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.

Reality Sets In

Wes Mason

This past weekend I helped teach junior high boys at our church’s Disciple Now weekend. The group was made up of kids of all shapes, sizes, and levels of maturity, but all sharing the awkwardness common to the age and matching bright yellow t-shirts that bore the retreat’s theme in big, black letters across the chest: Reality Sets In. These young men were challenged to respond to the reality that they needed God in their lives. For many of them this reality apparently did set in, as several of them accepted Christ during the retreat.

As the retreat progressed my thoughts strayed to another group of men more than a thousand miles away. At that same time 74 men were gathered in the Washington, DC area for our monthly Every Man’s Battle workshop, having traveled from more than a dozen states and as far away as France and Russia. It occurred to me that some of these men may have also made their decision to accept Christ way back in junior high, just like these retreat kids. But now they were challenged to respond to a new reality they were facing. It was a sobering thought. These young guys at a retreat in Melissa, Texas have no idea the kinds of struggles that may be headed their way in the years ahead; these men in Washington probably could not have imagined when they first became a believer that years or decades later they would become so ensnared by sexual temptation.

When it comes to sexual temptation, there isn’t just one reality that sets in, but a series of them; in the workshop we call them crises of truth. As a man moves down the path from small-scale flirtation with sexual temptation to sexual addiction, these realities get more difficult to face; the consequences become less controllable. In this way sexual addiction is like cancer. Most are not terminal, and even the bad ones can often be conquered or managed if caught early enough. If left too long without attention, however, the options to control the outcome become more limited.

So, what do you do when you’re finally serious about working on your sexual integrity and then discover that there are consequences to your past actions that don’t easily erase? Maybe you’ve done all the right things: surrendered, disclosed, gotten into a program, taken actions to make amends, and gotten an accountability partner. You felt the freedom that comes from finally seeing the burden of your secrets lifted. You had reached the darkness at the bottom and are on your way up and out. Unlike your failed attempts in the past, which had an action plan consisting of willpower alone, this time you’re taking this seriously and you’re finding success. Nice feeling.

But it’s at this point, when the battle’s momentum seems to finally be turning your way, that you may face one of the most difficult realities and least nice feelings of all: the consequences of that past behavior. Sexual sin damages relationships most of all, so it is not surprising that relationship repair is one of the most difficult steps in the road to recovery. How do you face this reality and repair the damage to these relationships? Here are some ideas on how to start with the two most affected relationships a man in this situation faces: with God, and with his wife

Relationship to God: We are fortunate that God has a long history of restoring broken relationships. He is well-practiced at it after interacting with us over an entire human history filled with our failings. Our failures, no matter how serious, do not shock God. He is also committed to relationship restoration, going so far as to send his Son to the cross to demonstrate that commitment. We see the historical examples of men who have fallen much further than we have, such as David, who was restored to be a man after God’s own heart. We relate intimately to the words of the apostle Paul in which he shares his pain with the believers in Rome, where he says,

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do’I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord’Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
In your desire to restore your relationship with God, you have the benefit of God doing much of the work. You have a guarantee from God that if you want to restore the relationship with Him, and take the steps toward restoration mentioned above, restoration is yours. No exceptions, no concern that God will reject your repentance and heartfelt commitment to change.

Relationship to Our Wives: Perhaps you’re on that steady path of recovery; you’re action plan is in place, you’re reassured by the knowledge of God’s still loves you and forgives you despite your failings. But your wife isn’t sure she loves or forgives you; worse yet, she may be convinced that she is no longer capable of either. What do you do?

First, it’s important to understand that your wife is not obligated to simply put the past behind her, and isn’t likely to do so, at least not quickly. Worse yet, she may never be able to get over this completely, or at all. Recently on our radio program Steve Arterburn was talking to a caller who was involved with this kind of problem. He asked the caller to go through a mental exercise that is worth sharing. Imagine that you are standing on a floor with your feet together. Draw a line on the floor around your feet, about two feet out. Inside this line is everything in this world you have control over. Talk about reality setting in; you can only control what you do with your recovery, not how someone else responds to it. That small circle of control can make a man feel a bit claustrophobic, especially if he’s the controlling type, a common characteristic of the sex addict.

The good news is that what you do with your recovery is likely to be highly influential in how your wife responds. If she is listening to good counsel, she’ll be giving little attention to your words and a lot of attention to your actions. She needs to see with her own eyes, over time, a man who is living a life of sexual integrity. Very slowly, depending on what she sees in your life, the trust may begin to return.

This slower approach may be difficult to accept, and there may be a temptation to pressure her to come along at your pace, rather than her own. Professional counselors will tell you, however, that if she is too quick to forgive and forget, without resolving her feelings of betrayal, her anger will find its way back into your relationship in less obvious ways.

The challenge for a man who has fallen but now strives for sexual integrity is to demonstrate, over time with consistency, that he is a changed man. If he does that, the reality is that everything else is in God’s hands; not such a bad place to be for a believer, regardless of whatever other consequences may come his way.

If you would like additional help in restoring your marriage, we encourage you to prayerfully consider attending one of our couples groups at our next New Life Weekend.