From whence cometh the power to stop smoking? I've often heard people talk about wanting to stop. Or perhaps they have made great attempts at stopping. Some have gone so far as to admit that they are professional quitters (i.e. they've quit many times...and restarted soon after).
The question arises: What is the best way to quit this pesky habit.
Let me first say that I do not think that smoking is altogether a sin. I myself enjoy a cigar from time to time. Having an occasional puff is certainly not condemned in the Scripture.1 What the Bible forbids is enslavement. To have an inordinate affection for cigarettes (or any other item in creation, for that matter) is to have an addiction. That is equal to having an idol in one's life.
An idol is anything that competes with God or replaces one's affection for Him. When one is unable to control his or her passions and is unable to set aside a habitual practice, he or she has come into idolatry.
Why is it important to understand compulsive smoking in this way? The religious significance of it all shapes the way we deal with the addiction. When we discern this reality, we will understand that quitting cold turkey or using alternative methods (nicotine patches, hypnosis, etc) are all illegitimate forms of dealing with the problem.
Sure, these methods may work for some. However, if one quits cold turkey, he has not yet dealt with the real issue. The spiritual realities have yet to be solved.
Understanding the addiction in this light will also help us to admit that this is not an issue of will power. To confess such is vanity at best. Man's heart is evil. His addictions are expressions of his depraved will. And if we say that we have conquered the addiction by our own efforts, we are showing a great deal of arrogance. It is an admission that we do not understand our own hearts and the offense we are making to God.
Addictions are essentially spiritual traps. We are powerless to escape them on our own. The Bible puts it in terms of dogs returning to their vomit (Proverbs 26:11). Even though the thing is putrid and we want to be rid of it, we are continually drawn back to it.
The only way to keep a dog from returning to his wretch is by physically restraining him. So too the only way to extricate ourselves from our addictions is through the external power of the Holy Spirit. Christ alone can restrain us from pursuing our wayward loves and passions.
How does this occur? It begins with repentance. We confess to the Lord that we have an idol in our lives. We must admit that we are enslaved to this vice and that our love for the Lord has been compromised. In doing this we must really and truly be sorry that we have misdirected our love for God towards this thing and hate the fact that we have. As we express this grief, we then must cry out to the Father for the power to overcome it and begin expressing the sort of temperance that He desires.
[Notice I said temperance. I am not of the opinion that complete abstinence is required. Should one chose that route, that would be noble. However, I reiterate that smoking in and of itself is not inherently wrong. When one is able to demonstrate godly moderation he is free in Christ to do as he pleases.]
After confession and prayer for enabling grace, one must then begin to work out his freedom. It is not enough to pray a prayer and think that the work is done. Prayer is only the first step. It would be wise to seek further accountability from godly friends, or even a leader in the church. Keeping a personal log is always good too. It assists the soul in its determination, and by it you can track the ground you've made (or even be a means of expressing continued repentance in failure).
Another course of action is to continually reaffirm the truth of the gospel. Thomas Chalmers once preached a sermon entitled, "The expulsive power of a new affection." His argument was that one can only replace a faulty love with a new and greater love. He was right. So he who would be free of his old love must continually grow in his affection for Christ. And the way to to that is by remembering how excellent Christ is; how he has forsaken all and given his life for our redemption, and then was raised to life again as the final victor and life giver.
Regarding this I might note the importance of regular participation in a God fearing local church. Those who attend worship and fellowship with other Christians will find that they are moved more to Christ and obedience to Him than those who do not.
A final action I would suggest is a zealous attempt to transform of all of one's life. Most smokers have many other habits that contribute to their enslavement: gluttony, fellowship with people who lack godly character, bar hopping, lewdness, idleness, gossip and the like. We must understand that sin is interconnected and discipline in one area can affect many other aspects of one's life. It is said of John Newton that he would limit his diet to bare necessities when women would travel aboard one of his ships. In doing this he sought to discipline his consumption of food as a means of helping to discipline the wandering eye.
All this does not necessarily mean that one will quit smoking or immediately lose the desire to light up. Sometimes the Lord does grant this grace. Oftentimes though, it is a work that entails a battle that ensues over time. Nevertheless, once the work of repentance starts and one owns up to having disavowed the Lord with his practices, he has become a victor. The moment Christ is acknowledged, he is an addict no more. Christ assumes the throne and the individual begins the process of working out the details of this Christ honoring life.
1. I recognize that there are many Christians who would differ with me on this view. Many would posit that smoking of any kind is inherently wrong. It is not my objective to deal with this argument in this post. Let it be enough for now to say that smoking is an issue of Christian liberty.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.