Summary: Second in a series on the Ten Commandments, focusing on knowing God as he really is, not merely as we might imagine him.
Some of you have participated in “Twelve Step” programs at some point in your life, as part of your effort to break an addictive behavior. There are plenty of these programs out there — Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, and more recently Internet Anonymous. They operate off a twelve-step approach for moving beyond a spiritual, physical, and emotional bondage, and countless people have found some measure of help through the required honesty and accountability involved.
But my experience has been that these programs produce very different results in people. Many (perhaps most) of the participants find help in coping with the symptoms of the problem. They are the ones who talk about themselves as “recovering addicts” for years and years after they finally establish sobriety. Then there are those who manage to hang in there for a while, but eventually give up — their success is only temporary, or maybe an “in and out” kind of thing. But there are some who really discover freedom as they work through the Twelve Steps, and eventually find themselves totally released from the influence and compulsion of the addiction.
And as I’ve thought through why some people find total release while others just find release from the symptoms, I’ve noticed something. True success in a Twelve Step program has a lot to do with your understanding of God.
You see, the first few steps go like this:
We admitted that we were powerless over [our addiction] — that our lives were unmanageable.
We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
We made a decision to turn our life and our will over to the care of God, as we understood him.
Now stop right there. The rest of the steps are pretty powerful — making a fearless moral inventory, confessing wrongdoing to God and others, seeking forgiveness, asking God to remove moral shortcomings, making restitution to the people that were wronged, and being devoted to prayer and helping others.
But there’s that little phrase that makes all the difference: “God, as we understood him.” That phrase crops up again in Step 11, when the addict commits to praying to “God as he understood him.”
And this becomes the key to true success, from what I’ve seen. Those people who understand God the way God understands himself — those who connect with the one true God — tend to find genuine freedom from their bondage. But those who have distorted understandings of God — from cultural misunderstandings to fanciful creations of their own — are sort of stuck relying on pure will power (a lacking commodity for most addicts). In other words, “The truth will set you free,” but there is little power in a shadow of the truth.
Now, some of your are thinking, “Hey, what’s all this about Twelve Steps? I thought we were studying the Ten Commandments this summer?” And you’re right. But look closely at the first two commandments with me, as they’re found in Exodus 20:1-6.
1 And God spoke all these words:
2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
If you’ll notice, these two commands are related to one another. (Actually, they’re also related to the next two, all of which talk about loving God passionately.) The first — “you shall no other gods before me” — talks about who we worship; we are not to turn to the false gods of other people. The second — “you shall not make an idol” — talks about how we worship; we are not to fashion a god of our own design. Together they say this: “God, and God alone, is worthy of the number one position in your life. He should be your passion, your reason for living. Nothing else should take priority. And he must be worshiped in truth — not as some shadow or distorted image of power that we might come up with in our imagination, but as the one true God. Those who worship God in truth and with single-minded devotion — those who worship God the way he wants to be worshiped — shall leave a legacy of faithfulness that extends to others.”