Recently I counseled a man named John * (named changed to protect privacy) who abused alcohol on and off for the past twenty years. One of the questions he asked me was, “Why do I keep going back to this sin that I hate?” While there are numerous answers to this question, a significant part of the answer is that he was spiritually blind. This man gave a clear testimony of faith in Jesus Christ and even had prolonged periods of abstinence from substance abuse. However, he never understood what was driving his behavior. He did not see why he was doing what he was doing. He needed someone to help him see what he could not see about his own behavior.

Foundation #2 – Providing sightedness is essential to effective counseling

2 Corinthians 4:4 says, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel.” While spiritual blindness is certainly a problem for every unbeliever, as Christians we should not think we are immune ourselves. James 1 provides us a clear example of how even believers in Jesus Christ can become spiritually blind and deceived. Verses 2 and 12 make clear that this passage is written to believers. Then, in James 1:16 we read, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.” In other words, even Christians can be deceived and be spiritually blind. If this is the case, how do we as counselors help people to see what they currently do not see?

While spiritual blindness is certainly a problem for every unbeliever, as Christians we should not think we are immune ourselves.

To begin, a counselor should listen to a person’s life story and ask questions that draw out the heart (Proverbs 20:5). After listening to John’s life story a pattern emerged that showed he had a desire for acceptance; and when that desire was not met by people in his life he started a spiral of sin that eventually led him to turn to alcohol for comfort. So, when there was a good season in his marriage that coincided with things going well at work, he was able to stay sober and not indulge in abusing alcohol. But, when life circumstances changed he could no longer resist the temptation and he began to indulge. Once he opened the door to alcohol, the floodgates burst and he lost control of his life. That is when he came to me for help.

After helping him see the primary reason he continued to slip into alcohol abuse, I wanted to further help him understand what was happening in his heart when he was tempted. I wanted to help him slow the tape down of his life so he could see what was happening in much greater detail. Very much like watching a slow motion sports replay to help you better understand what happened, I wanted to do the same for John in his moments of temptation. Sinclair Ferguson provides incredibly helpful insight by providing what he calls the temptation cycle ( Helping people to see how they are being led away by their own sinful hearts is a powerful tool in helping them have victory over sin. Here is the temptation cycle he draws from James 1:13-16 as well as in the stories of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3) and David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11):

Helping people to see how they are being led away by their own sinful hearts is a powerful tool in helping them have victory over sin.

I then used this outline of the temptation cycle to ask questions and draw out what was happening through each stage of his temptation cycle. Here were some thoughts John shared:

Attraction – we looked at the things that went through his mind that led him to be drawn to alcohol.

  • Alcohol makes me feel good, it provides great comfort
  • Alcohol is a distraction from the pain in my life

Deception – we discussed the lies he believed that led him to continue to pursue alcohol.

  • Alcohol will help
  • Nobody has to know
  • This isn’t going to hurt anyone
  • I can keep this a secret
  • Other people can drink alcohol so I should be able to as well
  • I won’t let it get out of hand this time

Pre-occupation – we identified how his mind became fixated on alcohol.

  • How can I get my hands on some alcohol
  • How can I keep it hidden
  • As I thought about it more and more I began to crave alcohol

Conception – we examined his thoughts as he made the choice to consume alcohol.

  • I need to hurry up and finish this so no one see what I have done

Subjection – we considered the thoughts that led him to be enslaved to alcohol.

  • It was like a reunion with an old friend
  • That really satisfied
  • That was so good another one would be even better

Desperation – we concluded by examining his thoughts after the buzz wore off and he was in despair.

  • Why do I keep putting my loved ones through this
  • They would be better off without me
  • This is who I am, this is my identity
  • It is easier to just give in, I am weak

Armed with a greater understanding of what was motivating his turn to alcohol (desire for acceptance) as well as an understanding of the temptation cycle he walked through, John felt understood, encouraged, and was eager to hear what God had to say to provide a pathway forward to overcome temptation.

Next week we will continue examining John’s story and connect it to Foundation #3 – the heart must be the target of our counsel. For now, let me close with a few questions for you to reflect upon.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What are some areas of your life where you are currently being tempted (lust, anxiety, use of time, anger, etc.)?
  2. Since we are all prone to being deceived, take a few moments in prayerful contemplation and ask yourself, “Do I believe any lies related to current areas of temptation?” Ask a spouse or close friend to help you examine yourself.
  3. How well are you doing at bringing sightedness to those you are counseling or discipling? Consider how Sinclair Ferguson’s temptation cycle may be helpful.

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