Seeking Pleasure: addictions and the desires of the heart

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November 17, 2019

Romans 7:14-25

Allen Burns

Seeking Pleasure

Our church is embarking on a ministry called, Uplift. Uplift is a relational aftercare ministry for people recovering from addiction. It is our goal to help people break free from the chains of addiction through the transformative grace of the Lord Jesus Christ

Uplift is not a treatment program. The design of the ministry is discipleship in which we come alongside those who have gone through treatment and help them stay on their feet.

As part of our launch of the ministry, coinciding with our mission focus month, we are speaking about ministering to people who are in the bondage of addiction.

There is much to say on this topic. There is a multitude of books on the subject. There are hundreds of passages speaking about how Jesus sets us free. Because there is much to say, it is best to focus on one aspect, which is the main idea of the message this morning.

MAIN IDEA:  Know how to best minister to souls trapped in the bondage of addiction.

To keep our focus, we will answer three key questions.

  1. What is at the heart of addiction? (What motivates people to engage in the destructive behavior of addiction? What is going on in the heart? What does the Bible say?)
  2. How can we best minister to people with addictions? (The emphasis being on the word, “we.” We will examine ourselves as ministering agents.)
  3. How can we best minister to people with addictions? (The emphasis shifts to the word “minister.” What is the best ministry practice we can have with reaching out to help others?)

What is at the heart of addiction?

Everything we do flows from our hearts. Therefore, we need to ask, what is at the heart of addiction? What is going on spiritually in the life of a person who engages in addictive behavior?

There are hundreds of verses (well over 650) speaking about the heart. We are to watch over our hearts with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life (Pr. 4:23). Our heart leads us. Our heart directs our path. Anxiety, deceit, lust, tranquility, laughter, and wisdom are all in the heart.

Addiction is a heart issue. It behooves us to understand the heart of addiction.

The big picture

Everything was “very good”

To understand the heart of addiction, we need to go all the way back to the beginning and the creation.

God made the universe and placed Adam and Eve in a beautiful garden. God declares everything to be “very good” (Ge. 1:31).

God designs the physical body and the mind of Adam and Eve as pleasure-seeking souls. God designs us to be joyous creatures. When God finishes creation, there is nothing but pleasure and happiness for Adam and his wife, Eve. Adam and Eve enjoy God and His creation. They live a life of perfect worship. Life is full of joy.

Adam and Eve are designed by God to enjoy Him. God makes Adam and Eve (and all of us) with a hunger and thirst for pleasure, and He is the overflowing source of pleasure.

Let this Biblical truth sink in for a moment, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Ps. 16:11). Adam and Eve bask in the presence of God.

Sin enters the world

One day, something terrible takes place in Adam and Eve’s beautiful garden. Satan comes along and says, “All is not very good. It can be much better.”

Satan lies and says that more pleasure and happiness are available; God is holding out. The way to get more happiness is to eat of the forbidden fruit.

Adam and Eve believe the lie.

They look and discover the tree is good for food. Good things are pleasurable. The fruit is a delight to Eve’s eyes. Delight is good. There is pleasure in looking at the fruit. The tree is desirable to make them wise. Wisdom brings happiness. With all the new wisdom, we can learn new ways to get more pleasure and happiness.

Adam and Eve disobey God. They no longer trust God. Their God-given desire for pleasure is redirected away from the Creator and towards the creation.

When we believe the lies of this world, our desire for pleasure will lead us away from God.

We sin because we don’t believe obeying God will provide the pleasure we seek. We believe a lie that God is not good, and God does not want us to be happy.

Suffering enters the world

After Adam and Eve partake of the fruit, creation instantly changes. God ordains suffering.

No longer is everything very good. It is now both good and bad. There is now pleasure and pain. There are happiness and sorrow.

There is now the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve taste the sorrow of evil.

We are all familiar with the passage that speaks about the fall (Genesis 3:16-19). Pay attention to the introduction of words, which are the fruit of evil. Pain. Cursed ground. Toil. Thorns and thistles. Sweat. Death.

Suffering is a reality for those who choose to disobey God. Our life of suffering is a result of not believing God is our source of pleasure and happiness. Suffering results from disobeying God and allowing our desire for pleasure to find satisfaction in ways He forbids.

God ordains suffering to teach us that created things will not give us the satisfaction and pleasure we seek. Our pleasure and happiness are found in God first.

Satan knows God designs us as pleasure seekers. Satan hates God, and he lies to us and tries to make us think God does not want us to be happy. He wants us to believe that our happiness and pleasure are not from God, but everything else but God.

Running from sorrow – Running to happiness

Before the fall, life is simple. Pleasure and happiness surround Adam and Eve. They live in paradise at the right hand of God, where there is pleasure forevermore.

After the fall, Adam and Eve, and every person alive are banished from paradise. There is a new world. In that new world there now exists a dual reality.

On the one hand, we have the reality of suffering. Suffering comes about from those things that bring sorrow and sadness. We suffer from sickness, sweat, toil, pain, and death. We are not created for suffering. We are created for pleasure. We hate things that result in suffering. We avoid suffering at all costs. We run from suffering, and we warn others to run from things that bring suffering.

Don’t touch the hot stove. Don’t drink milk that is a month past the expiration date. Don’t drink and drive. Avoid this and avoid that. Don’t give me that, I hate it. We hate being lonely. We hate long car rides in the middle seat in the back of the car. We hate sickness and death.

Every one of us has a hate list of things we avoid because they bring suffering.

On the other hand, we have our love list. The love list consists of things in life that make us happy. We pursue those things we love. And, we pursue them with a vengeance. Why? It’s because God designed us toward this end. We are created to enjoy great things.

Our lives are nothing more than an endless stream of choices to avoid suffering and pursue pleasure. Every decision we make, every life choice is aimed at seeking happiness and pleasure. We involve people we trust in our decisions. Those we trust the most are those we believe will steer us in the right direction of pleasure and happiness. Our best friends and closest companions know what we love. They know what makes us happy.

Running finds addiction

At the root of addiction is our desire for pleasure and happiness.

Running from suffering leads to addiction. There is a reason we call medication, “pain relievers.” We might also call them, suffering reduction pills.

Addiction begins with seeking pleasure. All we have to do is name our poison.

Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. (John 8:34)

Ask the alcoholic, “What day was it when the Friday night of drinking became the weekend of drinking?” Ask the glutton, “When did you start sneaking food or making that solo-visit to the McDonalds drive-thru?” Ask the opioid user, “Do you remember what day it was when you decided that the pain reliever became an addiction?”

We know the answer to the questions. The answer is, “I don’t know.” All we know is that pleasure is replaced with suffering. One day I realized that I was a slave. Addiction became a master.

Nobody wakes up thinking, “I have an idea. I will become addicted to something I love. It will let it rule my life. I will allow my addiction to choose my friends. I think it will be good to spend all my money on my addiction. I don’t want to work, so I will spend time with my addiction and call in sick. Won’t it be great for my life to become completely shipwrecked by drugs, alcohol, porn, smartphone, video games, etc. etc. etc.”

Addiction does not make an announcement upon arrival. It sneaks in the back door.

Chances are every single person here can speak of suffering from personal addictions, or being in a relationship with an addict who is leaving a wake of suffering. 

The first point we need to remember with ministering to those with addictions is that addictions come from seeking pleasure and running from suffering.

How can we best minister to people with addictions?

 How can we best minister to people with addictions?

The majority of us are sitting here thinking, “How can I help? I have my hang-ups. How can I possibly help someone who is overcoming heroin? How can I help the glutton or the alcoholic?"

Remember where we came from and who we are

We need to remember where we came from. We were all once slaves of sin.

As slaves of sin, we could not escape. The Bible says that, “… we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Eph. 2:3).

There is only one reason we are not running about indulging our flesh and deeply caught in addictions. The reason is found in the two words at the beginning of Ephesians 2:4, “But God.”

God intervenes in our life. He lovingly gives us the gift of His Son, and Jesus sets us free.

With Christ, we are no longer slaves of sin, but we submit our bodies to righteousness.

As Christians, we are not perfect. We are still subject to our fleshly desires. Paul testifies that the addiction experience remains a Christian experience.

For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15) 

The only thing that is different between a Christian and an addict is the Christian is given the power by Christ to overcome. Without Christ, we are nothing. We may not look upon the alcoholic, drug user, video game addict, television binger, or the person caught in pornography as any less of a person. Not one of us can throw the first stone to condemn an addict

What we can say is, “There, but the grace of God, go I.”

How can we best minister to people with addictions?

We best minister when we are humble

We best minister when we are humble.

  • We are bought with a price. The Son of God had to die on the cross to save us from addiction. Jesus suffered and died because we did not turn to God in our pursuit of pleasure. We are all guilty. Salvation has a price, and it is the price of the blood of God on the cross.
  • We did not save ourselves. Other people did not save us. We cannot think we are so smart and wise that we, in our power, can help lift someone out of addiction. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot save others. There is no program, no special book, no special formula. There is only Jesus. All we have to offer is Jesus.
  • We still need a Savior. Just because we are saved, doesn’t mean that we have somehow arrived. Salvation is a call to humility. We do not lift people to our level. We are the last people to throw stones of condemnation. Jesus is patient with us. We need to be patient. Jesus forgives us. We need to be forgiving. Jesus did not strike back. We need to turn the other cheek. Ministry to the addicted is not an "us and them" ministry. It’s an “us” ministry.

The only people who are set free are the ones who Jesus sets free. And if the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.

How can we best minister to people with addictions?

 How can we best minister to people with addictions?

The way we can best minister is to be ambassadors for Christ. We represent the King of the Universe and His salvation. We tell others of a better way. His way.

We do not point people to church. We do not point people to ourselves. We point people to the cross.

Minister the truth

Addiction starts with believing a lie. We need to bring truth to all the lies. We need to tell people that Jesus is the truth.

We need to minister comforting words of truth to those who caught in the slavery of addiction.

  • You are not alone. Every person is born into bondage. The Bible says that the temptations you face are common. Every person who breathes needs to be set free. You are not alone, I want to be with you. I care.
  • You cannot save yourself. There is no amount of good works that will set you free. The flesh cannot overpower the needle, pill, drink, powder, or the computer screen. You have to surrender and drop to your knees and beg for salvation.
  • You need a Savior. You need a mighty warrior to fight the battle. His name is Jesus. Jesus fought sin, temptation, the grave, and He overcame. He is come to set the captive free. Trust Him with your life.

Tell them Jesus sets us free

Tell them that to look to the cross and see a Man. Look and see the suffering Christ. See the man who is despised and forsaken of men. See a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). We have a sympathetic Savior.

God’s purpose for suffering is to point us to Christ. God’s purpose for suffering is to help us see that we cannot save ourselves. When we suffer, we look outside of our situation and hope for something better.

We echo the words of the Apostle Paul who says,

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24)

Jesus can set us free from our body of death.

But remember, there will remain suffering while we are in this present body. Don't oversell Christianity.

Jesus reminds us, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).

In this world of suffering and tribulation, we have peace and hope. Jesus overcame the world and suffering. He gives us the victory. Our hope is not in this world, but in the world to come where we join Jesus in a perfect, joyous relationship.

Tell of the unfathomable riches of Christ

We need to tell those who we minister to of “the unfathomable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).

We are given the grace to share the unfathomable riches of Christ with others. And, oh, what riches. Our eyes are open to see the greatness of the riches of Christ. His riches are unsearchable and beyond human comprehension.

When we think of what is unfathomable for us to comprehend, perhaps the greatest thing is the universe itself. The universe is remarkably beyond our reach of understanding. It is so big that we find difficulty describing its enormity and its complexity. Yet, the Bible does not describe the universe as being unfathomable. The universe is finite. It is measurable.

There are two things the Bible calls unfathomable. One is God’s works and wisdom. The second is the riches of Christ.

Riches are a treasure. Imagine. We proclaim access to an inexhaustible treasure of riches.

“Come see the riches. There is enough here to have every need to be met. It is all free. The price is paid. It is yours for the taking. Come hear about this great gift from God.”

Here is a shortlist of the unfathomable riches:

  • Are you thirsty? Jesus is the giver of living water, and whoever drinks from Him will never thirst again (Jn. 4:14).
  • Are you hungry? Jesus is the bread of life, and those who come to Him will never hunger (Jn. 6:35).
  • Are you sick? Jesus is the Great Physician (Mt. 9:12; 4:23).
  • Are you anxious? Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6).
  • Are you insecure? Jesus is a mighty fortress and hiding place (Is. 25:4; 32:2).
  • Do you seek answers? Jesus is the truth (Jn. 14:6). In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3).
  • Are you dying? Jesus is the resurrection and the life (Jn. 11:25).

Jesus is the person at the center of our Uplift Ministry.

"Uplift your eyes and see Jesus!"

We help the addicted by first understanding that at the heart of addiction, is the pursuit of pleasure, and the running from suffering.

We best minister to the addicted by being humble, knowing we too need a Savior.

We best minister to the addicted by pointing them to the cross and telling them of the unfathomable riches of Christ our Lord and Savior.