The Five Spiritual Principles in Recovery
by Rev. Chris Rice
Galatians 6:2 tells us to “carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Many times those burdens are addictions. US News and World Report estimated in 2015 that “40 million Americans 12 and over are addicted to nicotine, alcohol, or other drugs. Another 80 million are “risky substance users” meaning they “use tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs in ways that threaten public health and safety. Only 1 in 10 people with addictions to alcohol/drugs report receiving any treatment at all.” (Lloyd Sederer, “A Blind Eye to Addiction”, US News and World Report, 6/1/15)
We have to face the fact that addiction touches us all. 11% of Americans are addicted to alcohol or drugs. There are many other life altering addictions such as food, sex, codependence, workaholism, and TV and internet use. Chances are you yourself, someone you know or the person sitting next to you currently has or has had one of these. What we find in God’s Word is that loving God means loving addicts just as He does. We cannot love this way on our own. Let’s go to the Lord in prayer.
Dear Heavenly Father, grant us ears to hear and a heart to receive what you would say to us by your Spirit. In this life we know first hand the pan brought on by addictions. We find in your Word that as sick as we are, you are for us, you love us. Help us O Lord to experience a spiritual renewal and to become willing to bring your message and your provision to all in need. In Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
I want to share a short study with you of the five principles embodied in the 12 steps of AA. They can be found in a book titled “Twenty Four Hours A Day” by Hazelden. The steps are adapted and used in all the other 12 step fellowships. And all the way through this study I want to look at how the Scriptures speak to us the truths found in the steps.
To start off the five principles we’ll look at include: Membership, Spirituality, Personal Inventory, Restitution, and Helping Others.
Proverbs says, “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly. Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (26:11-12, NIV) The first step is “we admitted that we were powerless over alcohol (drugs, sex, binge eating, rage)—that our lives had become unmanageable.” It’s not always easy to say when or how it happened, but for the addict something changed in that drink. It was no longer just a source of pleasure, it became the reason to live. Slowly but surely everything else lost focus and alcohol alone remained. He couldn’t drink like other friends ever again. Slowly but surely he realized he could never drink the same way again. He was licked. On the plus side, he realizes that in his powerlessness and unmanageability he belongs with other who have the same problem. It doesn’t seem like this principle could offer hope. So many people stumble over this principle and never return to meetings. But the second principle brings us from devastation to gratitude.
The second step says, “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV) Steps two three and eleven involve the venture of belief, of surrender, and prayer. We come together burdened by our shared problems. And eventually we come to believe in a higher power who places us in a right mind. The third step says, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Alone each of us knew the addictions to be a cruel task master, a god that kept us isolated and bound in sin. In making a decision that God cared and would receive our will and lives and do better with them than we ever could, we understood that this higher power was the center of the universe instead of us. Step eleven says, “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” Each day we learn to ask for His will to be done, not our own. We also understand humility for the first time. God is in control, he knows, and we ask for his will instead of our own. This release of control is the basis of our spirituality.
The third principle, personal inventory, is found in steps four, five, six, seven and ten. Step four says, “Made a searching fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” The Bible says, “Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil. (Proverbs 4:33-37, NIV) In taking a self inventory we are willing to face the facts as they really are. We face reality instead of running away. We admit our faults openly and become willing to correct them. Where have we been dishonest, impure, unloving and selfish? This is not a one time thing but we learn to do it everyday of our lives for as long as we live. Many people find this to be the hardest of the steps and so they stay on step four for years. The purpose of a sponsor is to help us get to the point and look without looking away. It is doable and must be done with resolve. To stand still is to risk losing sobriety.
Step five is “admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. The apostle James wrote, “Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” This reflects this principle beautifully. We cannot bear our wrongs only to ourselves. Why? Because we are not the center of the universe. We learn the truth fully when we reach out and admit it to someone else who can bear it with us. Of course we have to be careful about who that person is. It’s best to have a sponsor or spiritual adviser to help us. Step six, “were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character” and step seven is “humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.” Finally, step ten is “continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”
The fourth principle is restitution. Steps eight and nine are “made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all” and “made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” This can be a very difficult proposition, but it is necessary to finally be done with our pride. We have lived too long with self-will run riot and taking responsibility for our wrongs in order to then right what we’ve wronged will make all the difference. These steps have to be practiced with care and with a sponsor’s help. They are not made quickly or early on in our recovery. And of course if there’s a chance we can further harm the individuals involved than we do not try to contact them. There are other ways to make restitution and a sponsor can be creative with ideas. Proverbs 14:9 says, “Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright.” (NIV)
The final principle is helping others. It is the principle that includes all of the steps for it says, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” It’s not a one time thing, but a lifestyle. Galatians 6:1-2 says, “If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.(NIV)” When someone is completely overtaken by an addiction they feel as though there is no possible way they could be of use to someone else. There is nothing left for them to give because they’ve been robbed by the addiction. They’ve lost the trust of family and friends, and they feel as though they have no self-worth left. By working the steps and coming to a spiritual renewal there is a realization that a better way of life is actually possible, that what God did for them he can do for others.
All of this takes time. Let me speak now to some who think they may be addicts but don’t know where to begin. Maybe a long time ago you went to a few meetings where you heard sloppy drunk-a-logs. You didn’t find what you were looking for so you gave up. But you still know you’re an addict and while you might stop using for a little while the alcohol or drugs or something else catches up with you eventually. I want to encourage you to keep coming back to a meeting.
God has a future for you. He cares about you and wants you set free. More than that you have something to give! The apostle Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15-16, NIV)” The spirit of the steps are honesty, unselfishness, purity, and love. God is our source for all of these things.
So long as we keep our minds centered on ourselves, whether it be our failures or those things we expect to accomplish, eventually failed expectations will leave us defeated. But when we come to God in surrender and seek out His will, “Not my will but yours be done”, we find that all along God had everything we need.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Chris Rice
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
“Twenty Four Hours A Day: A Meditation Book and Journal for Daily Reflection”, beginning on September 16, Hazelden.
“The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous”
Scriptures related to each of the steps:
Step 1: Psalm 38:3-14; Prov. 26:11-12; Mk. 5:2-15; Rm. 7:18-23
Step 2: Psalm 18:2-6; Mat. 11:28-30; Mat. 12: 18-21; Heb. 2:14-18
Step 3: Psalm 3:1-6; Ps. 142:1-7; Mat. 4:18-23; Mat. 6:24-34; Lk. 9:59-62; Jn. 1:12-13
Step 4: Prov. 4:23-27; Lam. 3:39-45; Mat. 5:4;Lk. 12:1-7; 2 Cor. 10:12-13; Gal. 6:3-8; Rev. 2:4-5
Step 5: Psalm 32:3-7; Prov. 28:13; Mat. 3:5-6; Acts 19:18-20; James 5:16; 1 Jn. 1:9
Step 6: Mat. 3:1-3; Rom. 6:8-14; Gal. 5:1; Eph. 4:17-24; Col. 3:5-13
Step 7: Mat. 18:4; Lk. 18:9-14; 1 Pet. 5:6-10; 1 Jn. 5:14-15;
Step 8: Lev. 6:1-7; 2 Sam. 12:1-14; Prov. 16:6-7; Ezek. 33:14-16; Lk. 19:8-10; Rom. 12:18
Step 9: Prov. 14:9; Mat. 5:9, 23-24, 25-26; Acts 9:10-31; 20:18-21, 26-27, 33-35
Step 10: Rom. 12:2-3; Phil. 2:12-13; 2 Jn. 1:8;
Step 11: Mat. 4:1-11; Jn. 15:4-11; Phil. 4:5-9; 1 Pet. 4:1-8
Step 12: Mat. 3:1-3; Gal. 6:1-2; 1 Tim. 1:12-16; James 5:19-20