By Brandon Sutton
This seems like a silly question. Of course Christians should tell addicts about Jesus. Believers should tell everyone about their Savior. That’s the whole point of the Great Commission!
But this question is not as straightforward as you might think. In the world of recovery, there is an entire school of thought that basically says, we should ease people into Christianity. We don’t want to force Jesus onto people; instead, we need to let the addict gradually learn the truths of our faith.
Those who advocate for this position do so for a few reasons. Here are three.
- Addicts aren’t ready for Jesus yet. When most addicts enter the rooms of recovery, they’re in a fog. They come in for one of three reasons—liver, lover or lawyer. In other words, they’re either trying to get their health back on track, a loved one off their back or because some judicial official forced them to do so. They’re not thinking about God at the moment. Most addicts are just trying to get through the day; sometimes they’re trying to get through the next 10 minutes. The last thing you want to do (it is argued) is start talking to the addict about Jesus.
- Addicts have been hurt by the church. Many recovering addicts have had bad experiences in the church. Of course, there are always two sides to every story, but from the addict’s perspective, they’ve been treated poorly or with some form of partiality. Therefore, their perception of Jesus has been skewed, and to introduce them to Christ would do nothing but conjure up bad memories and ideas.
- Addicts are easily scared away from recovery. I have a good friend in recovery who’s a Christian, but even he would tell you, if you would have told him that he needed Jesus the first day he walked into the rooms of recovery, he might have punched you (he was kind of angry). He definitely would have left. He was there to get sober, not religion.
I am sure more reasons could be listed why it’s not a good idea to tell the newly sober addict about Jesus right away, but these three form the basic framework for the argument. Supporters of this position would say, we need to let the recovering addict come to a gradual understanding of Christian truth. Instead of shoving Jesus down their throat, allow them to choose a god of their own understanding. Just encourage them to believe in some kind of higher power—a power greater than themselves. This, it is argued, is the starting point. Once this foundation is established, and the individual gains some sobriety under his or her belt, then you can begin walking them down the path of Christian discipleship.
I will admit, I am sympathetic towards this position. I understand the reasons behind such thinking. I have seen many addicts who were just hanging on. God was not on their radar at all when they first got sober. I am also aware that many people have been hurt by the church. The last thing you want to do is reopen old wounds. And finally, I definitely understand why one would be afraid to run an addict off. In some cases, it will mean certain death.
But in the final analysis, I am unconvinced by this school of thought for one simple reason: the Bible tells us differently. In scripture, followers of Jesus are commanded to make disciples out of unbelievers (Matthew 28:16-20). We are to be Christ’s witnesses (Acts 1:8). Nowhere in Scripture are we told to first allow someone to become a theist (someone who believes in one God) in order that we might gradually help them become a Christian. In fact, that’s the definition of idolatry. Idolatry is believing in a god who is not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is the triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The God of the Bible has one Son—the Lord Jesus Christ, and He is the one mediator between God and men. He is the only way of salvation (Acts 4:12, John 14:6). He is the only way to know and be reconciled to God (2nd Cor. 5:17-21).
If we lead people to believe in a god of their own understanding, we are leading them into idolatry. That would be sin. Let me say that again, if you are leading unbelievers (addict or not) to believe in “God” or some kind of god of their choosing as a means to eventually get them to Christ, you are not only deviating the clear commands of Scripture to make disciples, but you are also in sin. False gods are Satan’s tools, not the Christians.
I am not saying we need to forcefully ram Jesus down people’s throats, but we need to tell all men the gospel. We need to present Christ as He is revealed in Scripture, and we must do so with grace and truth and with gentleness and respect. We need to take into account the person we’re speaking with. If it’s an addict who doesn’t want to hear about God, we tell them anyway, and we explain why it’s so important that we do so. If it’s a person who has been hurt by the church, we share Jesus with them and that He never hurt them, even if His people did. If the person threatens to run off, at least they run back into their sin knowing there is a Savior.
In the end, we trust the commands and wisdom of God when it comes to evangelism over and above the clever inventions of men. It may seem practical and wise to gradually lead the addict to Jesus. But God’s wisdom is greater, and He commands us to declare the excellencies of Him who called into His grace.