Awareness, Come Follow Me, Come Unto Christ, Mindful Recovery, Psychology, Social Issues, Spirituality

How Substance Use Counseling Ignited my Understanding of Salvation

Early to mid-fall of 1995, divorce happened. It was probably the most challenging time in one’s life. Fear and uncertainty truly caused some resentment and bitterness. Through this period, another dramatic pivotal point came about. Having walked into a Saturday evening service, I walked out completely refreshed, truly born again and renewed. Within a few months of this experience, I felt God asking me to meditate on the passage of scripture where Christ took the scroll in the synagogue and read the words of Isaiah:

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of the sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord.’ And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ (Luke 4:17-21, ESV).

At the time, there were many questions, many petitions and much confusion. No, I am not (and never will) proclaim that this passage means I am Christ. What I took away from this is there will be a time when God will utilize me in a manner to bring liberty to those who are in bondage and held captive. Christ is the only person that truly is able and capable of freeing us from the bonds of sin and death. However, as we understand scripture and the workings of God, this is accomplished through those who love and follow Christ and cultivate a right relationship with a Sovereign God.

Since this experience, life happened and personal experiences were not the most pleasant moments. However, in 2010, through no fault of my own doing, I was not only laid off from employment, the place of my employment ended up having to close down the plant. I opted to utilize this opportunity to go back to school and complete a college education. Withdrawing from a Bachelor’s in Communications through an online program, I attended a community college and completed a degree in addiction and chemical dependency. Since then, I have worked in the field for approximately three years now.

It was not until this past year something began to change within me. A slow paradigm shift occurred in what I previously understood the Gospel message to be, compared to how our Sovereign Heavenly Father has revealed to me.

Counseling individuals who are suffering substance use disorders ignited a real understanding of Salvation and a genuine reality of what the Bible truly teaches.

The Nature of Sin and the human condition

The Bible reveals our condition. Some theologians of the Calvinistic persuasion refer to this dilemma as the doctrine of depravity. Human depravity is the idea that humanity is spiritually depraved and unable to bring themselves to seek after a Sovereign God.

Reformed theologian, R.C. Sproul, shares this principle:

The Bible teaches the total depravity of the human race. Total depravity means radical corruption. … total depravity means that I and everyone else are depraved or corrupt in the totality of our being. There is no part of us that is left untouched by sin. Our minds, our wills, and our bodies are affected by evil.

The term “radical” is simply defined as something that is “whole, complete and thorough.” Like Sproul, a more apt rendering of depravity is the idea of humanity being radically corrupted because of the inherent sin nature.

This sin nature came, not because we merely chose to be sinful, it came about because of the original sin of Adam. Through Adam’s transgression of the law God gave, sin and death entered into the world and reigns throughout all humanity (see, Romans 5).

Adam’s transgression presented a problem to humanity. First, it placed Adam and Eve and their entire posterity outside of a divine relationship with God. Second, if left unanswered, humanity perishes and there is no hope. The disobedience of Adam brought sin and death into this world. We are spiritually dead and once our mortal existence is over, we will die a natural and physical death.

Salvation through Christ and Christ alone

The love of a Sovereign God meant the need to make provisions for humanity to overcome their dilemma of spiritual depravity. To bring humanity back into a right and true relationship with Him. This came about through Jesus Christ and his sacrifice to redeem humanity from not only the effect of sin and death; to also affect a spiritual transformation of humanity to where they stand in righteousness before God. Without Christ, there is no salvation and hope for humanity.

There is nothing we are capable of or able to do to bring ourselves back into a right relationship of a Divine and Sovereign God. It is only by and through God’s divine grace toward us that we are brought from spiritual depravity to a spiritually rebirth and regeneration of our heart, minds and spirit.

Importance of spiritual awareness and awakening

When a person becomes truly “born again,” it is through the process of spiritual awakening and regeneration. The individual is justified in Christ’s righteousness, not of his or her own accord or desire. The process begins where the individual begins to walk in a newness of life and are sanctified through the power and authority of Christ.

Carl Jung had a patient by the name of Rowland H. who suffered from Alcoholism. After working with the psychiatrist, the patient had spent some time being abstinent from Alcohol. He returned to drinking and came to seek out the advise of Jung. The psychiatrists response to Rowland H. was brutal honesty. The only hope his patient had was to experience a spiritual or religious transformation since there were no medical or other treatment to help his patient overcome the addiction of alcoholism. Jung, himself, did not believe in spiritual experiences.

Since the advent of psychology and the understanding and impact substance use disorder has on individuals, families, and communities, Jung’s simple and blunt honesty is still true today: Unless one experiences a true spiritual awakening and awareness of their condition, they are hopeless because of their presenting condition. 

Addiction defined and how our sin nature is understood

The American Society for Addiction Medicine provides a poignant short definition of addiction:

Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use or other behaviors. Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.

The relationship between addiction and addictive behaviors is the same as we place the same concepts within the understanding of human depravity. Like the individual suffering from substance use disorder (either a mild, moderate or severe form of their addiction), humanity is suffering from their sin nature.

Because we suffer from our natural tendency toward sinful thoughts, behaviors and the resulting consequences, we are not able to come to a place to free ourselves from our sinfulness anymore than an alcoholic or addict is capable of willing themselves to abstain from the substances or addictive behaviors.

The pleasure pathway and reward

Part of counseling alcoholics and addicts is to help them gain understanding of their disease. This begins with psycho-educational information where topics of brain reward and pleasure exists and how it brings out a sense of “euphoria”.

When God created humanity in His own image, he created us with such complexities that far exceed the creation of all others. We have the ability to reason and the ability to express and experience emotions.

Through the understanding of the brain’s chemistry, we understand how healthy individuals are able to exhibit impulse control, regulate their own emotions, and make appropriate critical judgments. Introduction of specific substances and behaviors compromises this natural reward pathway and literally, “hijacks” the brain.

Because of our sin nature, we divest ourselves into the natural pleasures of those things that the Bible condemns as sinful. Not the behavior of sin, the very thoughts that produce the actual behaviors themselves. For instance, Christ spoke to the multitude and declared that it was not the act of adultery itself that is sinful. No, he taught that the very lustful thoughts a person entertains are just as sinful. In dealing with Cain, God even reveals to Cain that his very own thoughts may control him rather than Cain’s ability to control his thoughts. Cain inevitably slew Abel out of sheer anger, jealousy and hatred. All these were produced by sinful thoughts that led to engaging in a sinful act.

In essence, our sinful nature is the most powerful urge and desire we possess because of the fall of humanity through Adam’s transgression.

Sin leads to four fundamental strongholds in our lives

Leading an Intensive Outpatient group, the process and discussion focused on four fundamental strongholds associated with addiction. These strongholds are also true in our own lives as it relates to the human condition.

  • Perishing
  • Anguish
  • Misery
  • Poverty

1. Perishing: is the idea that our nature will inevitably lead us toward a place of destruction. Because of the fall of humanity, we see moral decay of civilizations, perpetual and perverse wickedness throughout history. In fact, scripture warns us that in the last days, people will follow after their own sinful desires and appetites (see, 2 Timothy 3:2). For the addict and alcoholic, this destruction is because of the active addictive lifestyle they have fallen into.

2. Anguish: Ought of our spiritual condition and experience of perishing, we are brought to a place where there is distress in our own lives (and the lives of others). Like Rowland H. his alcoholism brought anguish in his own life, and probably in the lives of others. Today, many alcoholics and addicts experience distress in their lives. From a Christian and Biblical worldview, sin itself (because of our own human condition) consistently and constantly brings us to a place of distress – a place of anguish because of our sinfulness and unrighteousness.

3. Misery: Out of our perishing and anguish, we become miserable. Our spiritual condition as sinful causes us to experience misery and to bring misery upon others because of our condition. There is no solace found and, again, there is no hope.

4. Poverty: Through our experience of destruction, anguish, and misery; we become insufficient and lack the necessary support. We are completely and wholly spiritually dead and defeated. Much like the alcoholic and addict, we are living in a life that is powerless over our own condition and unmanageable because of our condition.

These four strongholds in our lives are not linear either. It is cyclic because we maintain them. The more we are insufficient and lacking support, the more we perish. The more we perish, the more we are in anguish because of our destitution. The more anguish we experience, the more miserable we become and that much more impoverished we are experiencing in our own lives.

Living in denial and the bondage of sin

The greatest deception of one who is living an active and sinful lifestyle is one who is imprisoned by their own denial. In essence, we lack the awareness and fortitude to admit there is something wrong with us. Because of this, we build systematic defenses to protect ourselves from the reality of our condition. For the alcoholic and addict, this defense system protects them from an awareness they have an inherent problem with drugs, alcohol, and/or other addictive behaviors.

Likewise, because of our human condition, we are in denial of our own inherent problem with sin. We are unwilling to come to the realization that we are sinful and that because of our tendency to engage in sinful thoughts and actions, we are rightly deserving of a Sovereign God’s just wrath and condemnation.

These systematic defenses are:

  • Denial of our spiritual condition and human depravity
  • Detour of our spiritual condition and human depravity
  • Delay of our spiritual condition and human depravity

God breaks through these defenses until we are brought to a place of dilemma, and then to the realization of our need to either surrender to Him or to our spiritual depravity and condition (dry or die).

Ultimately, we are brought to a place where we truly see our spiritual condition. For the alcoholic and/or addict, this place is the realization of their condition as an individual fully and radically transformed by the power of addiction.

From a Christian and biblical worldview, it is a Sovereign God bringing someone to the realization of their spiritual condition in relation to Him. And, the realization of how we are justly condemned because of our sinfulness and natural condition.

Concluding thoughts

Like addiction, sin is a perverse and powerful spiritual condition of humanity. We all are justly condemned because of it. We all engage in sinful thoughts that produce sinful behaviors. We are insufficient to abstain from these thoughts and behaviors because we are radically corrupt because of the fall of Adam. Through his transgression, we are born into a sinful world and are spiritually dead. Our nature leads us to experience seasons where we are perishing, living in anguish, being miserable and impoverished. We have no hope and ability to save ourselves from this condition.

This is how the understanding of addiction and working with individuals who are experiencing chronic substance use disorders and other addictive behaviors has helped me fully come to realize the powerful spiritual depravity of humanity in general and personally.

Because of our sinfulness and spiritual condition, we are:

  • Poor
  • Captives
  • Blind
  • Oppressed

To overcome our spiritual condition and depravity, there is something more powerful than our condition (sin) and our own self (will). This power is God’s divine Sovereign Grace through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ by which we are not only saved, we obtain eternal life with God.