Anonymous. Is it possible this could be helpful as we seek to cooperate with the grace of God?

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Charity Gayle

Last night, for the first time, Susan and I joined with about 650 other people to worship our Lord Jesus Christ with Charity Gayle at The Sanctuary UPC in Hazelwood, Missouri, where Mitchell Bland is pastor. It was a truly awesome experience.

From the first song until the last, the presence of the Holy Spirit filled the room.

Each song was biblically sound, reflecting deep truths about God’s identity and the human condition. As we sang, I thought of the ways we were sharing together in fulfilling Paul’s twice-stated admonition:

Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19).

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord (Colossians 3:16).

We were singing psalms, many drawn from the inspired psalter itself. Since many of the words we sang originated in Scripture, they were spiritual. During some of His last words before His ascension, Jesus said all things must be fulfilled which were written concerning Him in the law, the prophets, and the psalms. Thus, we were singing words about Christ. As we sang them, these words taught and admonished us.

I was refreshed and strengthened spiritually, emotionally, and even physically by the experience. I would do it again.

I am now in the process of writing the second volume of my commentary on Psalms. Specifically, I am working on Psalm 80. As I worked on this project this week, I remembered an interesting difference between the way English translations typically render a phrase in the superscriptions: to the chief musician. This occurs fifty-five times.

But the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that is most commonly used by those who wrote the New Testament, translates the phrase: For the end. The same fifty-five psalms that read “to the chief musician” in the KJV and other English translations from Hebrew read “for the end” when translated from Greek to English by the Septuagint.

As Ray Lubeck, one of my professors when I was a seminary student pointed out, for the Septuagint, all the songs in Psalms are “end time songs.” They have an eschatological focus. They look forward to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ! We cannot sing these inspired songs without our spirit being stirred in anticipation of this glorious event.

Charity was powerfully accompanied by her husband, Ryan Kennedy. The band of musicians and singers traveling with them consisted largely of Spirit-filled people from the Pentecostals of Alexandria (POA) who participate in leading worship there.

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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.

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The Addiction of Sin: Lesson 8

In this lesson, we will examine the idolatrous nature of sin, the connection between addiction and deceit, and the significance of the addiction model for recovery from sinful behaviors.

We will do this in view of the parallels between Larry Crabb’s insights and those of Gerald G. May and Patrick McCormick. (See 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 advance the addiction model of sin, his perspectives are similar to those who do embrace the addiction model.

The idolatrous nature of sin is seen by Crabb. “We can recognize our demanding dependence on people, our sinful insistence that others do for us what they cannot do (a form of idolatry). Idolatry is at the heart of addiction.

Crabb points out that the “deceitful character of our heart helps us believe that things are quite a bit better than they really are.” Deceit is one of the problems associated with addiction that is recognized by May and McCormick.

Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, And shall not see when good comes, But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, In a salt land which is not inhabited. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, And whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit. “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings (Jeremiah 17:5-10, NKJV).

Though the addiction model is missing, the perspective brought by Crabb is quite similar to that of May and McCormick, and Crabb’s insights on “real change from the inside out” may be helpful in breaking the sin cycle.

The Significance of the Addiction Model for Recovery from Sinful Behaviors

In a word, the remedy for addiction is the grace of God. There must be more than “an intellectual attempt to align the will with grace.” This is not renewed willpower, but the “alignment of our will with God’s … at a heart level, through authentic choices of faith that are empowered by God.”

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13, NKJV).

In Lesson 9, we will look at the additional significance of the addiction model for recovery from sinful behaviors, the only effective way of ending an addictive behavior, and the specific kind of repentance required for change.

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The Addiction of Sin: Lesson 7

To follow up our examination in Lesson 6 of Patrick T. McCormick’s view of sin as an addiction, we will now look at the ways Larry Crabb’s approach to the sin problem parallel the addiction model (Larry Crabb, Inside Out [Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1988]).

Although Crabb did not argue for the addiction model of sin, elements of his approach are similar to it. Crabb, a Christian counselor with a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Illinois, recognized denial as a way of life for those who “refuse to think about troubling things going on within [them],” who wanted to think that they can manage life, and who “deny the evidence in [their] soul that more is wrong than [they] know how to handle.” He pointed out that even a commitment to obedience may not reflect “a passionate desire to pursue God, but a stubbornly fearful determination to not feel deep frustration and personal pain.”

Crabb saw the “disease of self-management” as infecting all of Adam’s descendants. This may be compared to McCormick’s “self-centeredness.” According to Crabb, an inside look will uncover two elements imbedded deeply within the human heart: “(1) thirst or deep longings for what we do not have; and (2) stubborn independence reflected in wrong strategies for finding the life we desire.”

The compulsive nature of sin — an idea inherent in the addiction model — was recognized by Crabb. The compulsive nature of sin causes many of us to “struggle with habits we can’t seem to break, habits of thought as well as habits of deed.” The ache in the souls of those “who don’t know what it means to depend on Christ to satisfy their inmost being … relentlessly drives them toward immediate relief.”

The common response to pain is “limited to either denying how badly we hurt or to medicating ourselves through some form of temporary gratification.” These are evidences of addiction.

Compulsive habits “grow out of our attempts to relieve the unbearable tension that results from our failure to deal with the disappointment of our deepest longings for relationship.” Addiction may occur anywhere genuine love is absent: “Unless we are moving toward other folks with the love with which God moved toward us, the appeal of a broad range of intense pleasures may become compulsively attractive.”

The biblical solution to addiction’s creeping influence is found in these words of Jesus:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35, NKJV).

In Lesson 8, we will examine the idolatrous nature of sin, the connection between addiction and deceit, and the significance of the addiction model for recovery from sinful behaviors.

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The Addiction of Sin: Lesson 6

In Lesson 6, we continue our examination of Patrick T. McCormick’s view of sin as an addiction. We begin with this question:

Does sin lead to death?

McCormick asserts that all addictions lead to death. As it relates to sin, the quintessential statement in this regard was written by Paul: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Biblically, death is always connected to some kind of separation. Like addiction, sin separates people from their true selves, from others, from reality, and from God.

Are there any advantages to viewing sin as an addiction? McCormick proposes five advantages:

    1. It offers a more realistic grasp of human freedom
    2. It explains how sin operates on various levels
    3. It explains the communication of evil from one generation to the next
    4. It is therapeutic, not juridical (i.e., legalistic), and
    5. It offers a workable system of recovery.

Those who reject the addiction model may assume that human freedom is so unmitigated that a person may terminate an addiction by simply exercising the power of choice, by personal willpower alone. But as May has pointed out, “For the addicted person alone, struggling only with willpower, the desire to continue the addiction will win. It will win because it resides … at the level of biological conditioning, and it is always operative” (Gerald G. May, M.D., Addiction and Grace [New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988]. Paul found that his will was insufficient to give him power over sin (Romans 7:15-25).

Those who reject the addiction model may find it challenging to explain why sin is so pervasive at every level of society. In a pattern similar to the occurrence of addiction in families and social groups, the effect of sin reaches beyond the individual. Achan’s sons and daughters shared his fate, even though Israel had the promise that no one would be put to death for the sin of another. (See Joshua 7:24-25; Deuteronomy 24:16.) We can only assume that Achan’s family identified with him in some way in his sin, even if it was only to be sympathetic with him. It is not infrequent in Scripture to discover entire families and social groups destroyed because of their shared participation in sin. Perhaps the most dramatic example of this is seen in the destruction of the entire human population of the earth in the days of Noah; sin was pervasive in every family but one. (See Genesis 6.)

Rejection of the addiction model may make it difficult to explain the communication of evil from one generation to the next. If sin is merely a personal problem, it seems the chances would be at least even that generations would not follow in the addictive behaviors of their ancestors. It is more likely, however, that children will follow the sinful behavior of their fathers than that they will not. This may be seen in the history of the kings of ancient Judah. Some found their way out of the destructive patterns set by their fathers, but most followed and even exceeded their fathers’ sinfulness. This pattern, which extends over many generations, indicates the addictive nature of sin across generations in that it is apparently easier to follow an evil example than a good one. It is also easier to reject a good example than an example of evil.

The addiction model is helpful in that it is therapeutic, not juridical. In that it is therapeutic, it recognizes the significance of the disease model of sin found in connection with the atonement. (See Isaiah 53:5.) Sin is a disease, but healing is provided through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Finally, McCormick sees the addiction model of sin as helpful in that it provides a workable system of recovery. Just as addictions to substances can be successfully confronted by systematic approaches, so can non-substance addictions to sinful behaviors. A notable example of this is the manner in which the Twelve Step program developed by Alcoholics Anonymous has been adapted to a variety of other behaviors.

In Lesson 7, we will discuss Larry Crabb’s approach to the problem of sin and its parallels to the addiction model. (See Larry Crabb, Inside Out [Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1988].)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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