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
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:
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
“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).