Straight Talk

The Question:

Is smoking a sin?

– AK from Ann Arbor

The Answer
Part 1: Addiction
Part 2: Freedom
Part 3: The Church and Smoking

Addiction (Part 1)

Rather than discuss smoking in terms of sin, I’d like to approach it from a different vantage point. Smoking is an addiction. And what is an addiction? It is something that has hooks so deep in us we have lost the ability to freely choose or refuse it. The Bible says; “for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” (2 Peter 2:19).

There is a large range of possibilities for addictions including gambling, drinking, shopping, food, sex, pornography – and more. Support groups have sprung up all over the country to help those trapped in things which have mastered them. I well understand the smoking addiction so let me tell you my own story.

I started smoking when I was sixteen and smoked more and more heavily for ten years until I was twenty-six. When I was six weeks pregnant for my first child I was ordered home rest by my doctor because of a possible problem. I sat in my apartment and smoked. I got up to make my bed, and was too tired to do it. I climbed the stairs and felt out of breath due to my smoking on top of the pregnancy. If I awoke in the night I was sure to squeeze in a cigarette while I was up.

I was completely hooked. But something else was also at work within me. I never wanted my child to see me smoke. I don’t know what prompted that but I felt it strongly. And there was something more. I realized I was not the master, but the slave in this smoking scenario and I despised that. I could not stand something having such total control over me.

That was my winning combo. I sat on my living room couch one afternoon, and things finally clarified. A resolve came inside me which I’m sure as I look back was the grace of God. (I was not yet a Christian.) I went cold turkey and never smoked again. What a surprise! Addictions can be broken.

Next: What is the path to freedom?

Freedom (Part 2)

I have met people who do not want to be free from their addiction to smoking – or at least they don’t admit it if they do. Some say; “I enjoy smoking, I want to continue, you’re going to die of something so it might as well be something I enjoy.” I accept that when I hear it, but my real suspicion is that they would rather not desire something they don’t feel is possible. Maybe they have tried and failed too many times, and all hope to try again is gone.

But for those who do wish to be free, there is hope. Galatians 5:1 says; “It was for freedom that Christ set us free” and then it goes on to exhort us; “therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Smoking is not so different than other areas where we struggle about who (or WHAT) is in control of our life. One of the greatest pleasures in life is freedom. Freedom from guilt, oppression, worries – freedom to become all that God had in mind for each one of us.

Anything that diminishes our freedom, limits our life. Jesus said; “The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Which side does smoking fall into; the thief’s or the Good Shepherd’s?

On a practical level, how does one get free from this addiction? I’ve heard lots of stories, each one unique. I know a lady who went down to the altar for prayer about quitting smoking, and literally felt all the nicotine drain out of her. She didn’t have any withdrawal, and never smoked again. But people have been very successful dozens of other ways too.

God knows the path of freedom for each of us. For myself, I’m grateful that before I ever served the Lord He was working on my behalf to set me free. My child never saw me smoke. To anyone who truly wants to be free there WILL BE a way.

Next: How should the church treat smokers?

The Church and Smoking (Part 3)

There are plenty of “closet” smokers in the church. They have to hide their addiction because of the heavy disapproval they feel from their denomination or particular congregation. Is that really the right way for the church to handle it?

Keeping things under wraps almost never produces the freedom I was talking about. A judgmental spirit from the very people who are supposed to be encouraging and helping you is another burden piled atop an already heavy load.

Church is the one place on earth where you should be able to be real. Often that is not the case. The church always says; “hate the sin – love the sinner” but in practical terms doesn’t know how to walk that out. Once people realize they can’t be themselves, warts and all, within the church setting, they just put on their Sunday “Praise the Lord” smile and pretend. Will that ever produce freedom?

I wonder this: if smoking is a sin, is it a greater sin than the hypocrisy sometimes found in church? That’s worth pondering for awhile…