Are You Addicted to Your Flesh or Jesus?
I’m hooked on a feeling. I’m high on believing.
-Hooked on a Feeling, Blue Swede.
The lyrics from a 1970’s love song don’t seem to have much to offer to Gods’ church. The song is not Christian nor is the one hit wonder band behind it. In truth, the tune is as shallow as it is self centered. Yet, there is wisdom in its catchy chorus. Blue Swede’s words unintentionally spotlight a huge issue in God’s church. Put simply, too many Christians are addicted and are not dealing with it. They are just as hooked on getting a high as the substance abuses, except their fix of choice is their own feelings. They live to satisfy their flesh with Christian flavored pleasure rather than to serve Jesus in all circumstances. The end result is a faith as shallow and self involved as Blue Swede’s lyrics. It is also one that misses out on so much in Christ.
It is a tragic waste of time and misdirection of zeal.
The Power of the Flesh
The root cause of addiction lies not in the drugs, but in the brokenness within the person. The individual is usually in pain. They are also stuck with a problem. They feel bad as a result of their own wounds. They want to stop hurting and feel good, but because of their issues they don’t have the ability to do so. The cycle of substance abuse starts when this broken person tries to take a shortcut to make their pain go away. They choose an easy “high” of some sort to make themselves feel better for a time without dealing with the actual wound. The problem is the drug itself does not provide any real solutions. It is also only temporary, but it is intensely powerful and easily attained. The individual who had been miserable is flooded with a pleasurable sensory experience that allows them to forget the hurt for a while. No one starts off intending to be an addict. They simply don’t know how to feel good outside of their high. They don’t have the maturity, discipline, and training to grow on their own. They get dependent on that shortcut to produce the feelings they crave, as a result.
It is a devastating cycle of will, self harm and self deception.
A Christian Experience Addict?
The idea of a Christian addict of any kind may seem strange after reading this definition. Church people don’t even do drugs, mostly. Yet, the same pattern leads many to be stuck in a frustrating life in the Lord. They become hooked on feeling their own feelings rather than on serving Jesus. Their desires lead their perception of God, His people, and their role and produces weak fruit.
The Christian addiction cycle shares the same root cause as the secular. Every believer comes to the Lord in brokenness and suffering the affects of sin. The Lord’s redemption is wonderful and life changing, but the complete healing of the wounds from life can take time. This is done through the sanctification process. As we grow in faith and maturity, God not only heals us but He uses these past hurts to minister to others. It is a beautiful fruit of our relationship with our loving Father, but it takes time and patient faith. It can also be gut wrenching as we are forced to deal with the sin within our flesh. This is part of Jesus’ call on us as disciples:
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. Matthew 16:24
The hurting Christian faces a great temptation as they answer the Lord’s call. They already are in pain. They feel spiritually bad to begin with as a result of sin. It can seem so much simpler to use an easy shortcut to feeling good, rather than willingly accept the agony that comes with dealing our ugly self. They do so by finding something to serve as their “high” in the church, Christian culture, and life. This often takes the form of emotionally powerful experiences. These are events, interactions, or practices that strongly arouse the participants senses and gives them pleasurable feedback. They are the shortcut to transport the Christian directly from feeling bad to feeling good, without the need for internal examination. They fact that they are intensely stimulating obscures the nasty truth that they often do nothing for a person’s spiritual condition. They just please the flesh while disguised as something holy. This may not seem like a big deal, but it sets the Christian up for disaster. It makes their own fickle heart the foundation of their faith rather then Jesus’ finished work on the Cross. The predictable result is that their walk becomes erratic, self centered, and fixated on making themselves feel what they think they should.
They become hooked on feeding their flesh in just the right way to convince themselves of God’s love. Their life with Christ is spent manufacturing the next high while avoiding the truth of their own emptiness.
Emotions are not bad, in themselves. Excitement, exhilaration, and fun are part of the Christian life. It is when attaining the desired feelings becomes the goal of your Christian life that there is a big problem.
Why Do You Seek a Sign?
New believers often fall into this trap. They come to Christ giddy with excitement. They love how it feels to be on fire with the Lord. They sense that God is with them and loves them. They are often excited to tell everyone they see about Jesus.
This is wonderful! There is nothing wrong with experiencing times like these in Christ. God is truly wonderful and exciting and His people are privileged to see that!
The problem comes when they use the presence or absence of these feelings to judge God’s power, love, or favor. They limit God by believing that when they experience excitement, giddiness, or the “feeling of God”, that is when the Lord is active and pleased with them. They are doing well in Christ when they feel His love. If they are not “feeling it”, then God is not there and there is something wrong. They go to great lengths to change their own perception and think they are doing better in response. It is a vicious process that subtly steals life’s focus from Jesus and fixes it on their feelings. Their own emotions become the barometer of God’s relationship with them. It is also calling God a liar. He promised not to leave or forsake us. His presence in not dependent on our feeling it.
The high can also be within the the pulsing music of “worship experiences” or the carefully packaged presentation of the seeker sensitive mega church. These atmospheres are designed to be overwhelmingly intoxicating to our senses. They swamp every aspect of our consumeristic flesh. They strategically employ thousands of dollars of lighting and equipment, professional musicians, millions of dollars of building supplies, and highly choreographed services to flood the attendee with pleasurable sensory input. These are so intense, it can seem like being at the the pinnacle of Christian life itself. The believer leaves knowing that something powerful happened. They associate it with God and want more of that feeling in their life. Yet, they usually end up frustrated when they try to do Christian things to add to the experience. Reading the Bible does not make them feel as good as they do in the experience. Praying quietly to God does not get their heart pumping like it did while under the influence of the worship experience.
The simple things of the Most High God seem boring compared to their high.
The Christian can end up trapped like a hamster running on a wheel constantly attempting to recreate the cocktail of sensory input they enjoyed so much on Sunday. They become addicted to the emotions of the church experience rather than obeying Jesus.
It can even show up in the study of God’s Word. We can be so focused on academic aspect of the Bible, we equate the excitement and pride that comes when we find new fun tidbits with being healthy in Jesus. We can spend our life like the Pharisees, combing the Scriptures for new angles or information to titillate ourselves without growing in wisdom, love, and maturity.
You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. John 5:39
We can be just as much hooked on a Bible feeling and miss that it is all about Him.
The common strain running through each is as old as it is simple. It is making life all about us – how we think, feel, how we are pleased, we are satisfied, or we feel good – rather than the wonder of God’s glory.
Give Me More Excitement!
What do you think so far? Am I just making something up here?
If you think I am, consider Simon the Sorcerer from Acts 8. He cut quite the figure before Christ. He was an exciting and important man in Samaria. His sorcery, magic of some sort, was so impressive that everyone seemed to know him. He was dramatically acclaimed by all of the people:
to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the great power of God.” 11 And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time. Acts 8:10-11
Simon was a man used to the thrilling things. He spent many years in the midst of exciting demonstrations of power before Christ. Simon was a big deal until Jesus Christ. The Bible says that Simon, the former sorcerer, came to Christ and was baptized. There is no indication this was not an authentic conversion. Yet, a funny thing happened to this new believer. After his conversion, Simon witnessed the miracles being done by the Apostles. He saw the Holy Spirit fall on new believers and seems delighted and amazed. This was the sort of excitement he reveled in before Christ. Simon seemed to greatly esteem this new exhilarating path with Christ and decides to grab onto it for himself. He wants to the dramatic experiences available to him wherever he went. His desire for the thrilling leads Simon into a grave error:
18 And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Give me the power. Anyone that I lay hands.
Simon tried to manufacture more of what pleased him on his own terms. He attempted to force God’s hand and dictate through his own effort. He appeared hooked on the feeling that he got from watching the display of God’s power. Peter’s response is jarring:
20 But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! 21 You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”
Simon’s heart is not right for a simple reason. He wanted his life to happen on his terms in the way that pleased Simon, all while using God’s exhilarating power. His heart craved the experience more than it sought God Himself. Simon was serving his own feelings and expectations rather than God.
A life following Jesus faithfully can include excitement, emotional highs, and miracles. I have seen the Lord work in mind blowing ways since I was saved. There is nothing wrong with these emotions and in rejoicing in times of plenty. There is nothing unholy about seeing God’ s miraculous signs given to us through His power. Yet, they represent only a part of the wonderful character and work of God in our lives. The thrilling things of the faith are fraction of the glorious gifts of the Lord. Christ is beautifully present in the mundane, the painful, and the loss. Jesus is magnified through our resting and simple faith. God works in the quiet and simple to show Himself powerfully, even when we don’t feel it. He sometimes speaks the loudest through our failure and despondency. His simple daily peace is breath taking, but we will never see this if we are focused on ourselves. If we define God’s goodness and presence only by the things we enjoy, if we are addicted to feeding our flesh, we will miss out on seeing all of the true God.
You cannot serve two masters – Christ and your emotions. You will love the one you serve and despise the other. Choose today who you will serve!