Christians & Addiction & Repentance

I’ve posted before about the nature of repentance, but I think it would be useful to talk about how a correct understanding of repentance is so important for someone suffering from addiction.  

To be clear, I DO NOT think that this picture accurately reflects the true nature of repentance.


But I think it does show what comes to many people’s minds when they contemplate repentance.  And I believe that this misunderstanding of repentance….This idea that if you haven’t completely changed your behavior then you haven’t truly repented, can be damaging to anyone’s faith but is absolutely devastating to the faith of an addict.

So if repentance doesn’t mean to completely change your behavior, what does it mean?

The four words translated “repent” in the Bible all have to do with a change of your heart or your attitude.  To “repent” doesn’t mean that you have forever changed your behavior, it means that you have decided to change your allegiance.

Strong’s H7725—שׁוּב—shûb 

  • To turn back, to return.

Strong’s H5162—נָחַם—nacham

  • To sigh or breathe strongly….to be sorry.

Strong’s G3340—μετανοέω metanoeō

  • To think differently, to change one’s mind

Strong’s G3341—μετάνοια metanoia

  • Reversal of one’s decision

1 Kings 8:46-50  If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,’ if they repent (H7725) with all their mind and with all their heart in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause…

In 1Kings Solomon is acknowledging that even when the Israelites aren’t able to perfectly keep God’s word….They repent with their mind and their heart and decide that they want to follow God.  And Solomon is asking God to show favor to the Israelites when the make that decision.

Job 42:5,6  I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent (H5162) in dust and ashes.

Job teaches us that repentance can occur before a physical change in our actions occurs.

Luke 15:7  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents (G3340) than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance (G3341).

Luke isn’t teaching that the angels will rejoice when someone begins to perfectly keep God’s law, or that the ninety-nine people who needed no repentance where perfect.  Luke is giving an example of 99 people who choose to serve God and one person who chose to wander away from God.

Addiction is a constant, on-going battle and it’s very easy to become discouraged and feel like your fighting a losing battle with forgiveness if you don’t understand the true nature of repentance.

Let me give you an example of how important this understanding of repentance is….

Christian #1 believes that repentance means he must completely change his sinful behavior before he has “repented”.  Christian #1’s life and every thought he has is consumed with his addiction.  In Christian #1’s mind, he may not EVER be able to completely overcome his addiction.

  • Will Christian #1 even bother trying to serve God, if he thinks that salvation rests in the un-doable?  Not likely.

Christian #2 (correctly) believes that repentance means that he has to change his heart and want to serve God more than himself.  Christian #2’s life and every thought he has is consumed with his addiction…..Until he repents and decides to start following Christ.  Christian #2 starts spending his life in prayer and seeking out encouragement from his fellow Christians.  Christian #2 may not ever completely beat his addiction, but his imperfect devotion to God is no different from anyone else’s imperfect devotion to God.

  • Will Christian #2 be encouraged to serve God, if he has a correct understanding of what repentance really is?  Absolutely.

It’s worth mentioning that an imperfect devotion to God is what we all have.  And anyone who believes that their devotion is more than imperfect might as well scoff at the cross, because anyone who’s perfect doesn’t have a need for it.

My imperfection isn’t any different from someone else’s.  And an addict’s need for the cross isn’t any greater than mine.

A misunderstanding of repentance can lead an addict to a feeling of despair.  And as we’ll see tomorrow, that feeling of despair is what can be so dangerous about addiction.