It Works If You Work It: A Works Based Gospel
As a chronic relapser, I felt hopeless until I sat at the feet of the one who gives hope: Jesus. Though it took a lot to get me there, I’m grateful for the way it happened.
If and when, you make the choice to get sober/clean, the “experts” recommend completing 90 12-step program meetings in 90 days. Because I love working hard, this was right up my alley. My performance driven mentality pushes me towards works driven results. - and boy do I love working!
A slogan heard in secular recovery circles reinforced my behavior, “It works if you work it, so work it if you’re worth it.” Even outside of the gospel perspective, I love the sentiment the statement provokes. However, when we apply a gospel lens to the saying, it presents a much fuller, richer, and deeper meaning. The word if reveals the statement as a conditional sentence…”It works IF you work it, so work it IF you’re worth it.”
Like a good self-help book, this phrase is intended to provoke a sense of well being. It compels the reader to see themselves as worthy of getting sober/clean. Although well intentioned, I believe it is slightly misguided - because to God - you are worth it!
Not because we have some innate goodness
Not because we are worthy of being redeemed.
Not because we follow a stringent set of value systems that makes us morally good.
Because He sent Jesus to pay the price of our sin. Essentially, our reconciliation to the creator of the heavens, was worth the cost of the death of His son. On our own, we are not worth it. The scriptures reveal us as dead in our trespasses.
At the surface, I love the sentiment - yet when diving deeper it falls flat in comparison to the fullness of Christ’s worth. A confrontational truth for the unbeliever - outside of Jesus - any sort of self-worth is self made. When this is the case - if you work it - because you believed you were worth it - but still fall flat on your face from relapse - you may feel worthless. Works based programs leave no room for grace. But Jesus, He is Grace. Even when we are dead in our trespasses, He invites us into fellowship with Him. As the scriptures reveal, working our faith does not earn us anything. It is through Jesus alone, we are saved - not a program.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
(Ephesians 2:1-9 NIV)
In my experience, people ingrained in programs are faithful to their program of choice because they believe said program saved their life. I know because I was one of them. However, the Gospel is in direct conflict with this belief - for it us only through Jesus Christ we experience true life. Putting down the bottle and/or walking away from the pipe, may provide a sense of freedom, but perhaps there is more freedom to be had? Although getting a sponsor and working steps is wise, it will never provide the type of freedom Jesus does. Behavior modification may make us moral, but it will not make us righteous.
While getting clean, I exchanged one form of slavery for another; from drugs and alcohol to a program. Although one seems more appealing, it is still a form of bondage. At one point, I clung so desperately to the hope they promise to provide that I believed if I left, I would relapse. Due to how programs indoctrinate attendees, fear of relapse contributes to program attendance. Because in the program, sobriety is worshipped. However, Jesus paints a different picture:
10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written and forever remains written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” Matthew 4:10 AMP
Though the scriptures are sufficient, many of us supplement our faith with 12-step programs because we dont understand. I sure didn’t. Any gospel outside of Jesus is a false gospel. Please hear me, I am not against programs- but I am for Truth!
Those of us who experienced growth in the rooms of anonymous meetings, tend to be loyal and faithful servants of their message. Any sort of constructive criticism or disagreements with program literature is met with hostility. How dare we say something about the thing we believe saved us? HEAR THIS: programs dont save people, only Jesus does. When working a non-gospel centered program, we settle for lesser forms of freedom keeping us in bondage and captivity and minimize and reduce our sin to character defects. But because we are innately hostile to God and His word, we cling to things outside of Him while unknowingly exchanging one form of slavery for another. From drugs and alcohol to working programs, I was a slave. A slave to the program, I worked it hard. I even got off drugs. However, the only time I ever experienced the type of peace that calms the storms of impulsivity was through God. Because Jesus changed my heart, I no longer white knuckled my way through abstinence, nor did I have to tap out of using because the pain and suffering was too great…I quit because Jesus is better.
He is better than a program.
He is better than sobriety.
He is better than pain.
He is better than ______; everything.
It took a year for me to get de-programmed. Although I am grateful for the structure and wisdom programs provided me, they run in opposition to Gospel Truth. However, I still sometimes frequent their rooms. Not because I need to attend for sobrietys sake, but out of God’s great love for the rebellious. In moments before and after meetings open and close, I hope to share the hope that is found in Jesus Christ. Not through condemnation, but through genuine connection built around the personhood of God; The Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Until they tell me to stop coming back, I’ll keep showing up…just like Jesus does.
As Christians, we do not have to supplement our spirituality with programs - there is a better way. Getting rooted and becoming known in a gospel centered community has changed my life. Regardless of addiction, we should be able to relate to everyone’s struggle because sin is the root problem. The world is in need of a Savior, not 12-step meetings. As my friend Michael says, “like giving aspirin to someone with a brain tumor, are programs for people.” It is kind to help someone in need, but it is not kind to not address the problem.
Addiction is a manifestation of faith placed in things outside of God. At its core, addiction is idolatry. However, God provides miraculous healing through spiritual heart surgery. When God reveals His glory to us, we put down lesser things because we see that He is greater. Through changing the desires of our hearts, we no longer chase after foolish things.
If you’ve spent time in an anonymous program, please know that I love you and am for you! My hope is that your heart would be reconciled to God’s through His one and only son Jesus. In the initial stages of recovery, someone tried to explain what I just poorly attempted - and I didnt take it well. My rebuttal, “I need the program. You don’t understand. I need Jesus and my meetings.” But that wasn’t true, it was just what I believed. What is true, is that we are all in need of Jesus. Through Jesus, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lepers and the addicted are healed.
I pray you would be too.
Once An Addict,
Now A Son - Joshua
What seemed impossible…
is possible through Christ who strengthens us.