Our Doctrinal Distinctions

A Biblical Philosophy of Addiction

Biblical Presuppositions about the Nature of Man

“Biblical presuppositions” are Bible truths that provide the lens through which we view the Christian life and the world we live in. 

1. Man is a Created Being

-- The word man in the Bible often refers to mankind, which includes both men and women (Gen. 1:27)    

     a. God created all things
  • Genesis 1:1
  • Psalm 33:6-9
  • Colossians 1: 15-17
  • Revelation 4:11
     b. God created man as an image-bearer of Himself—relational, rational, emotional, moral, spiritual, etc.
  • Genesis 1:27
  • Genesis 5:1-3
     c. God created man as a co-ruler over the earth with Himself—responsible, accountable, etc.
  • Genesis 1:26-28
2. God Created Man as a Dependent Being  
God made man to need something outside of himself and outside of the created world in order to have fulfillment and satisfaction with his life.
  • Ecclesiastes 12:13–14
  • John 10:7–11
  • John 15:1–5
3. Man is a Fallen Being
     a. The Fall corrupted man’s nature, which inclines man to live independently of God
  • Genesis 3
  • Proverbs 1:24–25
  • Romans 3:10-18
  • Romans 7:18
  • Romans 8:7
     b. Man’s sin alienates him from God, leaving him disconnected from the only true source of fulfillment and satisfaction in life.
  • Jeremiah 17:5–6
  • Romans 1:28
  • Ephesians 4:17–19
     c. Man’s rebellion drives him to turn to something within the creation for fulfillment and satisfaction—an experience, a relationship, or a substance.
  • Romans 1:21–25
  • 2 Timothy 3:1–4
     d. Man’s dependent nature enslaves him to whatever he chooses to make life work for him.
  • Proverbs 1:31
  • Romans 6:16, 19–23
     e. Man is most prone to turn to mood-altering experiences and substances when he experiences profound losses, hurts, and hardships.
  • Isaiah 55:1–2
  • Jeremiah 2:13
4. God made man as a two-part being—material (body) and immaterial (soul/heart)
     a. God created the human body to be a servant to the human heart. The body carries out what the heart initiates. Believers are accountable to God for what their hearts choose to do with their bodies.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:19–20
  • 1 Corinthians 9:25–27
  • 2 Corinthians 5:10
     b. The body can be a stumbling block to the heart.
  • 2 Corinthians 4:16–18
     c. The heart can be a stumbling block to the body (worry can influence sleep loss; anger can elevate blood pressure; drug use destroys health, etc.).
     d. Most of what the world calls mental illness are problems of the soul—anger, anxiety, guilt, shame, despair, violence, hatred, bitterness, self-injury, defiance, lack of self-control, lack of resilience, and so forth.

Biblical Presuppositions about the Redemption and Restoration of Man

1. Fallen man is under the just wrath and judgment of God for his mutiny against his Creator.
  • John 3:18–20, 36
  • Romans 1:18
  • Romans 6:23
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:7–9
2. God is on a mission to redeem and restore fallen people to the likeness of His Son to the praise of His glory. 
  • John 3:16–17
  • Philippians 2:5–16
  • 1 Peter 2:9
3. The sinner’s repentance before God for his rebellion and his faith in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross on his behalf are the only starting place for a life that pleases God and for personal freedom from enslaving sins. 
  • John 3:36
  • Ephesians 2:1–10
4. Believers find freedom from sin only in Christian maturity—the development of Christlike character in redeemed man through progressive sanctification. 
  • 2 Pet. 1:1–15
     a. Walking in the Spirit is the only deterrent to giving in to the desires of the sinful nature. Sin is always a choice, no matter how powerful the internal bodily or external social, cultural, or economic influences to do wrong.
  • Gal. 5:13–26
  • Eph. 5:1–18
     b. The disciplines of the Christian life—Bible-reading/study, personal fellowship with God in prayer, and assembling with God’s people for accountability and for instruction from God’s word—are the only means for knowing God and for growing as a Christian.
     c. Sobriety without restored relationship with God falls short of God’s plan and is a further manifestation of the person’s determination to live independently of God even though it produces a better citizen, spouse, parent, or employee, and more peace of mind in the individual.
  • Psalm 1
  • Psalm 119
  • Acts 2:46
  • Hebrews 4:15–16
  • Hebrews 5:12–14
  • Hebrews 10:25
     d. A believer’s primary identity is not his enslaving habit (e.g., “I am an alcoholic;” “I am a cutter;” “I am an angry man”) but his identity in Christ (e.g., “I am a redeemed and forgiven child of God”).
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17
  • Galatians 6:24
  • Ephesians 1

Biblical Presuppositions about Ministry to Addiction Sufferers

Biblical Counselors Understand the Distinction Between Physical Dependence and True Addiction

1. Physical dependence occurs when drug use develops tolerance (and its subsequent withdrawal discomfort) as the body begins to depend upon the drug to feel normal. (Recreational use of opioids can quickly develop into both dependence and addiction at the same time.) Most patients prescribed narcotics do not welcome the negative side effects (drowsiness, sedation, brain fog, etc.) because they interfere with normal activities (family, job, hobbies, sports, etc.). Though these patients may develop dependence, they are not necessarily addicted.[i] Physical dependence is treated by detoxification, which must be medically supervised when a drug’s withdrawal has possible severe side effects.

2. Addictions occur when the experiences—the mood-altering or mind-numbing side effects of a drug or other behavior—are welcomed as a means of dealing with problems which can be resolved only in the soul (guilt, shame, loneliness, boredom, anger, anxiety, fear, despair, etc.).[ii] Some secular experts call this “true addiction” or “psychological addiction.”[iii] The enslaved individual is depending upon his own strategies to find joy, peace, and fulfillment apart from God (Jeremiah 2:13; Proverbs 3:5-6). The desire-driven repetition of the activity becomes a compulsive behavior as the body reinforces the choices of the heart through a learned process of habituation. The person is now addicted (enslaved) as sin “reigns” in his body.[iv] Addiction requires heart transformation through progressive sanctification.

3. The single most important predictor that someone will relapse after treatment is the faulty belief that addiction is a disease.

                 “The only pretreatment characteristic that predicted relapse, six months after concluding outpatient treatment for alcohol dependence, was ‘the extent to which clients endorsed disease model beliefs before entering treatment.” 

Marc Lewis, The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease (NY: PublicAffairs, 2015) quoting William R. Miller, Verner S. Westberg, Richard J. Harris and J. Scott Tonigan, “What Predicts Relapse? Prospective Testing of Antecedent Models, “Addiction 91 supp. (December 1996): S155-171.    

Neither science, rightly interpreted, nor the Bible presents addiction as a disease.

[1] The word man in the Bible often refers to mankind, which includes both men and women (Gen. 1:27).

Biblical Counselors Understand the True Nature of Addiction—Mishandled Trials and Temptations

1. Trials are the hurts and hardships we face because we live in a broken, fallen world with our own sinful natures, and we live among others who sin against us because they have sinful natures.

2. Temptations are the enticements from the world around us and from our sinful hearts inside us to ignore God’s love for us and to violate His laws to get what we want (James 1:14-15).   

The desire can be a sinful desire or a legitimate desire supersized by covetous thinking. In either case, the temptation is to pursue the desire independent of God.

3. Soul problems drive addiction. Temptations to pursue the desires of the body (pleasure), the desires of the eyes (possessions), and the pride of life (control and glory) by disobeying God’s Word are problems rooted in the soul/heart (1 John 2:15-17).

In addition, the Bible speaks to many other soul problems: guilt and shame, loneliness, anger, worry and anxiety, despair, hatred and bitterness, etc. Soul problems cannot be solved by putting a substance into our bodies, isolating our bodies, or injuring our bodies. Only Jesus Christ can resolve soul problems.

4. Definition: Addictions are the compulsive, sinful habits we develop when we repeatedly choose to deal with our trials and temptations in our own ways rather than turning to God and His Word for solutions.    

5. Addictions, therefore, are not psychiatric disorders or diseases; they are dependency disorders of those who have forsaken God’s rule and sought solutions to soul problems by living independently of God (Jeremiah 2:13).

6. Biblical counselors understand addiction as slavery to sin (Romans 6) and, more importantly, a turning away from God to strategies of our own design to face life’s challenges (Jeremiah 2:13). Addiction is grown-up sin (James 1:14-15).

Biblical Counselors Understand That God’s “Recovery Program” is Sanctification (John 17:15–17).

1. God’s goal is the redemption and restoration of the sinner to relationship with Himself—not mere sobriety.

     a. The primary need for every fallen human being is for personal salvation from the penalty and power of sin through a restored relationship with the person of Jesus Christ through faith in His atoning sacrifice for sin on the cross

  • 1 John 5:11–12

     b. Man does not find the fulfillment God created man to experience and does not find freedom from enslaving behaviors in a program, a facility, or a relationship unless that program, facility, or relationship points the sinner to Jesus Christ for salvation and points the sinning believer to Jesus Christ for His sanctifying work as the believer takes on His character and lives under His rule 

  •  John 14:6
  • Acts 4:12
  •  2 Peter 1:1–15
  • Ephesians 4:13
  • Colossians 3:12–17

2. “Sanctification is that process whereby the Spirit of God (the agent) uses the Word of God (the means) to make the people of God (the subjects) like the Son of God (the model) amidst the circumstances we face in the providence of God (the context).” [1]

3. Change begins with confessing our inherent mutiny and independence from God and His truth and forsaking lies by renewing the mind and obeying God’s Word in the power of God’s Spirit.  

  • Proverbs 28:13
  • Romans 12:1–2
  • 2 Corinthians 10:4–5
  • Ephesians 4:22–24
  • James 1:21–25
  • 1 John 1:6–10

4. If we are to minister effectively to believers trapped in enslaving sin, we ourselves must be conversant in and participants in the sanctification process, and we must saturate the environment and experiences of our counselees with the Bible’s teaching on sanctification. Therefore…

     a. Because the Agent effecting biblical change is the Holy Spirit, we must personally respond to His work of conviction showing us our sin; His work of illumination showing us the Savior in the Word; His work of assurance showing us our security in Christ; His work of intercession for us before the Father; and His work of empowerment giving us grace to do what God requires. Furthermore, we must emphasize the great hindrance to sanctification that both grieving and quenching the Spirit produce and must model and call for believers to walk in the Spirit and thereby be controlled by Him.    

     b. Because the Word of God teaches us how to make biblical change, we must skillfully use it to    

  1. Teach doctrine—The Bible teaches us what is right.
  2. Reprove—The Bible teaches us where we are wrong.
  3. Correct—The Bible teaches us how to make the wrongs right.  
  4. Instruct in righteousness—The Bible teaches us how to keep it right (2 Tim. 3:16, 17)   

Since these functions of the Word equip a believer “for every good work,” we must revisit them often with those we teach and disciple.

We must regularly urge with all gravity those we teach and disciple to daily read, study, and meditate upon the Word to treasure its teachings in the heart and to consistently attend the services of the church, whereby they will hear the Word preached and taught.

     c. Because “God is on a mission to redeem and restore fallen people to the likeness of His Son to the praise of His glory,” we must know much about the Son of God and must build a vibrant personal relationship with Him. Only by beholding Him in the Word with illuminated understanding, communing with Him, and obeying Him will we change into His image    

  • 2 Corinthians 3:18

Christlikeness is measured in virtues. Christ’s character is summarized in Peter’s essential virtues: a settled purpose to be like Christ (virtue), knowledge of Christ’s person, work, and ways, self-control, endurance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love.

  • 2 Peter 1:5-7

These virtues form the basis for Christlikeness and equip the believer to fulfill the first and second great commandments—passion for God and compassion for others.    

  • Matthew 22:37-39

Effective disciple-makers must know how to recognize and foster the growth of these virtues in themselves and others.

     d. Christian growth takes place within the milieu of life (James 1:2-4). The Creator’s superintendence of His created world is called the providence of God. We must demonstrate knowledge of and confidence in God’s sovereign and loving control of our lives by a trusting and obedient yieldedness to the circumstances He arranges for us.

Therefore, we must teach and practice how to biblically forgive an offender, effectively resist temptation, and joyfully suffer loss. Those we teach must also be taught that bitterness, anger and resentment, despair and discouragement, and worry and fear all indicate failures to meet the circumstances of life with God’s grace.

We want to fully cooperate with and encourage complete partnership with God in the mission to redeem and restore fallen people to the likeness of His Son.

God’s “support group” in this sanctification process is the local church.

  • Ephesians 4:11–16
  • Hebrews 10:24–25

Biblical Counselors Understand That Mankind Can Flourish as the Creator Intended Only When…

  1.   he is reconciled to God through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:1-6).
  2.    he cultivates a daily, fruit-bearing relationship with His Savior (John 15:1-16).
  3.   his mind is governed by God’s thoughts revealed in the Scriptures (Isaiah 55:6-12; Romans 8; 12:1-2).  
  4.   his emotions reflect that he desires the same things God desires for him (Rom. 15:1-13; Phil. 4:4-13).  
  5.    his will makes choices that reflect a commitment to put God first in all things for God’s glory and not his own (Matthew 7:24-27; Romans 6; Galatians 6:7-9; Colossians 3:1-25).  

Recommended Reading

Biblical Counseling and the Sanctification Process

Jim Berg. Changed into His Image: God’s Plan for Transforming Your Life (Greenville, SC: JourneyForth, 1999, 2018), 350 pgs.

Robert D. Jones, Kristen L. Kellen, Rob Green. The Gospel for Disordered Lives: An Introduction to Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling (Nashville: B&H, 2021), 550 pgs.

Biblical Approach to Addiction Counseling

Jim Berg. Help! I’m Addicted (Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd, 2020), 60 pgs.

Mark Shaw. The Heart of Addiction: A Biblical Perspective (Bemidji, MN: Focus, 2008), 255 pgs.

Edward T. Welch. Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001), 293 pgs.


[i] “Physical dependence in and of itself does not constitute addiction but often accompanies addiction. This distinction can be difficult to discern, particularly with prescribed pain medications, for which the need for increasing dosages can represent tolerance or a worsening underlying problem, as opposed to the beginning of abuse or addiction.” Source: “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)” by National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA).

[ii] “Addiction is a human problem that resides in people, not in the drug or in the drug’s capacity to produce physical effects” (73). “Addictions are solutions to specific psychological conflicts” (97). (The Heart of Addiction by assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School and member of its Division on Addiction, Lance Dodes, M.D.)

Leading theorist, clinician, and prolific writer in the field of addiction, Stanton Peele, PhD. J.D., in his book, Outgrowing Addiction: With Common Sense Instead of “Disease” Therapy asserts, “People don’t become addicted to opiates as a rule because they have other purposes in their lives with which using the drug interferes” (40), and “What determines whether or not drug use escalates into addiction, and the prognosis once it has, is less to do with the power of the drug and more to do with the social, personal and economic circumstances of the user”(43). In his book, The Meaning of Addiction, Peele states, “Extensive research shows that addiction cannot be resolved biologically—lived human experience and its interpretation are central to the incidence, course, treatment, and remission of addiction. . . . The idea . . . that new genetic or neuro-chemical discoveries will eliminate this irrefutable truth is the greatest of all myths about addiction” (ix).

[iii] “An addiction, then, is truly present only when there is a psychological drive to perform the addictive behavior. . . (73). For this reason, I call behaviors in which this psychology is present true addictions, in contrast to cases in which there is only a physical addiction” (Dodes, 74).

[iv] The Bible’s imagery for this progressive habituation to sin is slavery (Romans 6:16-23). Former heroin addict, secular neuroscientist, and developmental psychologist, Marc Lewis, PhD., in his book, The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is not a Disease, states that habituation rather than disease is the mechanism of addiction. He says, “Calling addiction a disease is not only inaccurate; it’s often harmful” (9). “Brain disease may be used as a metaphor for how addiction seems, but it’s not a sensible explanation for how addiction works” (26). “Addiction results . . . from the motivated repetition of the same thoughts and behaviors until they become habitual” (x). “Medical researchers are correct that the brain changes with addiction. But the way it changes has to do with learning and development—not disease” (xi). Lewis continues with the following.

“People have referred to addiction as a habit throughout recent history. That’s just what it is. It’s a nasty, often relentless habit. A serious habit. An expensive habit. But what makes it so enduring, so relentless, so difficult to change? What makes it different from what we might call more benign habits? Three things. First, it is a habit of thinking and feeling—a mental habit—not just a behavioral habit…. Second, the feeling part of addiction always includes the feeling of desire, which is of course the theme of this book. And third, it’s a habit that becomes compulsive…. The brain is certainly built to make any action, repeated enough times, into a compulsion. But the emotional heart of addiction—in a word desire—makes compulsion inevitable, because unslaked desire is the springboard to repetition, and repetition is the key to compulsion…. To understand addiction, we need to see it as the outcome of a normally functioning brain, not a diseased brain.” (33).

Though not written from a biblical worldview, Lewis’s book is helpful in understanding how the body carries out the desires of the heart. God made the body to serve the heart. Choices of the heart are reinforced by the body—chemically/neurologically. The body (brain), once “trained” by a misguided heart, has to be “untrained” and “retrained” by a renewed heart through progressive sanctification.

Copyright 2022, Hope & Help Ministries, LLC (Jim Berg). All Rights Reserved.

Duplication prohibited without written permission

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