This strikes me as an excellent description of what’s wrong with much of the western world today, as many run pell-mell into various addictions and away from eternal life -- and why even the most determined addicts are so often unable to stay clean for long.
Jesus has, in fact, given us a wonderfully concise explanation for what happens when a man (or woman) tries to free himself of a demon-driven addiction. He starts out by quitting the bad habit and getting his life back in order again. But he doesn’t fill his heart with anything as powerful as the original addiction, or the demon driving it; new hobbies or friends won’t suffice, and he can’t summon up enough will power to make the fix permanent. Sooner or later he's populated by not only his original demon, but by some news ones as well, and he succumbs to temptation again – quite possibly plunging even deeper into his vice of choice and its devastating (sometimes deadly) consequences.
You’ve probably seen this happen to people you know. Maybe it has even happened to you.
Drug and alcohol are perhaps the most common snares these days, although of course there are many others, from gambling to pornography. Whatever the specifics, addictions can become such major preoccupations that their victims have no time, energy or motivation left for seeking God and His heavenly kingdom.
Many will instead run as fast as they can in the other direction. After all, they know in their heart of hearts that what they’re doing is wrong, and that He doesn't approve. They may anticipate that He will demand that they clean up their acts – and tremble at the thought of what He will do to them when they fail, as they surely will. It’s best, they reason, not even to go there; it’s best to simply reject God and His unreasonable demands and let the addiction reign. Why fight it?
This is why AA so often fails ... but Teen Challenge does not.
I think Jesus’ description of the unclean spirit explains precisely why some approaches to addiction relief work – and others do not.
Consider, for example, Alcoholics Anonymous vs. Teen Challenge.
AA does encourage its participants to “have a connection to a higher power.” But that seems to be as far as its adherents will go.
Teen Challenge, on the other hand, is an explicitly Christ-centered program. Jesus comes first, and He then heals those who yield to Him.
AA doesn’t seem to publish any statistics related to long-term success rates; I’ve seen guesstimates ranging from 5% to 15%. Teen Challenge, on the other hand, boasts a five-year success rate of 86%, according to independent studies -- which is to say that, five years after completing the program, 86% of graduates are still clean and addiction-free (including the 71% of graduates who had gone through other treatment programs before coming to Teen Challenge).
How can this be? Teen Challenge asked its graduates, “What makes the program work?”
The overwhelming response: “Jesus Christ.”
So it seems clear: Both secular programs like AA and the unabashedly Christ-centered Teen Challenge work to “empty, sweep, and put in order” the hearts of those who come to them seeking relief from addiction. But unlike secular programs, Teen Challenge begins by leading them to the Lord Jesus, so that their hearts can be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
As a result, any unclean spirit that tries to return to its former home sees a “No Vacancy” sign.
This is great news for anyone who suffers from an addiction, or has a loved one who’s an addict. And best of all, in most people, healing can be accomplished without the need for any formal program at all; all we have to do is believe the gospel, in the process repenting and trusting in Jesus Christ.
And there's a bonus that's the most wonderful news of all: anyone who does this can look forward to an eternity of pure joy, to be spent in heaven with the Lord Jesus Himself. It's an offer that one would be an absolute fool to refuse.
Updated from a 12/9/13 post