A Biblical Perspective of Addiction Treatment Models

An overview of addiction treatment models, including a brief history of the Moral Model and the development of the Twelve-Step methodology through Alcoholics Anonymous, emphasizes the need for a Biblical approach to addiction treatment focused on Christ. By developing numerous addiction treatment models, man desperately tried to do what only the Healer of Hearts can do. Knowledge of the different models can empower the addiction counselor with relevant truth to enhance the application of a Christ-centered approach to addiction treatment.

Moral Model

During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, many viewed addictions as a sin. Most thought of addiction as a moral problem correctable as one chose a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. Many individuals have been empowered through saving faith in Christ to leave substance addictions behind. Many who place faith in Christ as their savior continue in substance addictions. I’ve counseled many who developed substance addiction after salvation.

The problem with the Moral Model of addiction is that it is short-sighted. Addiction has its roots in the total human depravity brought about by sin and death. Adam’s original sin brought separation between God and man. Man’s depravity resulted from the separation and dysfunction of spiritual death. The One who came to set the captives free did far more than give the captives a new moral standard. In order to deal with spiritual death, Christ gave the fullness of His life to all who believe. Only the indwelling life of God can pull addiction out of the heart of a man by its roots.

Historically, legalistic, law-based attempts to disciple the addicted resulted in shame-based attempts to change. Alcohol or drug-dependent people were considered morally weak. The church saw addiction as a character fault that could only exist in disobedience to God. Under the moral model’s limitations, the church and society punished the addicted one with whippings, public beatings, stocks, and fines. Public ridicule of one considered to be an “addict” was relatively common.[1]

Without a realization of grace, truth, and the fullness of God’s salvation, shame will always increase addictive behaviors by fostering a sense of identity deficit. The church’s general failure to communicate grace-focused, victorious life truths, including identification with Christ in His work, grace-gifted righteousness, identity, and union with Christ, played into the enemy’s hands by fostering addiction through shame and the emptiness that shame peddles.

Hebrews 12:2, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author, and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”[2]

The church’s failure to communicate the dynamics of addiction and equip those struggling to live from the fullness of Christ’s life within influenced the origin of other treatment models. Ignorance, or willful denial, of the daily relevancy of the redemptive work of Christ, led man to resort to his wisdom in an attempt to help those who are hurting.

1 Corinthians 3:19a, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. —.”

Disease Model

The disease model of addiction views addiction as an incurable condition that can only be managed. The current theory concerning the disease’s essential nature focuses on brain neurology which changes with the repetitive use of some substances or repetitive behaviors. The neurological change is believed to be permanent in some cases, such as opioid use.

I recently a seminar presented by the Association of Christian Counselors on the church’s response to the opioid epidemic, which promoted the medical model of addiction. The seminar’s presenters categorically and emphatically stated that addiction was a disease. The consensus was that adhering to any other addiction treatment model amounted to malpractice. At the seminar, the central medical authority was a Christian medical doctor with years of experience treating addiction. The individual was the head of substance abuse treatment for a major American sports league. This doctor strongly advocated using medication in treatment to counteract some of the behavioral effects of what he claimed was “permanent neurological damage.” In response to his beliefs and assertions, I asked, “Is there any clinical evidence that changes in brain neurology as a result of opioid use are permanent? Or, is this a conclusion based on observing many patients’ continuing use and the propensity for relapse?” His answer was surprisingly contradictory. He stated, “No. It’s not an opinion. I wish there was. But there is no clinical evidence.” Speculation is being labeled as science by many leading the church’s response to addiction. Sadly, a room full of Christian counselors, pastors, and church leaders were placing more faith in what represented as scientific than in the word of God. Science is not infallible. Only God is!

Individuals who desperately search for answers often come to conclusions that overlook both evidence and the authority of God’s word. There is much compelling evidence that the medical model is short-sided and errant. To examine clinical evidence that contradicts the medical model, I recommend the book The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease by Marc Lewis.[3] Mark is a neuroscientist and professor of psychology. The book is not written from a Christian perspective and misses the spiritual foundation of addiction. Never-the-less, it presents strong evidence that the medical model of addiction is not credibly scientific.

I also recommend reading a short journal article, A Map Of The Soul, by neurosurgeon Michael Egnor. The article chronicles Michael’s reflections on man’s immaterial nature due to his surgical experience. Any addiction treatment model that does not consider man’s spiritual disfunction and the fullness of God’s redemptive work is short-sided and will harm. Dr. Egnor’s article is available at www. Firstthings.com.[4]

The medical model ignores evidence instead of accounting for it. As a result, the medical model of addiction can correctly be called unscientific speculation.

The medical model of addiction may well, at least in part, be a response to the legalistic, shame-based moral model of addiction prominent in the early eighteenth and ninetieth centuries. Is addiction a sin? God’s word answers with a resounding, yes! Does the God who despises shame (Heb. 12:2) use shame-based behavioral modification tactics to set captives free? Of course not!

John 1:17, “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.”

Satan loves to encourage people to react to either side of the fine line of truth.  It doesn’t matter to the enemy which side. The father of lies peddles his wares to steal, kill, and destroy when the truth is missed. A deadly combination of truth mixed with lies is one of his favorite potions!

Psycho-dynamic Model

Sigmund Freud developed the psychodynamic model of addiction. This model links addiction to unresolved childhood issues. Addiction then is a symptom of coping, or not coping, with the impact of childhood events.

Psychology has correctly observed that childhood developmental events can shape behaviors that persist into adulthood and even throughout one’s life. The psychodynamic model’s errant assumption is that formative past events are the root cause of current behavioral problems. The Bible makes a distinction between past events shaping coping strategies and past events “causing” behavior. Man’s primary behavioral problem is not unresolved past issues. Although unresolved past problems often need to be addressed in addiction treatment, they are not primary. The primary foundation of any behavior involves faith and whether or not an individual is relating to God by grace through faith or not relating to God by grace through faith at any moment. Dysfunctional behavior (which is determined by God’s standards) always has spiritual roots. The fundamental issues resulting in sinful behavior in unsaved humanity are spiritual death and unbelief. For Christians, sinful dysfunction is the present expression of unbelief.

2 Corinthians 5:7, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

The fact that past events form belief systems that drive specific fleshly coping strategies is an essential part of all victorious life counseling. Understanding the correlation between beliefs chosen in past events and current fleshly strategies helps one see the depravity and bondage of fleshly coping strategies. As long as an individual places faith in self-coping methods, compulsive behavior (addiction) in some form will always be present.

Romans 8:6, “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.”

Understanding the nature and structure of the flesh (coping strategies) also equips a believer to cooperate with the Spirit of God in the renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:2). Biblically, the renewing of one’s mind involves lie-based memories replaced by Spirit revealed truth even as the old thoughts and emotions of those lie-based beliefs present themselves within the soul.

A Biblically based addiction treatment model will always equip individuals to deal with past events through explicit faith in Christ’s person and presence within the believer.

The Psychodynamic Model of addiction has evolved to include comorbidity in addiction treatment. Comorbidity is the belief that one dysfunctional condition can exacerbate or cause a propensity for another. Comorbidity is never primary. But it is often a secondary factor in addiction.

Social Learning Theory of Addiction

This theory promotes the idea that addiction is a learned social behavior. The addictive process is thought to be more about the individual’s thoughts towards using the substance than the substance itself. Society influences many to use addictive substances. But addiction is much more than programmed social thinking. An individual’s thoughts towards using can strengthen the addictive behavior. But, a truth-based change in thinking occurs when the Spirit of God renews the mind. Only the Spirit of God gives light through His word and witness.

Generally speaking, the social learning theory is indicative of secular humanistic philosophy. The secular humanist views truth as a social construct. They do not believe that truth exists outside of human perception. This mindset promotes social influence as the ultimate driving force of humanity. The secular humanist ultimately attributes all of man’s dysfunction to errant social thinking. It’s an evil and dangerous world view that lends itself to all kinds of compulsive, selfish behaviors. In the latter days in which we live, willful suppression of God’s truth leads to obsessive worship of secular humanism.

The Socio-cultural Model

The socio-cultural model is relatively new, gaining popularity in the last fifteen years.[5] This model focuses on society as the first cause of addiction in an individual. The model suggests links between inequality, cultural disadvantage, social injustice, and drug use. Responsibility is taken away from the individual and given to those perceived as victimizing the user. Instead of recognizing God’s authority, false authority is given to the collective mindset to decide what injustice is.

If you are unfamiliar with the secular humanistic mindset, beliefs such as those in the socio-cultural addiction model can seem like irrational foolishness. It is absolute foolishness. But it’s not irrational given their darkened ideas.

Romans 1:21&22, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks:  but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools.”

If you understand that secular humanism believes that truth is a social construct, you realize that the socio-cultural model is a futile but rational attempt to explain darkness with darkness. Such attempts increase both darkness and the suffering that results from the darkness.

Spiritual Community and the Beginning of the Twelve-Step Model of A.A.

Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935. The Oxford Group, founded by Frank Buchman in 1921, previously influenced both Wilson and Smith. Jessie Penn-Lewis influenced Frank Buchman during her speech at the Keswick Convention in Keswick, England (1908). Jesse Penn-Lewis’ speech’s focus was victorious life teaching focused on the personal relevancy of Christ’s work for daily living by grace. All three men, Buchman, Wilson, and Smith, had genuine faith experiences with Jesus Christ, which led to a desire to help others struggling with alcoholism.

The Oxford Group had six foundational principles:

1.       A Complete deflation (humility).

2.       Dependence on God.

3.       A Moral inventory.

4.       Confession.

5.       Restitution.

6.       Continued work with others in need.

Bill Wilson, Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder, was struggling with alcoholism in November of 1934. Ebby Wilson, an old friend, freed from alcohol use through The Oxford Group, visited Bill Wilson’s home. Bill later testified that he struggled to understand the undeniable change witnessed in Ebby. While pondering Ebby’s difference and struggling against the Holy Spirit’s conviction, Wilson rejected faith in Christ. Bill Wilson told Ebby that the failures of many Christians were why he rejected faith in Christ. Ebby’s response to Bill would later influence the formation of A.A.’s twelve steps. Ebby replied, “Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?” Ebby most likely intended to encourage Bill to put man’s opinions and representations of Christ aside, not to promote any conception of deity outside of Jesus Christ. In response to Ebby Thatcher’s statement (Ultimately, in response to the Holy Spirit), Bill Wilson decided to place faith in Christ. Wilson would later write, “That statement hit me hard. It melted the icy intellectual mountain in whose shadow I had lived and shivered many years. I stood in the sunlight at last.”[6]

After becoming involved with an Oxford group in his area, Bill Wilson reportedly became discouraged because many other men in the group relapsed and did not seem to have the same transformation as him. A friend in the medical field recommended to Bill that he stop preaching and start talking about alcoholism as a disease. This recommendation may well have been a reaction to the shame-inducing Moral Model view. Shortly after that, Bill Wilson again found himself craving a drink. Others then led Bill to contact a different physician, Dr. Robert Smith, who later co-founded A.A. with Bill Wilson.

I’ve given just a few highlights of Bill Wilson’s journey and the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous. The twelve-step methodology is a conglomerate model that has undoubtedly morphed over the years, probably taking on some meaning and direction that the founders never intended. Regardless, the influence of the moral model, the medical model, and genuine experiences of God’s grace shaped the events leading to the founding of the 12 steps. For a cross focused evaluation of Twelve-step methodology, I recommend the July 2020 blog post Pathway vs. Promise: An Evaluation of 12 Step Methodology in Light of the Cross of Christ available on this site (uncommonrecovery.org).

A brief overview of addiction treatment models exposes strengths and exposes the weaknesses in each. The strengths and weaknesses of each model played a role in the development of successive models. The Moral Model’s tunnel-like focus on addiction’s morality and the absence of equipping grace and truth resulted in shame-based attempts at change. The failure of shame-based attempts led many to discard the moral model and define addiction as a disease. As psychology and psychological theory developed, connections between past events and addictive behavior became known. Psychology can be very descriptive of man’s behavior and identify needs and even motives on some level. Psychology may well describe man’s dysfunction, but only Jesus can heal it. Christ is the only foundation of human wholeness.

All of man’s models fall short of God’s truth. The moral model omits almost all of the liberating truths of Christ’s finished work on the cross. In many settings, the twelve-step methodology often omits core redemption truths, though not to the moral model’s degree. The medical model recognizes a physical dimension of addiction but excuses the moral failure present in addiction. The medical model makes the glaring omission of disregarding God and disregarding man as a spiritual being made in the image of God. The Psychodynamic model recognizes the relationship between unresolved past issues and present behavior but fails to address the root of addiction, which is a sense of deficit resulting from failure to receive, or appropriate, the life of God. The Social Learning model and the Socio-cultural model are desperate attempts to find an answer to addiction that ignore both individual responsibility to God and the blood-bought privilege to receive freely from God.

Colossians 2:9&10, “For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority.”

Addiction cannot rule over a child of God without deception! In God’s children, addiction requires a willful investment in a lie.

The purpose of Uncommon Recovery is to allow the word of God to speak to the issue of addiction with uncommon clarity, comprehensiveness, and the power to do just as Jesus promised – to set the captives free (Luke 4:18). Uncommon Recovery is a Christ-focused approach that recognizes the relevancy of the redemptive work of Christ to all daily living. Uncommon Recovery is founded upon Christ’s indwelling life in a believer and the abundant life Christ died to give His children. True freedom is always appropriated by grace through faith in every moment of life. Christ and the daily relevancy of the glorious salvation that He freely gives to all who will receive Him is the only answer to addiction.

Colossians 1:27, “To whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Living in the freedom of His life together,

Don Steve

[1] “3.4 Models that help us understand AOD use in society,” Australian Government: Department of Health, 2004, https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/drugtreat-pubs-front5-wk-toc~drugtreat-pubs-front5-wk-secb~drugtreat-pubs-front5-wk-secb-3~drugtreat-pubs-front5-wk-secb-3-4.

[2] All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted.

[3] Marc Lewis, “The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease,” PublicAffairs (A division of PBG Publishing, LLC), 2015.

[4] Michael Egnor, “A Map Of The Soul,” First Things, The Institute on Religion and Public Life, 6/29/17, http://www.firstthings.com.

[5] “3.4 Models that help us understand AOD use in society,” Australian Government: Department of Health, 2004, https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/drugtreat-pubs-front5-wk-toc~drugtreat-pubs-front5-wk-secb~drugtreat-pubs-front5-wk-secb-3~drugtreat-pubs-front5-wk-secb-3-4.

[6] Quote is from an article entitled A History of the 12 Steps published on www.cornerstoneofrecovery.com. Corne


Pathway vs Promise: An Evaluation of 12 Step Methodology in Light of the Cross of Christ

Twelve-step methodology helps many to cease using addictive substances. My purpose in evaluating Twelve-step methods is not to be critical. I desire to be laser-focused on the redemptive work of Christ and the freedom found only in Christ. I believe that God can (and does) use the Twelve-step methodology to lead individuals to some general, initial understandings of His divine grace. I also think that many individuals have ceased to use addictive substances by applying Twelve-step principles. But the Twelve-step method does not proclaim Christ as one’s life and the fullness of life that comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ.

Jesus’ own words recorded in John chapter eight highlight the need for speaking truth explicitly. John 8:31&32, “Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who believed in Him, ‘If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” The need for clear and accurate communication of truth is always present. Knowing the truth and choosing to stake our welfare upon it is the God-given path to genuine freedom and fullness of life. Indeed, those who are walking in the deception, confusion, and shame of addiction deserve a clear presentation of truth. Would it be practical to design emergency exits signs so that they blend into the décor of buildings? Surely, that would be dangerous, not to mention impractical! It’s also dangerously imprudent not to communicate the truths of victorious living in Christ to those struggling with the destructive bondage of addiction.

Truth is like a sword-point in that it divides error on either side of the truth and highlights diversion from reality in opposing directions. Anytime the truth is not conveyed accurately, the enemy delights in twisting one’s perception away from the truth. Satan’s truth twisting can be to the right or left of the truth. Although God can use some aspects of the Twelve-step methodology, its ambiguity plays into the truth twister’s hands and lends itself to both deception and bondage.

The following six areas of deception are ways in which the one who comes to steal, kill, and destroy (Satan, John 10:10) can, and undoubtedly does, use the ambiguity in the Twelve-steps to keep individuals from finding genuine freedom and life in Christ:

  1. Twelve-step methodology promotes powerlessness without clearly stating the truth of one’s power and authority in Christ.
  2. God-given promises are resigned to the realm of possibility, hindering both assurance and faith.
  3. Failure to define God according to His revelation of Himself through His word and His Son Jesus Christ can lead to a submission to oneself, which is no submission at all!
  4. The emphasis on self-analysis of one’s life can emphasize man’s subjective discernment over Spirit given truth and loving conviction.
  5. The need to make amends for wrongs can be errantly understood and lead to codependency.
  6. Encouragement to practice all the Twelve-step principles in all affairs without an understanding of victorious living through the indwelling life of Christ can lead to law-based false hopes of recovery.

Let’s take a closer look at each area in the light of God’s word.

  1. Twelve-step methodology promotes powerlessness without clearly stating the truth of one’s power and authority in Christ.

While it is true that an individual is powerless to find genuine freedom from addictive behaviors in and of themselves, Christ’s children are not “in and of themselves.” I Cor. 1:30, “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.” The phrase “In Christ Jesus” expresses the state of being of a child of God. The apostle Paul, in the book of Philippians, expressed confidence in both the presence of Christ’s life within (which changed His identity) and the power of Christ’s life within as follows, “Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and of suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:11-13, NASB).” Does this sound like the confession of a man who, in any life circumstance, considers himself powerless? Paul’s confidence was one of simple faith. Paul knew that his independent effort to extricate himself from any unrighteousness was doomed to failure. Philippians 3:3, “for we are the true circumcision who worship in the Spirit of God and put no confidence in the flesh.” Paul’s confidence came from Christ in him, and the knowledge that Christ in him came with all the power and authority that belong to Christ.

Paul expressed the same confidence in Galatians 2:19&20, “For through the law I died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in Me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”

To promote powerless out of the context of the explicit truth of God’s empowerment is to promote victimization. The truth is that one who is addicted must realize the powerlessness of their flesh (utilizing their independent resources outside of Christ within) to overcome addiction in conjunction with their absolute empowerment in Christ. One who considers themselves powerless will be left hoping for some future empowerment from God while ignoring the fact that they already possess all power in Christ.

  1. God-given promises are resigned to the realm of possibility, hindering both assurance and faith.

Twelve-step number two encourages individuals to believe that God “could” restore “us” to “sanity.” To be fair, the wording is likely designed not to alienate those who are atheistic, agnostic, or hold non-Christian world views. Never-the-less the twelve steps do not express the certainty and effectiveness of Christ’s redemptive work. I Cor. 1:30 states that Christ became to us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. God’s past tense work was not half done! Believers have promises from God by which they live victoriously. 2 Peter 1:4, “For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” God makes promises out of who He is, which never changes! His promises are “I AM” facts! To fail to communicate the explicit nature of God’s unfailing promises fosters an uncertainty that leaves room for Satan’s hellish accusations. Such as:

God won't come through for me.
I've gone too far to change.
God hates me.
God gives grace to those who can help themselves.
I can't seem to do anything!

All are despicable lies that turn one’s mind away from God’s promises, His glory, and His faithfulness. God designed faith and hope to work together to set the heart upon God. Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” When one hopes in possibilities instead of promises, one will place faith in speculations about what God might do instead of His unchanging character.

  1. Failure to define God according to His revelation of Himself through His word and His Son Jesus Christ can lead to a submission to oneself, which is no submission at all!

The twelve-step methodology encourages individuals to turn the care of their lives over to God “as we understand Him.” Man’s concepts of God have nothing to do with God’s unchanging character. Exodus 3:14 records God’s proclamation concerning Himself as follows, “And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’; and he said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.” He is the unchangeable, eternal One. God is truth, and outside of His being, there is no truth. Encouraging individuals to submit their care to God as they understand Him exalts man’s understanding of God over God Himself. To encourage submission to a God of one’s understanding is encouraging individuals to entrust their care to their understanding. Hurting, hopeless, and often shamed individuals are being encouraged to entrust themselves to themselves! This veiled illusion of dependence upon God as one knows Him can foster the narcissism that is so characteristic of the fleshly behaviors of an addicted one.

  1. The emphasis on self-analysis of one’s life can emphasize man’s subjective discernment over Spirit-given truth and loving conviction.

Twice within the twelve steps (step four and step ten), taking a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves is mandated. Introspection never produced genuine discernment in anyone. We are far too limited and subjective in our perspectives without God. Only the love of God, in conjunction with the grace of God, gives discernment. Continual discernment is gifted to all who are willing to walk in dependence upon Christ as their life. Self-analysis does not produce self-awareness. Romans 1:21&22 speaks of the futile speculations of those who do not like to retain God in their knowledge, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools.” Human beings are subject to darkened self-perceptions. Paul knew this well. The Corinthians challenged Paul’s authority and accused him of having self-serving motives. Paul responded as follows, “But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the One who examines me is the Lord (1 Cor. 4:3&4 NASB).”

Introspection fosters self-focus instead of a God-focus. When one focuses on God through an ongoing dependent faith in all that God is, the Spirit brings every awareness one needs to mind, including love, assurance, validation, and conviction of sin! As a result of the Spirit’s work, individuals are empowered by love to choose repentance. Romans 2:4, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” II Corinthians 5:14&15, “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” Both verses make absolutely no mention of independent introspection.

  1. The need to make amends for wrongs can be errantly understood and lead to codependency.

First, I want to commend the Twelve-step methodology for bringing up the issue of making amends. It is entirely possible and often common for individuals to say they are sorry for a particular act but to fail to take responsibility for it before God. Making amends in a Biblical sense is taking responsibility before God and expressing that responsibility towards God to others in the form of genuine faith. The book of James states that genuine faith will indeed produce good works. James 2:18, “But someone may well say, ‘You have faith, and I have works; and I will show you my faith by my works.” It’s often easy to say I’m sorry but make no attempt to deal with the consequences of wronging another or the effect one’s actions had upon another.

To make amends means to make right or to attempt to make right. The truth is that no one can make amends for their sins. Only the blood of Christ, who became sin for us, can deal with sin. II Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Step nine states that the offender is to make direct amends to those wronged whenever possible. The emphasis of the Twelve-step methodology is on making things right in the eyes of those who were hurt by one’s addictive choices. Truthfully, in order to determine the possibility of making amends to another a Spirit-led discernment must be exercised.

A believer who by faith rests in their forgiveness in Christ and all that Christ’s life is within in them knows that they can attempt to make restitution on a human level for the consequences of their sin without regard to the receptivity of the one their actions hurt. If the offending one is a child of God, their sin is already forgiven through the shed blood of Christ. Forgiveness paved the way for the gift of God’s eternal life to all who receive it by faith alone. With that eternal life comes love, acceptance, worth, value, security, and adequacy from Christ. Without an explicit faith in all that Christ is within His children, we tend to look to others to meet the God given needs for love, acceptance, worth (or value), security, and adequacy. When approaching another whom has suffered do to our personal sin, we must not stake our welfare on the response of the one who has been hurt. One who stakes their welfare on making amends rather than Christ will be investing their well-being in a process instead of all that Christ is within them. Consequently, they will be looking for another to meet their needs instead of Christ.

Codependency is looking to another to meet one’s needs instead of Christ. Making amends should be a genuine expression of loving concern towards the one who is offended offered in the security of God’s love. The response of the one hurt has no bearing upon the welfare of the amender.

One does not need to be interacting with another consistently to be codependent upon that person. Anytime there is a perception of lack concerning love, acceptance, worth or value, security, or adequacy in one’s estimation of themselves resulting from rejection or a blocked expectation in relating to another codependency exists.

Amends for their sin has already been made in Christ, resulting in personal completeness that is independent of the actions of others. Colossians 2:9&10, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority.”

  1. Encouragement to practice all the Twelve-step principles in all affairs without an understanding of victorious living through the indwelling life of Christ can lead to law-based false hopes of recovery.

Step twelve encourages those who had a spiritual awakening as a result of practicing the twelve steps to carry the message of the twelve steps to others and practice them in all affairs. No mention is made in any of the twelve steps of the only One who’s life, when appropriated by faith, brings genuine transformation and freedom.

Galatians 3:1-5 speaks of the futility of attempting to bring about transformation in one’s life by self-effort in adhering to prescribed standards rather than through explicit, ongoing faith (utter dependence) in Christ:

You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?

Were the Galatians foolish for trying to do the right thing? Yes! God, through His word, also uses the term bewitched! Scripture evidences the critical fact that trying to do the right thing by the wrong means does not honor God, and plays right into the hands of the truth-twister (Satan) who comes to steal, kill, and destroy!

God’s word states that the work of the law is like a tutor conveying truth the awareness of sin and personal responsibility so that one’s need for Christ is evident. Galatians 3:24, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”

The law is not a pathway to righteousness, or a path to transformation. Romans 5:20&21, “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The law came to indicate the powerlessness of those subject to the law of sin and death to create righteousness before God. The law was not a set of instructions for digging one’s self out of a hole! God gave the law so that we might see the depth of the pit of sin. Galatians 3:21, “Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.”

When behavioral standards are promoted as a pathway to freedom rather than an explicit faith in the dynamics of Christ’s life within Satan easily deceives believers to buy into the bondage of fleshly self-effort. The law pictured what could only be obtained by the promises of God backed, not by effort, but by His character alone. God’s promises are not earned! They are received as faith is placed in Christ.

God’s word states that no one but Christ Himself can keep the law, and if one violates the law in any measure, they are in violation of the whole law. Romans 3:10, “As it is written; ‘there is none righteous. No not one.” James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” The law can only picture life while, at the same time, letting one know that their life’s picture is a mess. We cannot photoshop the mess by attempting to adhere to standards. There is not a prescribed pathway that one walks to gain life. Life is given based on the promises of God, and it’s received in a single moment by faith. Ongoing, exercised faith in what one already possesses (the fullness of the life of God) is the only means of transformation for a child of God. Romans 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

In Conclusion

Twelve-step methodology can easily foster bondage instead of leading individuals to genuine freedom and life in Christ. God will use any available means to direct individuals to the authoritative truths in His word and victorious living made possible by Christ’s life in those who receive Him by faith and walk in Him by faith. Although the twelve steps have led many to abstain from destructive behavior, they have not led anyone to explicit faith in Christ and the victory that only He gives. Many who find abstinence through the twelve steps are still consumed by that which they work so hard to avoid. Such is the case with self-effort. We can only manage to exchange one form of bondage for another. Sometimes this process has beneficial effects (at least on this earth) because some types of bondage are incredibly destructive. However, the truth remains – bondage is always bondage. Only God’s promise through Christ gives life, and genuine freedom is a natural expression of His eternal life. God’s promises are far better than pathways!

Relational Dysfunction and Addiction: Intimacy with God

Rev. Don Steve MABC

Director of Recovery Ministry

Grace Fellowship International

New evidence-based insight in the field of addiction highlights the role that relational dysfunction plays in substance abuse. I believe that relational dysfunction is a precursor to any compulsive stronghold. Relational dysfunction began in the Garden of Eden with man choosing to believe Satan’s lies rather than relate to God for who He is. The fall of man established relational dysfunction between man and God. Consequently, relational dysfunction spread through the human race. Relational dysfunction between God and man is a primary cause of most psychological dysfunction. There are physiological reasons for some psycho-emotional disorders. However, it is my conviction that while there may be many such cases, they are not predominate. When one’s relationship with God through Jesus Christ is experienced in its fullness, by His grace through faith, most psychological disorders resolve. This fact has been dramatically evidenced during the half-century of the ministry of Grace Fellowship International.

Christian Ministries are, wonderfully so, beginning to take note of relational dysfunction’s role in addiction. One faith-based recovery ministry even formulated this relational definition of addiction, “Addiction is an escalating, needs driven relationship.” They were speaking, of course, primarily about a relationship with a substance or object. I believe that this definition helps open our understanding of the problem. It is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. This same ministry goes so far as to state that intimacy, not sobriety, is the opposite of addiction. Treatment based on this understanding is then focused on helping individuals enter into intimacy with God, self, and others. Indeed, Biblical truth, not merely evidence-based research, undergirds this treatment approach. Jesus, the consummate healer, stated that the greatest commandment was to love God, self, and others in that order (Mark 12:30&31). The question then becomes how do we help others enter into intimacy in these three areas? Let’s begin in this post by looking at relational intimacy with God. In our next two blog posts, we will look at relational intimacy with self and then others.

A relationship with Jesus Christ is the only foundation upon which we can have intimacy with God. Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me (John 14:6 NKJV).” After choosing to place faith in Christ, believers are commonly instructed to join a church, read the Bible (devotionally), pray, serve God, and witness for Him if they are to have an intimate relationship with God. All are beautiful things and fundamental expressions of life in Christ. However, attempting to perform each one does not equate to intimacy with God. To, help those struggling with addiction walk in intimacy with God our helping strategies must be laser-focused on the effectiveness of Jesus work on the cross and the power of His life within to produce and maintain intimacy with God.

Consider the words of Jesus to His disciples recorded in John 15:15 (NKJV), “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” The verse exudes intimacy! Jesus was issuing an invitation to intimacy with God. He was, and is, in the business of revealing the Father! Real intimacy always involves the willingness to be known and to know another. Real intimacy also involves valuing and respecting one another.

Transformation founded upon self-effort is the enemy of intimacy. John 15:15 is prefaced in its Scriptural context by John 15:1-11. This passage is commonly referred to as the vine and the branch passage. John 15:1-11 highlights the absolute futility of attempting to bear fruit outside of abiding in the vine (Christ). The vine and branch metaphor, straight from Jesus’ lips, highlights the futility of self-effort in one’s attempt to overcome addiction or anything else for that matter. Successful effort and action must be focused by faith on what Jesus did on the cross. How can I be intimate with another when I am more focused on self-effort, and by default – self, than God. Self-effort mandates self-focus. As Biblical counselors and helpers, we must avoid giving individuals a to-do list to obtain, or even maintain, intimacy with God. The right to be intimate with God comes by grace through faith only. Colossians 2:6&7, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.” Walking by grace through faith is being intimate with God. Intimacy is openness before God concerning personal sin and a faith-based realization of His grace as He is intimate with us. Walking by grace through faith with God in intimacy produces genuine, Spirit-led action and sometimes substantial Spirit-led inaction.

Walking in intimacy with God will produce more experience of intimacy. However, intimacy with God is not primarily a process. Intimacy is a birthright that Jesus won for His children. It holds true even in our worst sin. Hebrews 4:16 (NKJV), “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Intimacy with God never equates to complacency with sin. The choice to be intimate with God by grace through faith will always lead one out of sin and bondage. Trusting in the life of God and walking in victory is intimacy.

Intimacy with God is indeed an accurate description of what happens in genuine repentance and faith. Repentance is turning one’s mind to God. It is a distinct 180-degree change concerning God alone. In repentance, one turns their mind’s focus from self, circumstances, and even feelings to God. In doing so, one owns their circumstances and sin without letting it define them or characterize their life. God is acknowledged as the only one who has the right to bestow identity and life. Repentance is receiving the self-revelation of God and being revealed before Him. This is intimacy.

Repentance is not changing one’s behavior by one’s own means. This would simply result in more self-focus with some God acknowledgment. Repentance precedes faith in that it is impossible to trust God without turning the mind to Him in response to His grace. Helping, healing, stronghold-breaking strategies must facilitate repentance and faith that comes from God’s initiating grace. Those in the bondage of addiction must realize that freedom is the result of a dependent faith that is trusting God’s life within for anything and everything relevant to life circumstances of the present moment.

Walking by faith is not general dependence upon God. It is knowing that He is enough in every specific moment. It is trusting Him for everything relating to life at any moment. Sound like a hyper-spiritual fantasy or unrealistic faith? Remember, Jesus is the author and the finisher of the believer’s faith (Hebrews 12;2). He is enough! Faith is not for His children to muster up. We simply repent (turn from self-sufficiency). This includes turning from unbelief to Jesus sufficiency. We do not bring faith to Him. We bring unbelief in dependence upon Him and He both authors and finishes perfect faith at that moment! He is true to Himself in every moment, and there is never anything that stands between a believer and repentance. Consequently, there is never anything that stands between a believer and faith.

As counselors and helpers, our faith must always be in the person of Jesus Christ, who easily creates faith in anyone willing to turn to Him. Our methodologies must be secondary and complementary to the cross of Christ. It is the cross of Christ that won the right for Jesus’ children to turn to Him in unbelief. It is the cross of Christ that allows us to relate intimately to the sufficiency of Jesus as we willingly expose our need to Him. It is the cross of Christ that unleashed the life and glory of God concerning every human need! We must communicate the relevancy of the cross.

What is the relevance of the cross? What exactly did Jesus accomplish for us and change in us when He died on the cross? Here are two fundamental, Biblical, relevant truths on which all counseling and helping must rest.

First, the cross of Jesus Christ and the corresponding resurrection of Christ thoroughly dealt with the law of sin and death in a believer. Sin can no longer block a believer from being intimate with God. Sin can lead to a perception of separation from God and hinder our experience of intimacy, but the right to relate intimately with God remains regardless. His life is always available and present within a believer. Romans 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.” The law of sin and death is the root cause of addiction. (death being the absence of God’s life as described in the previous post Addiction, CO-Occurring Disorder, and the Great Physician).

The second thing that the cross accomplished for believers is to change the very core of our being. Gal. 2:20 (NASB) states, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Human beings have a spirit, soul, and body (1Thess. 5:23). The condition of the spirit determines the standing of the individual concerning a relationship with God. Everyone is born with a spirit separated from the life of God and outside of intimacy with Him. There were two deaths on Calvary’s cross! The dead spirit of the unbeliever dies at Calvary with Christ the moment saving faith is placed in the work of Christ. The outcast that we all were, the one isolated from God died with Him! Colossians 1:22 (NASB), “yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.” God then placed believers in Him and put all of His life in them (1 John 4:13). This is intimacy! When a believer understands this truth, repentance can readily take place from the heart because of the reality of God’s presence and the provision of all that He is known by faith. Effectively, this means that a believer can, simply, freely turn to intimacy with God at any moment. In doing so, transformation happens by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.

Anyone struggling in sin has two critical choices to make – to trust in what the cross has done and to abandon self-effort. Only when one is willing to die to self-effort can they live life alive to God. Romans 6:10&11 (NKJV), “For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise, you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Only by who reckoning oneself dead to self-effort (which is a sin) and alive to God will anyone be free from compulsion and addiction. Reckoning is done with intent. It is a clear choice to believe, backed by the work of the Author and Finisher of faith – Jesus.

How then, as counselors and helpers can we avoid creating God referencing paths that actually promote self-initiated attempts at healing? How can we focus on the efficacy of the cross while ministering to others and lead them to experience intimacy with God? Only by reckoning self to be dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Only then are we ministering out of intimacy with God and only then will the cross become the focus of our efforts. As we relate to God by grace through faith, we will be leading others to do the very same thing. The only way to reckon ourselves alive with Him is to reckon upon our death with Him. Let’s do so and live. Live and love in the glory of the cross and the power of the resurrection!

Addiction, Co-Occurring Disorder, and the Great Physician

Rev. Don Steve M.A.B.C.

Director of Recovery Ministries

Grace Fellowship International

Many theories of addiction and many addiction treatment models recognize that addiction often occurs in conjunction with other disorders. The technical term for this is comorbid disorders. Comorbid disorders occur when two or more disorders are present in an individual, and each one increases the effects of the other. Because one disorder effects the other, treatment approaches are developed comprehensively in hopes of providing more effective treatment.

A comprehensive approach to treatment is suitable. However, a holistic approach must include discerning symptoms from causes. How frustrating it is to misunderstand a problem and end up just treating symptoms. Symptomatic treatment alone can allow degeneration and even destruction in those suffering. If we are to help those struggling with addiction, we must understand the root dysfunction that drives addictive behavior and how symptomatic disorders follow that dysfunction.  Otherwise, we end like a farmer who doesn’t know whether the chicken or the egg comes first. When dealing with egg problems, he will spend too much time focusing on the eggs and ignore the chicken.

When the core cause of addiction is addressed, co-occurring dysfunction can also be dealt with in a way that produces genuine, comprehensive, Spirit-led transformation. God, the ultimate healer, will always, eventually bring comprehensive healing to those willing to receive it. This is true even though healing is often not experienced according to our desired timing or expectations. Because God always eradicates core causes and addresses resulting symptoms, Spirit-led counselors can avoid developing models that miss the root of the problem.  We can avoid creating confusion and setting the hurting up for disappointment by incorrectly addressing a symptom as a cause. Spirit-led counselors know that God heals comprehensively. The Great Physician will heal the wound after dealing with root causes that led to the wounding.

Genuine Biblical counselors know that addiction involves sin. However, the root cause of the bondage to addiction involves more than sin. The Bible informs us of the fundamental aspects of addiction much like a doctor would look at diseased tissue under a microscope to precisely know what the problem is. Hebrews 2:14&15 addresses the cause of bondage with microscopic precision, “Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives (NASB).” There are two primary Biblical truths evident in this passage that inform understanding of addiction:

  1. Christ became flesh and blood to deliver those who were of flesh and blood from the power of death.
  2. Fear of death subjects one to continual bondage.

We will look at each truth in reverse order of their appearance in the passage. This will allow Scripture to reveal the root cause of bondage and highlight God’s cure. Armed with a Spirit-led understanding of the root cause and primary cure we can naturally follow God through His comprehensive healing process.

Fear of Death Subjects One to Continual Bondage

Death is commonly understood as the end of life or the end of our current life. Biblically speaking, death is not the end of something. Death is the absence of someone. Jesus announced Himself as life in John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Death is the absence of God or the absence of who God is – life. The absence, or perceived absence, of God’s life, produces compulsion. Why? Because we are individuals created to be in relationship with all that God is – His life. We are human beings made in God’s image that passionately desire life. Even an individual contemplating suicide passionately desires life. A suicidal person, through deception, is looking to death as a door to escape a perceived deficit in the quality of life they are experiencing. By God’s design every individual hopes for life! Because of Adam’s sin, every human being is born separated from the life of God (Romans 3:23, 5:18&19). Our desire for life can only be satiated in God! Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV) states, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Without a faith-based realization of God’s life, we compulsively seek fulfillment through lesser sources that tantalize with false promises.

Compulsion in our search for life is universal. Even those who feel that their earthly life is working pretty well apart from God live with compulsive fear lying just under the surface of their experience.

Consider the fact that every human being has specific core needs. Some primary ones are listed below:

  1. Love
  2. Acceptance
  3. Worth or Value
  4. Security
  5. Adequacy

Every person has experienced or is experiencing to some degree, the absence of core needs. When core needs are examined in the light of Biblical truth, we discover that every need is actually a description of God’s life. God is love. God is always acceptable. God is all worth. He is the sum of all value and is entirely secure and adequate as a result of who He is. We are made to find life and fullness through a relationship with God! Fear of death is fear of the absence of God’s life. It is most often experienced in mind and the emotions as fear of being without love, acceptance, worth or value, security, and (or) adequacy.

The person for whom earthly life seems to be working well has garnered some sense of those needs being meet through self-endeavors or relationship with another. Remove the object or relationship that is producing some sensation of those needs being met, and you uncover the compulsion that universally exists. Without explicit faith in Christ as our life, we are like a climber on a cliff who has lost traction desperately hanging on to any small crevice that might stabilize us in our fear of death. 

Fear of death is the root cause of addiction (Hebrews 2:15). Lies in many forms fan the flame of this fear and increase compulsion in addiction. Experiences of rejection amplify and provide experiential reality associated with the fear of the absence of God’s life. The neurochemical complexion of our brain changes during this desperate quest. Sometimes neurochemical change is greatly facilitated by the effect of chemical substances introduced into the bloodstream. However, lies, the rejection that registers as emotional woundedness in our memory, and even chemical induced neurological changes in the brain are not the root cause (or causes) of addiction. According to God’s word, it is fear of death that keeps one subject to bondage!

Christ Became Flesh and Blood to Deliver Those who were of Flesh and Blood from the Power of Death.

Christ, The Great Physician, put to death separation from God through the cross and His redemptive work. Jesus did this by establishing an unbreakable union with His children. 1 Peter 2:24 states, “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.” There is no way to live outside of being placed in union with the One who is life. God’s life is not a commodity that He doles out by grace through faith. God’s life only exists in Himself. To destroy the fear of death God gave Himself, all of Himself, to those in bondage to fear of death. God united with every individual in their sin and in their death to establish them in union with Himself. Romans 6:8-11, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives He lives to God. Even though consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Christ has set us free through both His death and His life. Romans 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

God’s life is available to all who realize that they are spiritually dead (separated from God’s life by their own sin) and who receive the gift Christ’s life by faith. This gift, made possible by His shed blood, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and seating at the Father’s right-hand, strips death of all it’s power. Those who realize their need for salvation from sin and death and who receive God’s life by faith are freed from the fear of death! We can exclaim by faith, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting (1 Cor. 15:55)?” God’s children have been freed from being unloved, unacceptable, unworthy, insecure, and inadequate. Believers have life in its highest form. 1 John 5:12, “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”

Believers struggling with addiction can only do so as they are deceived into thinking that death still has power over them. Most commonly, this includes some perception that they are not loved, not accepted, not valued, not secure, and not adequate. These beliefs, through deception, attempt to shortchange what God accomplished for His children on the cross. Hebrews 2:9, “But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” God united with His own in their death. What does this mean? It means that in our worst experience of being unloved we are now divinely loved through union with Him. In our worst fear of being unacceptable, He has granted us divine acceptance by His acceptable life. Believer, you are as acceptable as Jesus Christ! In our worst fear of unworthiness, Christ has bestowed in you all the worth of His life! He has tasted our most intense insecurity by uniting with us in it and granting unassailable security through His life. In our biggest failure – in our most glaring inadequacy His implanted life gives us His adequacy as our own! Death has been mocked by God through Jesus. The compulsion that comes through fear of death is utterly destroyed by the cross.

In Spirit birthed believers addiction can only exist in deception. A child of God who struggles with addiction is not resting by faith in what Christ accomplished on the cross. They believe lies concerning their completeness in Christ. Often these lies are experientially reinforced by historical rejection. Never-the-less, they are lies. The Spirit of God will lead the struggling one to the truth if we are willing to trust that we have been set free from death and the fear of it. 1 John 4:17&18 (Emphasis added), “By this love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is so also are, we in this world (Fully alive, fully loved, with all love, acceptance, worth, value, security, and adequacy). There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. He who fears has not been made perfect in love.” He or she who is born again and experiencing bondage from fear of death operates in a reality that doesn’t exist! Thus, a believer can act as if death still has a sting and consequently find compulsion and addiction operative in their life.

As we journey into a more excellent experience of the deathless life that Christ gives, let’s not be distracted and deceived into struggling with circumstances, thoughts, and feelings that masquerade as death. As we help others live in the freedom that is their birthright, let’s follow the Spirit who reveals the glory of the Master’s finished healing work on the cross. From this foundation symptoms resolve, wounds heal, strongholds are broken, and freedom is experienced because He who became flesh and blood delivered His children from the fear of death. 

Identity and Hope in Addiction Recovery


Rev. Don Steve M.A.B.C.

Director of Recovery Ministries

Grace Fellowship International

Anyone who has struggled with addiction in any form knows the assault of hopelessness waged upon the heart. Shame abounds. Self-esteem gets mired in the muck of compulsion. Hope seems elusive amid the struggle. Both Christians and non-believers struggling with addiction often believe there is something drastically wrong with them. Experience tells us that broken things don’t usually produce good results. God offers a startling solution. He specializes in fixing broken things. God’s answer is vastly more effective than we can imagine.  God offers everyone a new identity and an unassailable hope as a birthright of that new identity. 1 Peter 1:3 (NASB), “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.”

What is the new identity God gifts to His children by grace through faith? According to Scripture, you have been given the gift of righteousness. Romans 5:17 (NASB), “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Christ Jesus.” This gifted righteousness is indeed a real gift. It is not just God through Jesus playing make-believe about who you really are. It is God giving you the most substantial gift He could – His life – through His son Jesus.” Romans 5:18 (NASB, explanation added), “So then through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness (Jesus’ death) there resulted justification of life to all men.” Righteousness comes through the gift of the Holy Spirit uniting with the spirit of the believer (1 Corinthians 6:17).

 You might be thinking, “How could I be righteous? I know that I make some sinful choices in life.” If we are honest, we know that we also have, or, have had strong sinful habits. Sometimes we, as children of God, confuse what we do with who we are. God never does! He clearly knows the difference between a son or daughter and a choice!

Sometimes we make sin choices fueled by the deception that we do not have life (2 Peter 1:3). Sin is described by Scripture as missing the mark. What mark are we missing when we sin? The mark of the fullness of God’s life. For born-again children of God, sin is an effort to produce something we already have -His life. His life in us has made us right before God. We are right before Him even when we make choices that are not. We are accountable for sin and its consequences.  However, sin does not define who we are in Christ and does not hinder the right to draw upon the resources of His life. 

Shame attempts to tell us that we are broken, at least to some degree. Shame attacks identity by attempting to devalue us by citing dysfunctional choices. Although we sometimes make sinful, dysfunctional choices, we do so only through being deceived. God’s children are not dysfunctional beings. God the Father established through Christ’s blood a clear distinction between what we do and who we are.  Believers are made the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

To walk in freedom, we must accept our gifted identity by faith. It is faith that unlocks the experience of wh we already are as children of God. Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV) states, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Romans 15:13 also states, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy-Spirit.”

Because hope is, Biblically speaking, a function of the believer’s new identity shame must be dealt with by placing faith in whom God says we are. Without exception, this is done in the face of shame’s deceitful attempts to get us to buy into an identity as someone who is “messed up,” broken,” or an “addict.”  The believer’s new identity complete with unassailable hope strikes a fatal blow to addiction. Our birthright hope is the greatest of all hopes – a right to and faith possession of – the infinite grandeur and glory of the life of God. When a child of God realizes his (or her) identity, infinite hope captivates the heart. Lesser loves, which elicit deficit thinking and the compulsive desire to fill what is missing, find no place in the light of His glory.

Any addictive choice is a function of someone setting their desire on something they feel they must obtain. We often place our hope compulsively on a person, place, or thing. The choice to pursue that which we perceive we don’t have always results in hopelessness. This is true even if we realize the objective of our pursuit. We still experience hopelessness because we are too wonderfully made and the heart of man is far too dynamic to be satisfied with lesser things. Blaise Pascal expressed this truth so aptly in his book Pensees, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

Addiction thrives on hopelessness. A sense of deficit related to one’s sense of being drives compulsive behavior of any sort. This deficit perception can manifest itself in one’s thought life ranging from severe self-abasement to subtle, yet substantial, deficit agreements such as, “I need to get high, or I need life to be different.” Remove the sense of self-deficit, whether real or imagined, and you remove the primary cause of addiction.  God has eliminated the deficit in His children by granting them His life. What we call brokenness, weakness, failure cannot diminish His life in His children. Sin, because of the work of Christ alone, cannot decrease His life in His children. Sin can only lessen the experience of his life by tempting us to operate in an alternate reality – one that is based on a perceived sense of need. This sinful reality substitute always includes some sense of the absence of His life such as love, acceptance, worth, security, or adequacy. All genuine human needs are descriptive of God’s life. The absence of His life leaves humans with raging, compulsive needs (Hebrews 2:15). Believers possess God’s life. Children of God who choose to place their faith in the fullness of God’s life within do not suffer from compulsion. Needs are met. Therefore, they are no longer needy. Hope replaces hopelessness because hope is set on God.

Believers do not have to internalize sin by allowing it to label us. We don’t have to conclude that our broken choices, weakness, failures, and sins constitute who we are. When we accept our new, blood-bought identity by faith, we remove the sense of deficit and thus the fuel of addiction.

The world, the flesh, and the devil continuously attempt to challenge a believer’s identity and the glory of Christ’s life within. All they can do is offer lie-based deception in an attempt to cover up the truth! Victory, like hope, is a birthright reality that can be experienced at any moment by faith.

Many well-meaning, Christian, recovery programs teach a false path to recovery. A person struggling with addiction is instructed to identify themselves as an “addict.” Such teaching, done in sincerity and for the welfare of the one struggling, is an attempt to foster humility. The hope is that humility produces a realization of the problem and fosters dependence on God as a means of recovery. True humility does not come from self-abasement – even sincere self-abasement. True humility is a function of God-dependence. Humility is letting God be God. He has the right to define you. If you are His child, God already defined you. He gave you the gift of His life and declared your righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Seeing one’s self as an “addict” opens the door to shame. It gives the enemy a point of leverage to deceive believers into thinking that the cross hasn’t fixed them. No! The cross worked! It is our belief system, beginning with identity (resulting only from the cross) and consequently, our choices that need fixing (John 8:31&32, Romans 12:1&2).

Seeing oneself as an addict fosters relating to one’s recovery in an idolatrous way. Individuals set their hope on being clean instead of the life of God. Such a misplaced hope is exceptionally shaky ground! Even if an individual manages to live in sobriety, their heart will not be free. Sobriety will define their experience not the life of God. Daily faith gets placed in whatever helps maintain sobriety instead of God. Abstinence is worshiped, instead of the life of God. Abstinence is terrific and genuinely desirable. However, it is no match for the glory of God.

Idols foster hopelessness. To remove a sense of deficit in our lives, we must voluntarily cooperate with the Holy Spirit and choose to replace our trust in idols with trust in God as the sum and substance of our life.  What is an idol? Anything we are looking to improve the quality of our life instead of God is an idol. Idolatry includes a belief that another person, another thing, or another self-achieved state can enhance the fullness of my life. If Christ is our life and Scripture clearly states that He is (Col. 3:4), then nothing can add to what He already is! Fostering idolatrous choices is a primary strategy that Satan uses to spread hopelessness. Hopelessness affirms a sense of not measuring up – of being less than. This deficit thinking leads to addiction. The deficit thinker is compelled to deal with the perception of emptiness.

God is self-proclaimed through Scripture as the God of Hope! He is willing and able to give Himself to all! A child of God has already received all that He is through His indwelling life. His life has given believers a new identity that includes eternal, unassailable hope. The truth is that all believers, even those experiencing the assault of hopelessness through addiction, have hope and are hope-filled! Only through deception can a believer be mired in despair. No substance – no addiction, no compulsion can touch the one true hope of a child of God – God! Let’s live in His fullness, celebrating His life with explicit faith and let’s lead others out of addiction by the hope of His life.

The Medical Model of Addiction and the Life of Christ in a Believer

Rev. Don Steve M.A.B.C.

Director of Recovery Ministries, Grace Fellowship International

Proponents of the medical model of addiction view, broadly speaking, addiction as a disease that has biological, neurological, genetic, and environmental sources of origin. Recently much focus has been given to the neurological components of addiction as foundational to understanding addiction. Science has found that the brain literally rewires itself to produce neurological desire for the object of the addictive behavior. The driving force of the addictive pattern is thus assumed to be the neurologically altered brain.

There are at least two errant assumptions in this view.

The first is that the brain is the foundation of (or the center of) human motivation. This would be a logical conclusion for those who only accept material realities. However, human beings are not simply the composite of their physiological components. Man is body, soul, and spirit (1 Thess. 5:23 and Heb. 4:12). Biblically speaking the foundational part of man is the human spirit. It is the condition of the human spirit with respect to the life of God that is most relevant to human wholeness and healing. This is why Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again (John 3:3-8). Jesus, the consummate Healer, refuses to simply treat symptoms. In order to set the captives free Jesus’ finished work had to include an eternal, comprehensive, spirit fix for those willing to receive it by faith. Christ gives new life (His very life), through the union of the Holy Spirit with our human spirit to the believer the moment faith is exercised in His redemptive work (John 3:36). He changes us from spirit beings completely void of His life to spirit beings possessing of all of His life (Eph. 2:4&5).

I am not implying that every problem is a spiritual one. We live in a mortal body affected by sin and death. There are physiological reasons for some psychological issues. However, science naturally tends to evaluate every psychological dysfunction on the basis of that which is known about the physical realm discounting what are often spiritual roots.

Human motivation is far more than a neurological phenomenon. Human motivation is ultimately determined by one’s faith response to the love of God. In his book Effective Biblical Counseling Dr. Larry Crabb stated that human motivation falls into one of two categories expression motivation or deficit motivation. Dr. Crabb, while not explicitly Exchanged Life in his counseling model, biblically articulates two basic foundations of human motivation – expression motivation and deficit motivation. Expression motivation corresponds to receiving the love and life of God by faith and manifesting that love and life out of Christ’s fullness in the believer. Deficit motivation corresponds to walking in the flesh which is an attempt to meet one’s own needs or produce a sensation of fullness of life. The two are mutually exclusive (Gal. 5:16&17). Addiction, in any form, could be correctly described as a symptom of deficit motivation. In a believer, we know that deficit motivation is fueled by deception. Why? Because believers are complete in Christ (Col. 2:10).

The second assumption is that the neurologically rewired brain represents a diseased state. The fact that the brain rewires itself to support one’s choices is the way God made the brain to work. We are created to track with divine love – to relationally, intimately know the living God. The root problem is not neurological even when the neurological conditioning of the brain supports destructive choices. Neurology, in this case, is simply reinforcing a preexistent choice.

Biblically based, Exchanged Life counseling allows for every neuro-reality that science uncovers. However, a Christ focused counselor would never exalt the power of the brain and its neuro-chemical motivators above that of the Spirit of God in the life of a believer. The power of the life of Christ in a believer is easily able to deal with the suggestive power of a brain wired to support addictive behavior and substance usage. In fact, the brain and the spirit of man as part of a God created triune being are designed to complement each other. Romans 8:28 states unequivocally, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, and to those who are called according to His purpose.” The self-proclaimed purpose of Jesus can be found in Luke 4:18. Jesus came to bring freedom, healing, and true perception. A brain rewired to strongly suggest addictive patterns is not a good thing. But Scripture says that God can use it for good! How could that be? For a believer who understands the dynamic, resurrection power of the indwelling life of God the shouts of a brain wired to complement and suggest addictive choices can serve as a stark reminder to trust in God’s indwelling life. Dependent faith exercised in Christ within (Col. 1:27) is the doorway to experiencing freedom, to healing, and to truth-based perception. Truth-based perception comes from the Spirit of God registering truth in the spirit of man even before that truth registers in the brain (See Romans 8:16). The brain then becomes engaged in the renewing (rewiring) process being led by the Spirit’s witness within the human spirit (Romans 12;2).

Specific memories of addiction, which is at its core are choices made to try to produce life apart from God, may present themselves in opposition to the Spirit of God as they register in the mind and emotions. But, in a Spirit-led believer, the neurology of memory brain function and the new human spirit do not work in opposition to each other. Such an opposing internal state only occurs when a believer chooses to walk in the flesh (Gal. 5:16&17).

Diseased neurological brain function can lead to psychological and emotional impairment. However, addiction is not the result of diseased neurological dysfunction. Some forms of addiction, such as alcoholism, are actually a cause of neurological dysfunction.

As Spirit-led Biblically based counselors and helpers we can avoid the errant, impractical, helping strategies that result when we draw conclusions about human dysfunction and suffering that are not consistent with Scripture. By recognizing the infallible authority of the Bible, we can readily accept scientific truth and also sort out assumptions that sometimes masquerade as science. With God given Biblical perception we can avoid helping strategies that diminish the power of the Life of Christ. Such errant assumptions and misinformed strategies are becoming common. One prominent Christian ministry to men struggling with sexual addiction went so far as to state that the choice to use pornography was a sin when the first choice was made. But, after that first choice it is not a sin because the brain quickly rewires itself to provide the motivation to make like continual choices. This error comes from assuming that the brain is the center of human motivation, exalting the power of neurology above the life of God, and exalting the ability of science to describe reality above that of God’s word.

Jesus, the ultimate healer, uses every reality He created as a catalyst to bring healing by the power of His life. Living by His life is the birthright of every believer! So is God-given perception, freedom and healing. Let us minister healing grace with His love, by His life, with His power!