*This series was originally a single (VERY long) post entitled “How to Know if Recovery is Real” published in October of 2017. As time has passed I have come to the conclusion that this material is very important, but would be better served as a series. So I am updating and re-working it to better reach those who would benefit from the information it offers.
When I first wrote this post we weren’t even a year into recovery. I recognized what the Bible said, but was a little afraid to make a bold stand on the conclusions I’d drawn from it. Another 9 months down the road, I find myself in a very different place. Now, I am CERTAIN this is straight up truth. Now, I believe with everything that I am this is a sure fire way to evaluate the difference between a truly repentant and changed individual and one who is just playing the part.
When people we love are addicts, we want to believe they’re in recovery. When they tell us they’re clean, we want more than anything for it to be true. We look for reasons to believe things are different, because it’s what we hope so desperately is reality. Too often, we allow that desire to blind us to obvious signs that contradict the promises we’ve been given by the ones we love. Often, we’ve been burned so many times we begin to wonder if we can ever really know the difference. We might even wonder if true, lasting change is possible.
I’m here to tell you, it is! Not because I’ve experienced it (though I am experiencing it) but because the Bible says it is, and I believe the Bible. So, I’d like to walk us all through this difficult topic from a Biblical perspective. I’ll show you what it says, and demonstrate its truth with what I’ve seen in the past, what I’m seeing now; and why I think they’re very different.
Let’s look together at Galatians 5 to see how to tell the difference between someone who is living to satisfy the flesh (addiction), and one who is living to satisfy the Holy Spirit (recovery). “Real recovery is possible, and so is being able to recognize it. Not because I've experienced it, but because the Bible so. Click To Tweet
Verses 1- 4 Trying to “Follow the law.” –The “I Can Do it Myself” Trap
So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. (vs.1)
Slavery to the law – it’s how we all started out. It’s synonymous with slavery to sin. We’re all born into it. Incapable of “being good,” no matter how hard we try. Still, we all try! We grow from infancy trying to gain the approval of others. As our authorities make rules we try, (and fail) to keep them.
We learn early that no amount of effort on our parts will quench that thing in us that wants what we know we’re not supposed to have, more than we want to do what’s right. And so, we all break the “law.” Over time, though, most of us learn there is at least one area in which we excel. At least one area in which we appear to be “good.” And so, we do our best to show the world that area and hide the rest.
We become slaves to this false sense of righteousness. Wasting our lives in servitude to a lie out of a blind commitment to bolstering our pride.
Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace. (vs.2-4)
Alas, the effort to make ourselves “good” by counting on that one thing inevitably fails. As we mature, we begin to understand the disparity between our futile attempts at righteousness, and the perfect, holy standard required by God. Unfortunately, maturity is not a number. Some people reach that point as very young children, while others go to the grave in ignorance; never recognizing their own ineptitude, and never having the humility to accept the freedom offered through the cross of Christ.
For far too many years, my love tried to do it (recovery) on his own. He had so much going for him: An idyllic childhood, a wonderful family, a successful career, a marriage that looked picture perfect from the outside, (and often even from the inside) and children that would make any parent proud. He was (and still is) brilliant, talented, funny, and charming. He had it all. He took comfort in his many blessings, believing they had come to him as a result of his own merit. He believed himself worthy.
He enjoyed the image he had achieved. People thought he had it all together. People looked to him for wisdom. He even started to believe it himself. The enemy convinced him that God was lucky to have such an exemplary person on His team. If he “occasionally” stepped outside the boundaries of God’s law, did it really matter? Those hidden sins were just little pleasures that he deserved. No one knew about them anyhow, so they weren’t hurting anyone. He was going to get them under control before they got too out of hand. God would forgive him. He could handle it on his own, no one needed to know. And so he would lie, even to himself in order to believe he really was in recovery when, in fact, he was far, far from it.
Before you start shaking your head and thinking what a terrible person he was, I challenge you to examine your own heart. Because, I think if we’re honest, many of us can relate to this very flawed way of thinking. I know I can. We all must come to a point when we come face to face with our own depravity and see it for what it truly is. For me, that happened somewhere in my late teens or early twenties, as I read through Genesis. For my love, that moment finally came in late 2016.
He sat in our bedroom, having been caught once again in an affair, confessing to me for the first time ALL the infidelities. When he finished he looked up at me, and the only words I could muster were, “What a waste of a human being!”
He looked at me for a second, like he wanted to fight that statement, and then something broke. He dropped his head and said, “You’re absolutely right.”
Verses 5 & 6 – Broken Humility Before the Lord (The first step in TRUE Recovery)
But we who live by the Spirit wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised us. For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love. (vs.5-6)
My words may sound harsh to you, but I believe they were of God. I believe the Holy Spirit Himself put those words in my mouth. Because as mean as they may sound, they were truth. He had wasted his life up to that point. God had blessed him beyond measure and he had thrown it all away. God had given him countless opportunities to turn from his sin, and he had lived in prideful rebellion.
Scripture says, “You cannot serve two masters…” and that even the good deeds we do on our own, apart from the Holy Spirit, are about as good and pure as a pile of soiled rags. Because there are always secret motives. Our depraved hearts always have a hidden agenda. The first step toward a Spirit–filled life is a brokenness that recognizes the uselessness of our own attempts at righteousness, and a humility that asks God for help.The first step toward a Spirit–filled life is brokenness, and a humility that asks God for help. Click To Tweet
In order for God to do His redemptive work, my love had to come to a place in which he realized he had wasted his life because he could not achieve a drop of righteousness on his own. He needed to understand that he was not good. He needed to be broken. He needed to be humbled.
This is the first step for anyone caught in bondage to sin. If you have never seen a lasting brokenness coupled with humility, recovery is unlikely to stick. I’m not talking about a big emotional show with tears and promises – I’m talking about an attitude of lasting humility. One that says, “I’m a screw-up and I need help.” (Not in a woe is me kind of way, but in a matter of fact, facing reality kind of way.) “I can’t do this without God, and I’m ashamed that I’ve tried to for so long.”
For some, brokenness happens in an instant. A sharp turn in the road of their lives. For others, it’s a process. A drawn out 180-degree curve in the road. When it came to my love, God spent the next month opening the cracks that had formed in his pride-filled façade, and then the month after that shattering his hard heart so he could begin to have a faith built on the righteousness of God, a faith expressing itself in love. The Creator had started something new!
Verses 13-18 – The War Within
For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another. (vs.13-15)
So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. (vs.16-18)
From this place in the journey, my love can look back and still see his old self with quite a bit of clarity. I would guess that over time, as he moves further and further away from it things might blur a bit, so I want to capture as much understanding as I can from here. I ask a lot of questions. And for the first time, he doesn’t seem to mind. He often even seems to appreciate the opportunity to process these things together.
We’ve talked a lot about the war that is waged inside the heart and mind of an addict. He describes a constant pull towards the evil that held him in its clutches. But at the same time, there was a sincere longing inside of him to be free of it. He wanted out. He hated the sin, and yet loved it at the same time. He would make plans to break away from it, but find himself incapable of carrying out those plans. He might last a day, a week, or on rare occasions, maybe even a month! Each time, though, that pull would draw him back. He was miserable!
This never-ending battle created turmoil in his heart, which spilled out as a total disregard for the feelings of others. He became a user. No longer seeing people as precious children of God, but as tools purposed for his pleasure. He devoured those in his path, leaving destruction in his wake.
The broken surrender to God I described above was the only way out. He had to forsake the lustful pleasures of his flesh, repent, and finally invite God’s power into the equation. He had to finally allow the Holy Spirit to guide his life and his recovery so that he could be free of the obligation to do what his sinful nature craved.
Next week we’ll examine more closely exactly what that looks like. We’ll compare and contrast the obvious differences between a person living to satisfy the flesh and one living to satisfy the Spirit. When passed under the light of Scripture there is no room left for doubt. We will know them by their fruit!
*How about you? Have you come to terms with the depravity of your own heart, and your inability to overcome it on your own? Can you see how this is the root – the first step towards allowing God to take control and do the work needed to create lasting change?