Hooked on a Feeling

Once upon a time, the word “addiction” was used almost exclusively to define and describe dependence on mood altering substances. Addiction is centered on sensory stimulation and gratification. When a particular chemical substance that produces an incredible “rush” or “high” wears off, an individual starts returning to the drug to experience the same feeling again. Substance addiction is further understood as continued involvement with a drug because of immediate pleasure and gratification, in spite of the negative consequences the addict would eventually experience.

Today we speak not only of substance addiction but also, in a broader context, behavioral addiction. People who have an abnormal dependency on food, gambling, shopping, exercise, sex, work, the Internet, video games, music or television are also called addicts. Like substance addiction, behavioral addiction is predicated on mood altering habits that produce feelings of escape and pleasure.

Some are addicted to romance novels and soap operas on television; others are addicted to soft drinks. I have known people who “needed” to drink two six-packs of Diet Coke for breakfast every day. Coffee and chocolate can turn people into addicts. Many people today are slaves of technology—they have to be on the Internet several hours every day—they are constantly checking their messages on their cell or Smart phone to see if someone has called or texted.

People are addicted to what is now called “social media.”

Some people find themselves, as one song decades ago opined, “addicted to love.” These addicts are in a perpetual quest, even if they are married, for what they define as love—a feeling, an experience, a high, a sensation—that someone out there will eventually fulfill. Even though being addicted to this idea of love is roughly equivalent to chasing the pot of gold at the end of rainbow, many people are addicted to this feeling they define as “love.”

There are hundreds of millions of people who are religious addicts. They crave for a religious institution, authority, activity or behavior to give them their God-fix. They feel guilty and even ashamed if they don’t perform what they have come to believe are necessary rituals. They have been habituated into believing that certain activities and deeds will remove the feeling of shame and guilt—and thus they willingly perform those activities, over and over again. Within the world of Christendom many religious addicts “feel better” if they pray, if they go to church, if they read the Bible or perform any number of ritualistic behaviors.

There are many people for whom Christ-less religious institutions have become a crutch—it’s a respectable addiction, but when all is said and done it’s an addiction nonetheless.

Some people, I kid you not, are addicted to going to church so that they can hear a preacher beat up on people who are not there—people who are “bad” because they are addicted to behaviors that are easily identified as immoral. Some people actually go to church because in some perverse way hearing about how bad other people are makes them feel better. They are addicted to condemning and judging the hell out of other people!

There’s a good chance that you know exactly what I’m talking about because you may be a recovering religious addict. You know I am not exaggerating. You know the power of religion to enslave, to dominate and control.

Virtually all addicts have one thing in common—they are, to borrow from yet another song title, Hooked on a Feeling. That title goes back to 1969, when those lyrics were first recorded by a man named B.J. Thomas. The song, as so many songs do, addresses the search for love in the context of a relationship between a man and a woman. The lyrics describe the sense of being caught up in a fixation on another person and the sensations and feelings such emotional attachments can produce.

Some people believe they can achieve and realize freedom from spiritual slavery—freedom from spiritual addictions—through right actions and right beliefs. They believe that all we need to do to cure our addictions is to do the right things. Their solution remains an addiction—it’s called legalism. Others believe that doing the right thing needs to go along with thinking and believing the right things. These two ideas are often shortened into the rhyming words:

1) Deeds—shorthand for the idea that performance and effort play a major part in our spiritual freedom, and

2) Creeds—the belief that mental and intellectual acceptance of the right doctrinal beliefs will deliver us from spiritual addictions and play a major role in our spiritual freedom.

But both of these prescriptions that hold out the promise of a cure from our addictions can be (and usually are) based in performance-based religion, and when they are, we wind up “getting the cart before the horse.”

You see, when we are in Christ, he will work out and produce the kinds of behaviors and deeds in our lives that please him. As Ephesians 2:10 says, we will become, by God’s grace, the handiwork/workmanship of Christ. Jesus will make what he wants out of our lives. He will produce in our lives the fruit, to use a metaphor that Paul uses in Galatians 5, that he wants in our lives. So yes, when we are free in Christ, good deeds will be produced in our lives, but those deeds are produced in us by Christ.

What about creeds? When we are in Christ, our thinking is changed and transformed so that we come to comprehend, understand and, beyond that, know God in much deeper and profound ways than we did before Christ became resident in our life. Because we are in Christ, our minds will be transformed from the perverted and twisted places that have produced the addictions that plague us into the way, the truth and the life of Christ.

That’s what Christ (the “horse,” if you like) pulls along after him, on the cart. But the legalism of Christ-less religion comes along and says, “all you have to do are good, moral and nice things. All you need to do is to memorize and internalize the right doctrines, and when you do you will be free in Christ.” That’s Christ-less religion, not authentic relationship with God, by his grace, in and through Jesus Christ.

When someone buys into the idea that their deeds and creeds will save them, and give them freedom, then all they do is exchange one kind of slavery for another. They will still be Hooked on a Feeling. They will still be addicted. They will still be on the wrong side of God’s grace, and even more seductively so, because they will now feel that compared with the kind of life they once lived God must be so pleased with their religious behaviors. But if they are convinced that their deeds and creeds will produce freedom in Christ, they will still be Hooked on a Feeling.

God wants to be in a love-relationship with us, not in a relationship that is based on the kinds of moral behaviors of which we are capable. If you have been around the block a few times in life, you will know that there is nothing in terms of moral behavior that we are capable of producing that would ever cause or obligate God to love us. That’s a futile undertaking. That’s an addiction. That’s being Hooked on a Feeling—predicating our relationship with God on our efforts.

There’s an old story about a young man who wanted to be righteous, and he went to an old, respected spiritual teacher for advice.

The young man told the spiritual elder, “I never drink alcohol, only water passes my lips. I live a plain and simple life. I have nails in my shoes so that when I walk I can be reminded of the pain I need to endure to please God. When the weather is cold I don’t wear warm clothing because I want God to know that I will willingly suffer to earn his love. I also beat myself on my back with a whip to show God that I am paying for my sins.”

They were standing in the office of the spiritual elder, which had a window that looked out over a barnyard. The spiritual elder responded to the young man who wanted to be righteous so that God would love him, “Look, there is a horse. It is drinking water right now from the trough. It has shoes on its feet fastened with nails. When it’s cold the horse doesn’t wear any extra clothing. It often receives the whip from its master.”

The spiritual elder looked at the young man and said, “I have one question for you. Is the horse a spiritual saint, or is it a horse?”

The gospel truth—the good news of the gospel—is that we can be free of being Hooked on a Feeling by God’s grace, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and the ongoing work of Jesus Christ. The good news is that God is known through the relationship he offers to us, and that relationship is based solely on his goodness and love. We cannot earn or merit relationship with God. The good news is that what we need is more Jesus and less religion—actually we have no need of any Christ-less religion whatsoever.

God is not encompassed by or limited by a belief system. God is not confined or defined by any denominational or religious compilation of creeds, doctrines and dogmas. God is not primarily making himself known in our world by condemning impure and immoral behavior. God is so much more than the physical externals that Christ-less religion attempts to use to capture and contain him for its own goals and purposes.

God is a spiritual reality who can be known by his grace. Your worth—your value to God—is not defined by how often you attend church. It isn’t defined by how many biblical passages you have memorized, how many Christian creeds you can rattle off and recite or how many denominational dogmas you unquestionably accept.

Spiritual addictions are robbing people of the joy and peace God offers to all mankind. Spiritual addictions are enslaving people and misrepresenting God, so that many believe God to be the very opposite of who he is.

There is more to the Christian life than right thinking and right behavior—much, much more than deeds and creeds. Deeds and creeds can enslave you just as surely as any other addiction can. Being a Christian is so much more than being a nice, honorable, respectable person. Being a Christian is all about being united with Christ, and living by God’s grace.

You may be hearing these words and realize that you are an addict—as all of us are, in one way or another. Our passage assures you and me that God’s grace will meet us where we are. Grace will meet us in those dark places, those secret and shameful places of our lives. Grace will meet us in our loneliness, depression, pain and heartache. God will tell you and me through his grace, “You are accepted. I love you, just as you are—not because of who and what you are, but in spite of who and what you are.”

The first step in being transformed into a new life is to accept God’s grace. Just accept it. Believe it. God is not looking for you to prove your worth to him. Your worth and value to him has been proven to you by the love demonstrated to and for you on the Cross of Christ. God is not waiting for you to perform a bunch of religious rituals and tasks so that you can qualify for his love. According to Colossians 1:12, God has already qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

In Christ you and I have been given new life, a life which transforms us from addiction to freedom—from misery and depression to joy—from fear, shame and guilt to rest in Christ, to the very peace of God—from hatred to love—from despair to belief—from religion to relationship.

It’s time to unplug from religion and connect with God. It’s time to accept the gift that is reserved in your name. God’s grace proclaims that the foundation of our relationship with God is a gift. Grace is love. Grace is the empowering spiritual medium and economy that frees us from being Hooked on a Feeling.