I recently heard you share part of your story about the love addiction that led you into 12-step recovery.
I am struggling with a constant battle against unhealthy and ungodly addictive cycles that I know are sinful, I know I’m deliberately turning from the light and choosing willful sin. Because of this, I’ve worked myself in a state of terror about these two passages:
Matthew 12 v 31 “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
And Hebrew 6v 4 “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss, they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”
I’ve also been reading George MacDonald and he says the one thing that cannot be forgiven is the sin of choosing to be evil or refusing deliverance. “He who chooses to go on sinning annihilates God’s forgiveness.”
I am terrified by these verses that even if I can get free of all this addiction stuff that I may not be able to be forgiven.
Do these passages mean what I think they mean and what my Evangelical upbringing also says they mean?
I hear this question often from both addicts and people who struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder. They consistently find themselves in these same passages, terrified of condemnation yet powerless over their obsessions.
Let’s view this from a few angles:
First, let’s recognize the difference between bondage and rejection.
The addict must realize that they are powerless over their addiction and that their lives have become unmanageable. They must recognize that no amount of self-will, self-effort, or self-hatred will free them from their enslavement. They must want to be free.
But while they are powerless over their addiction in a head-to-head struggle with it, addicts are NOT powerless to open their hands to the grace of God on a daily basis and to surrender their lives and will to God’s grace. As C. Baxter Kruger says to me so often,
“Jesus made his way to the bottom of the abyss of our being in our catastrophic blindness and apostasy. And he brought his Father and the Holy Spirit with him forever.”
As we find ourselves face-to-face with that love and open ourselves to his grace and wisdom, he is able to release us from our bondage one day at a time. Now from Baxter again:
But if we refuse to look at ourselves and reject the path of grace, we will not see how the Father turned our sin (crucifying Christ) into the mercy seat and a new covenant of freedom. The person who willfully rejects that grace and turns from Christ isn’t going anywhere.
Here is the dilemma: How can God release us until we are completely willing to surrender themselves to his loving care?
Surrender & Release
Second, notice that I used the word ‘release’ a number of times. In the New Testament, Jesus and the apostolic authors use the word aphiēmi frequently. In its most literal sense, this word means ‘to loose,’ as in, to set loose or to be set loose. It is sometimes translated forgive (forgiving sin) or remit (canceling a debt) or release (from bondage) or even divorce (undoing a marriage).
I believe these passages that warn us about a dead-end to ‘forgiveness’ are not at all imagining God holding a grudge or withholding forgiveness from someone who asks for it. It’s certainly not a condemnation of those enslaved to the chains of addiction. Rather, the Scriptures describe those who refuse to come to him for freedom and continually reject his grace. As long as they turn from him, they remain enslaved … they are not released.
In your confession, I hear someone who is being honest with self, with God, and with me, and that even reaching out is a conscious act of pursuing God’s grace. You don’t seem like someone who wants to cling to slavery or wants to reject Jesus. So I would not regard these dire warnings as pertaining to your seemingly hopeless situation.
However, I would read them as an invitation — a piercing question from Jesus: “Do you want to be free?” Paul Young says, “You cannot be released from that which you won’t surrender.” This begs the question: how can we release ourselves from our own handcuffs? We can’t. But we CAN willingly hold our bound hands out to Jesus. He is able to release us. Said another way, you ARE able to hold your hands open to grace, to surrender the compulsions to him every time they arise, and perhaps more critically, to allow him to minister healing to the wounds you try to self-medicate through your addictions.
In my experience, this is not done independently. I participate in 12-step recovery because I cannot save myself and because Jesus has chosen a healing community as the means of our recovery process. Jesus is the Good Samaritan who brings us to the Inn to be treated with the wine of his blood, the oil of his Spirit, and the bandages of his community. Those who become completely willing to submit to his way of healing find that recovery is possible. Those who determine to do it their own way or imagine they’ll do it on their own (even “just me and Jesus”) have not yet admitted their powerlessness, are not yet ready to surrender, and won’t find release until they do.
So I’m inviting you to find a recovery community where the daily practice of surrender to God is the way of release. Whatever our addiction, there are online communities across the world where we can start (via Zoom or phone meetings). You can do a browser search for [your addiction] + [online meetings]. For example, I saw this meeting-finder immediately: https://slaafws.org/meetings. The question is, will you turn for help or not? That will determine whether or when you’ll start to experience the release of forgiveness that was already established at the Cross (“while we were still sinners”).
Thanks for reaching out,