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.