If you’ve ever attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, either as a member or a supportive onlooker, you know that each person who raises their hand to share introduces themselves as an alcoholic and/or drug addict. As a woman of faith [in Jesus], that has always struck a chord with me; a slew of thoughts enter my Christian mind: “how come these people still identify as the person they used to be? Shouldn’t they at least call themselves former alcohol or drug abusers? Are they the same person, just with 12 steps added?”
2 Corinthians 5:17 states that “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” When a person gets saved (in other words, chooses to become a Christian), they are making the choice to lay their old life down; they are essentially throwing everything that they are at the mercy of Jesus. It’s a step that obviously requires incredible humility! You are no longer your own master, by faith you’re handing that power over to another. AA urges those who are in the program to be in tune with a “higher power” (another term I’ve never quite fully understood). “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him” is the third step from AA’s 12 Steps. What happens if you never arrive at the place of understanding God? Does your will never get surrendered? Who is God to us? Is he able to speak to us? To you? Is God some sort of buddy figure who we go to with our own plans and dreams and he just signs off on them, the way a parent signs their signature on their child’s homework, as proof that they reviewed it? The dictionary defines lord as “someone or something having power, authority, or influence; a master or ruler”. Is God the lord of our lives, or does that threaten and intrude our pride too much?
Sitting in on AA meetings, I sense spiritual decay. Everyone looks internally worn out. Joyless. Uncertain. How many of us know that yeah, anyone can offer a smile, but eyes are the windows to the soul. You can’t force a gleam in your eyes if there simply isn’t a glow. I can’t help but subconsciously draw contrasts between what I’ve heard in church, and what I’ve heard in these meetings and from people who attend them. I think it’s because there is a spiritual theme shadowing the principles of AA that the contrasts jump out at me. For example, there was an Irish man, mid-50’s, who I heard speak for probably over an hour about his journey. I almost immediately started jotting down notes in my phone, knowing that I wanted my next blog post to be about my opinion in regards to Alcoholics Anonymous the more he talked. He mentioned having a “low-grade spiritual thirst” and that was why he found comfort in drink, and once that habit took root, he continued to do it because he liked what alcohol did for him. Read between the lines; in other words: he was selfish. He sought after something, obsessed after that thing, because of what it was able to do for him. The irony? It almost killed him! The thing that presents itself as such a good, comforting, fun, appealing thing…the very thing that promised him the moon and stars ended up destroying his life and landing him in a program for addicts.
I’ve heard pastors say before that “the devil never paints the whole picture” when we are enticed and seduced, essentially, by our own lusts. Were you aware that in the Bible, there’s a verse of scripture that says “the thief only comes to steal, kill, and destroy”? Now although that is only half the verse, it’s worth diving into. Who is the thief? In the context of the topic of this post, can the thief be alcohol and drugs? In many of the testimonies I’ve heard both in church and secular places, alcoholism seems to be the generational thief, making its grand entrance into each family and passing on its legacy of spiritual death, no holds barred. A life that is given to the overconsumption of alcohol and the abuse of drugs, is a life robbed of purpose, destiny, freedom from debilitating strongholds, and joy, among other things. But you see, we’re never presented with that at face value. If we were shown the outcome of our sinful nature, which is ultimately pride/thinking we can be our own god, do you really think we’d run off and do half the things we do? Highly unlikely, but we can agree to disagree.
Getting back to the contrasts as I mentioned earlier, my relationship with God and the knowledge that I have of his word automatically causes me to have rebuttals on deck. Counterpoints, as annoying and devil’s advocate-y as they may be (I don’t do it purposely). For example, there is a huge emphasis on the power of the program itself. I’m so used to hearing “thank God for sending us His Son”, that hearing “nothing but this program works, thank God for Alcoholics Anonymous” threw me off a bit. There’s no shortage of praise and worship at AA meetings, that’s for sure. Is the wrong thing being worshipped? Well.
The problem with “worshipping the creature/creation instead of the creator” (see Romans 1:25) is that not only is it misdirected idolatry, but it is still a pride matter. I heard a lot of “today, I don’t want to drink. I don’t know about tomorrow, but I know that today, I’m free. I don’t have the obsession, I don’t have the desire”, etcetera. A lot of me, myself, and I. What unstable pressure to live under! I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me personally, I am not strong enough in myself to live day to day relying on my own self-will to not do something! Surrendering your life to Jesus Christ means finally coming to the place of realizing you can’t save yourself, no matter your good intentions, no matter how many programs you’ve become a part of, no matter how many steps you include in your day to day life. Our best efforts are useless if they are not being “backed” by a power of another nature living inside of us, helping us live out those good intentions we very well may have. Without that new nature, we are rendered powerless against sin. Why do you think so many people in these wonderful programs (and there’s no sarcasm in that, I truly do applaud programs like Alcoholics Anonymous) have relapsed? Some more than once, twice, three times. It all full circles right back to who we are at our core, every person ever born. We are, by nature, sinful.
Our fallen, by default nature is pride. Now, whether or not there was actually a talking snake in the Garden of Eden, I’m not going to get into...I simply wasn’t there, therefore I don’t know. Obviously the idea of a speaking serpent today is bizarre and almost laughable, but that’s not the point. The bigger picture is that what caused original sin was biting into the forbidden fruit; in modern terms: biting into the lie that says “you can be as God”. Pride. That inner voice in all of us that whispers things like “you can have a drink! Come on, don’t be so extreme. You can handle one drink, what’s the big deal?”...and then you find yourself having moved from a few beers, to a couple of vodkas, to that obsession kicking in of wanting more...and now you’re snorting crushed up percocets in the bathroom. You bit into the lie. We all have. Now what? Surely there has to be some sort of freedom and relief from this default spiritual condition we’re in.
There is, although often times it goes rejected for whatever reason. I don’t ever want to come across as if becoming a Christian is the secret to a perfect life void of personal struggles and failures. Ironically enough, it was after I got saved and later baptized that I found myself doing the most unthinkable things I never thought I’d do. Hell came at me from every side, perhaps because I was now a threat to the powers of darkness. There’s a battle for our souls, you do know that, right? Thank God for the forgiveness we have in Jesus! Our past, present, and future sins are forgiven. What a remarkable gift.
As someone who has been born-again (born to a new nature that now lives inside of me. Since we were born into sin, in other words since we are by nature sinful, if we want to live in spiritual freedom and victory, we have to be born-again spiritually), I don’t have to embark on a literal step-by-step journey for freedom from addictions and strongholds. Nothing I do will ever earn that. Everything I’ll ever need was already freely given to me. I made the choice to receive it as my own, I can call it mine because I’ve accepted it. It disturbs and saddens me to hear members of AA say things like “if I want to remain sober, I have to keep coming to these meetings, I have to keep in contact with my fellowship groups, I have to do the steps”, etcetera. That’s still pride. That’s still being your own God. That’s still bondage! That’s putting so much unnecessary pressure on yourself. You are still relying on your best efforts and are the master of your own ship; given the choices you’ve made in the past, how’d being the lord of your own life turn out? Unless there is an entirely new spirit inside of us, wholly different than everything we are, we will always eventually fall back into our old habits that Christ died to set us free from. Guess what? Christians are susceptible to that too! Take it from me, the spokesperson of sin-repent, sin-repent. The difference is, an honest Christian (that is someone who is not interested in playing church or having a dead religion) cannot do the things they used to do without immediately being convicted by it.
One of God’s promises to us can be found in the book of Jeremiah, the twenty-ninth chapter, the eleventh verse: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”. I had mentioned in the beginning of this post that I sense spiritual decay and uncertainty among the people who are in AA. That’s just my take away, obviously only God knows the condition of their hearts. However, living life everyday with a resounding “I don’t know what tomorrow will bring” hanging over your head is not the life God intended for anyone to live. If our trust is fully in him, he alone gives us hope for the future days to come. We don’t have to live in uncertainty or fear of relapsing or falling short.
In closing, I applaud Alcoholics Anonymous. I’m grateful for the program because it has undoubtedly helped many people get on the path to sobriety. If you’re looking for a higher power who doesn’t need to be appeased by works and self-effort, that higher power is Jesus. My favorite verse of scripture is Romans 5:8, which says: “God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Notice the usage of both past and present tense. The present tense implies that this demonstrating is an ongoing act that keeps happening today, and will keep happening tomorrow. God will always demonstrate his love for us. The past tense “died” implies that the death of Christ happened once for all and will not be repeated. Our trespasses against God were put on Christ, who died in our place so that we wouldn’t have to die, and that act was once and for all. It was final, and it’s finished. Christ went to a cross for you and I, already knowing that a lot of us would reject his love, grace, and free gift of salvation. Christ died for the very people who sent him to be crucified on a tree, which by the way, was you and I. Now that, is a higher power I will never hesitate to serve.