At Gateway Church in Austin, we started our series called The Restored Life.
Ever experience the release that comes from patching up a relationship or work situation after making a big mistake? It’s like a huge weight has been removed. The problem comes when we repeat the same mistake no matter how hard we try to do the right thing. How can we experience true restoration from our failures and find lasting freedom from our missteps?
Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
Message Notes by John Burke:
We’re continuing to look at the 12 Steps of Recovery and their Biblical Roots, but now we move into a New Freedom. Beyond just being free of that addiction or worry or control or whatever issue you struggled with, and now we move toward a joyful, fulfilling, Restored Life.
Jesus promised: I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10.
If you’re just joining us, or you’ve been on the sidelines observing—don’t think “Oh well, it’s too late for me to join in—they’re already ½ way through.” No one’s ½ way through. Working these steps is a life-long venture. It’s not as a One and Done deal—we’re looking at them as ongoing Spiritual Disciplines to usher you into a New Way of Living. It’s not about perfection, but progress.
Here’s a great spiritual indicator— “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17
Am I feeling More Alive, more Free? That’s what this is leading to.
Review of the 12 Steps
So let’s review where we’ve been. I’m quoting from the
12 Steps–Reviled Substandard Version
- Step 1 – I declared I was in complete control of my problems/compulsions and that my life was fine and dandy—thank you very much.
- Step 2–I always knew that there was no power greater than myself, but all of you needed to be restored to sanity.
- Step 3 – I made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of my problems, compulsions and addictive behavior because it was the only thing that understood me.
- Step 4 – I made a superficial and paranoid IMMORAL inventory of anybody but myself.
- Step 5 – I admitted nothing to nobody—ever!
- Step 6 – I was entirely ready to have God punish you for all your defects of character.
- Step 7 – Humbly told Him who he needed to change.
Obviously that’s the opposite way—but where many people live in reality.
So let me review for real using the Titanic analogy from week 3—the Story of a Prideful Captain who thought himself invincible—His ship indestructible—yet on his maiden voyage ignoring all warnings, Hit an iceberg—sank the ship.
So Steps 1-3 are all about our own personal Titanic. We all thought we were supposed to be Captain of our Lives—in control, invincible, proving our worth and value to the world. But at some point we got warning signs, life got painful, unmanageable, out of control enough to realize the Truth—Life my way is sinking me and those around me.
Something’s wrong—I keep trying to make life go my way, yet it just produces more pain, isolation, lonliness—habits and addictions that enslave me.
Or we realize, this earthly life is a ship destined to sink, it’s meaningless without God. Maybe it took hitting rock bottom to realize it—drinking, drugging, a sex addiction, or anxiety attack, several divorces—whatever it was, you decided to take
Step One: “We admitted we were powerless over _____[name it]—that our lives had become unmanageable.”
Admitting you’ve got a problem is the first Step toward freedom.
Step 2: “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
You came to believe there is a Captain who could rescue you from this sinking Ship.
You found out God has his own Ship—he’s lowered this rescue basket right onto your listing deck—He’s sailing for warmer, tropical waters. There’s Hope!
But you have to take Step 3—you have to get in the rescue basket.
Step 3: “We made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God.”
You must abandon Life where you’re the Captain—give up Playing God, and entrust your entire Life and Will into God’s Care. So you get in the basket (on the outside it says Trust—on the inside “In Christ”—you may not realize it until later, but the only reason the God of the Universe is willing to forgive all our wrongs and rescue us—God paid for all our mistakes, sins, character defects, shortcomings—all of it—paid for by Jesus’ death. We simply stop trying to Play God, trust our lives and wills to God’s care—He forgives and takes us to be His own Children. So Step 3 transfers us to a New Ship—in relationship with God, we’re destined for the most beautiful, peaceful tropical Paradise. But the ship has lots to enjoy, new opportunities to experience on the way, but only as we stay daily live Step 3—seeking the Captains will.
But to live this way—the Captain wants to start healing old wounds—so He asks us to do
Step 4: We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves – there’s infection from past sins and wounds, it needs cleaning out—an honest Moral Inventory where we write down all the wrongs of the past, not to feel shame or condemnation, but to be free from the past–to turn from those ways that sunk our ship and wounded us and others—confess them to ourselves, to God, and to one other person.
Step 5: We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
As we talked about last week—this is how God begins to heals us and make us whole. We experience guilt-free, shame-free living more and more.
Our Journey with God
But here’s what often happens at this point.
- We’re on God’s ship—He’s the Captain and we’ve admitted that.
- But we have all these old habits and patterns that keep surfacing.
- God wants us to live in His Overflowing Joy of Life—He wants us to experience increasing Life and Freedom.
- But often we don’t, even as Christians.
- We might be saved, rescued from our sinking ship—headed to a new wonderful eternity, but we keep sneaking into the Navigation Room and replotting the course.
- We actually think we’re being helpful—but when God doesn’t cooperate, we get impatient, irritated, or angry.
- Then we run around in a panic—ordering others around—manipulating circumstances to go our way.
- All the while, the Captain (who is ridiculously kind, loving, and patient) is gently saying—let me teach you a New Way of Living.
- Let me remove All these Defects of Character that sunk your old ship, you can actually relax, do the job I perfectly prepared for you on My Ship, and just Enjoy Me, enjoy others, and Enjoy yourself a whole lot more—you’ll even accomplish more that way.
- But that requires taking Steps 6 & 7.
Step #6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Here’s something you need to understand about God.
He doesn’t work like all these Ways of the World that promised you freedom and life, but ended up enslaving you by overpowering your will.
- Lust promised you excitement, yet it ends up robbing you of fulfilling, committed sexual love in marriage.
- Drinking or drugging promised fun, friends, uninhibited freedom, but became a self-limiting crutch that kept you dependent.
- Controlling others or people-pleasing promised you security and love, but it ended up locking you in a very lonely prison of isolation.
But God doesn’t control or force you.
- He doesn’t need you to behave or shape up for things to go according to His plan.
- He’s Captain of the Universe and It will go His way.
- But He’s also adopted you as His own son or daughter and loves you more than you can imagine.
- That’s why He wanted to rescue you in the first place—to be with you, to love you, to help you flourish.
- That’s why God works WITH your will, not Against it.
- And that’s the Key to Freedom. Willingness. God waits for your willingness.
- That’s why Step 6 starts “we were entirely ready…”. Are. You Ready and willing?…
Romans 12:1-2 says, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2
In light of all God’s done for you already—in light of God’s great love and mercy—as you work Steps 1-5 and start to taste how good Life and Freedom, the Joy and Peace of God’s ways…keep going, Paul says. Don’t hold anything back—offer your whole selves—that’s how we love and worship God, by trusting His goodness and offering our whole selves to him. Which means we stop trying to conform to please everyone else—and we let God transform our minds.
That’s what Step 6 is all about. We were ENTIRELY READY for God to have His will and way with ALL of us—every part—every Character Defect, every habit, every “helpful way” that keeps driving people away from us—ALL these character defects.
We became willing to let Him remove them, so we could experience his good, pleasing, perfect will for our lives more and more. So we could enjoy the ride and be more useful on the way to Heaven.
So where do these Character Defects come from? John Baker, in Life’s Healing Choices, a Christian perspective on recovery, points out that they come from Chromosomes, Circumstances, and Choices.
Nature Neuroscience reports a study on mice trained to avoid a smell—through DNA they passed their aversion to that smell on to their “grandchildren.” They conclude: “The experiences of a parent, even before conceiving, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations.”
The good habits and bad ones pass on. God warned us that “Sin patterns pass to 3-4th generation” Exodus 34, which is why you should work these steps now, so New Freedom will pass down. We all inherited certain traits from our parents—genetic tendencies. No one knows how much or little this affects us, but we all got both strengths and weaknesses from parents.
No two people are alike—we all have our own set of stuff—which is why God doesn’t want us playing God of others or comparing ourselves to others, but simply being faithful with the Hand of Cards we’ve been dealt.
Some of you found school easy, some not so much.
Some feel like everything you set out to do turns to gold, some feel like it turns to rust.
But the great news is, on God’s Ship, we’re all Equals—we all have a job to do, it’s perfectly suited for who God made us to be, and we CAN faithfully do it—you can. That’s really hopeful, isn’t it!? And even the challenges, God helps us with—maybe you have something you or the world considers a weakness, we still all have the ability to let God grow us spiritually, even through this weakness.
In fact, with God that weakness could be your greatest area of strength. What if in God’s economy, it’s not how much or little you’ve been given, but how faithful you are to God with what you’ve been given? That’s part of step 6
We shaped our character by watching others—parents, peers, teachers—but they were not always following God’s will or ways.
So some things got stamped into our character that we thought was right, but it doesn’t get us what we want ultimately.
We tried to get people to love us, or approve of us, or say we’re worth something—so we developed patterns to get these needs met, apart from God.
Problem is that made us slaves to people, or the voices in our heads.
Or maybe people did things to us—out of their sin of Playing God, they used or abused us or manipulated and controlled us and as a result of these circumstances, we developed harmful Character Habits. We were sexually abused, so we believed the lie that our body is not our own to honor, or we did things or were forced into things that made us feel so horrible about ourselves, we decided we could not forgive ourselves (even if God forgives—we won’t—which of course, is again Playing God saying “You may say this sin is paid for in full by Jesus, but I’m telling you it still needs to be punished—so I will not forgive myself.”
Maybe we were bullied or had a tough life, and we get in the habit of living out of that story. “See, nothing ever goes my way.” “See, I can never trust anyone.” “See, I can never get ahead.”
But no matter what our inherited traits or circumstances—God can and will remove those Defects of Character if we’re entirely ready and willing. You’re not a victim anymore—don’t live that way. That’s Step 6.
There’s an interesting story in John chapter 5—Jesus comes to this pool in the town of Bethesda—where masses of broken, physically disabled people, laid around the pool hoping for a miracle. Jesus sees one guy who was a paralytic—bound to a mat—who had been in that condition 38 years. Jesus wants to heal him, has compassion on him, but listen to what he asks:
When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?” John 5:6
At first glance, that seems like a clueless question—right? Jesus knew he’d been there a long time, why ask:
Do you want to get well? Because sometimes, we don’t!
Though we were victims of inherited tendencies, or circumstances beyond our control, and we hate being victims—we get used to it.
We’ve become so comfortable with these defects of character, this false identity, that to let God remove it?—we can’t imagine life without being a victim.
We wouldn’t have our old reasons, our old excuses, or old patterns. “Do you want to get well?”
God waits for our willingness—Are we entirely ready for him to remove all these Character Defects? Is that where you are? Do you want to get well?
The third source of Character Defects are our Choices. You can’t change who your parents were, you can’t go back and relive the circumstances of your past, but you can control your choices today.
On God’s new ship, this is the One Responsibility we do have—to choose to let God transform our thinking and to choose His will and ways more and more. You repeat negative choices or thinking patterns over and over, and it becomes a habit, you get stuck. Soon it feels like you don’t have a choice—you lust automatically, you worry automatically, you feel insecure automatically.
But that’s where Step 6&7 and Romans 12:1-2 come in. Each time we see a negative old pattern of thinking, or an old controlling character defect, or an anxious burdensome Character Defect raise it’s ugly head, we can choose. I choose to be “entirely willing to let God transform my mind—we can ask Him to remove that Defect of Character.
But many of us don’t—we hold back. Why?
See, maybe we worked the steps to stop smoking pot or drinking nightly—and now that’s gone. We don’t do that. But the problem is there are other character defects and sin-habits we enjoy! What about those? The back porch smoke we enjoy, the lustful looks or porn that give that little endorphin rush; the feeling superior—it feels good; the worry—it keeps us motivated; the economic hoarding—it’s been our security for so long. Not letting your spouse or adult children make any decisions you don’t like—that control does something for you.
One reason people miss the depth of Life and Freedom God wants is that we only want enough of God’s will and ways to keep the pain away or prove we’re not “bad.” We’re not sure we want all of God’s ways for all of our ways.
So we miss out—we don’t fully maximize the ride of Life. There’s a poem that illustrates this.
“I’d like $3 of God please. Not enough to change my prejudices or make me love my enemies–just enough to have some peace. I’d like $3 of God please. Not enough to alter my thoughts or habits, just enough to keep me from ruining my life by them. I’d like $3 of God please – not so much of him that it would alter my path—just enough to get me into heaven. I’d like $3 of God please.”
We want just enough of God to take away the painful consequences of playing God, but not so much of God that he changes us completely—why?
Because this Playing God sin disease is so sneaky and subtle, it keeps creeping back in making us think we really DO know what’s best, and even more odious, now that we’ve gotten better in our one tip of the iceberg addiction or issue or struggle, we feel better than others.
In Recovery, it’s call a “dry drunk”, in religious circles a “judgmental hypocrite.” A dry drunk or judgmental hypocrite has overcome in some areas, but keeps going back to Playing God, now from a Superior position.
Start with Humility.
Step #7: Humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings. God isn’t satisfied with our “not drinking, or not raging, or not lusting”—God wants more for us—He wants complete willingness so he can lead us to complete freedom and fullness of life—so He waits for us to be entirely ready to let Him transform us fully.
I think about my own spiritual journey—I started off enslaved and addicted. I put my faith in Christ, found the relief and freedom of being set free of my sinking ship. I even got free of my presenting addictive behaviors as I let Him give me power to overcome. But I was not entirely willing to let Him change ALL my character defects—because I didn’t see it that way. My character defects worked well for me—I liked some of them.
For instance, I had a lot of anger and used to cuss like a sailor…
At Falls Creek, a camp in Oklahoma I said, “But if Your will and ways for my life really are better—I’m willing. Show me how.” That willingness was all God needed to show me a better way.
I had taken Steps 6 and Step #7: Humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings. [The real crux of Step 7 “Humbly asked God to remove all” – Humble means a right appraisal of ourselves.
Romans 12 “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will…Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment [accurate assessment]…We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” Romans 12:2-6
The key to Step 7 is Humility—seeing ourselves as God does—not thinking too highly of ourselves (like we’re Perfect, have no Character Defects or anything God still needs to change), but also not thinking too lowly of ourselves. We are God’s children, we are Gifted by God, unique, with important roles to play on His Ship of Life. And each of us CAN be faithful to God, He can grow us—if we are humbly self aware.
So with 6&7, we make ourselves completely willing in all areas we’re aware of—but we’re not aware of everything all at once—and thank God for that. I mean, I’m still finding Character Defects 30 years into this God journey. God knows and is so patient–if He had rolled out the list of all the character defects, sin patterns, hidden self-centered ways he has patiently changed over 30 years—that list 30 years ago would have crushed me. I’d feel overwhelmed. Thank God He brings up things one at a time—but each time—the real question is found in the word “ALL.”
- Am I now ready and willing to let Him remove ALL those things that He shows me are holding me back from Life and Freedom?
- Will I let Him remove all the ones I’m aware of?
- Or am I hiding and holding back with greed, or my sex life, or relational security?
Just talk to him honestly about it—willingness is the key. God’s so kind and patient in how He leads us and grows us—but only when we’re willing.
He did show me a better way—I stopped the overindulging. Several years later, I was enjoying life and freedom much more, so He showed me another Character Defect holding me back.
I was always red-lining, feeling guilty and responsible for more than I could handle.
But this Superman Complex did something for me (your character defects always give you something, but it’s far less than what God wants to give)—my Grandiosity made me feel important and lovable, and I tended to succeed and get praise because I worked so hard—but it was killing me—I was taking on my responsibility, plus the responsibility of others and some of God’s.
What clued me was reading where Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29
I felt burdened, but I thought I had to feel that way to succeed. I hated and resented the burden, but I was afraid—if God removes my anxious, workaholic ways, I might not accomplish enough—I’ll become a failure. Stinkin thinkin–Twisted thinking really—if I do what God says, and I let Him change my mind (Rom 12)– I will fail at life. See how Character Defects become False Identities we must let God remove—“I have to have everyone think I’m wonderful”—or what? God commanded you not to live to please people, but God. The Unburdened way of Jesus.
What I’ve found is that He’s so incredibly Good—I really can’t make a better life for me than God designed. It always works better His way.
Are you willing and ready for God to remove all Character Defects?