Breaking Our Addictions

Isaiah 53

February 1, 2009 | Brian Bill

Is it really possible to be free from addictions?  I submit to you this morning that the best way to break free is by putting your faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

While I’m no addiction expert, I’ve been involved with enough people to know that those who struggle in this area would give anything to be free.  Almost two years ago I did a funeral for a man who died of an overdose.  He was a song writer.  Listen to some of the words from “Devil’s Dust”: “I write this down in detox all alone, what else is there to do…I didn’t ask to be this way I should have known, I should of stuck with just getting stoned…Cause it’s the devil’s dust don’t ever trust.  The devil’s dust that mest me up…”  

In another song, he wrote: “…It’s never enough.  Whether shootin up, or snortin the stuff, and I try to stay clean, know what I mean…I used to be straight solid-steady staring at the top, I fell off once and it was a constant drop.  I never wanted it to be this way, but I tried one time and couldn’t get that feeling to stay.  After the first OD you’d think I’d sing a different tune.  But I kept on bangin, slangin, cookin, hanging myself out to dry, always got to be chasing the ultimate high…Been high for four years straight, and only have myself to hate…And I pray to God to keep me clean, to help me make right the things I didn’t mean…so please Lord don’t be a stranger…And thank you for helping me, one day I’ll change, you’ll see.”

Addiction Observations

I jotted down a few observations about addictions:

  1. We need to stop using demeaning comments about those who struggle with substance abuse.  Remember that this individual is someone’s child or grandchild or sibling or parent.  We need to watch our self-righteous attitudes; it’s not OK to denigrate those who sin differently than we do.  1 John 1:8: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
  2. Choices made today will have consequences tomorrow.  I don’t know of anyone who has said that his or her goal is to become an addict but I know plenty of people who are partying right now and are not thinking of the consequences that may come.  Hebrews 11:25 says that Moses chose the hard path “rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.”  Sin is fun but the fun is short-lived.
  3. Most of us need to hit rock-bottom before we will look up.  This is why it’s important to practice “tough love” with a family member who has an addiction and not become an enabler.  I talked to one person about his alcohol addiction and how it was wrecking his relationships and he told me that he “likes it too much to stop.”  I told him that he’ll never quit then.
  4. A person who is serious about breaking free will need multiple avenues of assistance.  While spiritual help is foundational, the assistance of doctors, counselors and therapists is critical because addiction has a biological component to it.  According to a news report on yesterday, studies show that as much as 60 percent of the risk of alcohol-use disorders is genetic and the risk for alcoholism is four times greater for children of alcoholics.  I recommend 12-step groups and long for the day when we can offer “Celebrate Recovery” here at PBC.  Incidentally, if you live with someone who is abusing a substance, there are groups for you like Al-Anon. 
  5. Until a person admits they are powerless over the addiction, they will not experience freedom.  Part of the power of addiction is secrecy.  I like this phrase, “You are only as sick as your secrets.”  Until we admit our secrets, we will not get better.  That’s why step number one of the 12 steps is so important: “I admit that I am powerless over alcohol and my life has become unmanageable.”
  6. Just because you’ve failed or relapsed doesn’t mean it’s over.  Morton Downey, Jr. once said, “It’s easy to stop an addiction.  Anyone can quit.  The tough part is not starting again.”  Sobriety is a journey.  God heals some people immediately and for others it’s a daily battle with ups and downs.  Incidentally, if you’re a born again believer and you fall, that doesn’t mean that you’ve lost your salvation.
  7. We’re all in some sort of recovery process.  Properly understood, as humans all of us are addicted to sin and God does his sanctifying work in those of us who are saved by building into us the character and conduct of Christ.  Anger can be an addiction, food can become an obsession, pornography can become a problem, and a whole host of other things can cause havoc in our lives.  According to Wednesday’s New York Times, the psychiatric world is now trying to decide whether compulsive buying (or shopaholism) should be considered a disorder (
  8. This is a safe place for sinners because we are a community of grace.  You’d be surprised to know how many people struggle with the same things that you do.  You are not alone.  I love what Max Lucado says: “God loves you just the way you are, but He loves you too much to let you stay that way.”
  9. We can’t just throw a spiritual formula at people and make them promises.  A week ago I was doing some channel surfing and came across a pastor who was speaking to a man who was supposedly deaf.  He smacked the man’s ears and told him that he could now hear.  Then he touched his lips and declared that he was casting out the “spirit of nicotine.”  He wasn’t done.  Then he took the palm of his hand and smacked the guy in the chest and rebuked the spirit of cancer while the man fell to the ground.  The cameras then cut to the pastor behind his desk as he asked for some seed money for their ministry.  I couldn’t believe what he said next.  He told the viewers that if they gave to him he could guarantee that this next year would be financially profitable for those who give.  And then he said something that made me want to both laugh and cry.  Looking straight into the camera he invited me to send him a dollar a day and if I couldn’t do that, I could surely send in $30 a month.  I was no math major in college but I know there’s not much difference in these two figures.  I think I’ll just keep giving to my local church.

While I don’t believe that there’s a magic formula that guarantees freedom for those in bondage, I do believe in the bondage-breaking power of God and of His Word!  Please turn in your Bible to Isaiah 53.  This is one of the most amazing chapters in the entire Bible.  One commentator referred to it as “the text upon which the rest of the Bible is a sermon.”  It’s really the premier passage on biblical prophecy, quoted 41 different times in the New Testament.  Written 700 years before Christ was born, these verses describe in great detail the life (1-4), death (5-8), burial (9) and exaltation (10-12) of Jesus Christ.  It is so accurate and detailed that it seems like it was written by an eye-witness to the crucifixion.

There are many ways to preach and teach on this amazing passage and I feel like I won’t be able to do it justice because of time constraints so I ask your forgiveness ahead of time.  I’m going to trust that you’ll dive in for yourself this week and flesh it out in your small group.  You are in a small group, aren’t you?

I would sum up this passage with one word: substitution.  Jesus died in our place, taking our punishment, so that we might be free.  We could say it like this: “Because of grace, Jesus took our place.”  Dan Fortner writes: “In the Old Testament the substitutionary work of Christ is presented in both picture and prophecy, while in the New Testament it is clearly revealed and explained.”

1. The message of Jesus is refused. 

We see this in verse 1: “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”  The way this question is worded leads the listener to conclude that very few have believed.  Paul quotes this in Romans 10:16 to show that only a small number are saved.  In context, very few believe because they were not expecting a suffering Savior.  When Jesus ministered on this earth, people still refused to believe in Him and His message, even when they saw miracles.  This same verse is quoted in John 12:38: “This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: ‘Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’”

Amazingly, this unbelief is still happening today.  Even when faced with incredible evidence, many choose to not believe the message of Jesus.  Why is that?  It’s because they don’t want to believe.  It’s a matter of the will.  The natural heart is filled with hatred toward Christ as found in John 5:40: “Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”  I know of someone with an addiction who has said, “I won’t do the 12-steps and I don’t want anything Christian.”  I’m not sure this person is serious about sobriety, much less salvation.

2. The man Jesus is rejected. 

Look now at verses 2-3: “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.”  His beginnings on earth were very humble, the “son of a carpenter” from a backwoods place called Nazareth. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”  Outwardly, Jesus was ordinary-looking so people wrote him off.  There was nothing magnificent about His physical appearance. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.”  Jesus had an experiential knowledge of sorrow and suffering.  People looked down on Jesus, holding Christ in contempt.  To many, Jesus was even repulsive.  “Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”  The word “despised” is used twice and means, “to look down the nose with contempt, to consider something worthless.”  Martin Luther translated it like this: “We estimated Him at nothing.”  

Many today love their sins more than they love the Savior

Jesus is still written off today.  Some say that they’re just not into the “God-Thing.”  Sadly, those who need Him most are often the ones who sneer at Him. The cross of Christ is always a scandal to the one who won’t believe.  Many today love their sins more than they love the Savior.  As a result they reject what He offers.  John 1:11: “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” 

3. Jesus the Messiah wants to recover us. 

Check out verses 4-7: “Surely…” This word means that an amazing truth is about to be given. “he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.” Jesus took our sin-sickness, including substance abuse, and carried our sorrows – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. This sums up all the trials of life. “Yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  The word “laid” means “to cause to strike with great force.”  The strong arm of the Lord came down on Jesus with great force because He was judging our sin on the Savior’s shoulders.  The iniquity of us all fell upon our Substitute.  

With precise detail, this prophecy shows how Jesus actually responded during his mock trial: “He was oppressed and afflicted yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”  Jesus did not defend Himself because He was voluntarily offering Himself in exchange for us. Like John the Baptist declared in John 1:29, Jesus is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  

When I was studying this passage I saw a progression of thought from we to me to He to free.

  • We.  Check out the times “we” or “our” or “us” is used.  

-“took up our infirmities” This refers to disease, anxiety and affliction.  

-“carried our sorrows” This means to “lift off” of one person and put on another.  Jesus carried all your concerns when He carried His own cross (John 19:17) but also according to 1 Peter 2:24: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”

-“we considered Him stricken” People thought Jesus must have done something wrong to be punished so severely.

-“pierced for our transgressions”  These are willful violations of God’s law that led to Jesus being pierced.  Crucifixion was not a Jewish form of execution so its amazing that this is described 700 years before it happened.  Jesus’ feet and hands were pierced by nails and His side severed by a spear.

-“crushed for our iniquities” Jesus was crushed under the weight of our crookedness and our crimes against God.  We are sinners by choice (transgressions) and by nature (iniquities).

  • Me.  Friend, until you move from we to me, you won’t own your offenses against the Almighty.  It’s one thing to say that every one’s a sinner, it’s another thing altogether to admit that you are a sinner.  Look at verse 6: We all, like sheep, have gone astray…”  That’s we.  Isaiah then individualizes the illustration: Each of us has turned to his own way.”  That’s me.  I have a sin addiction and so do you – we see words like transgression, iniquity, wicked and sin used throughout this chapter.
  • He.  Jesus took my place as my substitute and made payment for my sins.  He has carried all my griefs, every one of my transgressions, and all my iniquities.  My sins struck the Substitute.  I deserved death but He died in my place.  I sinned.  He suffered.  I’m saved.  I like the way Alexander Maclaren worded it. “You thought that He was afflicted because He was bad and you were spared because you were good.  No, He was afflicted because you were bad, and you were spared because He was afflicted.”  

This chapter is full of the language of substitution and sacrifice.  He took up our  infirmities…He carried our sorrows…He was pierced for our transgressions…He was crushed for our iniquities…The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him…By His wounds we are healed…The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us allHe will bear their iniquities…He bore the sin of many.”

The only freedom from your sin problem, or your substance abuse, or your selfishness, is to trust the Savior as your substitute
  • Free.  When I move from we to me and then to He, I can be free.  I receive peace and I receive healing.  The word “peace” is the Hebrew shalom, which refers to human wholeness.  It’s more than just the absence of hostility.  The only freedom from your sin problem, or your substance abuse, or your selfishness, is to trust the Savior as your substitute.

4. Jesus the Majesty wants to redeem us. 

We see this in verses 8-12: “By oppression and judgment he was taken away.  And who can speak of his descendants?  For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.”  This literally means, “A blow to Him for the transgressions of my people.” He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.”  Man’s intention was for Jesus to be cast into an open grave with common criminals but God saw fit to give Him a rich burial, through the generosity of Joseph of Arimathea.   

These next words show us the Cross from God’s point of view: “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days…” The resurrection is implicit here.  “And the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.  After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.  Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. Two criminals were crucified with Him.  For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

  • It was God’s will that Jesus died for us.  This is picked up in Acts 2:22-23 where we read that while Jesus was crucified by wicked men, His death was determined beforehand by the Father.  The will of the Father was for His Son to suffer for the sins of the people.
  • Jesus died in our place.  This is the heart of the gospel message.  The innocent servant Jesus died as the sacrifice for our sin as a “guilt offering.”
  • Jesus justified us.  We are not only forgiven, we are declared righteous.  There’s a double transaction that takes place.  He forgives our rebellion and gives us His righteousness.  This can never be reversed, undone, or made null and void.
  • God is satisfied with the sacrifice.  Jesus suffered the undiluted, unfiltered wrath of God and then the Father judged Him for our sins.  His payment has now and forever satisfied God’s righteous demands.  Jesus went through pain and became our payment and his plan is to “justify many.”  
  • Jesus is now exalted.  He will “prolong His days” and have a portion among the great, enjoying the reward of being seated at the right hand of the Father.

In Acts 8, we’re introduced to an Ethiopian who was reading the book of Isaiah while riding in his chariot.  A believer named Philip was told to go to the chariot and “stay near it.”  When Philip got close he asked him if understood what he was reading.  The man told him he needed some help so Philip took the opportunity to explain Isaiah 53 to him.  I love verse 35: “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.”  The man listened and then received Christ and was then baptized.

Maybe you think you don’t qualify because you’ve messed up so much.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve done; what matters is what Jesus has done.  There is grace for everyone. Because of grace, Jesus took our place.  This past week the governor of our state was removed from office.  It seems like our whole state is glad that he’s gone, and so am I.  Many people have been angry with him and have been talking about all the bad that he’s done.  Just this week, a young boy came up to me in a public setting and wanted to know if I thought he was guilty.  I hesitated and said, “It sure appears so.”  Friends, as angry as we all are, and as guilty as he appears, God’s grace extends even to him.  I have no idea where he is spiritually but if he were to turn to Jesus in repentance and receive salvation, he would be saved.

No matter what you’ve done, because of grace, Jesus has taken your place.  Let me conclude with some action steps.

  1. Admit that you are a sinner and that you are powerless to overcome sin on your own.
  2. Accept what Jesus has done for you and receive Him into your life.
  3. Plug into this Christian community and join a small group.  Get some new friends.
  4. Move away from the direction of your sin.
  5. Find an accountability partner.  I can put you in touch with someone who has been where you are.
  6. Practice the 60/60 experiment by turning your thoughts to God every 60 minutes by having your watch chime to remind you of His presence.

Did you hear that there’s a big game tonight?  There are always a lot of memorable commercials that get rolled out and many of them are for beer companies.  I remember one several years back that had some frogs sounding out the word “Budweiser.”  Friends, instead of thinking that this “Bud’s for you,” focus instead on the title of one of Carmen’s songs: “This blood’s for you!”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?