TAC Blog

Life Dominating Sins and Addictions

by: Julie Ganschow

Their idols are silver and gold, The work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see; They have ears, but they cannot hear; They have noses, but they cannot smell. They have hands, but they cannot feel; They have feet, but they cannot walk; They cannot make a sound with their throat. Those who make them will become like them (Psalm 115:4-8 NASB)

Part of the message of the Psalm is when a person places their faith in an idol of the heart to change them, make them over, or to lead them they become dumb, thoughtless, senseless and hard as stone. A life dominating sin affects everything. The things that usually come to mind are alcohol or drug use, but there are many other things that can be life dominating. Things like working, shopping, overeating, or over exercising. Ed Welch makes the following statement in the Preface of his book, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, “The basic theology for addictions that the root problem foes deeper than our genetic makeup. Addictions are ultimately a disorder of worship.”

Christians who struggle with addictions have managed to compartmentalize their minds and hearts. They have a heart that is dedicated to the worship of God on Sunday. While in church they truly mean the words of praise and adoration they utter. However, the rest of the week they live as functional atheists worshiping themselves as their own god, with their own rules and personal theology. They don’t see the conflict in their lives. This is because we are so easily self-deceived and have little trouble living a dual life.

The things we commonly consider to be addictions initially bring pleasure and positive emotional responses. Because we live in a culture that encourages self-indulgence, we place our pursuit of those things above responsibilities and even the people who are important to us. Addictions deliver an experience that the addict comes to crave and enjoy. However, over time the feelings change to the point the user feels trapped and enslaved. This brings hopelessness and panic.

Addiction is a life dominating sin that begins with succumbing to temptation. It is sin that attacks the will and the soul. Sin is our deepest problem and is fed by the heart which is the origin of all life dominating sin or addiction. Addiction is idolatry; the user has set her affections on something other than God.

The Holy Spirit urges us to obey Him and the flesh desires to pull the person in the other direction. This is a consistent battle of the Christian life in every situation. When our desires conflict with Scripture we do not always respond according to what we believe or think we believe. Our behavior betrays our words, revealing the real love of the heart.

For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please (Galatians 5:17 NASB).

This is certainly not a new problem, and to be clear, the problem is not the substance, the practice, or the person to which the affections are attached. The problem is the heart has begun to worship something other than God. The addict chooses to forsake the calling she has received from God to worship and glorify Him and has begun to worship the idols of the heart instead.

With any life dominating sin, the “cure” must come from within. The addict must make a choice to reject, defeat, and deny the craving or pull toward that particular sin. Changes come from an understanding of what God’s Word says about behavior, thoughts, and desires along with an internalizing and living out what the Scriptures say. The Bible is our weapon of warfare and also a guide to understand and conquer sin. The Christian is called to live for God’s glory and give Him the worship and honor He deserves.

I am not suggesting a simplistic Bible-band aid approach to a very difficult and complex problem. Everyone who is enslaved to sin in the way an addict is needs comprehensive help and attention. However, unless the counsel begins at the root of the problem – in the heart, there is little chance for total life change. For more on this subject I would recommend Edward Welch’s book, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave and Mark Shaw’s book, The Heart of Addiction. Both of these excellent books are available on Amazon.

Click to Tweet: The Bible is our weapon of warfare and also a guide to understand and conquer sin. The Christian is called to live for God’s glory and give Him the worship and honor He deserves. – Julie Ganschow #BiblicalAddictionHelp

Julie Ganschow has been involved in Biblical Counseling and Discipleship for more than 20 years. She is passionate about the critical need for heart change in a person who desires change in their life.

She is the founder and Director of Reigning Grace Counseling Center (ACBC & IABC Certified Training Center) and Biblical Counseling for Women. She has been writing a daily blog on counseling issues women face since 2008.

Her extensive training has led to an M.A. in Biblical Counseling; as well as, certification with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) and the International Association of Biblical Counselors (IABC). She also serves on the Counsel Board for the Biblical Counseling Coalition

Julie is a gifted counselor and teacher, has authored numerous books and materials for biblical counseling, and co-authored a biblical counseling training course. She is also a featured contributor in GriefShare and a frequent retreat and conference speaker.

She makes her home in Kansas City, Missouri with her wonderful husband Larry. Together they have raised 3 sons who have married and begun to bless them with grandchildren.

Find out more about Julie: Biblical Counseling for Women

Referring an Addict for Detox and Medical Care

by: Mark Shaw

Two questions I am often asked are, “When do I refer an addict I am counseling for a medical detox?” and, “What drugs require detox?” Since I am neither a medical doctor nor a medically-trained professional, my answers are straightforward and simple: always refer an addict to a medical doctor immediately for any drug use, including alcohol, which is a drug in liquid form.[1] Alcohol withdrawal is extremely dangerous and potentially life-threatening, though many in withdrawal from alcohol do not report feeling very sick. By contrast, opioid withdrawal is less dangerous and usually not life-threatening, though many in withdrawal from opioids report feeling so sick that they think they might die. Some of them want to die because of how sick they feel!

Medical Care

One of the malicious myths about biblical counselors is that they do not like doctors and won’t work with them. That is simply untrue. As a counselor, I have found working with medical doctors to be extremely helpful. Not only do addicted persons have detox issues, but they will have other aches and pains they have neglected for months (even years) that need the attention of a medical professional. Therefore, I refer them to a physician immediately and follow up with the counselee to make sure he or she is following medical advice. In some instances, I ask the counselee to sign a release of confidential information form, which allows me to speak to the physician directly. That’s extra work for me, but it’s worth it and is vital since the addicted person has lived a life of deception for so long.

Neglecting their bodies and physical health is very common for those enslaved to the idolatrous desires of addiction. A key component of beginning a lifestyle of transformation from idolatry/addiction to Christ-likeness is improving physical health by creating new habits of sleep, exercise, food intake, and other physical disciplines that help in the spiritual transformation into Christ-likeness. While I may monitor those physical disciplines in terms of adherence to what the physician has recommended, my focus is on the spiritual disciplines of fostering a lifestyle of prayer, Bible study, fellowship with believers, and the like. Spiritual growth is enhanced by adherence to physical disciplines and every counselee, addicted or not, will benefit from a commitment to both. Although my focus as a soul physician is on the internal character and heart issues of my counselee, having a medical physician focusing on the externals is also important.

Medical Care for the Soul?

The language in addiction treatment and rehabilitation programs is medical because of the disease concept of addiction, which is merely a theory or an idea of mankind. Sadly, the disease theory has been repeated so often that it is popularly accepted as fact now. I wish the Bible would be so easily accepted as true by popular culture — because it really is true!

Words like disease, recovery, addiction, treatment, rehabilitation, and alcoholism are examples of the medicalized vocabulary in the addiction world that point to a medical solution and away from Christ. Terminology is important, and 1 Corinthians 2:12-16 (NASB) makes it clear that there are two languages believers speak:

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.” (Underline emphasis mine)

There are several biblical words to be used when providing soul care for an addicted person. We don’t use the word disease, but refer to sinful habits of the flesh. Instead of recovery, which means to return back to your original state, the biblical concept is transformation into the likeness of Christ and a new creation. Treatment is another medical word that sounds really scientific, yet the irony is that a majority of programs use the same counseling methods that have been utilized unsuccessfully for years and are not based upon medical research but social research termed “evidence-based.” Social research is not the same as medical research and to use the phrase evidence-based for much of that research reveals a poor understanding of what is factual.[2]

The driving force of the concept of treatment is a good one because treatment programs focus on changing the cognition of the counselee first. Rehabilitation programs then take the next step by focusing upon changing the behaviors of the counselee secondarily. In other words, the thinking of the addict must change before the behaviors of the addict will change.

Likewise, in biblical counseling, we agree that the desires and thinking within the heart of an addict must change before the behaviors will change. We emphasize counseling that brings conviction where there are sin issues, comfort where there are suffering issues, and hope in Christ. But the terminology we use focuses on idolatry rather than addiction, since idolatry points to the heart issues involved while addiction points to a medical disease that has somehow attacked the person. The same is true for alcoholism, which points to a man-made concept of a disease problem rather than a heart issue that fuels the thoughts and behaviors of drunkenness. Use of the word drunkard sounds mean at first, but in reality, that word points to a solution found only in Christ, which is ultimately compassionate. Secular programs have to re-label biblical terminology because they do not have Christ to offer hurting souls! They do not share the gospel because it is not good news for the problem of addiction and alcoholism, though it is good news for the problem of idolatry and drunkenness.


If someone you counsel goes to a treatment and/or rehabilitation program, realize that the counsel they receive more than likely uses language that might sometimes be helpful to the extent of behavioral change and prolonging physical life. Counseling them after the completion of a non-biblical addiction program will require sessions dedicated to teaching and using new terminology. Be patient with them during this time and continue pointing them to Jesus Christ as the only answer for repentant sinners and to the Holy Spirit as the only comfort for the suffering saint.

Questions for Reflection

How do the words you choose to use in counseling point your counselees in a particular direction? Since working with a medical doctor is important in counseling an addicted person, how can you reach out to medical professionals in your community?

[1] Alcohol is a drug in liquid form, though our culture does not often view it in this way. Cough syrup contains codeine and other drugs and is thought of as a drug in liquid form. Our culture separates alcohol and drugs, but in reality, alcohol is a drug.

[2] This is a topic that needs an entire blog post or two of its own.

Click to Tweet: “We emphasize counseling that brings conviction where there are sin issues, comfort where there are suffering issues, and hope in Christ.” -Mark Shaw, DMin #TheAddictionConnection #BiblicalHelp4Addiction</a

TAC Staff Note: This article was originally published at BiblicalCounselingCoalition.org on September 15, 2017. View the original post here.

About Mark Shaw

Mark E. Shaw (D. Min.) is President and Founder of Truth in Love Ministries and The Addiction Connection. He resides in Florence, KY, with his wife and children. The author of 20 publications including The Heart of Addiction, Addiction-Proof Parenting, and Divine Intervention: Hope and Help for Families of Addicts, Mark enjoys speaking, training, and traveling for the purpose of encouraging and edifying local churches in their outreach to hurting souls.

Follow Mark on: Facebook  and  Twitter


by: Gregory Kirk

What an interesting word.  In fact, I am pretty sure I just made it up. However, my definition of demandingness is an “expectation that our demands will be met either by others or God.”

  • We demand that people treat us in the way we believe they should.
  • We demand that people support us in times of trouble.
  • We demand that no one comes close to hurting us in the way that we might have been hurt in childhood.
  • Wedged tightly in the recesses of our heart is this ugly splinter that, if not removed, will produce a poison that will infect every part of our lives.

The life of an addict is one of demand.  I want what I want, and I want it my way, in my time.  We see this demandingness in the life of Jacob.

Then Jacob made a vow: “If God will be with me and watch over me during this journey I’m making, if he provides me with food to eat and clothing to wear,
and if I return safely to my father’s family, then the LORD will be my God.  Genesis 28:19-21 (CSB)

Here Jacob says:

  • If God be with me.
  • If God watches over me.
  • If God helps me with this journey.
  • If God provides food and clothing.
  • If God allows me to return safely.

If God does all these things, then He will be my God.

Jacob is probably one of the clearest biblical illustrations of a demanding spirit.

  • He insisted on having his father’s blessing for himself and took advantage of his brother’s hunger, buying his birthright for a plate of stew.
  • Jacob went through a kind of half conversion, making God his God and giving Him a tenth, but deep in his heart there was still residing this spirit of demandingness.
  • It shows itself again at Paddan-aram where, after marrying Rachel, he worked out a scheme to make himself rich at his father-in-law’s expense (Genesis 30:41-43).

He was still Jacob—the man who demanded to have his own way.

He had talked about himself in terms of honesty—”my honesty will testify for me” (Genesis 30:33)—but it was nothing more than above-the-waterline honesty. His mind was changed, but not his heart.

Only when addicts overcome the self-centerless that addictions bring will they see healing and hope for a new life.

*adapted from Butlers Daily Bible Readings: Holman Pub 2014

Gregory Kirk resides in Ellsinore, MO.  He currently serves as Pastor/Executive Direction of the United Gospel Rescue Mission and Grand Avenue Baptist Church in Poplar Bluff, MO.  The UGRM offers a Transformed Life one-year residential program for men who are seeking change.  The Mission also serves a public meal daily at noon.  Gregory has been married to his beautiful wife, Pamela for forty years.  He is the father of three and grandfather of twelve.  He holds a BA Th from Fairhaven Baptist College, MA Pastoral Clinical Counseling from Jacksonville Theological Seminary and MA Christian Resources From Union University, Jackson, TN.  He is currently a D.Ed.Min candidate at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.  Greg has been in ministry for thirty years serving as Youth Pastor, Asst. Pastor and Senior Pastor of churches in Pennsylvania, California and Missouri.  Greg is a Registered Alcohol and Drug Counselor (RADC) and Medically Assisted Treatment Specialist (MATS) for the State of MO.­­