4 ways my pastor counseled me through drug addiction

July 30, 2018

I was addicted to drugs at 18 years old. I started developing an addiction at 14 and had a daily habit by 15. When I was 18, I began working for a guy at a mall kiosk who was a Christian. Through many conversations, he would seek to convince me why Christianity was true. For a year, I was very hostile to the conversations. At a time when I was very depressed and wanted some kind of relief, I finally, readily agreed to read the Bible. He suggested that I read Matthew because it was the first book of the New Testament. So I read it, God opened my eyes to his saving grace, and I became a Christian.

Very soon after this, I met my neighbor on less than ideal circumstances. I was still battling drug dependence. I was at a very low point when, under the influence one night I decided to leave my house to get food. I bumped into a neighbor's car while backing out of the driveway and left significant scratches and a large dent. The next day he came to the house and said something like, "I believe a car from your house has hit my vehicle. I am going to hold it over your head until you either come to eat dinner with my family or until you come to church with us." Of course, I quickly agreed to go to church!

What could have been the start of a bumpy relationship, through God's grace—and my neighbor's—was the beginning of a great friendship. He soon became my pastor and the one I sought for help during my addiction and he counseled me in four important ways that eventually led to my freedom from drug dependence. I hope you find them as helpful as I did.

4 ways my pastor counseled me

1. A gospel hope

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16).

My pastor was gripped by this truth. He knew that faith in Christ brings a new power—the power of salvation—and with it the power of eventual recovery. While I knew Christ at this point, I still needed to "lay aside the old self." My pastor often counseled me toward this end. He taught assiduously what it meant to be a new man in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), often reminding me that because Christ went to the cross for me, I can come to him at the cross for relief and freedom (Col. 1:13-14). Over time, I found a new desire in the gospel.

For some, the fight against temptation may last a long time, perhaps a lifetime. Christ brings a daily hope when this is the case for us, whatever the temptation may be. We possess his righteousness by faith (2 Cor. 5:21) and have the promise of forgiveness when we confess our sins (1 John 1:9). Furthermore, there’s a day fixed in history that we will see Christ and all our sin and temptations removed from us. We will be free to enjoy him uninterrupted by our sin (1 John 3:2).  

2. A gospel response

How do we respond when we fall?

This is one of the most important things I was counseled on. I knew how to fall back into sin, but my pastor taught me how to fall into the gracious, restorative arms of a loving Father. He would often quote Tim Keller: "The gospel is this: you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, but more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope."

I learned to not to be surprised or feel the need to seclude myself when I sinned. Once I recognized that I am "more sinful and flawed" than I ever dared believe, this brought a readiness for repentance. I also realized that since he fully paid for my sin and now fully accepted me based on his merits, I could freely confess and repent without fear of him rejecting me. Thankfully, I always found this same acceptance from my pastor, which led me to believe his counsel and seek his help without hesitation.  

3. Avoid triggers

Before I became a believer, I had built my life around drugs.

I would work jobs that likely wouldn't require a drug test, made friends that I could do drugs with, and established hangout spots for doing drugs with others. My pastor started asking me, "What are triggers for you? What tempts you to want to use drugs again?" He would also help me strategically think through ways to avoid them. Obviously, this meant an entire lifestyle change for me. As much as I wanted to stay in touch, it meant I had to dissociate with my old friends for a long time. I had to move out of the house I was in because I associated it with drugs. It involved a new job, new sleep patterns, and even new music.

I was grateful, however, to begin a new pattern of life. I got a new job with higher standards and a new house with no reminders of my old habits. Most importantly, I was amazed at how growing satisfaction with the love of Jesus caused my old temptations to lose their power.

4. A gospel community

Similarly, he taught me to live in the context of community.

He would say, "You can expect failure if you're cutting yourself off from the means God uses to produce real life change." Of course, as Christians, the church is that means. We find this exhortation in Hebrews 3:13, "But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." God used this in more ways than I could have imagined. He graciously built mutual accountability within a believing community. My pastor taught me the value of humility and honesty and the necessity to confess my sins to fellow believers (James 5:16). The wisdom and power of God to heal us from our sin through confession is astonishing! On the contrary, to remain in our sin while silent is a dangerous thing: sin grows in silence like mold grows in moisture.  

There were also many times I felt particularly allured to drugs but had fellow Christian brothers I could run to instead. God was gracious to me; he gave me many brothers who made themselves available to me no matter the time of day (or night). Often, redirecting my temporary desire for drugs toward spending time with believers gave me enough grace and strength to get through the temptation for the day. Compiled over multiple days, weeks, and months, this meant eventual freedom from the desire altogether.

When freedom comes slowly

Recovery often happens more slowly than one would wish and in fits and starts. Many people might even say that it never comes entirely. As Christians, we should take this very seriously. God has not created us as disembodied spirits; we are physical beings, just as much as we are spiritual. It’s vital that we find ways to address both.

Some drug addictions, from a physical standpoint, can have such harmful effects that medical treatment may be required. They can also permanently alter the way someone's brain functions. For example, people naturally have dopamine in their brain that controls the mood, emotions, and levels of pleasure experienced. Most drugs increase dopamine levels artificially, creating the euphoric effect. The brain then naturally recognizes a high level of dopamine and lowers the amount it produces to compensate. Sometimes this can be a permanent effect. Thus, the result can be an inability to find natural things and everyday life pleasurable anymore. Drugabuse.org reports, "This is why a person who abuses drugs eventually feels flat, lifeless, and depressed, and is unable to enjoy things that were previously pleasurable." When individuals experience this, it makes relapse more likely. When we seek to counsel someone through drug addiction, therefore, we must remember this crucial physical component.[1]

When a person has struggled with drug addiction for a long time, it can feel like an uphill battle—one that feels impossible to climb. Yet, this is precisely the one whom Christ has come to save. He has endless compassion for this person, and we need to remind them of that repeatedly. A constant craving for drugs may be a "thorn" in a believer's flesh, but God's grace is sufficient, "for [his] power is perfected in weakness." As a believer struggles through this, it can be easy for him to be filled with guilt and shame, but Christ offers the same powerful hope to him and all believers—the hope of his righteousness given through faith. It is important, likewise, to remind one another that "there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 8:1).

God has provided multiple means for our flourishing, whether it be spiritual or physical. For the spiritual, he's provided his Word, prayer, and the church. For our physical flourishing, he has provided medicine, medical professionals, including psychiatrists and psychologists. It is essential to utilize all the means of grace God has provided us with, especially when it comes to drug addiction.

All of us, regardless of what we struggle with, can take comfort in the fact that Christ sets us free from "the domain of darkness” and removes us from sin's power (Col. 1:13-14). I hope my story reminds you that "[God's] divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence" (2 Pet. 1:3). May we encourage and counsel one another toward that end in whatever battles we face.

Though we may not experience full and final recovery or victory in this life, Christ’s resurrection and coming return promise sanctification to us in full. We will have our fallen bodies and minds made new and morally pure. As 1 John 3:2 says, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” At the sight of Christ, our previous desire for sin will be instantly obliterated and replaced with fulfillment in the fullness of pleasure he gives us (Psalm 16:4). Our longing for this promised future offers us the joy we may revel in now.


  1. ^ Above information taken from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drugs-brain

Matthew Richardson

Matthew Richardson served as student pastor at Emmanuel International Church in Paris, France. He is an avid reader of theology. Matthew is currently studying to get his B.A. in Global Business Management at Troy University. He blogs at MatthewRichardson.blog where he writes about race, faith, and theology. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

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We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24