Matthew 5:48 says this about God: ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ Therefore, if Christ hasn’t already made you perfect, when will you be? One more revival meeting? One more communion? One more Bible verse to memorize? One more soul to win for Christ? No, if you aren’t already perfectly acceptable to God, you will never be.
If the Son sets you free
What does a human heart need? What drives a person to seek relief in work, alcohol, drug, gambling, or various other forms of addiction? The mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal shared his understanding that there is a God-shaped vacuum in the human heart, which is really not far from the truth.
The Bible contains roughly 500 instances of an attribute of God that is described as love, grace, mercies, compassion, or other forms of it, and 1 John 4:8 declares that God is Love. Then it stands to reason that what the aforementioned relief seekers really need is love, which is the nature of God, but they found only a temporary relief that not only didn’t last, but may even wreck their lives and the lives of those that love them.
God is doing amazing things in Vietnam in healing and restoring young people whose lives had been wrecked by drug addiction. These addicts, tried as they may, they could not wrest themselves from the powerful grip of an ill that destroys both mind and body, but it was there that God’s saving grace shone ever more brightly. Once they found hope at a Christian recovery center in Vietnam, the Word of God, as they started to learn and memorize it, began to heal their minds and subsequently their bodies in such a way we could not describe as anything but miracles. All these recovered addicts virtually spoke in unison that it was God’s love, and their knowledge of it, that saved them.
This article will cite a testimony, one out of dozens of recorded testimonies, and perhaps hundreds of other unspoken ones, of a man who was delivered from drug addiction as a demonstration of salvation by God’s grace, then suggest that it must be by that same grace that the recovered addict must walk until their journey on earth is done. The temptation to go back to the law, hence the reliance on the strength of the flesh, is strong, and once the saved-by-grace Christian unknowingly falls back to walking by the flesh, they will find their yoke to be anything but easy and their burden anything but light. Sadly this is the story of many Christians, and this article hopes to point them to a better way to enjoy the life that is supposed to be as abundant as Jesus had promised.
Portrait of a drug addict
I’m the second child in a family of five siblings. I was born in 19__ in Hanoi, Vietnam, into a family of crime. My childhood was filled with pain and sorrow. Being a son of a criminal, I was rejected by my peers. These negative experiences filled the heart of an innocent child with so much pain and sorrow beyond his years. I was ashamed of my father, and hatred began to fill my heart. Then I found the next logical thing to do was to quit school and join the gang, following my father’s footsteps. The saying “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” was fulfilled when my brothers, similarly one after another followed the crime filled path of the family.
Life in the gang
I dove into the street life, getting addicted to cocaine and heroin, becoming a thief, a robber, a debt collector, a killer for hire, a drug pusher, and a pimp. I would persuade girls who just left the countryside for the big city to become prostitutes. Those who never had any experience with drugs, I let them try so they became addicts and subjected under my control. I had to pay for such sinful lifestyle with years in prison. But prison could not change me. I became even more violent and committed even more crimes upon leaving prison. Each action that followed was worse than the last. Then came the last time, in 2010, when I was released to return to my family after six years in prison. But upon returning home I lost all hope to live and survive. My whole family was broken. Some of my brothers were addicted to drugs, some were in prison. My mother was always drinking, gambling, and had no care nor love for anyone else. My wife left and re-married. I heard from someone that before she married another husband, she gave my only son away to some temple.
Hoping to die
When I was in so much pain and lost all hope to live, I thought of my family, of my son, of the years in prison, and the years being addicted to drugs. I no longer wanted to live like that anymore, but I was at a dead end without an escape. In utter despair, I decided to seek an end to my life. I thought death would be the solution to all my problems. A drug overdose seemed to be a possible solution. I then hired a motorbike taxi driver, giving him 500,000 dong (equivalent to $25 USD at the time) to buy me a powerful drug and a syringe for my suicide attempt. However a strange thing happened as I did not die. Someone told me later that they found me already clinically dead with pupils was dilated, so they called for transportation to take me to the emergency room of a hospital. The doctors tried to resuscitate me without success. Then they announced that I was dead and transferred my body to the morgue. In the middle of the night, I woke up finding myself inside the hospital’s morgue. When I walked out, everyone was terrified thinking they had seen a ghost.
Seeking death again
Nevertheless, upon returning home, I still had no desire to live. I sought to find death once again. I locked myself in a private room with several hundred liters of liquor which I bought and put in a large container. For a straight two months and seventeen days, I did not see anyone, ate nothing except drinking alcohol. At the end of this period, there was only skin and bone left on my body. The muscles of my arms and legs had shrunken, and I was immobilized. I released bodily wastes in the same place where I stayed. I thought perhaps I would have only a few more days to live.
My life raft
Right around this time, my cousin who worked at the Binh Long rehabilitation center headed by Pastor Si Tan Ngo, had some time off so he came to pay me a visit. Seeing me in my condition, he broke into tears and said, “Hai, there is one way you can be saved.” “Which way is that?” I asked. And he answered, “Follow Jesus. He saved me from sins and drugs.” Though at that moment I knew nothing about God, I told him, “Yes, let me go with you.” But during that time, I was nearly paralyzed and could not travel to Binh Long in the South. Then my cousin brought Mrs. Hoan who was Nam Quoc Trung’s mother, together with Minh Ngoc Nguyen to come and pray with me to accept Christ and then brought me to Bac Giang rehabilitation center.
Christ entered my life
I arrived in Bac Giang on December 17, 2010. I could never forget Christmas that year as it was the first time I came to the Bac Giang rescue center. It was the Christmas that Jesus entered my life. I was unable to move about independently due to the two months and seventeen days without food except alcohol which caused me to suffer from mental collapse and physical weakness. Upon arrival at the center, I was brought into the prayer room, and I was awakened at the sight of a board with lyrics of the hymn “When a Child is Born” written on it. The words of the hymn broke my heart, and I mumbled and wept while singing, and kept repeating the verse,
“A ray of hope flitters in the sky. A shiny star lights up way up high. All across the land dawns a brand new morn. This comes to pass when a child is born”.
Surely the lyrics of this hymn reflected my life, a life filled with darkness, without happiness, and without hope. But for loving me Jesus came. He is the bright light, the joy and the hope of my life.
When I first arrived at the center, I was very weak, with a body weight of only about 84 lbs. I figured it would take at least six months before I could recover. But the fearful and wonderful thing was God had fully restored me, healing me in both body and mind in only a month and a half. A miracle indeed!
Living with gratitude
I am eternally grateful for all Jesus Christ had done for me. Were it not for Him to seek me out and save me, I would have been buried six feet under. Since following Christ until now, there are still things in my life that still leave much to be desired, but thanks to His mercies, love and grace, He continues to forgive and lift me up. He pours His love upon me and uses me in loving and caring for the other addicts when they were first admitted to the center. I truly rejoice upon seeing them overcoming the effect of drug withdrawal, experiencing healing, and a new life in the name of Jesus. I share the joy with their parents, spouses, and children… the kind of joy that I had never known before. My hope and desire is God would use the remainder of my life to bring salvation to those being imprisoned and chained by addictions and sins like I was. So they may also experience new and blessed lives when Jesus enters their hearts. All glory be to God. Amen!
Saved by grace
It is not difficult to convince anyone of the fact that this man was saved from a life of drug addiction by God’s grace, and likewise his deliverance from a sin nature which is infinitely more formidable than the power of drugs. But it’s not easy to prove to the overwhelming majority in Christianity that they are to live by God’s grace as well. Let’s quickly trace our drug addict’s journey to the light to set the stage for the case for living by God’s grace.
How did this man escape the grip of drug addiction? Through sheer determination? Through obedience? Through repentance after each painful failure? Through gradual reduction of drug use? Prayer? No, he didn’t do any of the above, or perhaps he tried but failed. He was on a downward spiral to the point he attempted suicide twice.
In the second suicide attempt, we read that this man locked himself in a room for two months and seventeen days with hundreds of liters of liquor with the intention of drowning himself in it. Can you imagine the depth of his despair? The depression that was his darkest of nights? He was like a lost member in the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37. Though this man’s heart was still beating weakly inside his body of skin and bones, he was practically dead. Hope, if he had any, was all but lost, for if he had a fleeting thought of it, he’d have prayed, but this seemingly easy act of praying never made it out of his mouth. The end was so near, just a few more days, so he thought.
Then out of the blue, perhaps by divine providence that a cousin who was working for a rehab center came to pay him a visit at that critical moment when he was hovering at the edge of oblivion. And as they say the rest is history, our addict was on his road to recovery. Ephesians 2:1 and Romans 5:8 were demonstrated in his life so beautifully:
As for you, you were dead in your trespasses and sins. (Ephesians 2:1)
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
This man was definitely dead in … drugs, yet Christ died for him two thousand years ago so that today he might live. His conversion, though more dramatic than most, obeys the same principle spelled out in such verses as Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Just as he was saved by faith, and not by the works of his efforts to quit drugs, so was he saved from spiritual death through that same faith, and not by the works of avoiding sins. If it was impossible for him to achieve freedom from addiction with his own strength, it would be infinitely more impossible for him to achieve freedom from his sin nature, by trying to avoid sinning at all cost.
Though most Christian do not struggle with drugs like our man in the story, they do struggle with sins in general, with other forms of addiction like work, alcohol, gambling, jealousy, self pity, low self esteem, pornography, and myriad such vices. To them the struggles are just as severe as drug addiction. If the drug addict cannot wrest himself from his depraved condition, neither can they. What they all need is the power of God, not their own strength as no amount of it is enough.
Hopefully, at this point, we have established that our recovered drug addict contributed nothing toward his salvation. Does it then stand to reason that he likewise will not be able to contribute anything toward his sanctification? If his flesh couldn’t cleanse the drugs from his system, how will it ever make him holy enough to meet God?
The joy of salvation
Most testimonies end right about here, and this man’s testimony is no exception. But in reality, here is where the story really begins. The initial moment of joy of salvation will quickly recede into the background to yield to a state of normalcy that will endure for perhaps decades until one’s journey on earth is done. But it is during this post-salvation phase that one’s root grows deep into the faith that began at the moment of repentance. There is no exception. The initial joy of salvation must transition into something more abiding, something that does not depend on transitory feelings, be they tears of joy or songs of praise or blessings received, but on something that is immovable, that will endure forever; something that is based on the character of God.
Unfortunately, many new Christians fall into the trap of trying to hang on to this initial moment as a standard that they must measure all subsequent experiences against. The normalcy of daily humdrum become suspect that one might have fallen from grace. So the recovered addict, or the babe in Christ who had a first taste of God’s grace and mercies, frantically engages himself in activities that might propel him back to that state that may not necessarily be experienced again. They mistakenly believe that the initial joy of salvation is a measure of how God loves and accept them, hence they deduce that a decline from such emotional high is a sign that God is no longer pleased with them.
A different addiction?
What is our new Christian to do? The experience he just had became a golden standard against which he must now evaluate everything. But the joy he felt, the new found freedom he just experienced, the clarity of mind that came as a result of a euphoric encounter with the divine, and many other wonderful benefits since he came to Christ, are becoming increasing elusive. In a frantic quest to get back to that wonderful beginning, our new Christian tried to get busy with everything that made sense to him in the hope of restoring the joy that has begun to fade away. Bible study, books, revival meetings, giving of testimonies, and anything that a typical Christian would do. But despite occasional moments of riding high on wings of eagle, the burden seems to get heavier with increasing efforts.
Is it possible that our recovered addict had found a different addiction to replace a previous one, albeit the new addiction is not nearly as harmful as the drug-based one but still shares the common purpose of masking an inner pain and emptiness? At this point our recovered addict is now experiencing the same struggles that many Christians face on a daily basis. The initial miracles though had helped launch the new believer on a fresh start, it got him on one traveled by the rest of mankind; he’s still in the end a sinner saved by the grace of God.
Trying to finish by human efforts?
A recovered addict will fare no better than someone who comes to Christ in a much less dramatic fashion, in how they should live out the remainder of their lives. The irony is, drug addicts or not, though virtually all entered the kingdom of God by grace and through faith with no claim of personal merits or efforts, they all ended up reverting back to the trusting of the flesh to walk the rest of the way. The apostle Paul expressed his frustration and anger at such stupidity like this:
1You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you? Before your eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified! 2The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? 3Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort? 4Have you suffered so many things for nothing? if indeed it was for nothing. 6Does God then give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law or by your believing what you heard? (Galatians 3:1-6)
You began with the Spirit, solely by trusting in Christ through God’s grace, now you’re working hard to get to the finish line? The apostle Paul calls that foolishness. It takes but a fraction of a second for someone to be saved, like this prayer “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom” (Luke 23:43). But walking with God from that point on may be a long time. So if you needed to rely 100% on God’s grace and His life-giving Spirit in your 100-yard dash—and it wasn’t even a dash as you were supposed to be already dead like the drug addict in our story—to become a Christian, how in the world are you now running a marathon relying on something else, something that comes from your own merits and ability and myriad other self-exalting attributes?
This is the principal cause for dissatisfaction in the lives of most Christians. They started out from nothing, but they now look inward and rely on their own ability to walk the rest of the way. They started out looking up to the Savior to save them from the bottomless pit of sins, or drug addiction as in the case of our man in this story, now they look within themselves to see if there is anything they can muster up to carry them on until they reach the finish line. This reverting back to the strength of the flesh is the root of all evil that wrecks havoc in the life of believers. It is not the drug addict’s relapses that make them fall from grace, it’s his self righteousness that is his true enemy.
Sin empowered by the law
But why do people go back to the reliance on the flesh that was dead in sins before they came to Christ, the same flesh that was useless against the power of drugs as in the case of our drug addict, and the flesh that is useless to the rest of mankind in providing them the righteousness they need to become citizens of the kingdom of God?
The root cause of this pervasive problem is the lack of a full understanding of the forgiveness that Christ accomplished for them on the cross. Though they can correctly answer all questions in a theological examination, what they know in their hearts is far from what they say they believe. They don’t really understand the meaning of what Jesus said before he took his last breath on the cross: “It’s finished.” To them there are more sins to be forgiven, more work to be done before they can meet God. Though they accept the truth that Jesus died once-for-all for all the sins of mankind on the cross, they still fear that God is still holding their sins against them, that they’re not good enough to meet God yet, and countless other reasons for their feeling inadequate in their relationship with their Lord.
What then is the purpose of Christ’s death on the cross? What is the meaning of Christ’s dying once for all for all the sins of mankind? What did he mean when he said: “It’s finished”? I’m sure most Christians know the answers to these questions, but what they cannot reconcile, or rather what they don’t dare to place their full trust in, is the full resolution to the problem of sin at the cross, now and forevermore, that Christ’s death had given them a full right to become children of God, to be citizens of his kingdom, friends of God, to be considered blameless in his eyes, and everything else that is included in God’s promise: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us ALL THINGS?” (Romans 8:32)
And best of all, the ALL-THINGS includes the very presence of God indwelling in the hearts of all who call on the name of Jesus. Can you imagine God in you, the Holy Spirit in you, and Christ in you the hope of glory? And if God is in you, why in the world do you try to “finish by human efforts” (Galatians 3:3)? Why do you try to “perfect” what Christ had already completed?
This lack of trust in the all-sufficiency of Christ has driven them back into the arm of the law as they hope that their obedience will make them right with God. But there is a catch. For there is no amount of obedience, of good works, of self sacrifices, will bridge that gap between a sense of lacking, of not having arrived, and a sense of rest, of knowing that God has fully accepted them and ready to receive them into the kingdom of God. On the other hand, The only thing that can bridge the gap is the work that Christ had already done on the cross. This work is not a continuing process, like sacrifices to be repeated over and over again, but a once-for-all act that makes you perfect in God’s sight. You will still sin, as a matter of fact you may fall back into drug addiction, not once but seventy times seven, yet God will always behold you through His beloved Son: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:17)”
Matthew 5:48 says this about God: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Therefore, if Christ hasn’t already made you perfect, when will you be? One more revival meeting? One more communion? One more Bible verse to memorize? One more soul to win to Christ? No, if you aren’t already perfectly acceptable to God, you will never be. Today, you can claim Jesus’ promise to the thief on the cross: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
You will be free indeed
This is how you walk with God after that wondrous encounter that brought you back from the dead. That no matter how you feel, or perform while still in the flesh, God’s love and acceptance of you will be the same yesterday, today, and forever.
He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phillipians 1:6)
- Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.
Disclaimer: This is my own opinion on the topic, which does not necessarily reflect the church's theology, or beliefs of the individuals in it — Nghi Nguyen
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