Augustine’s testimony of his struggle to give up sin gives a profound explanation of how addiction takes charge of our will. It further reveals that our struggle to choose to be saved is a battle of our will against our will. That’s how it was for Augustine, one of the most influential men of ancient Christian history, living from 354 to 430 AD.
Augustine knew of the claims of Christ, through his godly mother, Monica. But he followed his father’s sensual values as a youth and took mistresses. It seems that he gave vent to whatever sensual pleasure appealed to him from time to time.
In his early 30’s he realised that his pursuit of truth apart from the gospel was fruitless and the example of those who were godly haunted him. He saw communities of Christians who were free from the addiction to sensuality, yet he, the great thinker and pursuer of truth, was a slave to his old sensual addictions. The example of Christian youth and widows who could live free from sensual impulse taunted him.
Augustine explains his struggle between the attraction of self-control and the sensual lusts that bound him.
“… in the direction I had set my face, and to which I trembled to go, the chaste dignity of continence [self control] appeared to me— cheerful but not wanton [lustful], honestly alluring me to come and doubt nothing, and extending her holy hands, full of a multitude of good examples— to receive and embrace me.
“There were there so many young men and maidens, a multitude of youth and every age, grave widows and ancient virgins; and continence herself in their midst: not barren, but a fruitful mother of children of joys — by You, O Lord, her Husband. And she smiled on me with a challenging smile, as if to say, “Can you not do what these young men and maidens can? Or can any of them do it of themselves, and not rather in the Lord their God? The Lord their God gave me to them.
“Why do you stand in your own strength, and thus do not stand? Cast yourself on Him; fear not, He will not flinch and you will not fall. Cast yourself on Him without fear, for He will receive and heal you.” And I blushed violently, for I still heard the muttering of those toys [his old lusts], and hung in suspense.
“Again she seemed to say, “Shut up your ears against those unclean members of yours upon the earth, that they may be mortified. They tell you of delights, but not according to the law of the Lord Your God” (Col. 3:5; Psa.119:85). This struggle raging in my heart was nothing but the contest of self against self.”
Pathway to Addiction
To explain to us how he could be so bound by his own will, Augustine outlined the steps by which he had become an addict, a slave. He pointed first to the lusts which his will yielded to. When a lust is given in to it becomes a habit. When the habit was not broken it became a necessity.
“The enemy held fast my will, and had made of it a chain, and had bound me tight with it. For out of the perverse will was lust made, and lust indulged in became habit, and habit not resisted became necessity. By these links, as it were, joined together (which is why I called it a ‘chain’), a hard bondage held me enthralled .… made strong by long indulgence.” Augustine’s Confessions.
New Testament Teaching
Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul had already explained this process in a simplified form, warning that when we give in to sin we become a slave to that sin. It’s as simple as that.
“Jesus answered them, Truly, truly, I say to you, Whoever commits sin is the servant [slave] of sin.” John 8:34
“Don’t you know that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants [slaves] you are to whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?” Romans 6:16
Augustine was such a slave and could only be free when he confessed his utter failure and relied on the saving grace of Christ, which he did.
Are you a slave? Are you bound to things you once gave in to? Do you have ‘besetting’ sins which you are unable to break? Augustine was in such a state and yet he came to freedom.
Praying Hyde’s Besetting Sin
So too did the famous Praying Hyde, a Presbyterian minister to India. Even while on the mission field he had a sin which he could not break. This distressed him, since he could not claim to the natives that God had completely set him free.
Hyde went immediately to prayer and challenged God to completely set him free or he would have to return home from the mission field. God brought to his mind 1John 1:9. He had already confessed his sin and he knew that God was faithful. So he then stood on his faith in the finished work of Christ and claimed a complete cleansing. An assurance of God’s release came to his heart and that assurance never left him.
It’s Time to Come Free from Addiction
From the testimony of Augustine in 386AD and John Hyde’s spiritual victory in 1892 I encourage you to know that God does set people free. And to that I add my own testimony. Look out for a follow up post on Addiction – My Own Experience.