Category Archives: Biblical Insight

The Addicted Brain and The Christian Mind

How are we to reconcile new neuroscience findings on the addicted brain with a theology of the Christian mind and sin?

Neuroscience is discovering some very interesting findings about brain function in regards to natural, process addictions. It has been noted that brain change occurs in substance abuse addictions, but new research is revealing the same changes happen in the frontal cortex of persons with sex and pornography addictions, food addictions and gambling addictions.

In 2002, a study on cocaine addiction demonstrated measurable volume loss in several areas of the brain, including the frontal lobes. In 2007, a VBM study out of Germany demonstrated almost identical finding to the cocaine, methamphetamine, and obesity studies. It concludes for the first time that a sexual compulsion can cause physical, anatomic change in the brain, the hallmark of brain addiction. A preliminary study showed frontal dysfunction specifically in patients unable to control their sexual behavior. This study used diffusion MRI to evaluate function of nerve transmission through white matter. It demonstrated abnormality in the superior frontal region, an area associated with compulsivity.

Hilton DL, Watts C. Pornography addiction: A neuroscience perspective. Surg Neurol Int [serial online] 2011 [cited 2012 Mar 22];2:19. Available from:

Of course there are detractors. David J. Ley wrote a recent piece in the New York Times, calling sexual addiction a myth. However, he stands against most of the scientific community in this regard.

The Affects of The Fall on Our Brains

If a biological component to addiction can be shown to be present, does it alleviate our culpability or responsibility for sinful behavior? You and I were not present at the Fall (Genesis 3), but we do know that something devastating happened to ALL of creation that day.

One consequence of the fall of man is the so-called “curse on creation,” described in Genesis 3:17-19. Since life and blessing come from God, and God inhabits the spiritual realm, earth’s reduced fecundity after the fall can be thought of as a disruption of the power flow of the sustaining energy of the spiritual realm into the physical realm of our “two-storied” universe. In some way we do not yet understand the fecundity of nature was reduced by these curses, indicating a reduction of sustaining power from God into the physical creation. Opportunistic weeds, bugs, diseases and maladies are some of the results.

Paul describes this fall of the physical material universe:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
(Romans 8:19-22 ESV)

This effect of the Fall on the physical world surely involves our material bodies. While we have a “mind,” let us not forget that what houses that mind is a physical organ called the brain. And that material brain experienced the ramifications of the curse of Adam’s sin. We see a glimpse of this transpiring over time when Paul writes:

  And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:28 ESV)

The Christian Mind

Yet having a brain wired for addiction does not grant a free pass for the responsibility or consequences of sin any more than possessing a gun and a spastic finger makes it okay to murder.  If I know I have a gun and a spastic finger, I must take extra precautions to make sure said finger never gets inside the trigger guard. While it is sometimes tempting to for me to  say, “Well, God, you made me this way,”–or in its more polite and respectable form, “God, why did you make me this way?”– this is an entirely unhealthy attitude even though God is powerful enough that such an accusation doesn’t knock him off His throne.

There is a biblical insight given to the fact that is possible to set our minds on the things of God:

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6, ESV)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind… (Romans 12:2, ESV)

… take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5, ESV)

 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
(Philippians 4:8 ESV)

While it may be more difficult to do this with a brain that is hardwired for addiction, it does not make it impossible. And God never promises us an equal playing field with others. The Fall damaged different people in different ways, sexual addiction and other addictions being merely one manifestation. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we are given the power to overcome the flesh, yes even flesh that involves a fallen mind.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:16-17 ESV)

No matter what neuroscience discovers–and I am highly interested in this–the ability to overcome the power of addiction in my life, while challenging, is available in Christ through the Holy Spirit.





Uncharted Eschatology: Gettin’ Schooled on the End Times

I stood with my jaw dropped at an East Texas pastor’s home. Toward the end of dinner, the talk turned to theology. He questioned me on my eschatology–those end time views guaranteed to stir the hornets’ nest. I gave them reservedly, wondering if my host had a guillotine for those who weren’t in his ‘camp’ hidden somewhere in a closet. He seemed that type. I didn’t have to wonder long. His face scoured, and he stated that we should talk more theology after dinner, quickly changing the subject so as to not let my views spoil his dessert. Finally, the moment I knew was coming, came. It was time to get schooled. Post-dinner, instead of brandy–he was thorough going T-Totaler which was fine with me–he invited me into his study. As he flipped on the lights, both literally and figuratively in his intent, before me stood a three-fourths completed wall mural, an exact replica of Clarence Larkin’s circa 1920’s chart of the End Times. Clarence Larkin Dispensational Chart

Its detail was exquisite, the desire for accuracy made obvious by the overhead projector location on the floor marked by blue masking tape so as to accurately beam this theological masterpiece onto the wall. As I gazed at his version of the Sistine Chapel, he simply looked over at me, pointed at the wall and said, “Brother, THAT is the truth.” My mouth was wide open, not because of the truth or detail of the chart, but because I was thinking, “Who would spend this type of energy on a replicating a chart?”

When we think of the end times, or eschatology, most people’s mind instantly go to timelines or charts. Of course, the most detailed charts are made by those who read the text “most literally.”  But what if Revelation, Daniel and the apocalyptic genre were meant to be read ‘literaturely’ not literally? Fully inspired, YES! Literal, maybe not.

What if we were supposed to view the end time apocalyptic biblical passages more like a Monet than a Rembrandt?

Monet's Impressionism
Rembrandt's Realism

What if it God gave us broad theological brush strokes and we were to stand back from it and take it in, not approaching every individual phrase looking for micro-correspondence to our own historical time-frame? What if God wanted us less consumed with locusts or geopolitical maps as much as the overarching beauty of the return of Christ? Maybe it is time to flip off the overhead projectors,or iPads you hiptsers, whether we be dispensationalists or amillenialists. Granted, an amillenial chart is quite boring, one arrow.

What if instead we remember that eschatology is much more about the fact that:

1. Christ will physically return delivering the hope of the resurrection.

2. Good will ultimately overcome evil, and evil will be judged.

3. History is not random and chaotic, but is being guided by God to its climax.

4. A new earth will be established where we can live out what was intended for us in Eden:

a. Perfect fellowship with God.

b. Perfect community with one another.

c. Perfectly stewarding His rule to the new creation (Three Purposes).

5. God will be worshiped and glorified for eternity, being shown to be a faithful, gracious promise keeper!

So maybe I–we–should all take a big step back from the text, put down our paints and instead look at the non-chronological aspects of Christ’s return allowing it to have a purifying effect on us–ME included!

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
 (1 John 3:2-3)

Amen. More to come…

Having Days in the Valley

We all long to be on the mountaintop, but most days are spent in the plains, and some, even in the valley. It is very easy to realize the nearness of God’s presence and fellowship with Him (purpose #1) from the summit. Not as easy in the valley. In fact, Our Enemy would have us perceive God’s absence, and despair in the plains and valleys.

In the Old Testament, Syria is Israel’s enemy and continues to assail them, just as Our Enemy does us.

And the servants of the king of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they. . .muster an army like the army that you have lost, horse for horse, and chariot for chariot. Then we will fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.” And he listened to their voice and did so. (I Kings 20:23-28 mouseover reference for whole verse)

The Israelites were people of the high hills. Moses was given the Law on a mountain. Jerusalem lay 4,000′ above sea level.  The Psalms consistently celebrate the heights and the mountains. The prophets were called to and from the mountain. As the mountains are around Jerusalem, so God is around His people (Psalm 125:2). It would be easy to conclude that God is mainly God of the heights, those mountaintop experiences we have when all appears to be going well and His nearness to us is easily realized.

That is exactly what King Benhadad of Syria thinks. ‘If I can just get the Israelites down off the mountain, things will change and I’ll have victory.’ Our Enemy seeks to do the same thing, to pull us down into the valley to see if our faith holds, to see if we really believe the Gospel we so easily espouse from the mountaintop. And so when Our Enemy is able to pull us into the plains and valleys, he stands and gloats like Benhadad presuming we are heading to our doom, outnumbered by our own sinful failure and lack of hope.

But there is one thing Our Enemy has forgotten, our God is not just a God of the mountains but a God of the valleys.

  And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The LORD is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.’” And they encamped opposite one another seven days. Then on the seventh day the battle was joined. And the people of Israel struck down of the Syrians 100,000 foot soldiers in one day.
(1 Kings 20:28-29 ESV)

The God that marches the heights also lies where the shadows are the deepest. He is God of life’s hilltops, where it is easy to believe. But what of life’s gorges, when circumstances or our own sin has brought us to a dark place bereft of natural light–can we then believe this Gospel? Can we have hope? Yes, he can provide us victory in the valley!

James S. Stewart points out a foundational fact.

The God of our joys is also the God of our sorrows. The God of the radiant times when it is easy for our heart to sing is also just as near when the foundations are shaking and our song seems a million miles away. Yes, He is with us even when we are in the self-created valley of our own sinful behavior. The valley is precisely why Jesus died and didn’t come merely teaching a good ethic–to offer us salvation and not merely morality. How do we know this? Jesus the revealer of God the Father shows us this, for Jesus performed miracles at both weddings and funerals. He is with you on your best day and worst, calling you to realize His nearness and His provision of victory!

So whether on the mountain, plains or in the valley, realize his nearness and don’t stop worshiping and trusting.




A Deep Breaking of Purpose 3: Stewarding His Rule and Reflecting His Character

God originally designed us with the three purposes in mind, the third purpose being:

To steward his rule and reign in creation by reflecting His glory and character to creation.

God placed our great-great-great parents in the Garden of Eden to have dominion over the creation.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”  (Genesis 1:26-28)

Humanity was called to steward God’s rule on behalf of God to the Creation. God shared this privilege with mankind. We were to have have dominion over creation as His caretakers, not to dominate it. And we were not to confuse our role with God’s role. We are the stewards, God is the owner. We are the managers, God is the Creator, for that is God’s position alone.

And how were we to steward his rule and reign? By providing creation a glimpse of God. We were created in His image so that we might reflect His glory and character to all of the Garden–His goodness, kindness, and mercy. We possessed that ability as we lived in His presence (purpose #1) and in authentic relational community (purposer #2). So as the moon reflects the sun, we were to reflect the care and supervision of God to the creation.

    Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . . 
    So God created man in his own image,
        in the image of God he created him;
        male and female he created them.  (Genesis 1:26, 27 ESV)

We were to be stewards of the King and His Kingdom, to ‘image’ God to the creation. And it was good…

But Then the Fall Happened

After the Fall, humanity ceases to steward God’s Kingdom and instead we begin to attempt to build our own kingdoms. We ceased to graciously have dominion over creation and instead tried to dominate it for our own benefit. We tried to play the role of God. This is clearly seen in the Tower of Babel account (Genesis 11:1-9 mouseover verse), where man decided they would be ‘just like God.’ Of course this leads to disaster, and we, when we choose to live apart from Christ, continue to take the same tact and yield the same results on a global scale–wars, terror, genocide, abortion, etc.–and on an individual level–dominating others for the almighty dollar, sexual gain, or position. We build our own castles and bastions of power. Our ability to accurately reflect God’s glory and character to creation was distorted like a tarnished fun-house mirror.

The Fall also affected creation as it attempts to dominate us. Instead of willfully yielding as in the Garden, the post-Fall creation requires man to toil to receive its fruits. To Adam, God says:

Cursed is the ground because of you;
        in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
    thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
        and you shall eat the plants of the field.
    By the sweat of your face
        you shall eat bread, (Genesis 3:17-19 ESV)

And so Our Enemy used fallen creation to rail against humanity with disease, distortion, defects and yes, even  brains that are biologically susceptible to addiction, habitual sin, and hurting others. This biological crash-and-burn does not render us free of culpability, but it can compound our willful capitulation towards sin. As Christians, we don’t have to totally discount the addiction-as-disease model but we cannot completely concede our wrong behavior to it either.

So, here ends Act 1 of the Three Purposes. Humanity is left beaten and broken, exiled from Eden and aliens to the ability to fulfill God’s intended purposes. BUT GOD is infinitely good and had foreseen the Fall, and He had a rescue plan in place for us before He ever began creation. All was not lost, and all is not lost for you or me no matter how far we have drifted from God or sunken into the mire of our sin. There is Good News coming….stay tuned.




Thank God I Am Not Like Them

Many times we are tempted to think we need less grace than someone else, after all my sin is so much more respectable. Even addicts often look at others with addictions and have the internal dialogue, “Wow, I’m glad my problem isn’t as bad as theirs.” How foolish and ignorant we are. But this is nothing new.

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
 (Luke 18:10-14 ESV)

Before we look down in condescension on other wretched saints engaged in the beautiful fight, we should heed Richard Baxter who wrote:

He that hides one rebel in his house is a traitor to the Crown, and he that indulges one sin is a traitorous hypocrite.

One traitor in the house calls for as much need of grace from the King as does housing 100. Both acts carry the same title– traitor.

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
(James 2:10 ESV)

It is as if the Law, a reflection of God’s holiness, is set before us as a large pane of glass that is the shatter resistant safety type. If I were to take the smallest of hammers and attempt to break out the tiniest of pieces the whole pane would spider web shatter just as if I hit it with to the same degree as if I hit it with a sledge.

But grace is available, which God desires to pour out upon us in bucket fulls.

. . . but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,
(Romans 5:20 ESV)

Hallelujah and Amen! Keep fighting.


A Deep Breaking of Purpose 2: Relationships and Community

Sin breaks down our ability to live out purpose #2: To live in authentic community (relationships), and to multiply that community by including others.

Perhaps one of the most damning things about sin is the fact that no matter how much we feel it to be a private event and struggle, it never is. Sin–even when committed in the most secretive manner–always effects others, particularly those that love us most. The damage done to the relationship might be because they become aware of a sin that deeply wounds them.  But even if loved ones don’t have an awareness of our sin, our sin causes such an inner decay that we cannot relate to them as we should. My sin causes great damage by eroding intimacy in all my relationships, especially the most key–my wife and kids. My sin has deeply altered those relationships. It has always been this way. Sin is never truly private. An individual’s sin always goes communal in its damaging of relationships.

The First Sin

The first sin affected intimacy and affection. Listen to Adam’s tone in terms of his wife. It shifts dramatically post-Fall as he blames God and passes the hot potato of responsibility straightway to Eve.

He [GOD] said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”
(Genesis 3:11-12)

But that is not the end of the descriptive breaking that sin brings with it.

To the woman he [GOD] said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
    Your desire shall be for your husband,
        and he shall rule over you.”  (Genesis 3:16-24 mouseover)

And so we see the damning relational aspect of sin. Some commentators state this is a sexual/love desire for her husband. But that explanation does not make sense in our given context. Instead, I take “desire”– hqvwt in Hebrew— to mean that sin brought with it a contest of wills, of power, as Eve now tries to ursurp Adam’s leadership to gain his position. And Adam, instead of kind servant leadership, now leads with a degree of tyranny and despotism.

The Second Sin

Sin’s relational breaking effect continues, as Adam and Eve’s eldest child Cain, becomes enraged that his younger brother’s offering is accepted and his is not. The effects of sin, in this case, lead to the ultimate in relational breakdown–murder.

    The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper (Genesis 4:6-9 ESV)

My Sin

When I examine my sin, particularly as related to addiction, I clearly see the damage it causes my loved ones. I see it in their pain and sadness. I see it in my physical absence. I hear it in their voicing loneliness while in the midst of my “presence.” I see it in their eyes. This now haunts me (yet I do possess hope in Christ!). In the midst of living in an addictive state, I  discounted this fact, self-rationalizing that my sin was contained in some kind of deep, inner compartment that didn’t have to affect my family and friends. This is one of the great myths of sin. Part of the engaging in the beautiful fight is looking clearly in the face the fact that my sin does cause relational damage. It cannot be contained. The antidote is to repent, turning again from our sin to the Gospel that in Christ, living in real, authentic relationship is possible, though no guarantee that this will come without struggle. In the classic twelve step world, this is the 8th step and 9th step. In my personal recovery, I have participated in counseling but never a Christ-centered twelve step program. I now am. I know it will be a painful yet joyful journey for my loved ones and me. Yet I am looking forward to God using it to keep me engaged and victorious in the beautiful fight and to undo the damage I have done to my most important relationships.

Lord, thank you for the hope you offer to undo this breaking and establish your purpose for me to live in healthy, transparent relationships. My flesh resists this, seeking the myth of protecting myself from emotional vulnerability and the urge to believe my sin only affects me. Shine your light clearly on this untruth and its ugliness as the enemy’s weapon. Let Truth prevail. Bring healing and empower me to daily surrender to You and to have this surrendering empower within me the passion and ability to be the husband, father and friend that I should have been. I trust this possible in Christ. Amen.


A Deep Breaking of Purpose 1: Broken Fellowship

In the Fall seen in Genesis 3, there was a deep breaking. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they passed on an ugly gift to each of us–a sin nature. For a long time, I viewed sin as something that made God angry–a wrong thought, attitude or behavior. I also clearly understood I had a sin nature as it raised up its head so often in my life. But there was a deeper breaking than this. What I have to consider fully is the degree that sin had broken or distorted God’s three purposes if we are going see victory and freedom.

P1: To fellowship with God in the nearness of His presence.

After Adam and Eve sinned, God appeared in the garden for another walk in the cool of the evening as He had time and time before. However, this time Adam and Eve, in shame, had hidden themselves realizing that they were naked. God asked them  the question that we, too, must answer, “Where are you?” An Adam did what we all tend to do. He pitched the blame like a hot potato elsewhere (Genesis 3:12 mouseover verse). And in doing so

The Fall continues to affect us in the same way. I, like others, tend to hide in shame in when I sin. I tend to make excuses and pitch blame. These actions only serve to make me less aware that fellowship with God that is available to me through Christ. At these times, I find myself being more of a deist, thinking that God is out there watching, rather than a theist, knowing that He is intervening and available. I tend to try to take control of things–attempting to covering myself like Adam in order to please God. I do what I heard a member of my recovery group recently say. I attempt to have a good day and then ask, “God, what do you think of me today?” as  if I were participating in some kind of giant make-it-up-to-you-God exercise. This is of course, ultimately ridiculous and futile.

God’s availability to me and my awareness of the nearness of His presence is only because of Christ and what He has accomplished that I cannot. He has restored the potential of Eden to me and to you as we live in union with Him. More to come on that hope in future posts. For now you and I must continue to dissect what is broken in us if we are able to have victory over our sin, our habits, our hurts, and our addictions.

God’s Original Purpose for Us, Made Simple

God has a purpose for creating us. In the garden of Eden, He tells us that purpose through a narrative of humanity in a perfected state, unstained by sin. This is what our full humanity is to look like. These purposes are what God is moving us towards, even as sin and addiction fights against it. This is what we are battling for  in the beautiful fight.  Many times, we approach Genesis 1-3 as a modern Christians wearing our apologetic sunglasses. Our main purposes seems to be using the text for wrestling with those who are of a naturalistic evolutionary bent. This is a huge mistake, for this is not the prime reason Genesis 1-3 made it into our Bibles. YES, God is Creator of all things. That fact is vital.  (And whether you believe it occurred in six literal days or leave open the potential it happening over billion of years does not matter to me. In fact, for the point I am making here, your view of whether there was one literal Adam and Eve or the first couple were a metaphorical type of humanity doesn’t  matter, though I fall into the first camp.

 God established three purposes for us that are clearly seen in the story of Adam and Eve in Eden.

P1. To fellowship with God as we realize the nearness of His presence.

Genesis 3:8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day

P2. To live in authentic community (relationships), and to multiply that community by including others.

Genesis 2:18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

Genesis 1:28 …And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…

P3. To rule and reign on His behalf, by bearing and reflecting His image (character).

Genesis 1:26-28

    Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
    So God created man in his own image,
        in the image of God he created him;
        male and female he created them.
    And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Throughout The Wretched Saint blog, I will reflect on the 3 purposes and what it means for recovery and the beautiful fight. You can follow this series by clicking on the category drop down category menu at the right. As I reflect on my own brutal yet beautiful fight to be who God desires me to be, I am realizing my processing of what sin–both Adam’s and my own–has done to distort these three purposes AND what God has done, is doing, and will do to restore me to His original perfected purposes is crucial to victory and freedom.

Never Too Late, A Lesson for Thieves

It’s never too late to start heading in the right direction. Seth Godin

See also, the thief on the cross, in the last seconds of life.

And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:32-43 (mouseover)

Whether I have one breath left or a little over half my life, it is never to late to start. To fully engage in the beautiful and brutal fight. My particular fight involves addiction among other things. Yours? I must start with no guarantee of outcomes–restored marriage, etc–whether I will engage or rail against my circumstances. I have life in my bones, Lord, so remember ME this day in your Kingdom!