How to Share the Gospel with Someone Struggling with Addiction - Radical

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How to Share the Gospel with Someone Struggling with Addiction

The first time I met him, he told me he didn’t believe in God. And if God did exist, my friend hated him. How could any divine design be behind all the suffering in his life? Besides, most of the Christians he met were fake, naive, and dumb, cowering behind dogma and a scrupulously maintained veneer of respectability. 

Something had changed when I talked to him on the phone last year. Things had been going well. Mostly sober, he was taking real steps forward in his life. “When I look out over the ocean at night,” he confessed a little sheepishly, “I can’t help but pray. I hope God listens.”

I started working as a substance abuse counselor almost a decade ago at an in-patient rehabilitation facility. I’m also a minister of the gospel, serving as an elder and preacher in a small, local church in the Faroe Islands. Having met hundreds of people struggling with addiction, I have listened to their stories, offering them counsel, and compassion as they try to rebuild their lives. 

The Gospel is for Everyone

Addicts are people like everyone else. As such, they need the gospel like everyone else. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). They can only be justified by the gift of his grace, through the redemption accomplished by Christ Jesus. Without the gospel, there is no hope for anyone, neither in life nor in death. 

Addicts are people like everyone else. As such, they need the gospel like everyone else.

There is, in a way, no such thing as an addict. Some people struggle with addiction. And while that struggle is always disruptive and potentially destructive, both for the individual and their family and community, no person created in the image of God should be reduced to their struggle. Addiction does not discriminate. 

Every kind of person can become addicted. People can be born with neurodevelopmental disorders, such as ADHD, and can go through things like adverse childhood experiences and trauma. These increase the likelihood of substance abuse and developing an addiction. But in my work, I’ve met people from all walks of life and from all over the bell curve: some have reached the highest rungs of society, while others have fallen to the bottom. Most, though, have been somewhere in between, regular people trying to survive as best they know how. 

If you want to share the gospel with someone who is struggling with addiction you need to keep this in mind. The gospel is the same for everyone, but there’s no one-size-fits-all way of communicating it. Love the person in front of you and find out who they are. Listen to their story. Try to see behind defense mechanisms, but do not think you know someone better than they know themselves. Everyone struggles. That is the reality for sinful people living in a fallen world. For many, addiction is part of that struggle. 

Expect a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Some researchers see addiction as “maladaptive learning”, where the brain’s normal centers of learning and pleasure are hijacked by superstimuli. One author additionally argues that we live in an age of addiction, where science and technology have developed ever more refined versions of said superstimuli, and limbic capitalism is allowed to make money from relative human powerlessness in the face of these temptations. 

Be willing to go the extra mile, but be careful to take care of yourself and your family by maintaining healthy boundaries.

The pressure to give in and escape from life’s suffering comes both from within and without and can feel overwhelming. Alcohol and drugs are temptations in this regard, but so are processed food, pornography, promiscuity, gambling, and social media. The struggle with substance abuse and addiction is different in degree, not kind. 

Be ready for the long haul. Addictions can be very difficult to overcome. Some experience instantaneous healing, but hard and persistent work is required for most. Sobriety is just the first step. Next comes the hard work of sifting through all the debris, determining what to throw out and what to retain. 

If you want to successfully share the gospel with someone who is struggling with addiction, you must be faithful and reliable. Be willing to go the extra mile, but be careful to take care of yourself and your family by maintaining healthy boundaries. Expect a marathon, not a sprint.

Answer questions, but remember that actions speak louder than words. Pray for them every day. And always remember that salvation is God’s work. We plant and we water, but as Paul says, it is God who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6–11). God is working. Let this promise remove the pressure off your back, setting you free to serve in love, regardless of initial—or ultimate—results. 

Arni Zachariassen

Arni Zachariassen (BA in theology University of Aberdeen) is a teaching elder at Filadelfia Brethren Church in Gøta, Faroe Islands. A member of the TGC Norden council, he also serves on the TGCN conference planning committee. He works as a substance abuse counselor. Arni is married to Malan and father of three.

LESS THAN 1% OF ALL MONEY GIVEN TO MISSIONS GOES TO UNREACHED PEOPLE AND PLACES.

That means that the people with the most urgent spiritual and physical needs on the planet are receiving the least amount of support. Together we can change that!