Key Idea: Some of the toughest people to try to help are those who refuse to help themselves. There is a way to think about them and possibly come alongside them, while trusting the LORD to bring the needed change.
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A true story: I sat across from Alan in my office. He was 38-years old, but you would never be able to guess his age. He looked fifty-eight. His drug addiction added at least 20 years to his appearance. It controlled him. My heart was aching for him.
Alan and I had been friends for over 10 years. We attended the same Bible college. The year we met in my office was 1999. It was a Thursday. I told him that if he did not get help for his drug addiction, it would kill him. I had no idea he would be dead within twenty-four hours.
He was found the next day in a hotel room, with syringes surrounding him on the floor. That was the third time in my life where I counseled a dead man walking. The first was my brother in 1987. We had a similar conversation in April of that year. I buried him in June. The second was my next brother who was murdered in 1997. I buried him in April.
Sin had gripped Alan’s mind and it was choking the life out of him. He talked about getting better, while making detrimental choices that were shutting out the help of those who loved him and wanted to help him.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:1-2 (ESV)
Alan was caught in his transgressions. Being caught in Galatians 6:1 does not mean I caught you as in you’re busted. It means you are ensnared; sin has a grip on you. Imagine strolling through the woods and finding a man sitting on the forest floor with his ankle caught in a bear trap. That is what caught means.
There was a time when Alan could do his drugs and be in full control of the situation. Then there comes a time when the soon-to-be-addict is no longer in control of his drugs. They take control of him. He becomes addicted.
Alan was fully caught in his addiction.
Was he a Christian? Probably. I don’t know. Maybe. He could have been. Being caught is not the exclusive domain of those who do not know Christ. Many of our Christian friends are similar to Alan. They are caught by something that they cannot extricate themselves from.
This is why the Apostle Paul was appealing to the Christians in Galatia to help people who were caught in addictive sin. In this article I’m going to give you five things to consider when helping a person caught in sin. This will not be an exhaustive list of things for the unchangeable person, but it will be an essential list.
- Understanding his problem.
- Is he a victim?
- Will he change?
- Predicting his future.
- God is jealous.
Understanding his problem
The first thing you need to understand is that his drug of choice is not his main problem. While the drug may be what you see and it may be what is frustrating you, the drug is merely the by-product of something that is broken in his heart. Notice how James frames this idea:
Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. – James 1:14-15 (ESV)
This is what I call the L.S.D. Passage: Lured, Sin, Death. James is saying that a man in an addiction is lured into his addiction by the twisted motives of his heart.
If his sinful desires are not mortified at that point, then they will mature and attach themselves to external things like (1) drugs, (2) alcohol, (3) anger, (4) shopping, (5) gossip, (6) impatience, (7) food, and (8) porn. If those desires and the complicating external problems persist, then it can lead to death, whether physical death or death of relationships.
The external addiction is not the main problem, which is why the amputation approach will not work (Matthew 5:30). Amputation may be a good first move, but it will not bring lasting change. You can see this as I paraphrase the counsel of James with the story of Alan:
Alan was tempted when he was lured and enticed by the desires in his heart. Those desires led him to do drugs and after his sin of choice was fully grown, it controlled him to the degree that it brought forth all kinds of dysfunction into his life, even death.
Alan’s heart was the source of his problems, which led to the dysfunction in his life. It would not work to simply take his drugs away from him, assuming that would make him better. Alan was caught from the inside out.
As you can see in the infographic there were many heinous undisclosed things going on inside Alan’s heart. He was addicted on the outside, but on the inside he was ensnared by less obvious sin patterns, and the accumulative effect of unresolved heart problems lured him to the point of using his drug of choice as a way to medicate his guilt, shame, insecurity, fear, discontentment, and frustration.
- How well do you realize that the source of our external addictions are inside of us?
- Are you able to discern some of the complicating heart patterns that feed our addictions?
Is he a victim?
One of the things I wanted to discern regarding Alan was how much of his problem was (1) character related versus (2) capacity or competency related. When helping someone like Alan it is important to understand who you are working with. Sometimes I state it by asking, Are you counseling Forrest Gump or Steve Jobs?
If it is a character problem, then it is a spiritual problem from which he can repent. If it is a capacity/competency problem, then he has a clearly defined ceiling, which will make it hard for him to repent (1 Thessalonians 5:14). If the only fastball he has is 65 mph then it would be unreasonable to mandate he throw faster.
- Is Alan completely unable to apply the truths that I am teaching him?
- Is Alan moderately able to apply the truths that I am teaching him?
- Can Alan excel in applying the truths that I am teaching him?
These are important questions. Therefore, I began asking Alan all kinds of questions about his life, hobbies, vocation, other activities, and even his relationships. I wanted to know if he had any game for anything.
I was wonderfully encouraged to know that Alan was quite competent. He had a high ceiling. He could do many things very well. For example, Alan loved working on cars. He was a tinkerer.
In his garage, he had several vintage cars that he had built. The more he talked about working on cars the more I realized that he did have a lot of game. Alan was not a buffoon, but highly competent. I began writing down categories that best described what he was telling me.
You can see in the sketch above that Alan was proactive, smart, pre-meditative, thoughtful, passionate, energetic, a planner, detailed oriented, and intentional. I told Alan,
If you pursued Christ the way you pursued your automotive hobby, you would be able to kick this habit.
Alan was not a victim after all. Though he was caught, he was able to respond to God’s Word. He could change if he wanted to.
- People are different. How well can you discern the uniqueness of the person you’re discipling?
- Are you comfortable separating character issues from competency issues? (See graphic below.)
Will he change?
While there are many things to be said about Alan’s heart and there were many things he needed to address in his heart, Alan had to first decide if he wanted to change.
Remember, Alan was not incompetent. If he could buy and build cars then he was quite qualified to work on his sanctification. He would have to choose if he wanted to build a new kind of life. This is where he needed to take his proactive skill set and pursue others to help him change.
He could not wait for the Christians to show up. He had to be the relational aggressor. It was his decision. Choosing not to be proactive in the change process could only mean it was not a can’t problem, but a won’t problem.
I appealed to Alan to get a new set of companions (1 Corinthians 15:33). Below is a list of friends that I suggested he surround himself with in order to be restored to God and others.
A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. – Proverbs 18:24 (ESV)
Predicting his future
During our times together, Alan clearly articulated how his life had been. He talked about all of the dysfunction, heartbreak, broken relationships, and other sadnesses that had come into his life.
Admittedly and humbly, he owned nearly all of his problems. I let him talk freely and at length about his life and the poor choices he had made. Then I said to him, “I can predict your future.” (See the infographic below.)
I told Alan that the timeline of his past would continue into his future and the things that have happened in his past will be recreated in his future if he chose to not change. We are what we have been and the general patterns of our lives will stay the same…unless……we choose to change.
The only thing that could alter Alan’s future from his past would be if he decided to repent. If he did that, then his future could be different from his past.
One of the saddest persons you’ll ever see is the person who comes to the end of his life and realizes how a slight change in a few areas could have altered the whole course of his life. It reminds me of Jesus making His heartfelt appeal to Jerusalem,
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing. – Matthew 23:37 (ESV)
God is jealous
There was an unspoken problem here: Alan was a Christian. At least he professed to be a Christian. I took that at face value, which meant his profession of Christ was juxtaposed to his lifestyle that was decidedly anti-Christ. Conclusion: Alan was breaking the First Commandment:
You shall have no other gods before me…You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God. – Exodus 20:3-5 (ESV)
Please understand, I’m not a fear mongering, negative person who manipulates people by evil tactics. I am a Christian who believes God and His Word, which means there is a way that seems right to a man, but that way is death (Proverbs 14:12).
Alan was dragging God’s name through the mud. He professed to be a Christian, but he was not allowing the Gospel’s transforming power (Romans 1:16) to change him. He had erected a competing god that was in opposition to the true and living God. That was an untenable position: The LORD will not compete with other gods.
If our primary job is to make God’s name great, which it is (1 Corinthians 10:31), then God will help us make His name great. We can either cooperate with Him in this process or we can leave it up to Him to choose how His name will be made great through our lives–even if it means removing us from this world because of our persistent sinful choices.
And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life. – (Judges 16:30)
Alan made his choice. And now, the most effective way his life can be used to make God’s name great is for the LORD to use this podcast, article, and infographics to attract caught people to Himself so they can be restored.
Note to helpers
Perhaps you know a person who is unwilling to change. I think most of us do. I was one of those unchanging people for twenty-five years. So were you. It happens. If you do know someone who is resistant to change, then here are a five things I appeal to you to think about:
- You can’t force righteousness. You cannot make someone change. Your job is to water and to plant, not to change them (1 Corinthians 3:6)
- You must be gentle with them (Galatians 6:1). If you get frustrated or impatient with an unchanging person, then you missed the Gospel (Romans 2:4). That is not the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
- You must guard your heart. If you don’t, you will be tempted to sin against them. If you do sin against them, then repent (1 John 1:7-10). You don’t need your sin convoluting an already bad situation.
- Be very clear with them. You can’t beat around the bush by diminishing the seriousness of their sin. God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:3-5).
- Rest in the sovereign choices of our merciful Father. Speak the truth in love. Be clear. Give them a plan. Rest in God.