3.4 The New Life for Alcoholics

Several times, Paul makes the point that we changed status at baptism. We were once lost and hopelessly entwined in the world of sin. Now, we are set free by being in Christ. But we still have strong tendencies to live the old life in practice, despite the fact that we are in the new life by status. He describes the characteristics of the old life and urges his converts to quit living like they were still out there in a lost and floundering world. So here are some examples:

- The Galatians had to be told to walk in the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit, so that they developed the fruits of the spirit rather than the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:16-25). For Paul, the flesh is the life before baptism; the Spirit is the way of life afterwards. But the Galatians, having made the transition of status, were still living in the flesh.

- In baptism, the Ephesians had put off the old man and put on / clothed themselves with the new man (Eph. 4:22,23 = Rom. 6:6). But therefore they still needed to put off the things of the old man- wrath, lying etc. (Eph. 4:25-28).

- Indeed, this is the whole context of Romans 6, the classic baptism chapter. It’s not part of a preaching address by Paul to unbelievers, explaining to them what baptism is. He’s writing to weak, baptized believers, telling them to quit the old life because of the change in status that occurred at their baptism.

- Before baptism we were in the darkness; “but now you are light [by being baptized] in the Lord: walk as children of light...in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Eph. 5:8,9).

- The Colossians still had to “put to death” things like fornication, even though they had put them to death in baptism (Col. 3:5 = Rom. 6:6). Yet they are described as having formerly lived in those things, as if now, they don’t do them (Col. 3:7). Yet clearly they did still do those things. Again, Paul is saying that they don’t do those things by status, in God’s eyes, therefore they shouldn’t do them in practice.

- We obeyed the truth “unto unfeigned love of the brethren…[therefore] see that ye love one another” (1 Pet. 1:22). Our obedience to the truth of Christ placed us in the status of those who unfeignedly love their brethren; but this means, Peter is saying, that we’d better get on and love them in practice.

- We must believe in the light of Christ, so that we might become “children of light” (Jn. 12:36 Gk.); yet by status, we are the light of the world (Mt. 5:14), because we are baptized into Jesus who is the light of the world (Jn. 12:46). All that is true of Him becomes true of us by status; but we must exercise effort to realize this in practice.

- Titus was to teach the Cretian brethren that because they had been washed and regenerated in baptism, therefore they were not to speak evil of others, because it was in the past that they used to be like that (Tit. 3:2-6). But they still were acting like that, even after baptism! Yet again- they are called upon to remember the implications of their baptism, and live out the status they thus attained before God.

- Having warned that unrepentant fornicators and drunkards will not be in the Kingdom of God, Paul goes on: “And such were some of you: but you are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). References to washing, the name, Jesus, the Spirit, God...all inevitably make this an allusion to our baptism into the Name. Because they had been justified, counted as sinless due to their baptism into Christ, therefore they should:

a) recognize their bodies were temples of the Holy Spirit, and therefore to glorify God in spirit and body

b) realize that they are not their own, to live their lives just as they wish

c) act as if they are indeed joined to Christ

d) let the power of Christ’s resurrection and new life work in them

Clearly enough, the Corinthians were still fornicating and getting drunk. Yet, Paul says that this is how they used to be. Evidently he means that they have changed status- and they should live that out in practice. But Paul delves deeper into the psychology of sin’s self-justification. They were saying that “Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats”. In other words, we have basic human desires and there are ways to satisfy them. Paul’s response is basically that if we are in Christ, then we have vowed to put to death those desires, and to fulfil them is to act as if they are still alive and well. Further, in baptism we are counted to have died to them; and we seek to live the new life, empowered by the resurrection life which is now in the Lord, whose body we belong to. The comfort and challenge comes to Christian alcoholics today: You are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified, counted as righteous. Think back to your baptism. That’s what happened then. Now, try to live out that life. Act, or at least try to act, how God perceives you. The alcoholic needs to remember, as the Romans also needed to, the colossal significance of the fact they have been baptized. They have a responsibility and also tremendous, boundless possibility because of this. Remind them of it. Leave some photos or reminders of their early days in the Lord around the house. Talk about it...

The fruit of the Spirit includes attitudes of mind which will help pave the way for true victory against alcohol. Direct confrontation of our deepest fears- e.g. that the alcoholic will never stop drinking- can sometimes produce the very opposite reaction in us; the confrontation reinforces the very thing we fear. If an alcoholic is confronted directly and point blank over the issue by another brother or sister, they will likely hit the bottle straight away. Once the problem has been recognized and the victim is out of the denial stage, it is unwise to push ahead too fast too quickly. Those living with them need to prepare the ground a bit, by encouraging [by example more than admonition] the victim to consciously develop some of the following spiritual characteristics:

Positive Thinking

The alcoholic and his / her family is easily caught up in the fight-or-flight syndrome. To conquer the problem seems to great; the only option appears to flee deeper into it. A belief in God’s truth, however faltering, enables us to achieve at least some measure of simple positive thinking. In Philippians 4:8 the Bible stresses in the plainest language: "And now, my friends, all that is true, all that is noble, all that is just and pure, all that is lovable and gracious, whatever is excellent and admirable—fill all your thoughts with these things" (N.E.B). Try to be positive about issues unrelated to the alcohol problem; seek involvement in the Lord’s work in ways which will help you overcome your understandable obsession with the alcohol problem which is around you.

Control of Emotions And Actions

"A person without self-control is as defenseless as a city with broken-down walls" (Proverbs 25:28, N.L.T.). This person will be vulnerable and driven frequently by negative emotions. His outcome is described in Galatians 5:19-21- the accompanying problems can include adultery, sexual immorality, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, envy and drunkenness. To control emotions, the alcoholic needs to learn again to be able to recognize them and identify them- after perhaps years of obsession with alcohol, personal emotions become irrelevant. The alcoholic loses touch with himself. Discuss with the alcoholic how they feel, and you will get simplistic answers like “I don’t feel good”; but beyond that they are unable to explain. Patient talking with them must lead them to define those feelings more closely.

Focus Upon Jesus

A clear focus upon the person of Jesus needs to be encouraged in us all. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5); "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13). The life in Christ is all about developing new mental habits: "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7).

Intimacy With Others

Alcoholics are essentially lonely people. "... Woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up," says Ecc. 4:10. The 17th-century poet John Donne had a related thought: “No man is an island”. Fellowship, meaningful fellowship, with others is designed by the Father. It’s His way for us. God designed us to need other people: "It is not good that the man should be alone" (Gen. 2:18). It may be that the emotionally supporting family and friends aren’t the ones to fill the alcoholic’s need.  But there can be no doubt that there is tremendous therapeutic value in confessing our faults one to another (James 5:17)- the power and possibility of which is diluted if a community succumbs to gossip and trustlessness. Our need for others is not only Biblically validated: “What happens if we have no close relationships? The message that emerges loud and clear from scientific evidence accumulated since the mid 1970’s is that having a reasonable quantity and quality of social relationships is essential for mental and physical wellbeing” (10). It is hard at times for the family of the alcoholic to accept that he or she could possibly be lonely- for they provide support at such cost to themselves, and are ‘always there’ to clear up the messes. But recognizing the alcoholic’s need is not in any way an admission that you have failed; it’s just a realistic recognition of need. To re-focus the victim on others will of itself lead them out from the self-centredness which is alcoholism. The best friends, of course, would be brethren or sisters who have fought and overcome the same battle. 2 Cor. 1:6 says that if we suffer anything, it is so that we can comfort others who have the same afflictions. Likewise strong bonds need to be built between suffering families; and this will only be possible by a degree of openness. But this is of course militated against if we let others down by gossiping their disclosures to us around the brotherhood.

At this point, the following testimony from a fine sister may be helpful:

“To re-focus the victim on others can be a very difficult situation/step for the (co-dependent) family. It can be frightening trusting a third person not to further hurt the already hurting and bruised alcoholic. A counsellor will build a very close and intimate relationship with the alcoholic out of necessity, and that can leave the partner feeling threatened … the secrets, trials and dependency issues within the relationship can build a strong, if dysfunctional and spiritually destructive bond between alcoholic and co-dependent partner and the relationship with a counsellor or other support person will threaten that dysfunctional bond. Hence the co-dependent will also feel out of control and can easily hamper any recovery, especially if the alcoholic draws emotionally away during counselling. I know I was surprised at my own feelings of fear and lack of control when my partner started counselling for childhood sexual abuse and alcohol abuse. I spoke to the counsellor to reassure myself that he knew what he was doing and would take good care of my loved one. I explained that I felt as though in many ways - when he was in a state - he was the child and I the mother, I felt protective and was frightened that he would be hurt by this stranger whom he trusted so intimately. I also - though I don't like to admit it (!) - felt that if his emotional dependency on me decreased, that his love for me would too. I needed to have reassurance that the counsellor would not give up on him, that he would care for him and love him through it. But I had to give up my supposed 'control' to him and trust him, and that was/is difficult!”.

Forms of conduct promote and enforce each other. If only the alcoholic can be led into an upward spiral, preferably within the nourishing of the body of Christ, then victory is assured. Just one false move with alcohol, and the downward spiral can so easily be slipped into, far easier than it is to get into the upward spiral. This will involve moving in life with those who are not alcoholic. We must make no provision for the flesh (Rom. 13:14)- the alcoholic needs to avoid people and places which will restimulate the desire for alcohol. With strengthening recovery, the number of these people and places diminish in number.  One study found that “there is a straight line relationship between mortality from alcohol-related diseases and the liberality of the law governing the availability in counties...the availability of alcoholic beverages increases the amount of alcoholism in a given area” (11). Keeping away from availability clearly strengthens the chances of overcoming alcoholism or a relapse into it. We are involved in a spiritual warfare, a battle for the mind, in which the presence of the word of God hidden in our hearts strengthens us against sin (Ps. 119:11).

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