Jeremy Sarber / The Bible Readers Podcast

Overcoming addiction through Christ begins with confession and prayer

Hello. My name is Jeremy, and I’m a smoker. I’m writing this confession during one of my brief moments of mental clarity. They’ve been few and far between since my last cigarette nine days, sixteen hours, and forty-two minutes ago. Even with the help of nicotine lozenges, my mind is foggy while the rest of me is on edge. Reading, studying, and writing have become nearly impossible tasks. Neither my brain nor my body will cooperate. My body won’t sit still while my brain refuses to do anything at all, except think about smoking, of course.

Does my addiction surprise you? It’s been my well-guarded secret for a long time. Some people know, but I’ve never advertised it, and those who have seen me smoke with their own eyes are an even smaller minority. You would have been lucky to even smell the evidence on me through the much stronger scent of body spray and hand lotion, which I’ve used to conceal my bad habit. But there’s no going back now. I may as well hire a sky writer while I’m at it. There is nothing covered that won’t be uncovered and nothing hidden that won’t be made known (Mt 10:26).

I am a smoker, and I’ve been a smoker for twenty years. Tobacco claimed me as its slave when I was barely old enough to drive. It promised me popularity, tempting me with a chance to become as cool as James Dean. (Who am I kidding? I started smoking in the Nineties when high school kids admired the likes of grunge rockers such as Kurt Cobain.) I already owned faded, ripped jeans. I just needed a pack of Marlboro Reds to complete the ensemble, transforming myself into the desire of women and envy of men. With a cigarette hanging from my lips, everyone would surely overlook the distinctly uncool facets of my person (e.g., my ‘88 Ford Escort with more rust than paint).

Tobacco failed to mention its downsides. It led me to believe we’d have a casual relationship. Maybe we’d get together two or three times a week at most. I didn’t anticipate its relentless clinginess. It soon demanded we meet up to twenty times a day, insisting I have $150 a month to burn—please note the pun—on inconvenience, stained teeth, labored breathing, shame, stress, and even a few damaged relationships with people who mean far more to me than a carton of Camels ever will.

In the past, I persuaded myself to believe two lies. First, I can quit smoking if I try Second, I don’t need to try because smoking is harmless. Sure, it’ll kill me, but life will do that with or without the help of carcinogens. The former lie is something most addicts tell themselves. It’s our way of masking the helplessness we wish we didn’t feel. As for the latter, if you’ve never suffered an addiction, you may not understand this convoluted logic. A smoker knows he is destroying himself from the inside out, but he’s also receiving 10mg of near-heavenly bliss with each cigarette. As one English novelist wrote, “He who doth not smoke hath either known no great griefs, or refuseth himself the softest consolation, next to that which comes from heaven.”

I won’t dwell on the joys of smoking because each word I write only intensifies my already-persistent cravings. Regarding physical pleasures, some people long to put their feet up after a hard day. Others can imagine nothing better than the taste of a sweet dessert following dinner. I happen to enjoy a quiet smoke in the backyard. Give me five minutes alone with nothing more than my thoughts, prayers, and a menthol cigarette, and I’m happy. The words of Solomon resonate with my spirit: Go, smoke your cigarette with pleasure, and drink your coffee with a cheerful heart, for God has already accepted your works (Ecc 9:7). I digress.

If I had never married, I have doubts whether smoking would be the struggle it’s become. My present dilemma is that everything about the habit affects more people than me. I have my wife to think about and a daughter on the way. I may enjoy an occasional cigarette—it’s been a long time since I could smoke anywhere near a pack a day—but are those brief moments of gratification worth the costs? My health is my family’s health. My money is my family’s money. Solomon is also known for saying, Enjoy life with the wife you love all the days of your fleeting life (Ecc 9:9). I suspect Judah’s wisest king would advise me to reject any earthly pleasure which robs my wife of her own joy. Either we share it, or I must let it go.

This attempt at quitting is not my first. I quit all the time. I vowed to never smoke again before my wedding almost seven years ago. A few months later, however, parts of my body waged war against the law of my mind, once again taking me prisoner (Ro 7:23). I’ve since quit countless times for days, weeks, and even months, yet my resolve never lasts. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Mk 14:38).

I don’t believe smoking is a sin. It’s gross, unhealthy, and a rather strange activity when you think about it, but I won’t call it a sin. I agree with Charles Spurgeon who said, “I demur altogether and most positively to the statement that to smoke tobacco is in itself a sin. It may become so, as any other indifferent action may, but as an action it is no sin.”

In this quote, Spurgeon raises more questions than he answers. If smoking isn’t a sin, how does it become one? Since my goal is not to write a thorough treatise on the subject of tobacco use, I’ll answer using observations from my own self-examination.

First, smoking is most often gluttonous. Self-control, on the other hand, is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Whether I smoke once a day or once a week, my addiction not only leads to a high likelihood that I’ll indulge to the point of excess, but it also disqualifies me from claiming this particular fruit. An addiction is the antithesis of self-control.

Second, smoking makes me a liar. The book of James says, Let your “yes” mean “yes,” and your “no” mean “no,” so that you won’t fall under judgment (Jas 5:12). Yet I’ve repeatedly promised to quit smoking only to start again after an all-too-brief hiatus. I’ve bragged, “I don’t smoke anymore.” Little did I want to know, I was lying. What else should I call it? Despite my confidence in the moment, I made claims and swore oaths that proved false. Satan filled my heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and I didn’t stop him (Ac 5:3). I am thankful for God’s mercy because I deserve the fate of Ananias and Sapphira (c.f., Acts 5:1-11).

Third, though smoking may not be a sin, its stronghold over my mind and body certainly feels inconsistent with my faith in Jesus Christ, who has set us free (Gal 5:1). Stand firm, Paul writes, and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery. If the apostle were my personal counselor, I imagine him saying, You have been set free from tobacco and have become enslaved to God (Ro 6:22). In a moment of temptation, he says to me, You are able to do all things through him who strengthens you (Php 4:13). My conviction has grown loud and clear: Your addiction is a lack of faith! Don’t stifle the Spirit (1Th 5:19). Let him sanctify you completely (1Th 5:23). He who calls you is faithful; he will do it (1Th 5:24).

Am I promising to quit smoking once and for all? No, I’ve learned my lesson. Instead, I’m acknowledging that overcoming addiction through Christ is possible. More than that, I’m preaching it to myself if not others. If Christ can overcome death, he can conquer my addiction, you of little faith (Mt 14:31).

My name is Jeremy, and I’m a smoker. I admit that to you now because the prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effects (Jas 5:16). Will you pray for me? Will you bend your knees and petition God on my behalf as well as anyone else with a desperate need to break the yoke of addiction? I heed the wisdom of James who says, Confess your sins to another and perhaps your tobacco use and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.

I am a smoker, but by the grace of God, I won’t die as one.