Just over ten years ago I was trapped in the throes of heroin addiction. As is the nature of addiction, my life was filled with disorder of every sort: selfish living, frequent stealing, compulsive lying, and constant manipulating. I was in utter darkness.
But God. God was overwhelmingly good to me, and he delivered me from the domain of darkness and transferred me into the kingdom of his beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). It is pure grace that I can rejoice in sobriety now because the chains of my addiction took divine power to break.
Over the years, I’ve often been asked how I’ve managed to stay sober all this time and not return to using heroin. While sobriety has been hard work, my short answer is simply this: Jesus is more satisfying. What Jesus has accomplished and given to me in the gospel is far more powerful and enjoyable than any sensation heroin can offer.
How Jesus Is Better Than Heroin
But what do I mean by that? How is Jesus more satisfying than heroin?
1. Heroin numbed my sin; Jesus forgave my sin.
There’s a reason why doctors prescribe opiates after surgery: opiates numb pain. Similarly, heroin numbed my pain, caused by both sorrows and sin. I was abused as a kid and experienced the heartbreak of being sinned against. I wanted escape and relief. I also grew up in a church where I became aware of my own depravity. I wanted escape and relief from that too.
I remember the first time I got high. The euphoria felt like I had escaped from all that was wrong in the world. But heroin was a deceptive relief. It numbed the pain of sorrow and sin, but that’s all it could do. Each time I used, the numbness would wear off within a few short hours and the pain returned. Heroin promised it could remove the effects of my sorrow and sin, but it lied. No matter how much heroin I injected into my body, the pain kept resurfacing.
Finally, I went to a Christian treatment program and began hearing the gospel again. And one day, God gave me ears to hear the gospel in Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
I had read this verse before and it frustrated me because I felt condemned for everything I had done in my addiction. Addicts typically experience increasing shame because they try to deal with sin by sinning more. It’s insane logic — like trying to deal with cancer by looking at porn. You may feel a brief reprieve while you are doing it, but you will feel even worse later because now you have cancer and the shame of looking at porn. Living years with increasing shame over my sin, I had come to believe I was unlovable and ultimately condemned by God.
But that day I saw Romans 8:1 differently. I saw the phrase “in Christ.” In Christ there is no condemnation. I saw Christ’s glorious sacrifice for my sin, including my life of darkness in addiction. Christ was the refuge I was searching for all along. I trusted him with all my heart and experienced for the first time the grace of forgiveness. And that forgiveness hasn’t stopped since I became sober. Christ forgives all the sin I will ever commit by his finished work on the cross.
I know of no greater joy or satisfaction than knowing my sins are forgiven before God — of having God again, despite what I had done. I agree with Octavius Winslow who said, “The religion of Christ is a religion of joy. Christ came to take away our sins, to roll off our curse, to unbind our chains, to open our prison house, to cancel our debt . . . is this not joy?” And the joy of being forgiven has enabled me to forgive those who have sinned against me.
In my addiction, I would pierce my arm with a needle in a futile attempt to deal with sin. On the cross, Christ was pierced with nails and bore my wrath to deal with my sin. And receiving this forgiveness is abundantly more satisfying than the heroin needle.
2. Heroin enslaves; Jesus liberates.
But Jesus did far more than forgive me; he completely transformed my life. My addiction was slavery, one that I voluntarily entered. Heroin was my god, and I sacrificed to it to get my selfish desires. I stole for it. I lied for it. I offered up my life as a living sacrifice to heroin. And as I did, I also sacrificed my family and friends on the altar of addiction.
But Jesus liberated me from the slavery of addiction and set my ambitions on a much higher, more satisfying goal than just sobriety: the glory of Christ. I want to stay sober now, not ultimately because my life will be better, but because I truly believe Christ is glorified in me as I do. Christ transformed my desires.
I’m not saying life has been easy since Christ set me free. Though I am forgiven of sin and freed from the power of sin, the presence of sin still remains. That means I must rely on God’s grace to say no to temptation. He actually gives all the grace we need to say no to temptation, and every time we say no, Christ is glorified and our joy increases. In 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul gives us a blood-bought promise of God that recovering addicts can cling to: By God’s grace, there is a way out of the temptation. And every time we say no to temptation, we are saying yes to Jesus, which is saying yes to joy.
3. Heroin gave fleeting pleasure; Jesus gives eternal pleasure.
Not only have I experienced the joy of being forgiven and the joy of freedom in Christ, I am experiencing an increasing joy that isn’t going to end. The fleeting euphoria of addiction is nothing compared to the growing pleasures we will have in Christ for all eternity (Psalm 16:11)!
In Christ, we can see heroin for the lie it is. Like the Prodigal Son in Jesus’s parable whose reckless living showed its true colors when the money ran out (Luke 15:11–32), so heroin, when the euphoria wears off, reveals its true colors. Heroin promises lasting joy, but its pleasure is fleeting and will eventually rob the addict of joy.
But Jesus really does offer true, substantial, lasting pleasure leading to overflowing joy. And though it doesn’t always feel this way, God has promised us in his word that life in Christ is a path to unending pleasures and complete joy. Jesus Christ is the light who shines gloriously bright on those living in darkness, offering them forgiveness, freedom, and joy by his grace. So today I’m choosing real joy in Christ over the counterfeit joy of heroin, and I would plead with anyone trapped in addiction to do the same.