Addiction and Surrender: A Spiritual Perspective

by Judith MacNutt
Spring/Summer 2016

Addiction is one of the most, if not the most important, subject matters that we encounter in our culture today, especially in America. Others can give a scientific perspective on addiction; I am going to write about the spiritual perspective—the role of surrender.

Romans Chapter 7, written by the great Apostle Paul, is one of my favorite scriptures in the Bible that has to do with struggle. (In my Bible it is subtitled “The Struggle with Sin.”) In Romans 7, Paul discusses the problem, and Romans 8 gives the solution to the struggle. This is great news! In reading both of these chapters, the power of the Holy Spirit is the solution.

In thinking about Paul, I am struck that he expresses his humanity so powerfully. He tells you “This is Paul speaking” when he writes something just from him. And at other times he will say “This is the Holy Spirit,” or “This is God speaking.” I find that very interesting. He writes these words in Romans 7 as someone who has walked deeply and intimately with the Lord. What we need to remember about addictions is that those who struggle with them are not bad people. They are not evil people. These are people who are trapped.

I want to suggest that you see addiction in a different light, perhaps new to you. Addiction involves every part of us, so it is a disease. It is a disease on every level; it is a spiritual disease but it also involves biology, as those who study brain chemistry understand. It’s a chronic disease until the Lord heals and restores.
But sin is also a disease. I want you to start thinking about it in this manner, instead of thinking about an addiction just as a behavior.

What Paul cries out in Romans 7 is “I am sick.” Whether it’s pornography, whether it’s food, whether it’s work—it’s sin. He doesn’t want to do it, but he does it even though he wills to stop. The entire Old Testament has to do with one subject—idolatry. And idolatry is sin. When we talk about sin, when we talk about addictions, they are in the category of idolatry. But getting rid of idolatry is not as simple as just confessing sin. Confession of sin is not enough to do away with the effects and the consequences of sin. It is very important to understand the relationship between inner healing and sin and addiction.

So Paul says, “Is the Law sinful?”(Romans 7:7) “We know that the Law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” I want you to capture that—he is calling himself a slave to sin—the great apostle Paul. “I do not understand what I do, for what I want to do I do not do.” He is saying that his behavior and his desired behavior are not the same.

“And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the Law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.”(Romans 7:14-17) I am paraphrasing him—he is saying, I get up in the morning, I set my face for what I know I should do—the Law gives me my rules, how to live my life. But by the end of the day, maybe halfway through the day, I have already sinned.

He says, “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is the sin living in me that does it.” (Romans 7:18-20)

Does that sound familiar? I want you to see that it is an active power living in a person when sin is active. There is something inside them empowering the behavior.

And we know that when we are dealing with sin, we are dealing with the original sin that lives in all of us. We are broken and in need of a Savior when we come into the world. So that aspect of sin I refer to as a broken self. We have broken emotions—they don’t operate as they should. We have a broken, shattered will as a result of original sin, but we also have our own personal sin, and any sin that has been committed against us. It is the mix of these two situations that creates this “desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” situation.

Paul cries out, “What a wretched man I am. Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Romans 7:24) How many times does an addict cry out, “Who will rescue me?”

“Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25a) We know that Jesus is the rescuer; Jesus is the Savior; Jesus is the Messiah; Jesus is the Healer; Jesus is the one who delivers us from evil, who breaks generational bondage. My point is to reframe in your head who it is that saves us from this sin.

How many of us get up in the morning and want to lose weight? We want to exercise. We want to spend more time with the Lord. We seek power from something that will make us feel better. Don Williams wrote an excellent book on addictions called 12 Steps with Jesus. In it Don says that “Sin works.” And that’s the tragic part. The world has learned, “Sin works.” Addiction “works.” If I feel bad and I shoot up some heroin, I will feel better in just a very short time. That piece of chocolate cake—that makes me feel better for five minutes, and then I regret it afterwards. There is always regret following addictive behavior. And there is also bondage.

Identity in Christ is the most important piece for all of us, and especially for an addict—to know who I am. I believe addiction is the disease of forgetting who we are. I have forgotten who I am. I no longer know that I am the beloved. When we pray with someone, what we are doing is bringing them into relationship. All healing is relational.

The goal is not to bring them into relationship with you as a prayer minister or friend; the goal is to bring them to God. We bring them to God; we seal them in that relationship with the Holy Spirit—being filled with the Holy Spirit—and we walk them toward knowing their identity in Christ.

There are two greatest needs in life. The number one need is LOVE, and God is love so He is our greatest need. And the second one is BELONGING. These people are being brought into relationship with God and that’s the most important prayer we can give to them.

There are three books that I want to recommend on the topic of addiction: the first one is 12 Steps with Jesus by Don Williams, which I have already mentioned. The second one is Addiction and Grace by Gerald May. It’s been around many years now and it’s a solid book on attachment and how attachments are formed. What you want to understand is that an addiction is an attachment to a substance that brings relief from pain. It is a spiritual disease. Our primary attachment should be to God. When it’s not to God, we become attached to substances, or to people. When our attachment is to people (in an unhealthy way), this attachment is called codependency. The third book I want to recommend is Breathing Under Water by Father Richard Rohr. It’s an amazing book which is being used in treatment centers. He takes the 12 Steps and applies scriptures and prayers and deep understanding to them. Richard talks a lot about the Imperial Ego which has to go, and the powerlessness we must embrace for transformation to take place.

Renounce yourself; deny yourself and come and follow Me. How many of you have been able to fully do that?

I have asked countless theologians, countless therapists: What does that mean? How do you surrender? I have never had an adequate answer from anyone until I hit on this scripture of Mark 8:34-38: Renounce yourself. Empty yourself. Fill yourself with God and come and follow Me.

The Church has not always done a good job with this teaching. The Church looked to martyrs. If you read the lives of martyrs, which I’ve done over the years, most martyrs renounce themselves, but a lot of resulting bitterness was related to their actions. How many of you have been a martyr in your home? Or at work? Poor me! Nobody notices what I do. Didn’t you notice I did something special for you? These kind of statements are evidence of the powerful ego and strong will we have within us.

Renounce yourself, give up yourself, surrender the self. This is the very first step in the 12-Step program; this is the first step in healing from addiction. If you have not been to an AA meeting, I would suggest you go to one. AA says "One Day at a Time," I say "One Minute at a Time." Do you ever notice how long a minute is? Our only hope is in God, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. And it has to happen on a minute-to-minute basis.

I believe that God is the God of the impossible and I don’t believe people have a lifetime sentence with addiction. I know the One that I serve is greater than the one that has people enslaved. So pray with boldness, pray with confidence, go through the steps as the Holy Spirit leads you to go. And believe with this person that the addiction is going to change; believe that you can change. God never, ever stops and the Bible assures us that the good work that He has started in you, He will complete.


Judith MacNutt  Judith MacNutt is a Founding Director and President of CHM.
 Spring/Summer 2016 Issue