The moment you accept Christ into your heart is rarely the same moment you give your life over to him.
I’m sorry if that saddens some of you, but it’s true. Those are two completely different moments in almost everyone’s faith.
You see, accepting Christ is to believe he is who he said he is and he did what he said he did. You are accepting forgiveness for your sins.
Giving your life over to him, though, is different. This is where, because of your faith and the grace you’ve been given, you choose to allow God to use you to help bring others to that same decision.
The problem is that the distance between those two moments in the life of most Christians is VERY long.
Most Christians accept Christ, get pumped up, and then start doing what they think God wants them to do, without ever really asking him. This leads us to do things that appear good and holy, but are really going against the cause of Christ.
I’m not trying to be too harsh on these Christians, because practically all of us are like this at one time or another, some longer than others.
And it is in this time when we tend to make our biggest mistakes.
I have a friend who accepted Christ into his heart when he was 9 years old. He grew up in church, had a bunch of Bible verses memorized, decided at 14 that he was going to wait until he was married to have sex, the whole thing.
Then, he graduated and went to college. In college, his whole world changed. Suddenly, he was experiencing a freedom that he never knew before.
There were no parents living with him expecting him to be in church with them every Sunday. None of his church friends were going to this college. He had no accountability anymore.
And that realization, he would say years later, was the worst thing that ever happened to him.
He decided that he had been good for so many years, practically his whole life, and because of that, he deserved to be bad for a little while.
Don’t you love that rationalization? We’ve all had it. We think of it like being on a diet. If you stick to your diet all week, then Saturday night you can have a slice of pie or a bowl of ice cream as a reward.
That’s right. We see “sin” as a reward.
“I’ve been on this Christian spiritual diet for so many years and done so good that I’ve earned a few sins.”
I know it sounds ridiculous here, but when you come up with it on your own, it sounds completely rational, and you will do anything to convince yourself that it is.
That’s what my friend did.
He got into the party scene. He started drinking, having sex, doing drugs.
In just a couple years time, this saved soul went from a perfect Christian to a drunken meth addict with a child that was aborted by the mother, who was a girl he didn’t even like.
And he was majoring in Theology.
Even though the world celebrates this kind of reckless behavior now-a-days, people still realize when they’ve screwed their lives up royally. No one wants to be a drunk, no one wants to be a druggie, no one wants to abort a child.
No one wants to live a life ruled by an addiction, a bad habit, or the consequences of a poor decision.
But so many people find themselves in these situations.
Christians, as a society, expect the unsaved to be like this. They have no hope, no God, no grace… so they try to fill the void in their life with something else, but are ultimately left feeling empty.
However, by in large, Christians are ignoring the fact that this is happening within their own churches too.
When a fellow Christian is singled out as a person with one of these problems, they are hidden away, ignored, or shamed until they just stop coming to church altogether to avoid the embarrassment and betrayal.
I would go as far as to say that it’s harder for a Christian to break free from an addictive or bad habit than it is for an unbeliever.
An unbeliever is more likely to be given pity.
A Christian is more likely to be ridiculed, shamed, and gossiped about.
And when someone is constantly being belittled that way, it only drives them deeper into their sin as a way to escape reality.
I remember reading, on a “Christian” discussion board, a batch of responses to a post made by a Christian woman who was working a 12-step recovery plan.
She shared her story about how she was an alcoholic and how nothing worked until she started doing the 12-steps, making God her “Higher Power.”
I smiled when I read the mini-testimony, but the responses were downright awful.
“Why would you spend years in recovery instead of just asking Jesus to heal you? Doesn’t sound very Christian to me.”
Not all the responses were that bad, but some were even worse.
What is remarkable is how backwards everything is. People like that commenter give Christianity a bad name while the woman in recovery does the opposite.
But you will never convince some Christians of this.
They can’t think that way. Christians follow an infallible God and thus, Christians are also infallible. Anyone who isn’t, well, they aren’t really Christians.
That’s right. No screw-ups permitted. One mistake and you are cast off the island.
Twelve-step programs don’t get a lot of good press.
I don’t know what the world has against people who are trying to put the broken pieces of their lives back together, but there is always someone out there trying to discredit Alcoholics Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery, and what-have-you.
The problem these programs have is that they can’t keep an accurate count on success. There is no definitive number of people who are no longer addicted.
And when you first read stuff like that in articles online or in a magazine, you’re shocked. You start to doubt these kinds of programs. I mean, how can they not know how many people get cured? Maybe nobody gets cured!
What these people don’t realize is that is not the point of 12-step programs. Of course, freedom from dependency is the goal, but it’s not a race. There is no finish line. It’s not “12-steps and you’re done.” You continue to do all twelve steps for the rest of your life. It becomes a part of you.
Twelve-step programs are designed to be places of accountability. Relapse happens to almost everybody. But the difference is, when you are in a program like this, relapse is less likely to send you back to the depths of your addiction.
Instead, because of the support you have, you are much more likely to get back up and keep walking down the road to recovery.
But the biggest thing that these programs do, at least for the Christians, is it helps them take the big step from just believing in Christ to turning the entirety of our lives over to him.
In recovery programs, one of the first things you have to do is admit that you are powerless.
Think about that.
We hate to admit that. We think that the glory of the human spirit should be able to prevail.
But that’s the wrong “spirit” to hope in.
Step 3 in programs like this has you turn over control of your life to your Higher Power, which for most, means Jesus.
So, not only do we admit that we are powerless, but we then turn our powerless selves over to Jesus.
What good is that? How can Jesus use a powerless person?
The truth is that Jesus wants you to come to him realizing you are powerless. You always have been. But he needs you to know that.
When you accept Christ but still hold yourself up, thinking that you’ve got everything handled, that you can do anything by the strength of your own willpower, you’re arrogant, proud, and unusable by God.
How can he help you when you are too busy helping yourself?
It’s those of us who realize that we are empty shells, dead batteries, lifeless dolls without Jesus that are given true purpose, given strength and power like we never knew before.
God doesn’t help those who help themselves. God helps those who ask for help.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. –Matthew 7:7 (NIV84)
So, when it really comes down to it, every one of us should be following a 12-step program, because it takes someone step-by-step from failure to freedom to faithfully serving others.
It takes you from a Christian who simply believes to a Christian who’s given her life over to God, ready for Him to do something awesome with it.
This is something that many Christians never learn to do.
And that just breaks my heart.
Matthew Coker is a Media Director at a church in his hometown, where he also is a leader at a Celebrate Recovery program. He’s a huge comic book nerd, Whovian, and Greendale Human Being. Matthew and his wife live in New Mexico.