What is 12-Step Recovery?



As a seminary graduate and pastor, I was skeptical about much of psychology and recovery programs. I did learn a little more when I watched My Name is Bill W.–the story of the man who co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous–but not much. I suspected that group meetings were touchy-feely, superficial gripe sessions that allowed addicts to blame everyone else in their lives for their problems. My greatest reservation stemmed from the commitment to speak of the generic ‘higher power’ instead of acknowledging Jesus Christ as the true life-changing power.

My views changed immediately and dramatically when a new job required a visit to a substance abuse rehab center. I found myself sitting in a group therapy session with men and women from their late teens to 60’s. They came from upper class homes, middle class working families, and the streets. I was amazed that they treated each other as true peers. Their pointed questions and frank confessions scared me, but I recognized that this is what real conversion looks like’people struggling with real guilt having no other hope than experiencing genuine rescue through faith in Jesus Christ. In short, they were living in true Christian community.

12-step recovery is biblical:

In my personal Bible study, I have found the principles that supported the steps. I finally became convinced that the steps were biblical when I recognized that Paul made his confession in 1 Timothy 1:15 as the result of completing the work of the 4th step: ‘Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.’ In verses 8-11, Paul outlines the basis for a searching moral inventory: the 10 Commandments. He then confesses, ‘I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man’.’ In verse 15, Paul then explains why he can complete his moral inventory without fear: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’of whom I am the worst.’ Later, I recognized the prodigal son experienced the admission expressed in the first step when he came to his senses. The 5th step is completely in keeping with James’ instruction in his letter: ‘Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.’ The 12 Steps help addicts face their sin and apply the remedy of the Gospel.

12-step recovery is progressive:

Working the steps requires following a process that moves the addict from a life of isolation to healthy relationships with others. In working the first 3 steps, you recognize the futility of your efforts to overcome your addiction by your own efforts and acknowledge your total dependence upon the Lord for help. In steps 4 through 6, you face the reality of your own brokenness due to sin and declare your readiness to have God transform you through the Gospel. In steps 7, 8, and 9, you work to repair the relationships that have been broken as a result of your addiction. In the final 3 steps, you work to advance the work already by growing in your knowledge of God and sharing what you’ve experienced with other addicts

12-step recovery is not self-help:

Anyone who hopes to end addiction must work the steps personally, but cannot work the steps without help from others. Groups urge members to find a sponsor/mentor who has already worked the steps or a partner who can work them at the same time in order to provide accountability for working the steps. Demonstrating a willingness to be in relationship through the steps is one of the most important foundations for completing the work. You are choosing to end the hiding and isolation. You must begin by deepening your relationship with God first. If I don’t really trust Jesus, then I won’t be able to trust His people. In the group meeting, you invite the other members to walk with you through the valley of the shadow of death. Knowing the God Who has walked that valley first is essential.

12-step recovery is an adventure:

The function of a 12-step group is not a precise science, as group veterans will attest. There are healthy and unhealthy groups. A healthy group fosters wholeness as the members progress through the steps. An unhealthy group permits members to repeat the same confessions they have made previously. Healthy groups can have unproductive meetings and unhealthy groups can have productive meetings.

The single greatest factor influencing a group’s health and effectiveness is the commitment of each member to work the steps. Members must help each other face the external and internal triggers that make up their patterns of addiction. Each person experiences moments of strength and of weakness’moments when it seems much easier to return to the life of denial and blame-shifting than to keep growing by answering that difficult question that has just been posed.

Following the well-trod path outlined by the 12 Steps will help you to escape the pattern of self-defeating behavior that has dominated your life and prevented you from experiencing wholeness through faith in Christ.

If you struggle with alcohol or drugs, we can help — call 800-NEWLIFE (800-639-5433).

If you struggle is with sexual integrity, please see Every Man’s Battle.


  1. Remember,
    The CR teaching above all boasts about how it is “Bible based” and “Christ centered” When one studies what is actually taught direct from the CR text, (and I did because I almost started my own meeting) the truth of these comments proves something quite different from their boasts.

    How is this Christ centered or Biblically based:
    CR 342 “The solution is to become your own loving parent….You will recover the child within you, learning to accept and love yourself.”

    And this is a humanistic and biblically false statement:
    CR 350 “Jesus taught….A love of self forms the basis for loving others.

    Look honestly/truthfully at what is taught. The actual teaching is heavily marbled with psychobabble non-sense and scripture distortions. How then anyone could possibly call this Bible based or Christ centered? Jesus did not teach any of this! Nor His disciples!…

    We are warned, so clearly, never to run ahead of The Lords teachings, nor add to, nor subtract from Gods Words. I highly suggest to anyone involved with any form of syncretistic teaching and Bible distortions to stop, turn to Jesus and choose to truly follow in His steps only, never any man-made steps.

    “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord”
    Act 3:19

    Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
    Matthew 14:31

    Only a servant pointing towards Jesus,

  2. Where is the Gospel taught in Celebrate Recovery? Where in the Bible does it say that it is biblical to go into a group of people that are often in and out of fellowship over a few months and when talking about your hurts, habits, and hang ups you can not help but talk about the people that have caused them. That may even be people in the congregation, it may even be a pastor, a husband, or a wife.. do you want your spouse going into a group of people and spilling their guts about how they feel about you? I don’t. I think it breeds an atmosphere of gossip when people should be taught to vent to God and seek council when needed (which is banded in CR) That is what is biblical, sharing about a neighbor only for the purpose of council. Not emotional release. That is man made psychology. The open speech also allows the opportunity for false teaching to erupt. When I was once blinded about this program for about a year I witnessed people speaking Buddhist concepts and discussing reincarnation with no correction. THIS is not biblical! It is not helping people to God to deny them biblical council and overly focus on these steps that do no speak the Gospel but are instead stretched on verses that don’t even apply to what is being said. I could elaborate and write a whole book on the topic. It bothers me that the BIble and it’s timeless council and direction are often just not enough for us at times and we create “programs”.

    • Do we really understand the plight of the addict?? My question would be what frightens one so much to not allow a loved one the ability to “spill their guts about how they feel about you.” Of course let me not be disillusioned to believe that those who attend 12 Steps do not have other beliefs- Buddhist… I guess for my self it is the belief that the Holy Spirit guides and it is my prayer that whether it is Celebrate Recovery or 12 Step the Holy Spirit is up to His work, its all part of the process. Balance is key- a collection of reservoirs that God has provided for individuals to find refuge including Church-12 Steps-Celebrate Recovery-Network- Spiritual Guidance-Small Groups- Sponsor- The Bible. Thank you Lord Jesus for your loving mercy and the many ways of grace- through your provisions of community for the addicted to grab hold to. As a bible believing evangelical church going Jesus Christ lover and Drug and Alcohol Counselor, I really appreciate the 12 Step Article. What would if be like if recovering believers did not attend a 12 Step- where would the “salt & light,” be to those who are lost.

  3. keijo leppioja says:

    Joy and be bless in life with the Lord to be healed form hurts of the the world and of the devol and moving on in the Holy Spirit with us to be glory for the Lord daily and showing the light in darknes and healping people to find Christ and new life in God,thank and bless and pray,keijo sweden

  4. Stephanie Whitmire says:

    I see in the comments that people are saying Celebrate Recovery and giving criticism. This web-site is for Life Recovery. Two different programs. I for one used the Life Recovery Bible when I was getting off of drugs and alcohol. I am very thankful for it each and every day. This particular Bible taught me much about myself and when years later I got the workbook I was able to recognize addict behaviors in myself and am making changes in these areas. The 12 steps work if you let them. When addicts turn to God they are in much pain and full of self-doubt, fear, anxiety and other negative emotions the enemy gives us. I highly think that if this program helps them to stop using, repent and START trusting in God that it is worth it. Ultimately this Bible planted a seed to help me get and stay clean and since I never had a relationship with God it taught me a lot about trusting Him. God calls the broken not the perfect. If this is one way of doing it then I am all for it…

    Thank you Life Recovery for planting that seed in me 7 years ago. I gave my life to Christ and I wouldn’t be where I am today without you. My life has been like a country song played backwards in the last few years. I got my life back, my husband and son back, I got my friends back.. etc.

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