Our Unrecognized Addiction

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Generally, the effect of alcohol or drug addiction is so obvious and destructive that the addict is well aware of its presence in his life, even though he may be unwilling to admit he is addicted. However, the worst situation for the addict is when his life is completely deteriorating around him, and he is completely unaware that it is his addiction causing his difficulties. The descendants of Adam—Pharisees, wanna-be Pharisees, and rebels—are all just like this, and the vast majority of us don’t have a clue.

“I’m not an addict! What am I addicted to?” you may argue. You may not be aware of it, but both of your parents, as descendants of Adam, were addicted too. You came out of the womb already in bondage to this unseen, unrecognized, debilitating enslavement. You are addicted to the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and you have been completely unaware!

Since mankind first ate the fruit of that tree in Adam, choosing independence from God to determine good and evil for ourselves, we have seen everything in terms of “Is it ‘good’ or ‘bad?’ Is it ‘right’ or is it ‘wrong?’.” 

This way of thinking is completely unconscious and feels natural to us. Surprisingly, how we think is an unconscious presupposition. Proverbs 27:3 tell us, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” How we live our lives begins in our minds, and how we are thinking will determine what we are thinking. Ideas have consequences.

In Isaiah 55:8, 9 God speaks through the prophet:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. 

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Everyone comes into the world thinking man’s way, “addicted to the fruit,” as we have seen.  The law of God is written on our hearts. Our minds are constantly discerning good from evil, right from wrong. We are very naturally and unconsciously given to living our lives by this evaluation of ourselves, of others, and the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and we see nothing wrong with that. We haven’t even heard of another way to live, called in this passage “God’s ways,” and “God’s thoughts.” 

Assertions like: “I am doing well,” “Bill is wrong in his views,” “How can this terrible situation be happening to me” fill our minds on a daily basis. “Well,” “wrong,” and “terrible” are all value judgments that indicate we have eaten of the fruit of the forbidden tree in Adam. We see ourselves and those around us either making good choices or poor choices and the circumstances in our lives are some degree of either good or bad. We evaluate everything in life on a scale with “good” at the top and “evil” at the bottom. Thinking according to the law is “man’s way” of thinking–we know of no other way–and we cannot escape it, no matter the topic of our thoughts. 

We are incurable performers, trying to be good according to whatever our standard of good and evil may be. We have never experienced thinking another way. To study and meditate on the Bible, including learning orthodox Bible doctrine and correct theology or trying to apply the principles of the Bible to all of life does not change our inherited, natural and unconscious way of thinking from man’s way to God’s way. We are unknowingly addicted to the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

In Matthew 16:21-25, in his famous confrontation with Peter, Jesus illustrates for us the difference between these two ways of thinking. In this passage, Peter confidently reinforces and restates his commitment as Jesus’ disciple to making Jesus’ ministry successful by telling Him that he will not let him go to Jerusalem and be crucified; he will personally and fearlessly defend Him from this terrible thing that was about to happen to him.  How does Jesus respond to Peter’s courageous, unwavering support to the death? Is He appreciative of having such a bold, loyal disciple?

But Jesus turned around and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an offense to me, for you are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts!”  

For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 16:24, 25)

According to Jesus in this exchange, we have an example of the two distinct ways of thinking: Jesus demonstrating God’s way and Peter demonstrating man’s way. The goal for Peter (and now for us) is obviously to learn to think God’s way. Jesus exposes Peter’s failure in this very thing.

My thoughts about this passage have always run something like this: “Peter’s concern was for Jesus’ life and ministry. He just didn’t yet understand that it was necessary for Jesus to be crucified on the cross as our Savior in order for His ministry to be successful. If he had understood the plan of salvation and that the cross was necessary he would not have said what he did.” 

As a matter of fact, I have always had this lurking, unspoken feeling that Jesus was being a little hard on a man who was so committed to Him. Peter had faithfully stuck with Jesus when the crowds were leaving him in John 6 after His “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood” sermon. Can’t Jesus cut Peter a little slack until Peter understands the gospel more clearly? These thoughts of mine expose my failure to think as God thinks, right along with Peter.

Notice that the issue is not that Peter doesn’t yet understand. Jesus didn’t chide Peter for his lack of insight into the significance of the cross but rebukes him for thinking in a way that is not only not God’s way to think but is actually antagonistic to God and complicit with His mortal enemy Satan. It was not what Peter was thinking but how he was thinking that was the problem. 

Do you think Peter’s primary concern really was for Jesus and for the spread of the kingdom? Peter himself must have consciously thought that to be the case, but was it?  

I am sure there was a certain element of true concern for the establishment of the kingdom of God in Peter’s mind. But I believe Peter’s unconscious, primary concern was his own self interests: the personal recognition he would receive from his place at Jesus’ right hand as the “leader” of His disciples, firmly ensconced in a position of spiritual influence in the great kingdom Jesus would establish. This ultimate motive was masked in Peter’s mind by thoughts of the wonderful good he could do after all his experience at Jesus’ side, the multitudes of people he could help. His spiritual pretensions hid the true motives of his heart, even from himself. Jesus exposed his hypocrisy with His rebuke.

I identify with Peter completely. I certainly am eager for people to grasp and fully understand the scandalous gospel of the grace of God and experience His love and freedom that comes only from that grace. I rejoice when I find those who do. But I rejoice even more when they do so as a result of reading my book or hearing me speak. In its deepest, darkest recesses, my heart’s thoughts and intents are truly only evil continually.

Jesus says this is thinking man’s way: subconsciously looking out for #1, making sure I don’t miss the recognition that I deserve, being sure people know what I have to offer so I can “maximize my potential.” I must be sure that no one sidetracks me from my success in life, that nothing hinders me from progressing upward on whatever ladder I might envision myself to be climbing in my efforts to be a success, even a “success for God.” 

However, Jesus told Peter that his subconscious ambition which Jesus could see so clearly—a desire to influence others, to be well thought of, to be admired, even exalted—could not be achieved by frantically attempting to cover all the bases in order to attain his goal. That is man’s way to try to satisfy his ceaseless longing for security, love, and acceptance. 

On the contrary, Jesus told Peter that God’s way to experience that for which Peter yearned is to lose the influence, prestige and acclaim that man thinks will bring him satisfaction. He must begin to think God’s way, which Jesus would soon demonstrate at the cross. Genuine influence, acclaim and honor in the kingdom of God ultimately will come—but only by losing one’s life, not by desperately seeking to save it—just as it ultimately came for Jesus. Only by forsaking his personal religious ambition and laying down his subconscious desire for glory and honor by being “spiritual” could Peter find true glory and honor, which is just the opposite of man’s way! Next week we will investigate some ways God is teaching us to think “God’s way.”

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  1. Peter J Stadem says:

    Thanks Robert. Here’s one of my struggles as it relates to this topic. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12 that we are all gifted by God and an indispensable part of the body of Christ. The emphasis is on God’s doing. We did not become indispensable because of our doing.

    In my inward heart, I want to amend 1 Corinthians 12:21to this: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’. But because you have understood your role, and you are now so valuable and insightful, you will be congratulated by all the other parts of the body and you will have earned this importance, the glory is attributable to your efforts, not just mine.”

    I hunger for the importance God already says I have, and rather than trust that word from God, I use my understanding (my addiction to the knowledge of good and evil) to invent something better than what God already gave me. Who will free me. . .?

    Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

  2. Jerry Buccola says:

    Robert, a splendid meditation 🙂 ! The other day, at the end of my prayer time, I started to think about a fellow Christian in my office. He made a lot more money than I did during the real estate crash and made a lot more money than I did, this past year. I became indignant in my prayer time. Pretty spiritual, eh? After prayer I walked into a room, Kay was listening to the audio bible. As I walked into the room, the words were: “Whoever saves his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Yikes. A gentle rebuke from Jesus for me. Ahhh, at least Jesus didn’t call me “Satan” as he did Peter. 🙂

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