Do you worship discipline? I once had the privilege of giving a kind of commencement speech to a group of men who were graduating from a Salvation Army rehabilitation center. All of the men had been at war for six months against the powerful urge to drink or to do drugs, and all of them were about to leave the program to continue the battle in a hostile world. I was asked to speak because several staff members of the center had read The Cure, and thought I might have something useful to say to their graduating residents. That novel has now become a favorite in several rehab centers that I know of. Probably they like it because it rings true. I wrote it from personal experience.
In the heady flower child days of my late teens and early 20’s I did a lot of drugs and drinking, and developed a serious “problem” with amphetamines. I was also homeless for a time. But since I don’t struggle with alcoholism and it’s been decades since I had the urge to do drugs, some might wonder what makes me think I can offer meaningful advice to people in a rehabilitation program. The truth is I fight the very same battle every single day, for I am just as deeply addicted as any of those men, and you know what?
If you have a pulse, you’re an addict, too.
Sin is nothing more than the original addiction. It reveals itself in countless ways, but make no mistake about it: we’re all in the same condition, one way or another. So here is what I said to those brave warriors, a few words about the cure, offered in the hope that it might help you, too…
Everything I’m about to say assumes you men who are about to leave this place are Christians. If you are not a Christian, then what I’ll say won’t make much sense to you, and all I can offer you in the way of advice is, come to your senses and submit yourself to Jesus Christ. You do not want to be on your own when you walk out of here.
It may be that some of you were not Christians when you first walked into this place, so you may only recently have learned about God’s amazing grace. In that case, let’s make sure you fully understand the thing that saved you. Many people think grace is mercy, but they aren’t the same at all.
Mercy is when you’re guilty and the judge decides not to throw the book at you. Mercy can actually be a bad thing, if it comes at the expense of justice for the wife and child whom you abandoned for cocaine, or the pedestrian you hit while driving drunk, or the shopkeeper you robbed to get a bottle or a fix.
But grace is always good. Grace is when the judge does the right thing, when he goes ahead and throws the book at you because you’re guilty as charged, but then he comes down from the bench and suffers your punishment for you. And as every Christian knows, that’s exactly what Jesus did for us. That’s the whole point of the cross. God sentenced us to death for what we’ve done, which was only right and just, but Jesus took our punishment, so we are innocent in God’s eyes now.
Now, what does God expect from us in return for this? Absolutely nothing. God’s son died for us. How could we ever pay that back? We’d have to die to make it up to Him, and what good would that do when the whole point of the cross was to save us from our punishment? So it makes no sense to think we could do anything “in return” for this amazing grace. We can accept it. Period. That’s all. We can’t repay God. We can’t serve him. We can’t even obey him.
Yes, you heard me right. I just said we can’t obey God. But before you start thinking they let some kind of a pagan in here to talk to you, some kind of wolf in sheep’s clothing, let me quickly mention that the Apostle Paul said exactly the same thing in the Bible. He said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do, this I keep on doing…. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
See? Paul said it a long time before I did. We cannot obey. I don’t know if Paul was an alcoholic or addict, but he sure sounds like it when he says, “What I hate, I do.” I hear that, and it’s like he’s quoting from the Big Book (although of course it’s really the other way around). He’s saying, “we admitted we were powerless over alcohol.” He’s saying he “made a searching and fearless moral inventory of himself,” and he came up short. So if you’ve ever secretly felt guilty because it seems like obeying God is still impossible for you even though you’re a Christian now, if you think you must be weaker or more flawed than other Christians, damaged goods, then I want you to remember this: even the Apostle Paul agreed with the first step. Even Paul found his life unmanageable. Does that mean he was an alcoholic or a drug addict? No. But Paul was an addict all right. We’re all of us addicted to some kind of sin, one way or another, and as far as God is concerned there are many secret sin addictions which are just as bad as doping or drinking.
So, Christians, since we were powerless over our sins before we trusted Jesus, and we remain powerless over our sins today, obviously it’s a waste of time to ask, “What can I do?” But did you notice that question Paul asked at the end? He asked, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” That’s the smart question to be asking. Who will rescue me? Because if there’s no way you can win a fight, you need to be rescued. And praise the Lord, when a Christian begs for help, he will indeed be rescued.
Every Christian believes along with Bill and Bob that there is “a Power greater than ourselves [who] could restore us to sanity.” Every Christian knows our Higher Power is not some wimpy little god “as we understand him,” but a mighty god we could never understand. Every Christian knows God personally, because we have met our higher power in the flesh on the cross. And if Jesus saved us then, He will go on saving us now, unless we start putting faith in our own will power instead of having faith in Him.
Listen now, this is important: Jesus didn’t give us power over sin. Jesus is our power over sin. What this means is, God’s grace wasn’t finished at the cross, it remains available for us right now, this instant, in every moment that we live. We were saved by grace through faith in Jesus, and not by our own works. We continue to be saved in exactly that same way. What good news this is! What a relief!
The secret to a happy Christian life is not to work harder at being sober. In fact it’s just the opposite. It’s to let Jesus do the work for you.
What does this mean in the day-to-day challenge to be sober? It’s very simple. When the devil sends that first little tickle—you all know the one I mean—you have just two choices. You can put your faith in your own willpower, or you can put your faith in Jesus Christ. If you tell yourself “Be strong,” if you put your faith in willpower, you will surely fall. But if you start praying, if you say “Jesus, I can’t win this fight! I’m too weak! Rescue me!” then the Lord will surely step right in to rescue you.
Does this mean Jesus will remove the urge to drink or use completely? Usually not. But you know what? If God leaves that urge in us, it’s because—hear me now, this is really important—if God leaves that urge in us, it’s because that urge is what keeps us turning back to Jesus.
We don’t know exactly what drove Paul to cry out, “Rescue me!” but we do know he wrote in the Bible about having something he called a “thorn in my flesh,” and a “messenger from Satan.” Sounds like an addiction, doesn’t it? Paul says, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” Was Paul disappointed that God refused to take away his thorn, his Satan’s messenger? No. On the contrary he wrote, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses.” But why did Paul boast about his weaknesses? Here’s the answer in his words again: “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Hear that famous line again, Christians. “When I am weak, then I am strong.” There’s your key to a successful life, regardless of your sin of choice. Probably most of you have begged and pleaded with the Lord to take away your addiction. Since you’re here, that means God said “No” to you, just as he did to Paul. And like the Apostle Paul, you should praise God for that answer. Think about this carefully.
Do you really want to put your faith in discipline instead of in Jesus Christ?
If God took away your sin addiction, would you really be a stronger person, or would you be tempted to think you don’t need Jesus quite as much? Would you be tempted to pray a little less? Read His word a little less? Worship Him a little less? Spend less time with other Christians? Focus on yourself a little more, until you are alone again just as you were before you met him at the cross? Sober, but alone and terribly, terribly lost? Is that really what you want? Is sobriety worth that?
Now it’s time for the next battle, and as you prepare to go, I hope you will remember that your weakness makes you strong if you embrace it. Your weakness is a blessing. Don’t fight it; celebrate it, as Paul did. Boast about your weakness and take delight in it, because if you will do that, then your weakness will always point you back to Jesus.
Think about this carefully: your weakness is a blessing.
Don’t ever feel sorry for yourself because you have to fight this battle. Instead, pity the person who seems to find it easy to be “good,” who looks like they have life under control. Pity the poor Christian who is “only” addicted to gossip, or “only” surfs porn on the internet in secret, or “only” lusts for money. Those Christians may look clean and sober on the outside, but because their sin addiction is well hidden they can go for years—for all their lives in fact—without ever getting past the first step, without ever going beyond the entry-level grace they found on the first day they were saved. You, on the other hand, have a particular thorn in the flesh that’s impossible to ignore, so you’ll always find it easier to embrace your weakness, easier to put your faith in Jesus instead of in your own will power, and easier to walk deeper and deeper into the amazing grace that’s always there to rescue you.
The foregoing was originally published on January 6, 2010, at What Athol Wrote and is posted here with minor changes.