On the Identity of Christian Addicts

    This article is written with the intent to help Christian addicts.  I have noted that there are many voices within Christianity saying different things about how to help addicts.  One point on which opinion is divided is how Christians in recovery should think of themselves.  There are those who believe that addicts should not think any longer of themselves as addicts.  There are those, such as the 12 steps, who advocate that addicts should forever identify themselves as addicts.  My opinion is that this unnecessary war over words is harming the recovery efforts of addiction counselors and Christian counselors as well.  As well, I believe my research suggests that neither side is completely correct on the matter.

Those who Believe Our Identity is Christ Alone

    Those who say that the Christian should no longer call or think of themselves as an addict range from helpful to divisive.
    In his book, Who Do You Think You Are?, Mark Driscoll states that “The problem with [twelve steps introducing themselves by their addiction] is that it supplants a true identity in Christ with an identity in sin” (pg. 35).  Joy Pedrow wrote “When we yoke with Christ … our identity becomes fixed as God’s daughters….  Because of Christ, your identity is in freedom.”  In The Gospel Coalition, Dr. David Powlison wrote “Your true identity is who God says you are.”
    Those on the more divisive spectrum, such as Michael J. Kruger, wrote “There is no place I am aware of where the church, the people of God, are collectively called ‘sinners’.”  This sentiment has also been expressed by many I have personally interacted with in churches.

Those who Believe Our Identity is an Addict

    As a stark contrast, Alcoholics Anonymous and the twelve steps have as a protocol at their meetings that those attending refer to themselves as “alcoholic” or “addict”.  Sex Addicts Anonymous’ group guide directs people introduce themselves as “I’m a sex addict” or “I’m a recovering sex addict.”  I was unable to find literature stating that Narcotics Anonymous members should introduce themselves at meetings in this fashion, but my experience attending some in my local area for a college assignment taught me that this is how their groups also work.  In discussions with members of various twelve steps, the intent isn’t to shame or keep the addict thinking that they will never change.  The whole message of the various 12 steps is, in fact, that they can change if they follow the program.  It is instead to remind the addict that they could slip at any moment, and thus to consistently stay away from people, places, and things that tempt them and/or could cause them to relapse.  Some recovery literature calls these “slippery” people, places, or things; other literature calls them triggering people, places, or things.
    Psychology seems mostly neutral on the subject.  Sam Louie wrote that there are benefits to thinking this way.  Valiant Recovery points out that “once an addict, always an addict” is simply not true.  Additionally, CNN's Adi Jaffe wrote that this is untrue.

Information that Seems to Contradict the Biblical Counseling Movements

    Before we begin, a bit of perspective.  Referring to something found in the book of Romans, “Paul wrote this”, etc, is not completely correct.  The writers of the Bible (especially the New Testament) were “driven” by the Holy Spirit when they wrote the Bible (2 Peter 1:21).  So if the Bible refers to these things, it is actually God driving them to write them.  That Greek word for “driven” in this passage is only used once elsewhere in Scripture, in Acts 27:15, referring to how the ship Paul rode on was driven by the storm.  The ship had no choice: the force of the storm carried it where it wanted to.  The writers were driven to write what they did, not merely abstractly “inspired.”  This will be useful information as I continue.
    Second, In the following places, Christians are referred to by their sin, or at least abstractly as not “saints”.
    Even if we take 1 Cor. 6:11, “and such were some of you” to its logical end, we could at least say we are a “former” addict or an “addict in recovery”, which the Bible agrees with in this passage.  This passage is saying “you were these things.”  If we are now in Christ, why mention it?  Also, note that the Bible just pointed out every Christians’ former sins.

My Opinion

    Having read all of this literature for college, and having studied it as my life passion, to help addicts, I have some opinion to give on this matter.  We have established that some statements in the Bible seem to contradict the assertion that Christians cannot be referred to by their sin or their former sin.  We also see that there is a divide, but that there is also a little bit of utility in both philosophies.  Which should we choose?
     I would suggest that the answer is actually both, for different reasons.
    First,  I believe it is useful to consider one’s self an addict because the brain has been changed by addiction, and thus it is very easy to slip back into this old habit.  Also, given my experience in twelve steps, people often relapse when they get over-confident and stop doing work to keep themselves away from triggers and work on their problems.  To tell someone it’s harmful to continue thinking of one’s self as an addict could actually cause them to relapse.  This is seen in how God brings up, through Paul to the Corinthians, the specific things they used to be, but then He also brings up that now they are part of God’s body (1 Cor. 6, 12).
    Second, it is useful to consider yourself new in Christ.  Addicts often deal with lots of guilt over past behavior and shame coming from their relationships (such as family, church, society).  It is helpful to think that “from now on, I am who God says I am.”  In a subsequent letter to the Corinthians, God through Paul (2 Cor. 5:17) teach them that they are now a new creation.
    Thus I believe it is both.  Why?  I think mainly it is due to the “already but not yet” paradox of the Christian life.  We area already the children of God (John 1:12-13).  We are hidden with Christ (Col. 3:3).  However, we currently “see indistinctly, as in a mirror” (1 Cor. 13:12).


    So I believe it’s wrong to argue over words (Rom. 14:1; 1 Tim. 6:4; 2 Tim. 2:14).  It’s both.  We are “already but not yet.”  Christian addicts, present or former, are already children of God.  But we are not yet who we are intended to be, and God is sanctifying us (Eph. 4:24; Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:10; Rom. 13:14).