Addicts: Cross Addiction is Your Only Hope

Justin Lakemacher, Program Manager

In the recovery world, cross addiction is typically considered a negative term as it describes addicts exchanging one addiction for another. For example, a heroin addict may think smoking pot is okay and begin to use it, only to find himself quickly addicted to it, needing treatment again. Other examples are less problematic from a cultural perspective, such as exchanging the comfort one finds in drugs for the comfort of food, thereby developing a food addiction. In either circumstance, the sinful desires of the heart don’t change, though the object the heart finds satisfaction in changes.

What Do the Scriptures Say About Cross Addiction?

Let’s begin by trying to define addiction from a biblical perspective. Addiction itself, like cross addiction, is about an exchange. But it’s not a positive exchange. In fact, it’s a terrible exchange, and it’s one we are all guilty of. As humans created in the image of God, we were created to worship him and find our satisfaction in him. Yet, Romans 1:25 describes an exchange of worship from Creator to created: “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”

Put simply, rather than live out our purpose of worshiping the one who created us, we look for something else to satisfy us, making our sinful desires the driving factor that determines the object we worship. For addicts, the actual substance used varies, but the common trait is the sinful desires that drive them. To borrow a term from Ed Welch, addiction can thus be described as a worship disorder. Welch summarizes it in this way,

“Life is about God. It is about worshipping him, trusting him, knowing him, and loving him. The deepest problem for addicts is that they are not worshipping, trusting, knowing, or loving the true God. Instead, they are running and hiding from God or rebelling against him…the deeper problem is the addict’s relationship with God himself.”

This rebellion against God’s creative purpose for our life becomes an idolatrous affair against the one whom we are called to relationship with, the one whom we are called to love with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind (Luke 10:27). The addict is a slave to sin, worshipping anything or anyone that promises to satisfy their sinful cravings, much like the picture of idolatry in the Bible.

But if this is the grim reality of addiction, rooted in a heart with disordered worship, how does one change from a sinful desire driven self-worshipper to a godly desire driven Christ-worshipper?

The Gospel Redeems Worship

We must first begin by pointing out that it is possible to turn from idolatry to the Lord. Paul affirms the church in Thessalonica, “…you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9).  Somehow, this church’s worship was completely transformed which resulted in a turning from dead idols to serve the living God. They didn’t merely exchange one form of idolatry for another, their worship was completely transformed.

When it comes to cross addiction, the recovery world is right to condemn cross addiction where only the idol changes. God is certainly not pleased with exchanging golden calf worship for Baal worship. But the church in Thessalonica did not turn from one idol to another, they turned from death to life. And in this way, the gospel goes much deeper. The gospel goes down to our dead hearts and brings life, resulting in transformed worship. 

Think about one more verse with me. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul writes, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old is gone, the new has come.” I cannot count the number of times I’ve share this verse with addicts. It’s probably one of the more common favorite verses among addicts because of the hope it brings to them, that the core of who they are can change in Christ. Jesus Christ reaches down to our deepest, darkest sinful desires and redeems us from the core. When our eyes are opened to the reality of where our disordered worship leads us and sees what Christ has done, the result is a reoriented life of worship centered on the One who redeems us. Praise, gratitude, love, and devotion follow. Those are worship terms. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new worshiper, the old idols are gone and new affections have come!

The Cross and Cross Addiction

If addiction is essentially a worship disorder, then cross addiction is not only right, it is the addict’s only hope of overcoming addiction. Not the kind of cross addiction where the sinful desires don’t change, but the cross addiction that’s possible through the cross.

On the cross, Christ dies for sin so that in Him, addicts can consider themselves dead to their sinful addictions. Christ’s resurrection promises new life to those who will trust in Him. New life brings about new spiritual life and new desires. Those who failed to love God with all their heart can trust that in Christ, God will begin to change their desires and produce a love for God rooted in who He is and what He has done. In this way, the Christian message is fundamentally different than the world’s message when it comes to addiction:  We believe that our desires can, by God’s grace, change. As David Powlison rightly notes, “The work of the Holy Spirit is to transform what we want, so that we want different things.”

Addicts can change. The sickness of addiction is not beyond the reach of Christ’s loving arm. And the change that God aims is not to merely stop us from worshiping our idols, but redeem and reorient our worship around Him, the One who can and will truly and eternally satisfy us.