What Makes Recovery Christian?

Lance David

For many Christians the idea of addiction recovery seems a touchy-feely, self-help, unchristian thing. With terminology that includes, “Higher Power,” “sponsor,” and “12 steps” recovery can be unfamiliar and possibly threatening to some Christians. It is certainly possible to do recovery- submitting to the program and to a higher power and experiencing sobriety- without following Christ. But this does not make recovery anymore unchristian than non-Christian couples remaining married until death does them part would make marriage unchristian.

For something to be unchristian it would have to be contrary to the gospel. Even though the terms may seem foreign to some Christians, the key principles of recovery highlight significant realities of that are contained in the gospel.

The first reality is that all of us are a mess. You may hide it or I may be in denial but that will not change the fact that we are both broken. This is the essential entrance exam both for Christians and those in recovery. The context for recovery is realization of the prodigal who knows that he has been fighting with pigs for sustenance. When a person does not view himself as a mess, he is more like the older brother who has all the riches at his disposal but remains aloof and on the outside. Jesus said, “It is not it the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17 NIV). It is tragic that many in the church today do not deeply understand and appropriate this, instead resembling Pharisees rather than repentant sinners. Those truly engaged in recovery, on the other hand, grasp this reality very well.

A second reality of recovery is that I am responsible for this mess. Neither recovery nor the gospel allows a person to wallow in the blame game of victimhood. No matter how a person has been sinned against, he is responsible for his response. Even though others have sinned against me, recovery only begins when I begin to struggle and repent of the character flaws that have developed as a result of my resentments. Jesus captured the essence of this idea with the admonition, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:4-5).

A third reality is that the path to healing in recovery must be done with others. Meetings, fellowship, support and sponsors all demonstrate that in recovery healing does not happen alone. Unfortunately, this is an aspect that most of us in the church in the western world have abandoned. Even with small groups, men’s groups, accountability partners, Promise Keepers and other seminars, most men remain terribly isolated from others- especially when it comes to our problems. We have been taught that it is not masculine but weak to be a broken mess. But to be isolated denies the reality that we all have blind spots that can only be exposed to us by other people. Furthermore, relationships provide the context for change in that just as we all get hurt in by unhealthy relationships, healthy ones heal. Sanctification and recovery do not take place without community.

A final reality of recovery is that it must include a recognition of and submission to a spiritual reality. Of course, as Christians, we recognize that the only “higher power” is the one true God revealed in the bible. However, the generic language of recovery makes the steps palatable to those who are not convinced of this truth. The twelve steps of recovery reveal a very spiritual agenda. It is one that includes submission, confession, repentance, reconciliation, and deep character change. These demonstrate that an addict’s core problem is a commitment to self and not addiction per se. Only by submitting to the One greater than self can the addict and the run of the mill sinner experience true inner healing.

The essential feature of anyone’s recovery that makes it Christian is the person who is in recovery. Christ did not come to give us principles, a system, a cause, rules or many of the things that we have perverted his message into. Christ came to bring us back into relationship with God. Left to our own ingenuity, we have found so many different ways, including addictions, to run from him. The story of the gospel is the story of God’s recovery of the human race to himself.

For more help on this subject see Every Man’s Battle.

Understanding Same-Sex Attractions

Dr. Mike Rosebush

Perhaps you have heard it said, ‘Counseling the homosexual sinner is no different than how you handle the heterosexual sinner ‘ sin is sin.’ In many ways, this is true ‘ and false.

Engaging in same-gender sexual activity is a sin (Lev 18:22; Rom 1:26-27; 1 Cor 6:9), as is every form of sexual activity — other than with one’s spouse. The homosexual sin is no more wrong or right than the heterosexual sin — and in that regard, there is no difference in the sins. Similarly, the forgiveness of homosexual sins is obtained identically as that of heterosexual sin ‘ through the redemptive work of Christ, and one’s trust in that. No heterosexual sinner was ever ‘saved’ in any way different than anyone who committed a homosexual sin. Additionally, God views the person who struggles with same-sex attractions in the exact same way He views the person struggling with opposite-sex attractions ‘ no greater (or less!) love and regard. Finally, the Godly methods of abstaining from sexual sin (i.e., purity of eyes and mind; confession; reduction of shame) are equally applicable, regardless of what type of sexual desire exists.

So, homosexual addictive behaviors can be treated in just the same way as heterosexual addiction, right? Nope.

Many of the elements are the same: the need to be real and safely disclose; the elimination of personal shame; accountability; ‘bouncing your eyes’; determining your triggers; developing an enjoyable relationship with God; nurturing vibrant relationships; pursuing life-giving activities; improving one’s self-esteem; etc. Can both the same-sex attracted and opposite-sex attracted man gain from attending an ‘Every Man’s Battle‘ workshop? Absolutely! Can both men co-exist in a men’s ministry? Certainly.

Well, then, ‘what’s the diff?’

Sexual identity. The heterosexual man is usually not frightened by his sexual attractions. He views that phenomenon as a ‘given’ ‘ how it (of course!) should be. He does not wonder ‘What’s wrong with me ‘ I keep noticing attractive men?’ He does not become increasingly panicked over the inability to become stimulated by the sight of women (like his buddies are able to do). He does not have to hope that ‘maybe these attractions will just go away ‘ please!’

No, instead, the male who experiences sexual attractions to certain men is guaranteed to be confused, ashamed, fearful, envious, and grief-filled. Men struggling with homosexual desires know that they are odd (since only about 5% of men ever experience such desires). And every man who has ever experienced ongoing same-sex attractions has wished that that were not the case (at least initially). Unlike the heterosexual, the man with same-sex attractions does not know how to ‘label’ himself: gay? ex-gay? homosexual? bisexual? He must actually choose to make meaning of his attractions, whereas the man with opposite-sex attractions automatically knows why he is that way ‘ ‘because that’s how it’s supposed to be’.

Thus, the man struggling with homosexual sins or addiction has two wars to fight:

1) learning to abstain from the sexual sin (and possibly also overcoming a sexual addiction), and
2) figuring out the meaning of his sexuality ‘ and what he plans to do with the reality of his attractions.

Most Christian counselors have opposite-sex attractions, and therefore they provide the only therapy they know how ‘ a ‘stop the sexual sinning’ approach. They set-out to treat only the client’s sexual behaviors, but not his sexual identity issues. These counselors are not negligent out of harmful prejudice. Nonetheless, they still end up doing a disservice to the man struggling with same-sex attractions — if the counselor is not familiar (and skilled!) in dealing with sexual identity issues. The under-informed counselors apply a ‘one size fits all’ approach to helping the client’s homosexuality, assuming that ‘homosexuality is just another form of sexual sin ‘ no different than fornication or adultery’.

Well, now you, too, know the difference.

For help on this subject, please see Every Man’s Battle.

Is Confession All That Matters In Recovery?

Jonathan Daugherty

Is confession all that matters in recovery? If we continue to admit our faults and failures, is that enough to live a life of ongoing purity, or is there more to the equation of freedom than simply admitting time and again that we are broken and imperfect? I propose that confession is only half of the equation when it comes to living each day in sexual purity.

Repentance is the ‘other half’ of this coin of recovery.

Confession is certainly necessary for recovery to begin, and even to move forward. To confess is to agree with truth. We confess that we are not perfect (true). We confess that we have a problem with lust – or whatever the particular struggle may be (true). We confess that we need help and cannot overcome our faults and failures alone (true). We confess each time our thoughts or actions do not match up with what God has said is good or right, and in so doing we agree with truth. Confession is an honest assessment and expression of reality. But confession alone does not change behavior. No, confession invites the forgiveness and cleansing of God on to our broken lives, but it is repentance that ultimately changes the course of our recovery over the long haul.

I used to think that if I just got really good at confessing my faults and failures as quickly as possible to when they occurred that I would become a different man. Unfortunately, all I learned from such a venture was how desperately wicked my sinful nature was and how often I must confess. Nothing seemed to change, at least not in significant, lasting ways. I just confessed and confessed and confessed. Mostly, I just confessed the same failures over and over again. This didn’t seem like progress (I’m not the brightest kid in the class, but I can deduce that repeating the same failures does not equal positive growth). Each confession did bring about a cleansing, a sort of “start-over-point” as promised by God (1 John 1:9), but this didn’t seem to do much for gaining traction in overcoming these vice-like sins. There always seemed to be an ‘ingredient’ missing in acquiring the long-term victory my heart craved.

Then I discovered the key to gaining ground against the ever-chasing pull of lust: applying the practice of repentance.

Repentance is the process of turning away from anything opposed to truth. Repentance provides the balance to confession. We confess to agree with truth, and then we repent to turn away from the opposing thought, belief, or action that prompted the confession. Through repentance we train our minds and hearts to focus on that which leads to life and freedom: truth (John 8:32). And as we continually turn toward truth we experience the power of God unleashed on the false thoughts, beliefs, and actions that seek to pull us again into darkness, shame, and despair.

One of the biggest challenges to repentance is pride. We truly believe we know what is best for our lives, even if it may be killing us. We think we can reason our way out of the lustful trap we are caught in, rather than surrendering ourselves, through repentance, to the truth of God’s Word and His ways. Pride is an ugly beast, but so often goes unrecognized as we wiggle and squirm out of the loving invitation of repentance and new way of life. But to become a new person, a free, pure child of God, we must die to our pride and invite, even embrace, the path of repentance.

Another harmful opponent to repentance is minimizing our sin. We deceive ourselves into believing that our problems aren’t as big as they really are and that we can successfully manage our sexuality without anybody’s help (minimizing and pride often travel together). We say we have a ‘little’ problem with porn or that we ‘aren’t hurting anyone.’ The longer we play with the fires of pride and minimizing the further we drift from repentance and the more we will suffer the consequences (Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Prov. 6:27).

Does confession matter in recovery? Absolutely! But without repentance, confession only serves to perpetually wash over the same stain again and again without ever effectively seeking to remove it. Repentance, therefore, compliments confession by guiding us toward the proper focus and perspective once we receive the refreshing cleansing brought about by humble, honest confession. May you allow your times of confession to remind you to take the additional step toward long-term freedom by also repenting. This is the path to true and lasting freedom…

For help on this subject please see Every Man’s Battle.