Welcome, everyone. My name is Michael Snetzer. I serve here as one of the Recovery Groups pastors, and I am just thrilled to be here with you tonight. I want to welcome you. To me this always feels a bit like the first day of school, kind of a mixture of anticipation and maybe a lot of anxiety, not really knowing exactly what to expect. I know for me personally, I was up at 3:15 this morning, raring to go, and the adrenaline was pumping. That lasted until about 3:00 this afternoon, and then I had to go home and take a nap.
This is what we’re going to do. I’m going to pray, and we’re just going to ask the Lord to bless our time this evening, and then we will get after it.
Lord, I thank you so much. I thank you for Jesus. I thank you for the gospel. I thank you for your Word, Lord. I thank you that you have not left us without hope, that you have not left us without redemption. Lord, you have come near. You have entered in. So, Lord, really… Those who have gathered here tonight are not here to hear from a man. They’re here to hear from you. Lord, would you meet us here? Would you speak to our hearts? Would you use your Word, Lord, to stir within us a love for you and a hope in you?
Lord, I have no idea what has brought each individual, and each person comes in with their own unique story. I thank you that you care. You care about the man or the woman who has come in here brokenhearted and in despair and hopeless, and you care about the man or the woman who has come in here skeptical or hard-hearted, one who cannot see any profitability in sitting in a room with other people, sharing their struggles. Lord, I pray that you would bless this gathering with your presence. We know that your kingdom has come near tonight. It’s in Jesus name I pray, amen.
The first thing I want to do just really quickly is have you to open your Steps workbook. I just want to read from that just so we can put into context what it is we’re doing here. You see there in Matthew 28:18-20 it says, “And Jesus came and said to them, ’All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
The mission of Recovery Groups fits into the greater mission of The Village Church, bringing glory to God by making disciples through gospel-centered worship, gospel-centered community, gospel-centered service, and gospel-centered multiplication. Steps is an intensive discipleship program with aspects of daily Bible study and reflection, one-on-one discipleship, praying and sharing in small groups and large-group teaching time. One thing I just want to point out in this is it says, “…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” We see in James a similar idea here.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”
What we are doing here is more than just a Bible study. It’s more than just a time of teaching. Discipleship is actually applying what God has said to our lives and walking in that. So this is going to require so much more from you than showing up here on a Wednesday night, and it’s going to require more of you than just doing the homework on a daily basis. The person you’re walking with who is going to be walking and discipling you through this process is going to be helping you apply what it is you learn, because that’s what Jesus has called us to do as the church, to make disciples for Christ.
If we just keep reading here, in addition to the personal discipleship we’re doing, there are also two secondary elements to what we’re doing in Steps simultaneously, and you’re going to pick up on these even tonight. The first is gospel reform. This is the church orienting itself to the sufficiency of Scripture and the superiority of Christ and finding freedom from addiction and all other forms of sin and suffering.
When we see the Scriptures are insufficient or the gospel is irrelevant to our everyday struggles, then we begin to look beyond the gospel, and we begin to look to the world, not realizing the gospel… I realize some of us don’t understand what that exactly means, and that’s okay. The gospel offers more than the aggregate of all the world offers in terms of hope. I’m not just talking about future hope. I’m talking about hope right here and now.
The second secondary part of what we’ll be doing in Steps is gospel mission. This idea is engaging the culture with a message that will be truly redemptive and will not lead to further slavery. So we should not view Steps as an attempt to climb a staircase to God through some religious system. That’s not the kind of steps we’re talking about, but rather steps of obedience in faithful response to what the gospel has already accomplished.
What that means is, first, we have to lay a foundation. Before we start to build on that foundation, we have to lay a foundation, and that foundation is Christ. Where we will begin is where God begins, and that will be where you will begin in your homework starting tomorrow morning, Genesis, chapter 1, verse 1. Some of us look at that, and we just move really quickly past that. We don’t really… But the questions and everything are worded so hopefully you will begin to see just how precious God’s Word is, what a treasure it is. So we’re going to begin that tomorrow morning and when we teach on that next week.
It also says here, “Part of our sanctification process is examining our hearts before the Lord. This involves confession and prayer regarding the fruit of our lives and its roots. We bring all this before the Lord so he might uproot our sinful patterns and heal our hearts, freeing us to act faithfully for his kingdom.”
Luke 6:43-45 says, “For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes.” I wonder where we pulled this from. “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.”
We are going to look and examine our hearts. We’re going to go beyond just the fruit of our lives to begin to look at the root of our lives, and we’re going to explain a little bit more about that as we go along. There will be an assessment period right in the middle of our Steps program. We just want to give you a warning up front. We are entering warfare. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
There is an unseen reality we can’t see that wants to hinder you from knowing the truth, that doesn’t want you to be free, that wants you to be enslaved. Anything that is going to point you to the truth and where freedom can be found, he’s going to try to mislead you. There’s no doubt the Enemy does not want you to be free. We also need to be aware that there is going to be an associated cost with you being here. You’re giving up something to be here each week.
“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ’This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war…” There’s our war theme again. “…will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?”
An example for you… I decided kind of haphazardly this past year to take Greek. I bought all the books, I went to Walmart, I got a binder, and I was all ready to go. I started the first class, and I was faithful. I went every week, but guess what? I got down to about week seven or eight, and I had to pull out. Why? I didn’t understand what it was going to take in order for me to be able to keep up and successfully complete the work necessary in order to learn Greek. Now I know, so next time I go back I’m going to know what it’s going to take.
So we’re trying to give you a lot of information up front about what it’s going to take to complete this: meeting weekly with your sponsor, being daily in Bible study, and then going beyond that and actually doing what it says you’re learning in that. There are other opportunities to engage in this material but not actually do the material.
Just about everything we’re teaching is available on the website. Matt is, at a high level, and Home Groups are, going through a high-level overview of the biblical concepts in this, but if you want to go through the intense discipleship portion of this, then I want you to consider the cost before entering in.
Before we get started, the last thing I want to talk about is allegiances. This curriculum is not intended to offend anyone. I want you to know that. That’s not why we’ve written the material the way we have, though it may be offensive to some, but it is meant to identify allegiances. Galatians 5:1 says, “For freedom Christ has set us free…” Christ came to give us freedom.
The Bible also tells us in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” What is that saying in this context? What this is saying is as long as what you believe and what Jesus says are in line with one another, we’re good. Right? What if what Jesus said, what God says through his Word, is different than what I believe? What will we do?
We’ll do one of a couple of things. We’ll either begin to discredit the Word of God, what God says, we’ll raise ourselves up, and we’ll say, “We know better,” but here’s what I know. What you defend and what you gravitate toward will show you what your lord is. I understand not everyone in this room is even a believer. We’re trying to take you there. We’re trying to show you he’s better than whatever else you’re putting your trust in.
Where Jesus is not your Lord, you will be enslaved. We are for your freedom. We are not intending to offend you. Ask yourself if you become offended, “What am I defending? Am I defending Jesus? Am I defending what he said? Am I defending truth? Or is it some experience I’ve had in the past that I want to really place my hope?” Just consider that as we go forward.
We’ve arrived at the introduction now. I want to start with a picture, but before I even start with a picture, I just want to share with you just a little bit from my own life. When I entered recovery, I was so shortsighted. I was a professing believer. I was not a believer. There was no evidence of God’s grace in my life. I had no intention of following Christ whatsoever. I didn’t even understand the gospel. I understood part of the gospel, that Jesus died for your sins, but I didn’t understand there was any call to the gospel, that God wouldn’t require something of me.
I believed part of the gospel, but I didn’t believe all of the gospel. I didn’t know all the gospel. So I lived a life that was basically believing God, the gospel, was a life insurance policy to be able to do what I wanted to do, that I could just keep going on sinning. I sinned, and I loved it. Where that landed me was divorced, like the Prodigal Son, in an apartment with no one feeling sorry for me, and really having lost everything. That eventually led me to being in a drug and alcohol treatment center in South Texas.
Do you know what I was looking for when I went to the drug and alcohol treatment center? Not God. I was looking for sobriety. Man, did I get so much more than sobriety! I was so shortsighted. What God had for me was so much more than merely moral reformation, that he has reformed me, if you will. But that is just a drop in the bucket to what I’ve been given in Christ. So God’s plan for me was so much more than what I could have ever dreamed. It is a true treasure, and what a joy it is to be able to begin to unpack that for you, just the treasure that Christ and the gospel are.
There are going to be some foundational pieces that will permeate all we teach, so I want to begin with this picture in Jeremiah 17:5-8. First of all, I have a tendency to really drill down on some things. I don’t want to lose you in that, so I’m going to summarize what we’re going to teach today. Pretty much everything we’re going to teach today can be found in this Scripture. If you want a point of reference, you can always go back to this Scripture.
This is going to be a concluding sentence. Basically, what I’m going to teach you is we want to do discipleship with you that is rooted in the Scriptures, aimed at the heart, with the gospel of Jesus Christ that exhorts the greatest command. That’s the conclusion to this whole teaching, and we’re going to find all of that in this. I’m going to drill down, but I don’t want, in me drilling down, to lose you.
Jeremiah 17:5-8 says, “Thus says the LORD…” When it says, “Thus says the LORD…” do you think there’s any way around that? No. God is the Creator. There is no way around what’s about to be said. It is a fact. It is the reality, and your life will testify to the reality of this verse.
“Thus says the LORD: ’Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.’”
There are two pictures here, and I want you to get these two pictures. I want you to begin to ask yourself, “What does my life testify to?” In the first picture we see the fruit of this life. There is going to just be barrenness. It says, “…like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.” I just got back from Israel not too long ago. I went to the Dead Sea and the region around the Dead Sea, and guess what? It’s dead. It’s lifeless. It’s barren.
That’s what this is talking about. “…like a shrub in the desert…” It’s a lifeless, barren existence. Am I saying this is the external condition of a person? No, I’m saying this is the internal and eternal condition of a person who… We’re going to find out why this is that condition. We’re going to deconstruct one life, but we’re not going to leave you there. Maybe that’s where you find yourself, but God doesn’t leave us there. He is going to paint us another picture, a picture that is filled with promise and possibilities.
It says, “Why does a person end up in this place?” It’s not saying… Wicked men prosper. You cannot judge a person by their externals, but it says this is going to be where we will land if we put our trust in man and make flesh our strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord. So you put your hope in yourself, your trust in yourself, your trust in some other person, anybody… Did that not go well, just through your own best efforts and trying to overcome whatever this problem is? You’re not even maybe sure exactly what the problem is, but you know you just keep getting tripped up.
God is going to deconstruct this one life, and then it says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD…” This is a promise. God doesn’t lie. This is the way it is. This is reality. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
This is a supernatural picture of a green tree bearing fruit in the midst of difficulties. Is the gospel, “If you trust God, your life will be exempt from hardship”? No. It’s saying here, “As you trust God, he will enable you by his grace, empowered by the Spirit, being rooted in the living waters, to bear good fruit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control in the midst of difficulties.” That’s hope.
We want more for you than better circumstances. We want you to have freedom from your circumstances. Wouldn’t that be something, that you weren’t a slave to your circumstances, you weren’t a slave to what other people said or other people thought or whether or not your body was sick or your body wasn’t sick, that you could have real joy, you could have real peace, you could have all those things despite your circumstances? That’s real hope.
The second thing I want to point out about this verse is there is a root-fruit relationship. What I’m rooted in will produce fruit. If I’m rooted in self and my own flesh apart from the Lord, that’s dead. I’m dead in my trespasses and sins. I can’t produce good fruit. There is a question here within this verse. Where are we going to put our trust? Are we going to look to man or are we going to look to God?
There are thousands of voices competing for your attention to make sense of your life. You could’ve ended up in a thousand different places other than here tonight in the midst of your circumstances. Do you know what? God has you here because he wants you to hear the truth. He wants you to hear the promise. He wants you to hear the hope. He doesn’t have you someplace else being misled to some counterfeit form of redemption. Do you feel blessed that God wants for you to have the message of hope that he has entrusted…?
In 1 Corinthians it talks about there are two basic opposing sources of wisdom. If you were to accumulate all the wisdom in the world, you could basically put it into one of two buckets. One is called the wisdom of man (you can go to 1 Corinthians; this is what the Bible says), and the other is called the wisdom of God. If it’s true, guess whom it belongs to. God. Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “…there is nothing new under the sun.”
When I was in treatment, God miraculously entered into my life. I already told you about that, but guess what? Nobody was sharing the gospel with me. There was a man who was a counselor who was speaking prophetically into my life, and for whatever reason, I believe God was speaking to me. I believed I was the most unlikely of characters that he would give me a promise of redemption. He spoke redemptively into my life.
Not having the knowledge of what had happened internally as God recreated me from the inside out, as I began to look around on the creation and going, “Wow! It’s so alive. Where have I been?” as I went back to my room and was just overcome with sorrow over the life I’d lived and being filled with hope, having been given belief that there is a God and I wanted to follow him and I wanted to know him and I loved him… Those things didn’t exist before that moment, and I started talking about a revolution.
I don’t know if any of you have ever been in a treatment setting, but that’s really not popular with the security there in the treatment setting, talking about a revolution as a patient. I started talking about a revolution. I just knew something revolutionary had happened to me. What I know now is that revolution started 2,000 years ago on a cross, and now I was the beneficiary of that revolution. There’s nothing new under the sun.
There’s nothing I’m going to be able to take and discover and be able to present to you in terms of wisdom, that I’m going to go, “Okay, guess who gets credit for that. Snetzer.” No, I think that sometimes happens, but this wisdom God gives, this truth God gives is his. It’s meant to bring him glory. It’s meant to roll up to him. Look at Romans 11:33. It says, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” It is meant to roll up and to bring glory to God and praise his name for his wisdom.
There is truth, and all truth is God’s truth. This wisdom of God and this wisdom of man are two opposing worldviews. The Scripture says what is wisdom to God is foolishness to man. In other words, man looks at God’s wisdom and goes, “Seriously? You’re going to put your hope in that? That’s for weak people.” Guess what? God is going to look at the wisdom of man and go, “That is foolish. That’s never going to work.” We’ll talk about some of that silliness later.
Both of these ideas, both the wisdom of God and the wisdom of man, have definitive ideas of what the problem is and what the solution is. There is agreement at the level of observation and what’s seen. This is green. Okay, everybody agrees this is green. Where the disagreement happens is in what’s unseen. It’s in the interpretation of what’s seen where there is disagreement. You have general revelation, just generally what’s true, what we can all observe and agree on, but then there is wisdom that comes from God that is only through revelation.
The wisdom of man… If you’ve ever studied psychology, you just know it gets really weird sometimes. Study Freud. It gets a little… He’s speculating. It’s based in speculating as to what the problem is and what the solution is. In terms of observation, he observed some really interesting things, but when he starts to try to figure out what fundamentally is wrong and then how to fix that is where we get way, way weird. We’ll look at some of that.
Interpretation apart from revelation has limitations because it’s based in speculation. That’s what you need to know. Man’s wisdom is going to have some severe limitations to it. There is this continuum: the wisdom of God to the wisdom of man. The more we move toward the wisdom of man, the more secular those ideas are going to be, the more secular that wisdom is going to be, and the more it’s going to be based in speculation. The more we move to the wisdom of God, the more biblical that’s going to be, the basis of that being God and his ideas. So that’s where we find genuine redemption in God’s way.
In Ecclesiastes 12, the second part, it says, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” When I went to school… I didn’t tell you guys, but after I got out of treatment, at the advice of the treatment center, I spent three years in AA, went to AA religiously. I have a very good knowledge of the culture within traditional 12-step recovery programs, which I’m grateful for, because now I can speak redemptively into that culture.
I also felt led by God to go into the helping profession, so I went back, I learned psychology, I learned counseling, and I learned all these different theories of men. Every one had a little bit different idea of what the problem is and what the solution is. It says here, “…weariness of the flesh,” but God in his Word also has a very definitive idea of what the problem is, and there is a solution to that.
Ecclesiastes 12:11-12a, right before that, says, “The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these.” Just be cautious about anything that would definitely contradict the Word of God, but be cautious of anything that might mislead you to something other than the Word of God for ultimately understanding what the problem is and what the solution is.
Trying to combine the wisdom of God and the wisdom of men is something called syncretism. It is attempting to integrate the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God. It’s a theological error, because these two things can’t be combined. They’re opposing each other. They’re like oil and water. Again, if it’s true, it doesn’t belong to the wisdom of man. It belongs to God.
To determine whether or not our message is truly redemptive, we must answer the following questions. “Will we look to God or man as our source of wisdom?” We just got through going through Jeremiah 17:5-8. Right? Is that clear? That’s a pretty clear picture of where each one is going to lead. Then the second part of this says, “Will we target symptoms or the cause?” Let’s look now at Jeremiah 17, verse 9, the very next verse.
It says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick…” The heart of the problem is a problem of the heart. We have a spiritual disease called sin, and it taints our ability to see rightly. It affects everything. This is why you don’t put your trust in yourself, because you can’t see rightly. This is why you don’t put your trust in another human being, because they’re generally oriented around themselves and their selfishness and what they want. It’s just part of the fall.
The heart is the wellspring of our lives. Out of our hearts, according to Mark 7:21-22, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” I can’t tell you how many times I sit down with men, sit down with couples, and the question is, “I don’t understand why I do the things I do.”
Here’s why we do the things we do. When we sin, it’s the Enemy enticing our flesh through the world, and our hearts deceive us into thinking that would be a good idea, even though God said it’s not. That’s what’s happening, every time. Our hearts deceive us into thinking we know better than God, and we act on it. Out of our hearts, being the wellspring of our lives, come our thoughts, our behaviors, and our emotions.
If we are to add some fancy words, cognitions, volitions, affections, then we can begin to see the different secular counseling approaches that deal with symptoms and, therefore, have limitations. There’s actually therapy out there called cognitive therapy. Has anyone ever heard of cognitive therapy? What do you think it deals with primarily? Thoughts. Right? The idea is just to change the way you think.
I understand some cognitive therapy goes deeper to beliefs. We’ll get to that in just a second, but at just the most surface level, cognitive therapy is about changing thoughts. I think this is where the power of positive thinking kind of movement came from. “Just tell yourself you’re a great and mighty warrior, man. Go stand in front of that mirror. Tell yourself positive affirmations all day long.”
Guess what? Something inside you tells you you’re lying to yourself, and the Scriptures testify to that. You can tell yourself that all day long. To take it a step further, I think American Idol is just such a perfect picture of this. It’s a product of the self-esteem movement. It’s where somebody has been lying to these poor young men and women and telling them their whole lives about how great they are, and then they go stand before the judge, they open their mouths, and they’re filled with shame, because it’s just not good.
I wonder how many of us, having been lied to all of our lives, telling us about how great we are, will go stand before the Judge and tell him that. In that moment, in the midst of his holiness, we’ll just be undone and filled with shame. We start to see… We talked about gospel reform within the church. We start to see how the self-esteem movement has crept into the church.
I remember early on in my walk with the Lord going to a parenting seminar, and they said the most important thing your kids need to have is a good self-esteem. That is not the best thing my kids need to have. My kids need to understand who they are apart from God and what their hope is in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s not that good little boys and girls go to heaven. If you’re in this room and you believe that, that is a false gospel. It’s just that bad little boys and girls who love Jesus go to heaven, because Jesus says there are none that are good but God.
Cognitive therapy can go a little bit deeper and begin to say, “Okay, these cognitions, these thoughts, really talk about an underlying belief system,” but even cognitive therapists would say it’s like concrete trying to get through to change beliefs. Why? Because we’re really talking about a heart where those beliefs are held. Then once you start going through the practice of cognitive therapy…
That is basically being a prosecuting attorney to your thoughts, so you journal your thoughts. You write them all down. Is this thought true or is this false? Where is the plumb line? Who decides what’s true and what’s not true? Am I going to decide that or…? Gosh, I just read in Ecclesiastes that the words of the wise are like goads. There’s something I can be sure of in terms of God’s Word, something I can find security in, something I can find hope in.
Behavioral therapy focuses on behavior, behavior modification, those kinds of things. We talk a lot about that here. There was a period of time in my addiction to alcohol and to drugs where I was clean for 10 months. I wasn’t misbehaving in that way, but guess what I was doing? I was sitting on my hands. I was rocking back and forth, going, “Don’t drink. Don’t drink,” when everything in me wanted to do what they were doing. Why? Because my heart hadn’t been changed.
My behavior, my thinking, can reveal something about my heart, but guess what? I can’t change my heart, and you can’t change my heart. The world can’t change my heart. Guess who can? Jesus can change my heart. Jesus can give me a new heart. Do you see the limitations of just changing behavior? It doesn’t leave you any better off to tell yourself you’re great if that’s not what the Word of God communicates to us.
There are different types of emotional therapy. I looked it up on Wikipedia. It’s emotional focused therapy. What do you think that focuses on? Emotions. Is that a bad thing? No, that’s not a bad thing to look at emotions. It can be revealing about what’s going on deeper. Just to change… The Pharisees behaved really well outwardly, but what did Jesus say about their hearts? They were far from God. It’s not just about outwardly doing good. It’s about what’s going on in your heart.
That’s kind of a little bit of bad news, and here’s a little bit of good news, at least what the good news is not. It’s not religion. It’s not my vain attempts to appease God to get him to give me what I want. That is the essence of religion. “I’m going to do these good things, trying to gain favor with God, so he will give me what I want.”
The good news is, however, the historical narrative of the triune God, orchestrating the reconciliation and redemption of a broken creation and fallen creatures from Satan, sin, and its effects to the Father and each other through the life, death, and resurrection and future return of the Son by the power of Spirit, for God’s glory, and for the church’s joy.
Do you know who has 100 percent recovery rate? All those who put their faith in Christ. He rescues us from the slavery of sin and suffering, and he has promised to us future glory. It is better than the aggregate that all the world has to offer. It’s not what I do to appease God to get favor with him so he’ll bless me. It’s what Christ has done. Do you see the difference? One is putting trust in me, in the works of my own hands; the other is putting my trust in Christ.
Some of us may be saying, “I’ve heard the gospel all my life. Is that all you have?” I would say if you’re asking that question, then it is our joy to begin to uncover for you the fullness of all the gospel offers. The Scriptures are sufficient, and the gospel is superior to all the world offers in terms of recovery. Where the Scriptures are seen as insufficient and the gospel is seen as irrelevant we will begin to look elsewhere.
This is a little gospel reform. It’s a little bit of gospel mission in terms of what we find in the world in terms of recovery and what distinguishes a gospel-centered recovery program from maybe other recovery programs and what aligns it with the rest of the church. First of all, it’s the gospel. The gospel aligns, and the gospel distinguishes from everything else. What flows from the gospel are these truths.
First of all, programs don’t heal people. Guess what? I hope what you didn’t get from the testimonies that were shared up here was that Steps is going to fix you. We do not want to exalt a program. We want to exalt the person and work of Christ. Guess what? He works… I want you to know it’s not dependent on a program for God to work, but we want to be faithful to communicate to you the truth. God saved me in a secular treatment center.
Go out there and read the wall. You hear about how for some people it was in Sunday school but some people it was in a car wreck. God intervenes. What I want to concede is there may have been God’s intervention and use of some form of secular counseling, and that may have been the place where he intervened in your life. He may have done that in a secular kind of 12-step program that was not gospel… When I say secular, I mean non-gospel, more vague, “We’re not talking about Jesus” kind of program.
Secondly, it’s not just for addicts. It’s for anyone seeking redemption from sin and suffering. Is there anybody not in that category? It’s for all of us. We all are in need of redemption. Recovery/redemption can’t be reduced to a program. It’s not like it’s those people who are in the program who are the ones who are on track with God and those who are outside the program are not. There are some really…
If you believe that, then you’ll be in bondage to a program. You’ll think if you leave the program, you’re not going to be okay with God. In some ways that’s called sectarianism, that God only works this way in this place. Guess what? The gospel is for all nations, for all different types of people. It’s not for a certain type of people or in a certain program.
Sobriety is not the goal. Reconciliation with your spouse is not the goal. Your reconciled heart to God through the gospel as your heart is aligned with him… Guess what? As your heart is aligned with him, you’re probably not going to love drinking as much. You’re probably not going to love cheating on your wife as much. You’re probably not going to love going to porn as much.
You’re probably going to not lust for your neighbor’s husband and the way he treats her as much. You’re not going to love the world as much. You’re not going to love trinkets as much. You’re not going to put your hope in possessions or in a position or in your kids. Your hope is more and more going to be sold out for God, sold out for Jesus. We are a ministry of movement. We believe this is a healthy ministry.
When I came into recovery in the secular world, it was, “You’re going to be here the rest of your life.” I was like, “What about my family? You’re saying I’m going to need to be here three to five nights a week? That doesn’t sound like freedom.” What we want people to do is experience the healing power of the gospel so they can be sent out to live for the glory of God and on mission for God wherever it is he calls them. You’re not dependent on a program. You’re dependent on the person and work of Christ.
Lastly, abstinence is not the way to God. That’s not how you gain favor with God. Abstinence is not the way to God, but Jesus is. The greatest commandment says, “Jesus answered, ’The most important is, ”Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.“ The second is this: ”You shall love your neighbor as yourself.“ There is no other commandment greater than these.’”
The first thing I want to point out is the commands of God are good. Are you guys familiar at all with the story in the garden about Adam and Eve? If you’re not, you will be this week. Don’t let the fact, for those of you may have read that story a thousand times, take away from allowing your heart to take those truths and to worship God for what they are. If you read the Scriptures like that, you’ll never get tired of reading the Scriptures, because it’ll lead you to worship. If it’s about information, you’ll be like, “Oh, I already have that,” but if it leads you to worship, you’ll never get tired of that song.
In the garden God says, “Don’t do…” What? He asks them to do some things, and then he says, “Don’t do this one thing. Don’t eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.” Do you think he’s trying to rob them of life or preserve their life? Preserve their life. The commands of God are good. He’s not trying to hinder us from life. He wants to give us life. He wants to lead us to life.
How do I take that? If you want life to the fullest, you need to live with this greatest command, with God as the first and foremost in your life, that you’re sold out for him, that you love him with your whole mind, your soul, and with all your strength. The thing that is uppermost in our affections is the thing we worship. Most of our problems result from misguided worship, when something else sits in the place of God. Man, is that disappointing! You will make sacrifices for whatever sits in that place. You will sacrifice lesser loves for the thing you love the most.
When I was addicted to drugs, man, I loved drugs. Guess what? I had community with other people. We gathered together because we all worshiped drugs. We had unity because we all went and we got where we could get more drugs. We were willing to sacrifice lesser loves, including our families, for the thing we loved the most, because that was at the top. It’s not that we didn’t love our families; it’s that we loved something more.
I’m not suggesting you put your families at that place either, because that’ll crush them, but that God be returned to his rightful place as the love of your life. We’ll talk more about that when we talk about addictions. Out of this right relationship with God, as our hearts are aligned with God, as he’s first and foremost, what’s going to flow out of that, the fruit of that, is going to be our love for others.
It’s going to be joy. It’s going to be peace as my heart is aligned with him. There is no reconciliation of my heart with God, alignment of my heart with God, apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are image-bearers, so to some degree in a broken sense we can reflect God, but we cannot have the heart of God apart from Jesus.
Sometimes I have men who will come into my office, and they’ll be telling me the reason why they want to leave their wives. They’ll say, “I just don’t love her anymore.” Do you see in that they’re giving me an excuse of why they should be able to get out of their marriage? That shouldn’t be an excuse. That should be a confession. It should be a confession before God. “God, I don’t love my wife anymore. Help me.” Instead, it’s used as a reason to leave.
Our love for others flows out of our relationship with God. This is my relationship with God vertically. This is my relationship with others horizontally. I can include in that my circumstances. Everything I need in terms of successful living comes from my relationship with God. We can go to the wisdom of man or the wisdom of God to determine what successful living looks like. Right? From the world’s standpoint, what does successful living look like? You can probably think of some people in Hollywood or on Wall Street. Those are successful people.
From a biblical standpoint, the most successful man who ever lived was Jesus. Why was he successful? Not because he had a lot of stuff, he laid all that down, but because he was faithful to the will of his Father, even unto death. So we have to look to Jesus. He is the perfect One, he is the One we put our hope in, and he is the One we follow. That’s what successful life looks like.
What are some things I need for successful living? If I have a heart that’s sinful, one of the things I need is forgiveness. If I’ve been an enemy of God, a God-belittling narcissist, who has made the creation what I worshiped, whether that’s people, places, things, then I need forgiveness. I have offended God. The other thing I need is hope. If you lose hope, you die.
Just in our last bit of time together, I talked a little bit about the fact that we can just address symptoms. I had a mentor who really is a person who really, from an underlying content perspective, is the first person who taught me a lot of these biblical truths as a biblical counselor. He used to say treating the symptom is kind of like giving a man an aspirin for a headache being caused by a brain tumor. Does that fix the brain tumor? No. Does it relieve the pain for a little while? Yeah.
What if I have somebody who comes into my office who’s struggling with depression? There are a lot of things I can do. Some people think this is kind of comical. I’m not really trying to be as comical in it, but let’s say they just don’t have any meaning to their life. They’re just bored, and so they want somebody to entertain them. I can build a counseling practice on being entertaining. I don’t think I’m that entertaining, but there are people who could do that, just by entertaining.
They’re just not loved enough. They just haven’t been… So people can build a counseling practice by trying to, “Okay, we just need to find out their giftedness so they can use that.” That’s really rooted in purpose and meaning to life. They sound like silly little tidbits of being entertaining and bored, but really they have some underlying things that really, without those things, we feel really dead.
I can try to just address those things at a superficial level. I can stand on my head, make funny faces, and entertain. Somebody who has a lot of anger, I can go tell them to beat the heck out of this punching bag and try to get that anger out of them. I can send them to a psychiatrist, and I can get them on medication. Guess what that medication will actually do? Quite often take away the symptom of depression. Does that fix the problem? No.
If I neglect looking at some of the underlying heart issues that may be driving that depression, I’m no better off. I’m not against medication. I’m not against somebody… It can be helpful in a person who is not functioning to get to a place of functioning so they can begin to address some of the underlying, fundamental issues.
“Michael, are you saying there is never a cause for depression that is physically oriented?” We’re going to get to this, but I’m saying you could have the very glands that secrete serotonin be shut off. You might be miserable in how you feel, but does that mean you’re hopeless? Only if your trust is in how you feel, not in what God said. My heart responds to how my body feels, to my circumstances. So the issue there is not that I don’t feel bad; it’s how is my heart responding? Is it responding to how I feel with hopelessness or with hope?
Yes, I am saying there are times where feeling really bad by not having serotonin is a possibility, but how am I responding? That’s what I want to look to. A lot of times, where I see depression happen is when I put my hope in something other than God and I put my hope in something other than the gospel. I sort of gave you that example right then.
Let’s say I put my hope in me, and every day I start my day and I’m like, “Today I’m going to kill it.” I take two steps into my day, or maybe I make it till noon, and then I fall flat on my face. I blow it. The next day I do the same thing and the next day and the next day. I’m eventually going to become frustrated, hopeless, and depressed. Why? Because I make a lousy god. We all fall short every day, all the time.
What if I put my hope in others? We kind of talked about that. They have hearts that are deceitful also and generally selfish, and so I’ll become frustrated, hopeless, and depressed. I can’t tell you how many phone calls I’ve been on with people who are suicidal because their boyfriend or their girlfriend left them. What is that a result of? That’s a result of putting your hope in a person and not Jesus.
We can put our hope in our circumstances. This is where we can say the Bible speaks to things like depression. Do you remember the Jeremiah passage we started off with, “like a bush in the desert”? That sounds pretty depressing, but what about Ecclesiastes, a man who had everything the world had to offer? We’re just like, “If my wife would just do this, then I’d be happy.”
He had like 600, and he still wasn’t happy. He says, “Meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless. It’s a chasing after wind.” He had more than we will all have cumulatively here in terms of wealth, wisdom… He denied himself no pleasure. He experienced all the world has to offer, and he ends up saying it’s a chasing after the wind. It’s futile. He ends up depressed.
If we put our hope in God, if we put our hope in Christ and what he has done in overcoming it all and what he has promised to deliver us from and to, then we are a people of great hope despite our circumstances. Did I say that’s always pleasant? No. It’s horrific at times, but he will give you the grace to endure. So we find hope, help, healing, and the fruit of that, as we mentioned, out of Galatians 5:22-23. Satan is going to try to take us away from Christ, the only hope of the world, to mislead us, to counterfeit forms of redemption.
Here are just a few thoughts here on just traditional 12-step programs. First of all, the structure in a 12-step program will roughly relate to this idea of the greatest command. The first seven steps are generally about getting our hearts right with God, and we would concur with that. The next two are about kind of bending out into our horizontal relationships, and the last three are about kind of keeping us going in that relationship with God.
Here is what I know. There is no reconciliation of my heart with God apart from Jesus Christ. We watched a video at the group leaders’ conference. This lady was a secular researcher, and she did a study on vulnerability. She hit all around it. She said so many good things, and I asked our leaders, “Would you say she had nothing good to say?” Nobody said that. “Would you say, ’I believe everything she had to say’?” I think we had one person. We’re not all gifted with discernment. That’s why we need each other.
The next two possibilities were, “She said a lot of good things, but she didn’t say the main things” or “She said most of the main things, but she didn’t get the lesser things.” If I look at just the 12 steps in isolation, they say some good things, but they miss the main thing. Why do they miss the main thing? Because they’re missing Jesus, and Jesus is everything. Without Jesus you don’t have anything. You can say a lot of good things, but if you don’t get the main things, you miss everything.
What happens is… Do you remember my definition of religion? The works of your own hands, what you’re going to do to appease God to get the things you want. You get into a religious system, where you’re going to take steps to appease God to get whatever the result was. That’s exactly what many people in AA ran from in the church.
Let me just give you a quick example out of the exodus. Why did the sons of Jacob go to Egypt in the first place? There was a famine in the land. I think part of the reason why people fled to traditional 12-step programs is because there was a gospel famine in the church. They saw the church became self-righteous, and they said, “We don’t have a place for sinners.” These just became gatherings of dead religious activity, because guess what? When you don’t welcome sinners, you don’t welcome Jesus.
These people who were hurting and addicted and abused went from there, and they went to the basement of the church where nobody knew their name, where they would accept them and welcome them and love them. There was this vacuum that said, “We’ll even disciple them,” and I think the 12-step programs are very intentional about discipleship in the 12 steps.
Just like in the narrative of the exodus, you have Joseph who’s in Egypt. He’s a picture of Christ, and he’s providing through Egypt. Egypt is a picture of the world. He provides for them while they’re in Egypt, but they’re not supposed to worship the same gods Egypt worships. Joseph dies, Pharaoh, who knows Joseph dies, and there’s a new pharaoh in the land.
He assigns taskmasters, and he begins to enslave God’s people. He makes them work, work, work to the point where, as Moses is raised up to lead the people out, they won’t release them to be able to go into the desert to worship their God, because they’re so busy doing the work over here, because they’re building up an alternative kingdom that is not under the kingdom of God, under the lordship of Christ. Then guess what happens?
As Moses calls them in and says, “Let my people go,” they said, “Guess what? We’re going to make their work even harder. We’re going to make them make the same number of bricks, but we’re going to remove the straw.” What I think that is is a picture, an illustration. It’s not pointing to this reality. God didn’t tell this story to talk about 12-step programs, but to me that’s trying to carry the message without Jesus. “We want you to carry the message, carry the message, carry the message, but don’t tell anybody about Jesus.” You’ve removed the very fabric that holds that message together. Let’s pray.
Lord, you’re calling a people out to worship you. You’re calling a people out of slavery and out of bondage to come into the desert, to lay behind all that was treasured before, because you’re better. So, Lord, I pray that you would use all that was said today to stir… Lord, if there is a wrestle, I pray that you would just help work through that and that you would bring to freedom. Like Jacob, Lord, that there would just be a wrestle. I know you always win, and so I pray that you would win the hearts of your people here and that you would lead us out. It’s in Jesus’ name I pray, amen.