Addiction is a real problem. Over 20 million people were diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder in 2019. However, not all addictions involve drugs and alcohol. Behaviors can also be addicting. Sexual addictions such as pornography affect millions, and according to writers at, gambling addiction is at an all-time high.

But what is addiction? Merriam-Webster defines addiction as “a strong inclination to do, use, or indulge in something repeatedly.” However, the deeper meaning of this word is even more revealing. It is formed from the Latin word addictus, which means “handed over.” In ancient times, this word referred to people who could not pay back their debts, so they were “handed over” to their creditors as slaves.

Theologically speaking, this makes a lot of sense. After all, Jesus tells us that anyone who sins is a slave to sin (John 8:34). In another place, Jesus explains that people who do not forgive others their debts are handed over to tormentors until they have paid back everything they owe (Matthew 18:34). When we sin, we place ourselves in debt to others and God.

However, you may ask why you are in “debt” when you sin against another person. You may think that you don’t owe anybody anything when you sin against them, but think about it this way:

Suppose you are walking down the sidewalk one day, minding your own business. You are enjoying the sunshine, listening to the birds singing, and feeling at perfect peace. You are filled with tranquility and contentment. All of a sudden, a man runs toward you, screaming and threatening to kill you. As he gets closer, a look of shame comes across his face as he suddenly realizes that he has mistaken your identity for someone else. He apologizes profusely, and you forgive him for the misunderstanding.

In this example, what did the screaming man take from you? What has he stolen from you that must be repaid? The answer is simple: He has robbed you of your peace, of your security, and of your feelings of comfort. As you were walking down the road enjoying the blessings of God’s nature, you had no concern at all for your security, but when the man began shouting at you, those moments of peace and security vanished forever, and there is no way that man can ever repay you. He can’t give back the peace he stole from you.

This is how we place ourselves “in debt” when we sin against others. Sometimes we sin unintentionally, but other times we do so quite purposefully. Whether intentional or not, though, we are always robbing others of something when we sin. We take away their peace, their trust, their comfort, their security, or something else that we can never repay. We might simply be robbing them of the wonderful experience of living in God’s creation without fear, worry, or dread.

“But,” you ask, “what in the world does this have to do with addiction?” What does sin and forgiveness have to do with my inability to stop drinking, smoking, gambling, or viewing pornography?

Well, the answer may seem overly simple, but the truth is that when we have difficulty overcoming addictions, the reason is that we have not yet learned to forgive others for the things they have stolen from us. We use substances, experiences, and behaviors as ways to make ourselves feel better about things others have robbed from us in this life.

For instance, would you believe that a man’s inability to stop drinking can be related to the neglect he experienced from his mother? A woman may find herself unable to stop abusing prescription medication because she was sexually abused as a young girl. Some people can’t pull themselves away from the slot machines because they are still trying to regain that feeling of security and trust that was lost when their fathers abandoned the home, leaving their families in a state of financial ruin.

The problem is that you cannot repay anyone for the sins you commit against them, and they cannot repay you, either. However, in any sin, there is a debt that must be repaid by someone. It is not enough to simply “forgive” a loss that you have incurred as a result of someone else’s sin. The losses you experience are eternal, but they must be repaid if you hope to become free from addiction. Someone has to take responsibility to give back to you the peace, love, and joy that was robbed from you, and the only person who can repay that debt is Jesus Christ.

When the Lord taught his disciples to pray, he instructed them to say these words: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). If we do not allow Jesus to repay us for the things that others have stolen from us, then we will seek to be repaid in unfulfilling ways. Those who felt robbed of love as children might seek to find repayment in the arms of prostitutes. Those who felt robbed of time might become addicted to work. Those who were robbed of security might seek escape from the dangers of the world through drugs. In all of these examples, people are trying to “get back” to a state of security, wholeness, and comfort that can be experienced only in the childlike trust of a newborn baby.

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). The only way to get back to that state of security and comfort is to trust that God — our perfect, powerful, loving parent — will restore unto us everything that has ever been stolen from us. People can never repay you for the things that they have stolen from you, but God can. When you release your hands from the grip of retribution, the spirits of addiction will lose their grip on you.

Several weeks ago, I was meditating upon the famous verse that encourages us to place justice in the hands of God. “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.” However, we often forget the other half of that promise. Not only does vengeance belong to God, but repayment belongs to God as well. The full verse reads this way: “Vengeance and repayment belong to me” (Deuteronomy 32:35). Therefore, we must not only look to God to punish the ungodly, but we must also look to God for repayment for what the ungodly have stolen.

You may not be completely conscious of the reasons for your addiction. You may feel that there is something wrong with you and that your struggle with addiction is all your fault. You may feel that you grew up in a good home, that you were treated fairly, and that nobody ever seriously harmed you in life. Don’t be deceived, though. You cannot possibly endure fifteen or twenty years of childhood without being hurt by people. As children, we seriously underestimate the grave consequences of the sins that are committed against us. We say to ourselves, “Sure, some people made fun of me when I was a kid, but it was no big deal.” Or we might say, “Yes, my mom and dad were sometimes unfair in the way that they punished me, but they were trying their best.”

Listen, you cannot hope to be free from the grip of addiction if you continue to excuse everyone else for the things they did to sin against you. Don’t avoid the obligation to forgive by living in denial of the offense. The only way to become free, once and for all, from the grip of addiction is to do as Jesus commands us and to forgive others as he has forgiven us. We may feel that we can do without the peace, security, and love that was stolen from us when others sinned against us, but if this were true, then Jesus died on the cross for no reason at all. The Son of God suffered the shame of the cross to obtain your peace, your comfort, your rest, your joy, and your eternal life. He went to hell to take back what was stolen from you. The only thing he asks you to do in return is to let him restore what was robbed from you and to stop demanding those things either from other people or from yourself.

If you are trapped in addiction, you need to take a close look at the ways people have sinned against you in life. It will be necessary for you to honestly review the things that people have done to you, to recognize the injuries you have endured, and to take inventory of the peace, comfort, and security you have lost as a result of the sins that have been committed against you. Only after you have recognized the extent of the injuries you have experienced will you be able to accept the gift of peace, wholeness, and comfort in God’s love that Jesus offers to you.

[Are you trapped in addiction? Maybe it is time you talked to someone. Click here to set up an appointment with a Christian counselor].

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