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Putting Your Past Behind You

Fatal Addictions

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | November 12, 1989

Selected highlights from this sermon

Addiction is really only another word for sin—human nature without any restraints. Calling it a disease makes deliverance more difficult because it takes away responsibility. And the more the stability of a traditional family is shaken, the higher the rise in addictions.

Addiction is a battle between lustful desires that are energized by Satan and Jesus Christ who can save you from your sins. The question is: are you willing to trust God to do what you can’t; are you willing to face the pain of the truth?

Audio Recording: I shut God completely out of my life. I was having the time of my life. I was having fun, but it came to the point (especially after the AIDS virus was introduced to America), as the years went on, I realized, after having so many contacts, that it was inevitable that I had contracted the virus, and I began to fear death. And then I began to think about God again, but not very seriously because I thought, “Well, I have tried God before. I’ve tried Christianity, and it just doesn’t work.” But I also realized that there was nothing else in my life that worked. My life was a complete mess. I was on the verge of suicide. I had lived so many years on the street as a prostitute, and I just felt completely filthy and dirty. I had alienated my family, had no friends, sleeping alone on the street at night. It’s no fun.

So, for some reason, the Holy Spirit began to speak to my heart over a period of time, saying that I had made a mistake in my dealings with God, that I had tried to change myself, and tried to get rid of homosexuality out of my life and that way I could be acceptable to God. But over a period of time, the Holy Spirit began to show me that that wasn’t how it worked, that if I would come to Christ as a sinner and confess my sin and be willing to repent of my homosexuality, that Christ would do the rest, that He would forgive me. And the Lord taught me before I was even saved the doctrine of justification, that even though I still felt like a homosexual who still had all of the desires, that if I would receive Christ and come to Him for forgiveness of sin, that before the throne of God I was a new creature, and I was no longer a homosexual.

And God brought me to the point where He asked me one question. He asked, “Do you believe the Gospel? Do you believe what I’ve taught you?” I said, “Yes, I do.” He said, “Follow Me.” And from that time on He’s been delivering me slowly from homosexuality. It’s been almost four years now.

You’ve just heard the voice of Roger Montgomery, who died of AIDS on Monday at the age of 33. He represents a wonderful testimony of how God did deliver him from homosexuality, how he overcame homosexual temptation. A remarkable story of God’s ability to deliver people from sins and addictions! And that is my topic today – Fatal Addictions.

We are acquainted with the word addiction. We all know that it refers to compulsive destructive behavior. We’ve always heard of alcoholics, but today we have workaholics, and we have sex addicts, and we have people who are into gambling. And we have food-a-holics, I guess I should say, and all of that is a part of society today, and we hear a lot about it.

I wonder if it is true that addiction is on the increase. I think it may be, first of all, because of the availability of drugs and pornography and all of the things that sometimes are used in addictions. There is a second reason why it’s on the increase, and that is because of the breakup of the family, because there is nothing that provides the seedbed for addictions in a more powerful way than a dysfunctional family.

In his book on sexual addictions, Patrick Carnes writes, “Sexual compulsive, like all other addictions, rests in the web of family relationships, and the more terrible your background, the more likely that you will find some kind of diversion, some kind of fulfillment through an addiction.”

There have been two approaches to addiction. In the early sixties it was fashionable to say that people are not really addicted to anything; they just have a disease. And so it was termed disease. And the idea was that if we call addictions diseases, it will make it easier for people to come forward to receive help, because after all, there’s nothing to be ashamed about if you have problems with your gallbladder, or you have the mumps. And therefore there should be nothing that you should be ashamed about if you happen to be into pornography or alcoholism or drugs. I can understand that reasoning, but along with making it easier for people to come out of the closet, so to speak, calling addictions diseases created another problem. It made deliverance more difficult because, first of all, people stopped taking responsibility for their sins. You and I are not really responsible if we catch a disease. But secondly, calling these addictions diseases began to effectively cut out many of the promises of the New Testament that were made by a very powerful Savior, namely the Lord Jesus Christ, because you see, the Bible nowhere promises that we are going to be delivered from all of our sicknesses. But it’s got dozens of promises that tell us we can be delivered from our sins, so we are not doing people a favor to label addiction by the word disease.

Let me speak very plainly today and tell you that addiction is really only another word for sin. I agree with Keith Miller who said, “Sin is the universal addiction to self that develops when individuals put themselves in the center of their personal world in a way that leads to abuse of others or self.” That is, after all, the root cause of addiction.

Now what we’re going to do today is to look very briefly at the way in which people slide into addiction. What are the steps that lead into the dungeon? Then we’re going to consider some of the secret chains that keep people in that dungeon. And finally I am going to give you hope. There’s a way out.

What are those steps that lead people to addictive kinds of behaviors, into deep sins, if you please? Turn to Romans 1 for just a moment. I know that whenever we think of Romans 1 we think of homosexuality because that’s what the Apostle Paul discusses there. What we have to understand is that his discussion of homosexuality first of all is a prototype of all other kinds of addictions and sins. In fact, that’s very clear because in verse 28 and following of the first chapter he lists 22 different kinds of sins, so it isn’t just homosexuality.

Secondly, it must be understood that when Paul gives this kind of a scenario, he is not talking about each and every individual homosexual. He is talking about how the human race itself has slid into the predicament, the morass, of sin. He says in verse 21: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God.” That’s where it all began—the dishonor of God. “And their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise (it says), they became fools.”

Now I want you to notice three exchanges that are made in the process. Verse 23: “They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images.” You can’t live without a God. Either your god will be the true God, or it will be the god of lust, it will be the god of desire, it will be the god of idolatry, or else you’ll be into the New Age Movement saying, “I am God.” Nobody lives without God. So they exchanged gods.

In verse 25, they exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Nobody who is into addictions is willing to face truth very easily. You believe lies because you tell lies to other people to cover your sin and you begin to lie to yourself. People always wonder why it is that those who are compulsive in their behavior, those who are into addictions, are so heavily into denial. It is because they changed the truth of God into a lie, and they begin to believe their own lies.

And then it says in verse 26: “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged (There’s the word again.) natural relations for those that are contrary to nature.” Every single addict is trying to meet legitimate needs in illegitimate destructive ways, and that’s why Paul, in the rest of the verses, can list all of those sins that flow from this kind of a lifestyle.

Two observations very quickly! Addiction is not new to the human race. It has been around from the beginning of time. Secondly, we must think of addiction in terms of a continuum. There are some people who are more addicted than others. There are some people who are addicted to some things that are much more difficult to get rid of than other things. Addicts are not some kind of strange people that come to us from another planet. Addiction is nothing more than human nature allowed to follow its own desires. That’s all addiction is. It is human nature without restraints. It is human nature taking the course of least resistance. That’s what addiction is. And that’s why addicts are all over the place. You work with them. They worship with us in church, and many of you live with them in your homes.

Let me illustrate it this way. Let us suppose that your life is a car, and you are driving along, and generally you can keep control of the car. And sometimes if it hits ice or mud, if you can, you regain control and keep it on the road. An addict is a person who has so relinquished the control of his life to an addiction that the steering wheel now is broken. The shaft is broken off so he can keep his hands on the wheel, but the wheel is disconnected from where he’s going.

Remember Ted Bundy who confessed to the murder of 28 young women? He got into pornography at the age of 12 and 13. He began to have those tremendous exhilarating experiences. He knew something of the euphoria of lust, and then discovered that after he had all of those experiences he needed something else to recreate the same euphoria, and began to visualize what it would be like to molest a child. And then he had to find out whether the imagination was as wonderful or greater than the actual molestation, so he had to do that. And then he began to discover that in order to create this same erotic euphoria he began to think about what it would be like to strangle a child. And that same euphoria that he had when he first picked up a copy of pornography was recreated in the strangling process. His steering wheel was detached from where he was going.

You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, not everybody who is into pornography ends up being a Ted Bundy.” That’s true. Thankfully that isn’t the case, but I want to say to you very clearly today that once you give up the control of your life to an addiction, it is no longer up to you to decide where your life is going to land. There are some people who lose control of their automobile, and they swerve into the ditch and they are scarcely harmed. Maybe just a few scratches! Other people lose control of their automobile. They go over the cliff and they land in the lake. Permanent damage! Other people lose control, and they are going along the road and they smash into another car and they kill innocent victims.

But here’s my point. Once you surrender the control of your life to an addiction, what happens to you is no longer up to you. It is now in the hands of forces that are totally beyond your control, and you will not be the one to decide whether you’ll get the little scratch or whether you’ll do permanent damage, or whether you’ll smash into somebody else and kill them. You are out of control.

Most addicts have some moment of truth when they regain some semblance of control. It’s the homosexual who wakes up some morning thinking he might have AIDS, the alcoholic who is fired from his job. It’s the adulterer who fears that perhaps his wife is going to find out about the relationship. It may be the child molester who fears that someone saw him. And so an addict wakes up some morning and says, “I’ve got to change.” He, for a brief moment, sees that he is indeed headed for the ditch. And so he says to himself, “I’m going to change,” and he regains control of that steering wheel for just a little while. And he finds out that he goes for several weeks, maybe even several months, without practicing his addiction. Ah! He has experienced the illusion of control. That’s all he’s experienced because after things begin to get better, and after his bills are paid and he gets another job and he finds out that his wife doesn’t find out about his relationship, he is going to take a greater risk next time as he once again seeks that exhilaration that comes from his addiction.

Let me ask you a question. Why doesn’t an addict simply walk away from his addiction and say, “Enough is enough?” Why doesn’t he walk away permanently? The reason is because there are chains that bind him, to whom he owes tremendous allegiance. And those of you who know addicts, you will know that an addict will steal, he will lie, he will cheat, he will manipulate. He will make you feel guilty for his problem. He will use every device known to man to savor that addiction, to protect it, to guard it, to hug it to his bosom. And he will not give it up easily. Why? It’s because an addict does not want to face those chains that bind him.

What are the chains? Let me list five of them very quickly. The first is that of guilt and shame. The addict violates his own standards. He knows better, whether he was reared in a Christian home or not. He violates his own standards. He knows that he’s violating God’s standards too. He also knows that his own conscience is being activated. He feels guilty, dirty, vile. So an addict has got all that in him, and that’s why he lies so easily.

You know, people say, “Well, how come he can tell so many lies?” My friend, his whole life is a lie. Telling a lie is no big deal, and a smart addict replays in his mind various conversations. He already comes armed with a pack of lies so that if someone begins to question him, he knows in advance how he’s going to answer so that he can get out of the truth. He’s bound by guilt and shame.

Secondly, he’s bound by euphoria. He’s bound by the euphoria, by the experience, by the in-rush of pleasure that he feels titillating his whole body as he’s involved in addiction. It’s a pleasure he can’t bear to be without. The voyeur who looks through windows may look through a window for three hours, standing there in excitement, already enraptured with euphoria, looking for perhaps 20 seconds of partial nudity.

You have the adulterer. Did you read the book that was written by our former police chief here, Richard Brzeczek? He and his wife wrote a book on sexual addiction, which tells about all of his affairs. Interestingly he says, “For me to make a phone call was the equivalent to a junkie shooting heroin.” And he said that when he didn’t reach one of his girlfriends he would actually cry and go into withdrawal. It was his shot of heroin, his exuberance, his excitement, his euphoria.

And what can we say about gamblers who have the excitement of taking risks and making a bet? What about the alcoholic who receives that exhilaration through the bottle? And that is why alcoholics become so absolutely terrified lest anything should every come between them and that precious bottle. They don’t want God, they don’t want their family, they don’t want anything to separate them from that which helps them get through one more day. The euphoria helps them to survive, feelings that the addict believes he cannot be without.

Yes, he’s bound by euphoria. He is bound by fear of rejection. Just put yourself into an addict’s shoes for a moment. What is it that an addict needs desperately? He needs to feel human, and nobody can feel fully human, nobody can feel fully fulfilled unless there is some other human being in the world who knows all about you and still loves you and accepts you, despite what you are doing. They don’t have to accept what you are doing, but they have to accept you. That’s the nature of personhood - to have other human beings know you and still love you. But an addict can’t have that. He fears that if he exposes his life to somebody he’s going to be written off as a sick pervert. He can’t stand the fact of exposing himself to people in terms of his own lifestyle and his own desires. And yet it is exactly that kind of friendship and openness that he desperately needs to get out of his prison.

Have you ever wondered why Alcoholics Anonymous is so successful? You see, they’ve been able to overcome that one problem. They’ve said, “Look now, if we get a group of alcoholics and they are all in the same room, any alcoholic that walks in knows that he’s going to be accepted because he is among those who are in exactly the same predicament as he.” And that’s why you have Alcoholics Anonymous, and you have Gamblers Anonymous, and now there are groups that are starting up for those who are into sexual addiction, all of which trying to create an atmosphere where there can be some honesty and still some acceptance.

Perhaps it should be a legitimate criticism of the church that these groups, in the past at least, have had to meet outside of the church, and they were begun outside of the church, because within the church where everybody walks in victory all of the time, and nobody has any problems, who in the world would want to share their addiction? Right? They are bound by fear of rejection! Bound by loneliness!

Now don’t tell me, “Oh yes, I know So-and-So and he was an addict and he was surrounded by people.” I do not mean that people aren’t around. It’s possible to have people all over the place and to be dying inside, because addicts feel genuinely that nobody really, really understands their point of view and what it is that is happening within their souls. Bound by loneliness!

And then the biggest chain of all—bound by a sense of worthlessness! Now, if you were brought up in a home where you were an abused child, where you were called names, slapped, beaten, irrational anger on the part of your parents, if you were abandoned and it was clear to you that you were a burden to your mom and dad—if all of that was true of you, how difficult it is for you to look at yourself and believe that there is something worthy about you! You feel like dirt and you act like the dirt that you feel is within your soul.

Now do you begin to understand why addicts find it so hard? It is because once you begin to deal with all of these chains, you find out that the painful experience of all that you’ve gone through, including perhaps hatred toward your parents and all of the excruciating experiences of life—the loneliness, the abandonment, the meaninglessness—all of that needs to be dealt with. And it is so painful that some people say, “I’ll hang on to my addiction rather than let go.”

Well, enough of the negative stuff! What is the way out? I want you to turn to 1 Corinthians for just a moment—1 Corinthians 6. We always think that sin is something new. We think it was invented by Hollywood. They didn’t invent sin. They just helped a lot of people do it better. First Corinthians 6! The city of Corinth had one thousand free prostitutes. Homosexuality was all over the place. The church was trying to survive in the midst of that environment.

First Corinthians 6:9: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived.” And my, how we have a lot of deception today. People commit all of the sins that are listed and they try to justify them before God, because they exchange the truth of God into a lie. But he says: “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers (We might like to add gamblers) will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Scholars wonder if this means that these kind shall never get to heaven. Well, obviously these kind shall get to heaven when they come to Christ, as Paul says in verse 11. But perhaps also inheriting the kingdom is different from entering it. But one thing is absolutely clear. When God lists these sins, He takes them very seriously and He is saying to us, “Please do not redefine these sins to make them look as if committing them is okay with God.”

And because I am in a hurry today I can’t list all of the examples that I hoped to give you of people who do that sort of thing. But now notice verse 11: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Scholars ask, “Why did Paul say those three words in that order?” He should have begun with justification, sanctification, and then being washed. But he begins with being washed. He begins existentially. That is to say, he begins with the people’s experience, and then he moves out.

He says, “You folks fit into that category,” and frankly I cannot think of an addiction that does not have its roots essentially in the sins that are listed. And he says, “But now you are washed.” Oh, what good news to an addict! All the pollution, all the shame! It’s like taking a hose and cleaning the gutter and just letting all of the dirt and the garbage run off as the clear water runs over the area that is being cleansed. You are washed! The shame has been taken away. All those voices that condemn you have been silent.

“You are washed,” he says. “You have been sanctified.” That means set apart. You are special to God. Do you know that that’s what sanctification means? It means being set apart, being honored. You know there are some people who are into art? And they have beautiful pictures in their home, and they have some pictures that are so big that when they build a new home, they build the home so that it will accommodate a particular picture. They say, “We want a spot for this picture,” and so they’ll deliberately accommodate that picture. Now if the picture could talk, if it could understand, it would feel important. It would say, “My goodness, I am being sanctified; I am being set apart. This owner thinks I am so special that he’s building a place just for me.”

Oh, imagine the good news to an addict. You are so special to God that God has set you aside for Himself. You are important. There is a purpose for which you can begin to live, and you do not have to spend the rest of your life in that awful, awful cycle of addiction, because remember an addict drinks to overcome the problems that have been created by his drinking. He gambles to make up for the money that he has lost in gambling. He’s involved in relationships because of the fact that his own relationship has been broken because of the relationships that he has. And now suddenly Jesus says, “I am going to set you free. You are going to be cleansed and set apart for God.” Special treatment! “You are justified,” Paul says. “You are declared righteous.”

Listen to me, my friend, those of you who are struggling with some kind of an addiction or some kind of a sin. Whether you want to think of yourself as an addict or not, get this good news. When God justifies a sinner He gives to all of them the very same righteousness and stature before God. Isn’t that good news? You know all of those religious types that have never had a problem in their life? They don’t get any other kind of righteousness than the righteousness of God, which is given to all the addicts who come to Jesus Christ.

Roger Montgomery was telling me about a pastor that he was being discipled with, and he said, “The worst thing that this pastor had ever experienced was some kind of an addiction to golf.” You know the type! They’ve never had a single temptation in their life. There really are no people like that. There are only people who pretend that that’s the case. Okay?

I want you to know I don’t care how deeply you have fallen and how many times you have failed. When you come to Christ you have credited to you the same righteousness that was received by Dwight L. Moody, the righteousness that is received by every single sinner, and God elevates you as a son of God and a joint heir with Jesus Christ, and you are given stature.

I don’t know if you noticed this or not, but I’m trying to wrap three sermons today into one and trying to do it all on time. Do you know what Paul continues to say in the rest of the passage? He says, “The whole Trinity is rooting for us and helping us.” He says in verse 15: “Do you not know that your bodies are a member of Christ?” And incidentally, if you are a member of Christ and I am a member of Christ, it follows by elementary logic that we are actually members one of another, and that’s why the body of Christ should be involved in helping people overcome their addictions.

He says, “We are joined to Christ.” In verse 19 he says, “We are indwelt by the Holy Spirit,” and in verse 20 he says, “You have been bought by God at high cost.” You are special to Him.” God the Son, God the Spirit and God the Father, all involved in a person who comes to Christ, tired of the chains, weary of the secretiveness of the whole experience, coming to a Christ that delivers.

I hope someday you listen to the whole interview that we had with Roger Montgomery, because you will find that after God saved him, for two years he went through (and these are his words) excruciating temptation. He said that it was so bad that he would call that pastor up and say, “I think that I am going to go into some of the areas of Chicago, and I’m going to seek a partner tonight.” And the pastor would say, “Stay exactly where you are because I’m coming to pick you up to take you to my home.” Slowly, as he began to understand the power of Christ, there was deliverance and there was transformation of his heart.

Let me speak plainly. Addiction is basically a battle between two gods. On the one hand you have the god of lustful desire, and that is being energized by the god of this world, called Satan. That car that is out of control, the propelling of your desires to be fed, only to discover that those desires are hungry and more hungry the next time around, and constantly on and on, being driven! That’s a God.

On the other side you have the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, who said of Jesus before He was born, “He shall save His people from their sins.” That’s what the Bible says. And Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” But in order to know that truth there has to be an exposure to the truth. There has to be a willingness to face the pain as you give yourself to Christ after having received the free gift of eternal life that He grants to all those who believe on Him.

What did Roger Montgomery tell us? He was kicked out of a Bible school for homosexuality. He understood the doctrine of justification by faith, but in the back of his mind he always thought that he had to change first to get good enough for God to accept him. Thank God he was desperate enough one day to realize that that is terrible destructive theology. That’s why I like the words of the song:

Just as I am, without one plea,
but that Thy blood was shed for me,
and that Thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

You come as an alcoholic. You come as a sex addict if you please. You come as a homosexual. You come as you are, trusting God to do what you cannot. “Such were some of you, but you are washed.” Oh, imagine what that means. Sanctified! Set apart for God! Justified! And the whole Trinity rooting for you to make the transformation!

Let’s pray together.

Our Father, we pray for those who have been bound for years with various hidden sins, addictions, whatever we may call them. We think of those who have lied to cover their sin. They’ve made excuses. They have changed the truth of God into a lie. We pray today that You will just help them to walk free. In the name of Jesus, we pray that the chains that have so securely been riveted around them will suddenly be broken off, and the power and the cleansing of Christ will change the human heart. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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