For a Christian who comes to the point of facing the reality of addiction, and thus the need for participation in an addiction programme, one of the most troubling barriers to cross is not just identifying as an ‘addict’ (“I’m not a sinner, I’m a saint! How can I call myself an addict?”), but the inherent challenge to their Christian faith. (“Was I really a Christian?” or “Did Christianity not work… for me? Does it work at all!!??”)
If we lay aside for the moment the question of the veracity of Christian faith, and if we assume that there is a baby (authentic Christian faith and obedience) worth holding on to after dispensing with the dirty bathwater (distorted beliefs and lazy obedience), I think there is a theme in Paul’s letter to the Romans that is helpful for us. Our ‘religion’ was powerless.
In Romans, Paul portrays ‘Sin’ as a power lurking throughout the created order, wreaking particular havoc on human nature. In chapter 7 he describes this as the “Law of Sin at work within my members“. He also describes ‘Law’ (the Jewish/Mosaic Law or ‘Torah’) as a holy, just and good thing, but which Sin co-opted in order to actually get stronger. Law, it seems, only helps us to see and identify sin all the more clearly, and thus only strengthens our sin-consciousness. Sin ‘abounds’ as a result. Here we can define ‘religion’ as human attempts to fix our sin problem. They just don’t work. Paul goes on to describe this kind of ‘religion’ as a second kind of ‘law’: the “Law of my mind“, which delights in God’s law, but is powerless to change him. He even says that the ‘Law’ was powerless to do what was needed. Despite the mind being a ‘slave’ of God’s law, the result was still that he was a ‘slave’ of the law of sin in his members. Law only heaps on shame, and fuels judgement – both of self and of others. It simply cannot heal. For freedom to come, a third kind of ‘law’ was needed: the “Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus“. This ‘law’ is the only thing more powerful (“a Power greater than ourselves” step 2 says) than the deadly combination of the deceit of Sin, a body vulnerable to desire, and a righteous code fueling judgement. Only the Spirit of Grace can restore, heal and forgive what is broken.
So, for me, we need not see any problem with the true Gospel of God’s generous Grace. We can stand with Paul and see that ‘Christianity-as-we-distorted-it’ was powerless to heal us. We needed the kind of ‘non-religious’ spirituality advocated by both Scripture and the 12 steps.