Sin is an Addiction

The broad definition of addiction is “persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.[1]” This broad definition is often expanded and applied to habits and behaviors that appear to be excessive, if not actually harmful. For example, a person who ignores family and even the simple obligations of mealtime in favor of reading mysteries is said to be “addicted” to mysteries. A woman who consumes her entire Valentine box of chocolates at one sitting will be described as “addicted” to chocolate. People can become so consumed by the need to do certain things that even though the behavior is more properly described as “compulsive” than “addictive,” the common usage in conversation is to say that the person is “addicted” to the things he or she cannot control.

Sin is this kind of addiction. People engage in behaviors they believe they can stop at any time, but they never do. It becomes silly to ask if they can stop, because they don’t stop. The first time a conversation after work turns into a sexual encounter, the participants might both think it is something that could be laid aside and forgotten about. A year later, when it finally becomes so obvious that even children know what is happening, each of the participants may still be saying internally, “It’s no big deal. We could stop any time we like.” Yet they don’t.

Satan does not tempt people by inviting them to do evil; he tempts them by inviting them to do what they want. Stephen King pointed up this truth in his classic, Needful Things. The center of this story was a shop that might sit on Main Street of any little town. It was not exactly antiquities or consignment or vintage wares, but it was all those things and more. People wandered into the shop, and no matter what they wanted, it somehow came within reach. After several people had visited the shop and found what they “needed,” the town began to disintegrate, because the “needful things” all led to destructive, evil behavior. People were not confronted by a horned demon with an ugly face; they were confronted by a genial little shop owner who just happened to have whatever they “needed.”

When Satan appeared in the wilderness to tempt Jesus, he used the same strategy. He did not try to tempt Jesus to curse God and die, the way Job’s wife did. Instead, Satan simply pointed to some rocks that startlingly looked like loaves of bread, and said, my paraphrase, “Don’t you need some bread? You must be starved. Why not just make these stones into the one thing you need? Who could fuss about that?” Similar insidious whispers have activated embezzlers who only “needed” a little something to tide them over a rough patch, but the “need” became an addiction, because it was so easy to cover their tracks.

Sin is powerfully addictive, because sinful behavior rewards self with strokes. Pedophiles don’t allow themselves to think about what they are doing to children. They only think of what they are doing for themselves. They bring to fulfillment an experience that feels good, just like the high that heroin gives. Sinful human nature seeks fulfillment of the needs of self, and Satan, like the owner of Needful Things, simply gives human nature what it wants. It isn’t the behavior that is tempting; it is the feeling that results from the behavior.

Look at Eve. Satan did not stand before her looking like a fearsome demon from hell and tell her that she had a right to disobey God if she felt like it. He caught Eve looking at fruit trees, and he asked her, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” That first question, “Did God actually say?” invited her to judge God, and the rest of the conversation built on that invitation. The first temptation was to presume to judge God, or we might say, the first temptation was to invite Eve to think that God had no right to tell her anything. Satan developed this idea when he accused God of not being fair, telling her that God only forbade the fruit because it would make her equal to God. Satan tempted Eve by feeding her own notion that she was just as good as God. The deal was sealed when she took a bite of the fruit and it tasted good.

Secular thinkers say that the way to know if something is right or wrong is to ask, “Does it feel good?” If yes, then it is right. Eve could say that eating that fruit was morally right, because it felt good. David could say that seducing Bathsheba was right because it felt good. Peter could say that denying he even knew Christ during the trial before the high priest was right, because it felt better to be standing by the fire a free man than to be whipped and dragged into the trial along with Jesus. This is why secular thinkers say that someone who is enslaved by homosexuality does not need to change. What they are doing makes them feel good. Who has the right to deny them something that makes them happy?

Sinful human nature wants self-gratification more than anything. Maslow said that self-actualization, the fulfillment of someone’s total potential, was the pinnacle of human achievement. Satan thinks the same thing. The drive to do what self wants is overpowering, and the pleasure of doing what self wants is addictive.

The addiction to sin is so powerful that nobody, except Christ, has ever conquered it. The only cure for addiction to sin is to give it to Christ. When it is alleged that someone can conquer a sinful behavior through will or therapy, it trivializes the whole idea of sin. This attitude suggests that it makes sense to classify behaviors amenable to therapy and will as mutable, while other behaviors, such as homosexuality, must be recognized as not amenable to therapy and will. These behaviors must be accepted as immutable, and according to the secular thinking that largely shapes our culture, immutable behaviors must be normal.

This way of thinking leads to practices such as telling little girls to “experiment” with their sexuality. They should find out what is “fun” and what they “like.” They should “experiment” with a lesbian kiss to find out how it feels. This is the same message Satan used to tempt Eve to taste the forbidden fruit – the girls are being led to believe that they can figure out what is good and what is evil by getting to know both sides intimately, and they are further led to believe that they can know the difference because they are their own gods. This way of thinking is extremely addictive. Who doesn’t want to be a god?

Every instance of sinful behavior is addictive, because our sinful human nature is addicted to sin. It likes being its own god. It does not actually want to be pure and holy; it wants to be pleasured in a thousand different ways. Sin is addictive because of the pleasure. It is the pleasure that keeps drug addicts going back to drugs that they know are destroying them; they persist in believing that they can replay the first “high” and feel good, even as they see their lives disintegrating under the pressure to find the money required to buy the drugs. In this sense, there is no difference between drug addiction and addiction to spiteful language, consuming egotism, miserly selfishness, homosexuality, greed or power. All these addictions, all these sins, derive from a need for the pleasure of being one’s own god. The first Law of the big Ten is to put God first, above everything else. Sinful human nature cannot obey that law, because every human being wants to be a god.

Sin is an addiction, and there is only one cure for addiction. There is only one human being who has ever defeated the author of human addiction to sin: Jesus Christ. Nobody can defeat Satan by himself. The one way to escape this addiction is to give it to Jesus. It might be greed. It might be lust. It might be homosexuality. Whatever it is, the one way to get free is to give that addiction to the only one who can handle it: Jesus Christ.

Each time temptation threatens to entrap you, the only safe response is to say, “Jesus, I give you this temptation. I cannot handle it.” When you give it to Christ, Satan is compelled to deal with him and leave you alone. It sounds much too easy, but it isn’t easy. You will fall for temptation and hate yourself for it more than once before you learn to give your temptations to Christ. That is the reason we are taught by Christ himself to say, “Forgive us our sins,” when we pray. Satan will persist all our lives in holding up “needful things” that we cannot resist in our own strength. That is when we must do what the apostle Peter learned to do, long after the trial of Jesus. He wrote, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV) Sin is an addiction you can only conquer by allowing Christ to conquer it for you.


[1] Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.

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