What About the 12 Steps?

I recently received this question from someone who is attending the Freedom From Addictive Behaviors Advanced Webinar:

My church just started a Celebrate Recovery group, and I am sickened that once again the 12 step model has seeped into our churches. Why don’t pastors bother learning where this really came from? They hear, “straight from the Bible” but that is simply not true. What’s the best way to get the word out to ministers to stop using the 12 steps? Why do Christians need a secular model of teaching? Shouldn’t this alone be a red flag?

My answer is as follows: That is a great question, Linda. I think pastors primarily turn to the 12 Steps, Celebrate Recovery and AA, etc. is that they don’t really understand the root problem of addiction and haven’t found the answer for it. I’m sure most of them have really tried to minister to those struggling with addictive behavior but have had little or no results. The reason being that addiction is difficult get freedom from and relapse is a large part of addiction. So after many attempts to minister to those struggling with addictive behavior, basically they give up and send the person to AA, Celebrate Recovery, another 12 step program, a residential treatment center, a psychiatrist, a counselor, etc.

When I say they don’t understand the problem of addiction I mean they do not understand that addiction is spiritual bondage. By that I means it is tied in with the core of who the person is. The only way a person finds freedom from addiction is know who he is in Christ and that he is dead to sin, freed from it and Christ is his life and lives in him. Addiction is spiritual bondage because it is related to how a person meets his inherent, basic and God-given needs, which are (1) love and acceptance and (2) worth and value. The way a person meets these needs is how he finds his identity and life. Everyone has a false identity that comes from flesh patterns he has developed to meet his needs apart from God. Some of the flesh patterns become strongholds of addiction. Many people who are not comfortable in their own skins and do not feel good about themselves turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, over eating, etc., to get some relief and find temporary escape and these develop into strongholds that result in addictions. Thus addiction is spiritual bondage and demands a spiritual answer, which is knowing who you are and what you have in Christ as a result of His finished work on the cross.
When I say they don’t understand the answer for addiction I mean they don’t understand that as a result of the finished work of Christ He now lives in us and is our life and we are dead to sin and freed from it. The 12 Steps are a great way to cope with addictive behavior but freedom is not possible except through the person and finished work of Christ. Gal. 2:20 sums it up I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Also Rom. 6:6, 7 lays it out clearly, For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin — because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

The primary reason that Steve McVey and I wrote Helping Others Overcome Addictions is because of the fact that very few Christians, pastors, counselors, and even those with recovery ministries understand that the finished work of Christ has provided all that we need for freedom, peace, victory and joy. The first chapter in the book is entitled “The Lie the Church Believes About Addiction”. What is the lie? The lie that the church believes is this: Addiction is so difficult to get free from that we need more than what God has provided in Christ — and it is up to us to do what we need to do” So what most well meaning Christians do is tell the person with addictive behavior what to do. Most of these are very good things to do and like the 12 Steps if you do them they will probably improve the quality of your life, but they will not set you free. Ultimately there is nothing to do to get free because it has already been done. Christ meant it when he said, IT IS FINISHED! The more the person tries to do (self-effort) the bigger the hole he digs for himself.

But when we know and believe the truth that “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law” (Galatians 5:1 NLT) then we will begin to live free and experience the freedom that Christ has already provided for us. When Jesus was on the way to heal Jairus, the synagogue ruler’s daughter, some people came from Jairus’ house and told him “Don’t bother the teacher anymore, your daughter is dead.” Ignoring what they said, Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid, just believe” (Mark 5:36).

– Mike

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