“I need a cup of coffee.” You’ve either said it or heard someone else say it. Whether it’s lack of focus, fatigue, irritability, or something else, sometimes we feel life can’t go on without a little bit of caffeine. To be sure, we’re usually in jest, but often there’s an element of truth involved. We laugh about how grumpy we can be pre-morning coffee, but if you can’t have a loving conversation with a spouse, child, or coworker without a cup of joe, something’s wrong. Dependence—wherever we find it—is no laughing matter.

Dependence Runs Deep

It would be easy to read that first paragraph, evaluate your life, and think, “I don’t drink (or only in healthy moderation); I’ve never used illegal drugs; I don’t gamble; I’m sexually pure . . . I don’t have an issue with dependence.” While I certainly hope that’s the case, we must be careful not to evaluate ourselves based on external morality or secular standards.

Our secular culture doesn’t consider the desires of the heart when evaluating issues of dependence. Heart motivation doesn’t matter for a secular or medical diagnosis. But if we’re diagnosing ourselves through the lens of Scripture, we have to look into the depths of our heart for an accurate understanding of health and wellness. All forms of sinful dependence are uncovered in the heart.

If we're diagnosing ourselves through the lens of Scripture, we have to look into the depths of our heart for an accurate understanding of health and wellness. Click To Tweet

Thankfully, we have victory over sinful dependence through Jesus Christ. In looking to him, we learn how to renounce sinful dependence and cultivate a holy dependence on our heavenly Father, who graciously gives us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3).

The Perversion of Dependence

Not all dependence is sinful. We were created to be dependent. God created us to receive everything we need from him—we’re meant to live with a holy dependence on our good, abundantly generous Father. But sin distorted and perverted everything good in the world, twisting our reliance on the Creator into reliance on the creation. When they took the fruit, Adam and Eve rejected dependence on God and embraced living in dependence on themselves.

We’re no different. I’m convinced we exacerbate many of life’s challenges with our self-dependent attitudes and actions. Take burnout, for example. When we see a pastor with symptoms of burnout, it’s easy to think he either has too much to do, poor rhythms of rest, or both. That may be. But what if there’s something deeper going on. His life might be free from dependence on substances, but what if he has a slavish need for control? This could certainly lead to burnout. If he’s dependent on controlling every aspect of his ministry, he will be regularly undone by spontaneous circumstances. A dependence on control makes peace and rest acquaintances rather than intimate friends.

Discerning Problematic Dependence

Discerning sinful dependence can be difficult because the heart can be hard to know. Jeremiah reminds us that the heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (17:9). Even David, who had a heart after God’s heart, needed help: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Ps. 139:23–24).

Dependence can manifest in subtle yet destructive ways. Thanks be to God, we have been set free from the enslaving power of sinful dependence. Click To Tweet

Knowing our hearts can be difficult, but not impossible. Sometimes we have to dig deep, dropping the bucket of discernment lower and lower into the well of our heart until we find the waters of understanding. “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Prov. 20:5).

Sometimes we need help from a man or woman of understanding as we seek to know the desires, intentions, and purposes that drive us. Thankfully, we know the ultimate man of understanding, Jesus Christ. Even more, we have the very mind of Christ, enabling us to discern God’s will so we can live in ways that please him. As you seek to uncover habits of sinful dependence, consider some of these questions:

  • What do you look forward to at the end of the day? A drink? Time alone? Why?
  • Is alcohol, coffee, or any other substance a regular part of your day? Do they provide you with something you think you must have to function, be happy, or have peace?
  • What rhythms, habits, and behaviors do you engage in daily? How would your day be different if you cut them out?
  • How do your thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors change when you can’t go about your day in the way you intend?

These questions are merely a starting point. Learning to ask questions like these is important because dependence can manifest in subtle yet destructive ways. Thanks be to God, we have been set free from the enslaving power of sinful dependence (Rom. 6:22). As you examine your heart, rest in God’s care and provision. He has graciously given you everything you need. May your daily habits and rhythms reflect a holy dependence on him.

Kent Bass
Written by: Kent Bass on February 9, 2022

Kent Bass serves as the pastor for counseling and member care at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He has an MA in biblical counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to providing counseling care to the members of Imago Dei, Kent also works to help equip and care for church planters and missionaries sent out by IDC. Kent lives in Wake Forest, North Carolina, with his wife, Hope, and their four children. You can follow him on Instagram @kentdbass.