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!

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