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What Does the Bible Say about Addiction and Slavery to Sin?

Actually, the Bible is full of Scriptures addressing this vital subject. Addiction in its many forms is wrong; be it addiction to cigarettes or illegal mind-altering drugs; be it addiction to wrong sexual practices, false ideas and philosophies; be it addiction to a lifestyle of sin; and be it even addiction to something which might not be prohibited per se (i.e. consumption of alcohol), but which becomes sinful due to wrong dependency.

Romans 6:12 tells us very clearly that if we let sinful conduct dictate our lives, we have become addicted to it: “Therefore do not let sin reign [“exercise dominion”, New Revised Standard Version] in your mortal bodies, that you should obey it in its lusts.”

Romans 6:16-22 gives us the following additional admonition:

“Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey [as your “master,” cp. Revised English Bible], whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness… for just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness… but now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.”

The word for “slave” is a translation of the Greek word douloo, which can have the meaning of servant or slave. While it may not always refer to someone under bondage (compare Philippians 2:7), it oftentimes does.

1Timothy 6:1 refers to “bond servants as are under the yoke” [“of slavery,” compare Revised Standard Version]. The Bible applies this word many times to the condition of being a slave to sin (John 8:34) whom God must set free (compare verse 36).

The Greek word can refer to people who are slaves of corruption or depravity; having been overcome by their sins and living in bondage or slavery to sin (2 Peter 2:19). The Living Bible writes: “For a man is a slave to whatever controls him.” The New Revised Standard Version states: “…people are slaves to whatever masters them.” And the New Jerusalem Bible says: “… if anyone lets himself be dominated by anything, then he is a slave to it.”

The Greek verb douloois  is derived from the noun doulos.   It means, “to enslave, to bring into bondage.” We might also say, it describes someone who is addicted to something. For instance, in Titus 2:3 Paul speaks of righteous older women who are “not given to much wine.” In the Greek, it says, “not being enslaved (Greek douloo) to wine.” The New Jerusalem Bible says: “no addiction to wine.” The Revised Standard Version says: “… not slaves to drink.”

Before our conversion, we were all captives of Satan the devil. But2 Timothy 2:26 expresses this hope: “… that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” The Living Bible says: “Then they will come to their senses and escape from Satan’s trap of slavery to sin…”

A slave of sin is under the power of Satan, but he can be freed, and so Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us: “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy (Living Bible: break the power of) him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” The New Jerusalem Bible says: “… [He] set free all those who had been held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death.”

Romans 6:6 explains to us that in our baptism, “our old man was crucified with [Jesus], that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” Sin should not have any more dominion over us (verse 14). The Revised English Bible says: “Sin shall no longer be your master.”

Rather, we have become, quite literally, slaves of righteousness, because we don’t belong anymore to ourselves. Christ bought us, we are His property (1 Corinthians 6:20); He is our Master (John 13:13; Authorized Version); we are His slaves (Matthew 10:24-25; the word “servant” is a translation of the Greek, doulos, see discussion above; the New Revised Standard Version, the New American Bible and the New Jerusalem Bible all translate “slave”).

1 Corinthians 7:23 says: “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.” That price is the precious blood of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19; Revelation 5:9).Hebrew 9:14 adds: “… how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”

On the other hand, as we saw above, we are warned not to allow others to enslave us. This can easily happen, when we are not grounded in the truth, as is explained in 2 Corinthians 11:20: “For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you in the face.”

We read in Galatians 2:4: “… false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage)…”

Quoting from our free booklet, Paul’s Letter to the Galatians:

“Paul says in verse 4 that they came to spy out the liberty in Christ. He refers to the liberty from sin; the liberty or freedom from the curse or the penalty for breaking the law, which is death; real freedom which Jesus promised all of us when He said: ‘When the Son of Man makes you free, you are free indeed’ (compare John 8:31–36). But as Peter points out, in 1 Peter 2:16, our freedom cannot be used as justification for sinful conduct. We are freed from the penalty of the law, not from the need to obey the law.

“Paul insists, in verse 4, that false brethren had come in and taught wrong doctrines to bring true members into bondage… That Greek word is also used in 2 Corinthians 11:20. It means, ‘to enslave thoroughly’…”

Our escape from the slavery of sin will include pain and suffering. We read in 1 Peter 4:1-2:“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his life in the flesh for the lust of men, but for the will of God.”

It is grace from God when He allows us to suffer (1 Peter 2:19 and Philippians 1:29; cp. Revised English Bible; New American Bible; New Luther Bible 2009), as suffering frees us from sin.

Romans 8:16-17says:“The Spirit [itself] bears witness with our spirit that we ARE children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”

We must be very careful, however, that we, who are being freed from sin, don’t become again slaves to sin.

1 Corinthians 6:12 says in a very general sense: “I will not be brought under the power of (anything).” We are to conquer any addiction… whatever it might be. The Revised Standard Version says: “I will not be enslaved by anything.”

This includes, as 2 Corinthians 10:5 explains, the necessity of “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” The New International Version says: ‘… we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Paul points out that we were all at one time slaves to the false teachings, practices and philosophies of this present evil society. Galatians 4:3says:“Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage [“enslaved”, cp. New Revised Standard Version] under the elements of the world…”

Quoting from our free booklet, Paul’s Letter to the Galatians:

“… we all were in bondage ‘under the elements’ or ‘rudiments’ of the ‘WORLD’—that present evil world that he had referred to in the first chapter of Galatians. He makes similar statements in Colossians 2:8, 20 and also in Galatians 4:9, again talking about the elements or rudiments of the world, which he describes as ‘philosophy’ and ‘empty deceit,’ and the ‘tradition of men.’ Paul is talking about the way we lived before we were converted—following the rules, regulations, customs, traditions and philosophies of the world, which is presently ruled by Satan the devil.”

Following this, Paul asks the persistent question, in Galatians 4:9: “But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how it is that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage [“enslaved to them again,” cp. New Revised Standard Version]?”

The same warning is expressed through an allegory in Galatians 4:29, 31; 5:1:“But, as he who was born according to the flesh (Ishmael) then persecuted him who was born according to the spirit (Isaac), even so it is now… So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman [slave woman”, cp. New International Version] (Hagar; Mount Sinai; verse 25) but of the free (Sarah; heavenly Jerusalem; Verse 26)… Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage [“yoke of slavery”, cp. Revised Standard Version].”

Quoting from our free booklet, Paul’s Letter to the Galatians:

“Paul is describing in his symbolic allegory our spiritual battle, which goes on in our mind. God’s Spirit in us wars against our flesh. Our flesh ‘persecutes’ the Spirit of God and must therefore be cast out (compare James 4:4–5, 8; Romans 6:1–4; 8:5–9; and Colossians 2:11–13)…

“He explains that we must walk by the Spirit, which sets us free, not by the flesh, which brings us into bondage… As we have to cast out the fleshly desires and our human nature, Abraham had to cast out the bondwoman and her son (Galatians 4:30). And why? Because the son of the bondwoman, who was born according to the flesh, persecuted the son of the freewoman, who was born according to the Spirit (verse 29). And Paul continues to allegorize by saying that this is also the case today (same verse).

“How? It occurs when God’s Spirit in us wars with our flesh. Paul said that he did not do what he wanted to do, but that he gave in at times to his flesh, following its desires (Romans 7:13–25). As our flesh ‘persecutes’ our Spirit-begotten minds, so we must cast out the flesh and its desires, including temptations which might originate with Satan or this world…”

“Paul also points out, in verse 31, that we are no longer children of the bondwoman—children of bondage to death—if we let Christ live in us. It is Christ who sets us free from sin and death…”

Paul tells us in Romans 7:14 that even as a converted Christian, he sometimes felt to be “sold under sin”, which was still dwelling in him (verses 17, 20) and brought him into captivity (verse 23). He knew that he had to be freed from it, and he fully understood that victory could only come through Jesus Christ (verses 24-25).

God’s Holy Spirit can give us the power to overcome sin and to free us from every addiction, and Romans 8:15 explains that God’s Holy Spirit does not bring us into fearful bondage: “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to FEAR, but you received the spirit of adoption (sonship)…”

This passage does not negate the fact that we are Christ’s slaves and He is our Master who owns us, but this is a loving relationship, as perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). We are to become sons and daughters of God the Father and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. We are His FRIENDS if we do what He tells us to do (John 15:14). As Philemon 15-16 shows, being a slave and a beloved brother and friend are not concepts, which necessarily exclude each other.

It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to put to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13). We are to walk in the Spirit, so that we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Galatians 5:16).

Ephesians 4:7-8 tells us: “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says, ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive And gave gifts to men.” Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible explains this verse as follows: “…he led captivity captive; which is expressive of Christ’s conquests and triumph over sin, Satan, the world, death, and the grave; and indeed, every spiritual enemy of his and his people, especially the devil, who leads men captive at his will, and is therefore called captivity…”As Christ triumphed over His foes of Satan, sin, the world and even death, so He gives us the power and potential to do likewise.

We read that those who practice sin will not inherit the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21). It is Christ in us who empowers us, through His Holy Spirit, to conquer sin. Addiction and slavery to sin CAN and MUST become for us a thing of the past.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link