I recently read a troubling report about the average life expectancy in our nation declining for the second year in three years. According to an article from the American Association of Family Physicians, a person born in the United States can expect to live 78 years. While this is a couple of decades longer than previous generations (the good news), the trend is now downward (the bad news). For a century, the average age of death for Americans steadily climbed each year, mainly due to advancements in medical technology. Now, however, this has changed. The average age of death is declining and, sadly, it’s self-inflicted and completely preventable. According to the December 10, 2018 article:
“The latest CDC data show that the U.S. life expectancy has declined over the past few years,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D., in a Nov. 29 statement. (www.cdc.gov) “Tragically, this troubling trend is largely driven by deaths from drug overdose and suicide.”
The last time the average life expectancy among Americans declined was just over a century ago, when our nation faced two killers: 1) a flu pandemic that took the lives of over 675,000 in the United States and an estimated 50 million worldwide, and 2) World War I.
It’s not the flu or a World War that’s killing us.
We are killing ourselves.
Did you get that? The last time our nation’s life expectancy declined was due to the plague and a World War. Now, this decline is being driven by an increase in the suicide rate and deaths from drug overdoses. It’s not the flu or a World War that’s killing us. We are killing ourselves.
Our church recently completed a study on addictions. The theme verse for this study came from Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, where he addressed their view regarding sin. Many in this church were proclaiming that their salvation in Christ gave them the freedom to sin carte blanche. Since their sin didn’t change God’s love for them, they reasoned, then why not just go for it?
Knowing this argument, Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians the following words:
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. (I Corinthians 6:12)
While Paul dogmatically believed our salvation is only through faith in Christ and not our good works (or our avoidance of sin), he saw the danger of this Corinthian mindset. “Sure, maybe you have the right to do this thing,” he instructed, “but you need to be careful. Do you want this thing to become your master? Do you want to be enslaved by this sin?”
I’d heard too many stories of individuals having their lives destroyed through addictions.
Last year I wrote the book, UNCHAINED, using this verse as my springboard. I’d heard too many stories of individuals having their lives destroyed through addictions. Most were followers of Christ. They’d heard the gospel and responded in faith, trusting in Christ alone for salvation. They were redeemed from the penalty of sin and promised eternity with God in heaven. Additionally, they received a new nature which freed them from the power of sin. They were no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6:6).
Then, somewhere along the way, they became enslaved again. To use the language of Paul, they were mastered by something other than Christ. The typical life-destroying stories I’d heard revolved around alcohol, drugs, and pornography. These are the obvious traps, and their victims typically fall in a dramatic fashion. Jobs are lost, marriages are destroyed, children are hurt. In extreme cases, lives end from a drug or alcohol overdose. Sadly, these stories have become more and more common.
Additionally, there are the more insidious pitfalls. Things like money or social media or needing the approval of others. While these do not enslave us in the same noticeable fashion as drugs or pornography, these addictions can lead to anxiety, depression, and a host of other emotional and mental issues. When we allow ourselves to be chained by anything other than Christ, we end up serving a cruel master.
I wrote this book and led our church through this study with the hopes of seeing two things happen. First, for those who find themselves chained to something (most of us are), this will serve as a resource to help them find freedom. As I wrote the book, I realized just how much I struggle with “fear of man,” an issue I cover in chapter 6. I want others to like and approve of me, and sometimes this addiction can lead me to unhealthy and unwise decisions. For many, it’s an addiction to social media, something I cover in chapter 2. Virtually every Christian I know would admit that spending 6 hours a day on Instagram isn’t healthy, yet studies show many of us are doing just that. For others, they are entangled in pornography (chapter 5) or addicted to alcohol (chapter 3). My sincere hope and prayer is that they would be able to find freedom from these cruel masters, and this book might just be the impetus to them taking the first steps in that direction.
My hope and prayer is that many in the younger generation will be saved from the pain of having to learn that truth the hard way.
Secondly, my hope is that for those of the younger generation who read UNCHAINED, they will see the wisdom of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6:12. My goal for them is that they would ask: Do I really want to even take that first step toward being mastered by this thing? Do I want to be chained to alcohol, drugs, or pornography? Do I want to be owned by this thing, or do I want to be free? Like those in Corinth two thousand years ago, we are living in an extremely immoral culture with temptations all around us. We have access to all kinds of ways to satisfy our flesh. Yet, this temporary pleasure is quickly replaced with soul-crushing, life-destroying consequences. It’s something we’ve experienced and witnessed far too many times. My hope and prayer is that many in the younger generation will be saved from the pain of having to learn that truth the hard way.
To that end, all of the proceeds from the sale of this book are going towards the student ministry of Northway Church. I hope that by having the funds to send one more teenager to camp, or to hire another ministry intern, or to host another retreat, we will be able to impact the next generation in a way that enables them to see the foolishness of allowing ourselves to be mastered by anything other than Christ. Hopefully a few more will be saved from the pain and heartache of addiction. I pray that they will see the wisdom of avoiding altogether that painful and difficult journey.
And, perhaps, our efforts will enable this generation to turn these statistics, and we will no longer be a nation in decline.
Kevin Mills is the Lead Pastor of Northway Church in Macon, Georgia.