When I’m counseling and establishing goals for somebody who’s struggling with a drug addiction, or has in the past and is now clean, I really keep it simple. There are just five fruits of repentance that I look for. They’re based on Matthew 22:37–40 (ESV), which says: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
I want those people struggling with addiction to love God with all their heart, all their soul, and all their mind, because they have loved their idolatrous pleasure—the object of their addiction—with all their heart, with all their soul, and with all their mind. So now it’s all about transferring that great passion—that passionate commitment to the idolatrous pleasure—and transferring it to the Lord.
1. Is there humility?
The first thing I look for is humility, which shows they’re not feeling like they are entitled or that they deserve more. Instead, they need to think about what they have been given. They’ve been entrusted by God with the treasure of life and of living for Him. One of the problems with some of the current Christian addiction programs is that some of them really just foster living for self, even though the addicts have technically “recovered” or “achieved sobriety.” They might not be doing drugs anymore, but they are still just living for self.
I do want them clean and sober, but that’s not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is for them to live for the glory of God and to become more like Jesus Christ. We’ve got to get them to love God—and to love God with reckless abandon. Ironically, they did that very well with their idolatrous drug of choice. Now they’ve got to do it for Jesus. Many are sort of committed to God, but they’re not all the way committed. They don’t want to pour out all their alcohol. They keep a little stash somewhere. And so, you’re helping them to live in a humble way, in dependence upon God.
2. Is there a willingness to serve others?
The second part of that passage is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The addicted person really does love him- or herself. It may not look like it. It may look like self-loathing. It may look like self-pity, but even that translates into, “I deserve better than what I’m getting.” And so, you’ve got to get addicted people out of themselves, loving their neighbors, by finding ways for them to serve.
I find that people who have struggled with addictions have great gifts. They might not be the most organized people. They might not be the people you would pick to be Bible study teachers. But they can greet people. They can serve on different projects, perhaps doing outreach or another aspect of service. If I can get them loving other people and serving other people, then that is a win. The focus is not turned inward where they’re looking at themselves morbidly, but they’re looking outward at, Whom can I serve? They will need to be forewarned, however: they’re going to have to fight that temptation to go back to pleasing self and living for self.
The last three fruits of repentance are from Ephesians 5:18–21 (ESV), one of the quintessential passages for addiction. That passage says,
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
3. Is there a growing sense of responsibility for oneself?
Out of those verses there are three fruits that I really want to see. One is that they’re responsible—that they’re taking ownership for their lives. Too often people who habitually get drunk with wine think like victims. They might have been victimized. But, beyond that, they’ve learned to think about life as though they’re just a pinball, bounced around in the pinball machine. They feel like everyone is hard on them; they’ve been dealt a bad hand, that kind of thing. Thinking change is beyond their control, they do not take steps to change what’s going on in their lives. I often see such a victim mentality, and I want to combat it with one of being responsible and obedient to Christ. When I see someone who’s taking responsibility and not blame-shifting, not trying to play a victim card, then I know that person is doing well. That person is being transformed and is living in a different way than when he or she was addicted and living in idolatry.
4. Is there an attitude of thankfulness?
The next fruit I look for is being grateful. I find that people caught in addictions tend to have a “woe is me” mentality. However, if all they see is themselves and what they want, then they miss all the blessings that God is giving them. I think that’s a big part of what trips up addicts. So I want to help them cultivate a grateful heart.
5. Is there a submissive spirit?
The final fruit I look for is submission. Fools and rebels may be very bright intellectually, but they’re living in a way that’s against God’s Word. It’s foolish to do that. On the flip side, wise people might not be the most intelligent, but they’re obedient and submissive. That’s what I’m looking for. I’m looking for someone who says, “I don’t have all the answers. I can’t do this myself. I need God. I need the church. I need the body of Christ to help me.” Those are the things I’m really pushing for and listening for.