This post is from chapter 11, “Hello, My Name is _____ and I am
an Addict Transformed,” from my book, Gospel-Centered War: Finding Freedom from Enslaving Sin.
The Bible does not deny that we were various things—addicts, homosexuals, hateful, prideful, pornographic masturbators—but that is what we were (past tense) (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Titus 3:3-5). The emphasis in Scripture is on what we are and what we are called to be. The Christian does not say, “Hello, my name is _____ and I am an X Y or Z.” The Christian says I was dead, but now I am alive. The Christian says I am a struggling sinner, yet I am a saint. The Christians says, I am a new creation; I am transformed.
We must remember however that we are “simultaneously saint and sinner.” This is the biblical balance. We are holy in Christ and yet we are progressively becoming holy (see 1 Cor. 1:2; Heb. 10:14). I like how John Owen says it: We, who are freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it our business all our days to kill the indwelling power of sin.
Paul wrote a letter to a church located in Ephesus back in the day. The people there had many struggles. Many of them use to worship various false gods and perhaps were even involved in cult prostitution. But you know what Paul called them when he wrote to them? He called them “God’s beautiful creation,” “God’s masterpiece” (Eph. 2:10). He didn’t say, “Now church, make sure that you are constantly reminding yourselves that you were part of the occult. In fact, when you meet together say, ‘Hello, my name is ______ and I am an occultist.’” No! He said, “You are new! In Christ! Transformed!”
One of the problems in claiming the identity of “addict,” “alcoholic,” or “overeater” is that we deny that addiction is a habit that can be finally overcome. I am not saying it won’t be a struggle. I am not even saying that it will even finally be overcome in this life. Yet, the Bible teaches the freeing and empowering truth that in Christ we are currently a new creation. It says we are adopted children of God. We are even God’s beloved; His treasure.
Labeling may not seem like a big deal but it is. In hospitals, it is important for people to be labeled correctly. If someone has a gunshot wound on their leg, they should not be taken to a cardiologist and someone that has the flu, they should not be life-flighted. Labels are important for treatment. Labels are important for our own treatment. The treatment of ourselves. How we look at ourselves, talk to ourselves, think of ourselves.
The Bible talks about sin. Actually, quite a lot about sin. It talks about the deceitfulness of sin, the sin that sticks so closely, our sin natures, and various specific sins among other things. But it does not talk about us now being identified as sinner; addict, overeater, alcoholic, or otherwise. Instead, our identity is in Christ and Him alone.
Labeling and identity are not abstract theological concerns. They are practical. We desperately need not just help in life, but a new life. We need transformation. Christ gives us this.
The scope of recovery is… radically extended within a Christian view of addiction. Indeed ‘recovery’ does not sufficiently name the Christian hope in the face of addiction. Instead, the Christian hopes for ‘discovery’ and ‘new creation’—not a return to some maintainable equilibrium between who we are and what we want but rather a transformation of the self that brings who we are and what we want… into perfect coordination and harmony.
The Bible doesn’t primarily keep us from sin by reminding us of what we were when we were dead. It doesn’t have us repeat the dreary mantra, “Hello, my name is _____ and I am a(n) _____.” And for that I am glad. That is depressing. The Bible instead says things like this:
- Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and… be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and… put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:22-23).
- Be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1).
- At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (Eph. 5:8).
The Bible says we are, in the Lord, a new creation (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). The Bible says that we are progressively being transformed into the image of God. The Bible says that eternal serenity is available to us in Christ. “The mercies of God work to forgive and then to change what is deeply evil… Christ’s grace slays and replaces (in a lifelong battle) the very lusts that [we have]… We can be fundamentally rewired by the merciful presence of the Messiah”
The Bible has taught me to say, “Hello, my name is Paul and I am transformed.” I was a lot of things. But now I am a new creation in Christ.
“Mr. Writer Guy, I believe in Jesus but I don’t feel very transformed. I understand that we’re simultaneously saint and sinner but my sinner side shows itself a lot more often. I understand that we are holy, right now through Jesus, and yet called to be progressively holy. I, however, am not progressing; or not very much. I feel defeated. I don’t feel like saying, ‘I am transformed.’ I feel like saying ‘I am an addict.’ So, if I am transformed, can you help me be more transformed? Can you help me in my everyday practice?”
I agree that sometimes it feels like there is a gulf between the fact that we are transformed through Christ and yet called to be transformed. However, it is a biblical truth and, thus, a practical truth. Let’s try and see how practical it is.
Very often we respond to our sin with mental punishments. We get wrapped up and warped with stinking thinking. Thinking that is negative and not biblically informed.
When I was younger I remember being greatly discouraged by stinking thinking. I thought because I was wrestling with pornography that I couldn’t worship the Lord, I couldn’t go to church (or at least enjoy it), I couldn’t go to the Lord for help because I was so dirty. My stinking thinking contributed significantly to my depression and hopelessness. My stinking thinking greatly hindered me.
Admittedly, it is difficult to come to the light and have our sin exposed. It can be difficult to go to church and feel overwhelmed with conviction. And yet we all need the light. We need to have our works exposed (cf. Jn. 3:19-21).
We also need the gospel. We need to remind ourselves that Jesus came for sick sinners. He came to help us, free us. We need to fight against the temptations of stinking thinking and work at kneading gospel truth deep within our core. We need to remind ourselves that our identity, righteousness, and sufficiency are ultimately not grounded in ourselves but in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians teaches us that we’re blessed in the Beloved, that is, in Christ. If you are a child of God, you don’t lose your status… God doesn’t un-adopt. When God sees those in Christ He says, my beloved son/daughter, in whom I am well pleased (cf. Matt. 3:17; 17:5; Mk. 1:11; 9:7; Lk. 3:22; 20:13; 2 Pet. 1:17). This is not because we are innately good but because Jesus is, and we are united to Him.
The story of the prodigal son is relatable for many of us (see Lk. 15:11-32). Many have left the good provision and company of our Father to seek out a more fulfilling life elsewhere, like in a pig trough. Many of us relate to the son that left. We feel the weight of his foolishness, because it’s ours too. However, we must not just focus on the son’s actions. That would miss a very important part of the story. We must remember that the father, who represents God the Father, ran to and welcomed his son. He even threw a celebration. Stinking thinking remembers the foolish action but fails to remember the Father that celebrates.
Stinking thinking and mental punishments are not helpful because they are man-centered and self-centered. Instead, we need to be Christ-centered. We need to consciously remind ourselves of Christ, what He has done, who we are in union with Him, and the way in which we can be transformed more and more into His image. We need less stinking thinking condemnation and more confession. We need genuine godly sorrow and not just worldly sorrow (note the difference in 2 Cor. 7). We don’t need condemnation. We need Christ! We need to focus on Him. Go to Him for help and repentance.
It is crucial that we see the importance of the fact that we are transformed in Christ. This realization helps us focus on Christ and not be self-condemning. It helps us have the necessary endurance to put the “action steps” into action even after we fail. Remember, we are God’s “handiwork” (Eph. 2:10) and we are created for good works, yet, we are clearly not saved by them (Eph. 2:8-9).
- Where do you place your identity? It is easy to think that what is most fundamental to who we are is that we are/were addicts, overeaters, or abused. That is not While it is true that these things have a significant impact on us they are not what is most fundamental to who we are. These things should not be where we find our identity. We are to find our identity in Christ! He loves us! He died for us. And through Him God—God!—welcomes us in as His beloved and precious child. We are not orphans, castaways, unloved. We are God’s artwork. This, my friend, is where we must place our identity and see our significance.
- Pray that God would give you an overwhelming sense of joy over the transformation and new identity that you have received in and through Christ.
- Read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (cf. Titus 3:3-5). Paul, here, gives an example list of various sins. Add your own sin to Paul’s list in verses 9-10. Maybe for you, it’s fits of rage, maybe it’s substance abuse. Meditate on the fact that left to ourselves, we would have no hope, we could not inherit the Kingdom of God. That describes our old ways. Now, read verse 11, and rejoice! We are new and being made new through Christ!
 John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation, ed. Kelly M Kapic and Justin Taylor (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 47, 50.
 Kent Dunnington, Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 183.
 Powlison, Seeing with New Eyes, 147.
 Cf. Heath B. Lambert, Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 25.
 Ibid., 26