September is National Recovery Month according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For 31 years, Recovery Month has been shining a national spotlight on the importance and availability of treatment and mental health services for substance use. I am grateful for the attention to this important issue. People are still reeling from consequences of addiction and many others are still dying as a result of their substance use.
The Bible clearly teaches that there are two types of people in this world: believers who trust in Jesus Christ and those who do not believe in Him as the Messiah. For those who battle an addiction and do NOT believe in Jesus, the greatest goal they can aspire to is being a better person. Unbelievers can achieve sobriety and be a better version of themselves, and that’s the highest goal the world’s system can offer them. Recovery is a good goal for our society. There is nothing wrong with that!
To recover means to regain, or improve, the old self. In other words, you can get your life back in recovery by living a sober lifestyle. We are thankful for a society that values life and emphasizes the message of sobriety through treatment and rehabilitation because that’s all that unbelievers have to offer other unbelievers.
But for believers who are trusting in the finished work of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, the goal of recovery is a tangible, reasonable first step yet there is a greater goal available and possible. Transformation, or a spiritual metamorphosis, whereby a believer relies upon the indwelling of the Holy Spirit working in partnership with the Word of God is what we proclaim as Christians who believe God’s Word.
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit allows transformation to be possible. A once addicted person can be radically changed at the heart level where desires reside. Sobriety is the first step but God has the bigger goal of making the once addicted person become like Christ Jesus. In other words, you can get a new life started and become a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17). God commands his followers not to get drunk with wine because it leads to utter ruin (Eph. 5:18) of someone’s life. God wants more for the addict. He wants sobriety and he wants transformation. Even better, God provides His Word of truth as well as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (as the Bible describes it) to live inside of a believer to empower the believer to desire and to do what God says is right (Philippians 2:12-13).
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Believers possess God-given resources to be transformed. Unbelievers do not have those resources available to them so their highest aim can only be self-empowered sobriety and a better version of themselves.
Believers do not have to rely upon self as the source of their power but upon the Holy Spirit. That’s a big difference between a once addicted believer and a once addicted unbeliever. Another significant difference is the Word of God. A believer is able to understand and apply truth to their lives which brings a renewed mind (Eph. 4:23) along with an eternal perspective that provides wisdom. Don’t underestimate the help that wisdom and truth provide for someone who was once addicted and trusting in themselves to be the source of those things while making bad decisions along the way. Having a new source of truth enables the once addicted believer to be led by the Holy Spirit to make righteous decisions with the motive of glorifying the Lord.
A CALL TO CHRISTIANS
I am not calling unbelievers to change their message of sobriety and recovery. That’s all they have and it is not a bad message but a good one.
But I am calling believers to change their message from one of sobriety and recovery to the Gospel message of salvation and spiritual empowerment to be transformed into Christ-likeness. The first message is a first step but God wants so much for the once addicted person when you read and apply the truths found in God’s Word.
For some believers, it is as though they believe the world’s approach and maybe even pity the once addicted and say, “the best they can do is sobriety.” But that type of attitude doubts the power of God! This type of attitude lends itself to believing the world’s idea that addiction is a super-sized problem that is bigger than what Christ and His power can overcome. But that is simply not true! Addiction issues stem from the sinful, selfish desires within the heart of all mankind and are solved when a person surrenders fully to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
It is time for the church which is the body of Christ to proclaim a greater message found in the hope of the Gospel and transformational power of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word.
The Addiction Connection now offers a care group study called Next Steps: Be TRANSFORMED as a supportive and purposeful disciple-making tool to help the once addicted to strive for more than recovery by offering biblical, transforming truths.
If you are a believer, I hope you enjoy September as National Transformation Month this year and every year until Jesus returns!
-Mark E. Shaw, D.Min., Founder of TAC