Substance Abuse

Reprinted from Believers Magazine by permission

There are many activities which one might place under the general heading of substance abuse, such as drunkenness, smoking, or simply over-indulgence in food. In this article I am using the term substance abuse in its common present-day application, that being the use of illegal drugs, or the unauthorized abuse of prescribed drugs.

You do not need to be a resident of our inner cities to recognize that substance abuse is an increasing problem within our society, and one against which the civil authorities seem to be fighting a losing battle. Contained within this problem there is a considerable spectrum of drug-taking activities. This ranges from people who use so-called soft drugs during recreational pursuits, much as an older generation used alcohol, to the injecting drug addict, whose life is completely ruled by the need to maintain the habit. No drug-taking is without consequence. For susceptible individuals, the commencement of a casual acquaintance with illegal drugs may well lead to full-blown addiction and the ruination of life.

The casual introduction of drugs to the younger generation is now so widespread that we would be foolish to believe that this has no potential effect on the assemblies. Surveys published last year among young people associated with a wide circle of evangelical churches showed a use of drugs which, in general terms, reflected society at large rather than what one might expect of those following Christ. Adolescence is often a time of experimentation and indeed rebellion among the most outwardly conforming of young people. The role models for young people from the world are often less than helpful. Our young people need to be empowered to resist the devil in this matter and to take a stand against the general trends of the day.

From time to time parents will need help and support from the assemblies as they deal with these matters within their own families, perhaps dealing with subjects about which they have had very little previous experience. While neither should be found amongst us, there is a considerable difference between partaking once of cannabis and having a habit of injecting opiates, and it is possible to over-react at such times when loved ones are involved. The former would be a matter of parental heartache and family discipline. The latter is of such seriousness that the whole family would need considerable pastoral support in coping with the stress and the numerous practical problems which would arise.

As with all subjects, we must ask what the Scriptures say and seek to implement this in our lives. In the subject of substance abuse there are few direct references to guide our thought. Both Old and New Testaments speak of, and condemn, sorcerers and their practices. The root meaning of that term in the Greek is one who deals with chemical substances (Is 47:9 cf. Gal 5:20). Yet, beyond such hints, the Scripture is not silent on this topic.

(1) At a basic level we must teach that Christians should not be involved with anything which is illegal. We are to submit ourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lords sake. (1 Pet 2:13-16; cf Rom 13:1-4).

If the unsaved have the moral sense to call trading and partaking in mind-altering substances evil, then how much more should believers teach the same. It is possible through pressure that a future government may relax some of the current anti-drug laws – for instance to decriminalize cannabis, or perhaps to allow for the licensed selling of ecstasy. As with the abortion laws, if this relaxation were to happen, then society would soon forget its former standards of morality. The believer, however, would do well to remember the underlying moral rationale for the current laws, and always follow the stricter code of conduct.

(2) The danger of alcohol, which is firmly warned against throughout Scripture, is the potential for intoxication. We are specifically warned that drunkards shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1Cor 6:9-10; Rom 13:13). I would suggest that this intoxication is, for the Christian, the underlying sin of drug abuse. Like alcohol abuse, there may also be consequent and pressing evils such as theft, poverty, violence, sexual abuse and so forth, as the basic instincts of man are allowed free reign, but the initial problem is the disinhibition of intoxication. There is surely a clear analogy between the intoxication warned against through alcohol, and the same effect of intoxication found through ingestion of drugs.

(3) This leads on to the point that our minds are important. Some unbelievers see no problem with mind-altering substances so long as they cause no long-term harm to the individual or inconvenience to others. This is not true for believers saved though the gospel, whose minds matter to God and whose every thought is to be brought to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10: 4-5). It is part of the glorious result of the gospel that we are quite literally, like the demoniac, to be found sitting in our right minds (Mk 5:15). Loss of self-control should be abhorrent to the Spirit filled Christian.

(4) Likewise, our bodies are important, and what we do with and to our bodies is important. It is not just a matter that our eternal souls are saved. As believers we must at all times remember our duty to the Lord, that we are not our own, we are bought with a price and that, as a consequence, we are to glorify the Lord in our body. We are to remember that our bodies are individually the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in us (1 Cor 6:18-20). We are to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is our reasonable service (Rom 12:1).

(5) The consequences of substance abuse so often run to flagrant worldliness (Gal 5:19-21). There is a return to a lifestyle which characterizes the unsaved and which should not even be named among us (Eph 5:3-6). For any believer contemplating experimentation, be warned that you are risking making shipwreck of your faith (1 Cor 5:11-13).

If you are a believer and have become involved with friends or work mates who are into a drug culture and you feel the pressure to join in, or perhaps escalate your use, what should you do? In the short term, take your situation very seriously indeed. Do not view this as a light matter. Certainly your friends may have been involved with drugs and the club scene for many years and have not major physical effects. Certainly some of the anti-drug messages can seem histrionic, and not rooted in your personal reality. Yet I counsel you: see real danger here. Stop all drug-related activities. You face the possibility of addiction and of a ruined life the like of which you probably cannot contemplate. Worse still, you face the ruin of your testimony, and bringing disgrace on the Name of Christ. Flee these things. Flee the friends. Flee from the culture and the situation that you have found yourself in. You must remove yourself from the sources of temptation. You will then be maligned and ostracized by your former friends, but you will once again be living as a Christian (1 Pet 2:16).

In the longer term, reorganize your life. Fill the void with positive activities for the glory of God. Seek the fellowship of the saints. Remove this unscriptural disharmony between your private social life and your public church life. Find a real, lasting, fulfilling interest in life, through learning to live for God.

Where parents and elders and others in authority are concerned, I would urge you also to take these matters seriously, yet keep them in a perspective. Dabbling in drugs among the young, leaving aside the illegality, is probably little different from a pastoral viewpoint from problems which arise with alcohol. Do not be shocked and over-react when it arises, as it surely will. Times have changed. Deal firmly, yet remain supportive, seeking to snatch those who err back from the fire.