Every Journey Begins With A Single Step
"1. We admitted we were powerless over our addiction - that our lives had become unmanageable."
This is the first step of the twelve step program. Few would deny that it is true - for people addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, food, etc. It's another thing to say that it is true of sin generally. Wouldn't that make admission of sin essentially the same as an admission of addiction by Christians? Is this true of sin generally? I think so.
We might want to acknowledge that there are many "functioning" addicts. People who work everyday and perhaps are excellent employees but are still "practicing" addicts when not at work. The first step is often a step taken by people who are no longer functioning addicts. Their addictions have progressed from being manageable to unmanageable. Perhaps they have lost their job or worse yet, their families, finances, reputations, self-esteem, etc., all because of their addiction. Some sinners "function" well. They may even seem to be anything but a sinner. Sure, we know that "all have sinned" (Romans 3:23) but some folk who we know fall into that category don't make it easy to identify what that sin is.
Jesus said, "Every one that committeth sin is the bondservant of sin." This is not only true in an objective sense or in the sense that we are all guilty and need to be forgiven. It is also true in a subjective or emotional sense. Sin appeals to us. Sin can get its hooks into us. Sin, once given into, can be very hard to stop. All sin gives us pleasure, at least for a while. Humans respond to pleasure, whether it is sinful or not. I remember the advertisements by Lay's Potato Chips that simply stated, "I bet you can't eat just one." They were confident of the appeal of a thin layer of potato, fried perfectly, salted just right, crisp and crunchy. Of course, we could eat just one, couldn't we? Even if we ate more than one, we could stop anytime we wanted, right? And even if we ate the whole bag, we would not succumb again. Tomorrow, I'll do better. If innocent behavior can cause addictive behavior, how much more the various pleasures of sin? Humans also respond to that which promises relief from stress. McDonald's invites us with, "You deserve a break today." And we believe it! Sin allows us a temporary escape from problems, boredom, or whatever we want to escape from. Sin is not nearly as inconsequential as a bag of chips, or a burger and the best french fries. Once we sin, we change and thus the world changes for us. We are no longer innocent. We have the knowledge of good and evil. We are not only guilty of sin but will have a fight on our hands with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life for the rest of our lives. The disciple who was the closest to Jesus, the disciple of whom it said that Jesus loved, near the end of his long life still wrote, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8.) Perhaps we function very well but we are still bondservants, slaves, or addicts to sin.
Not only do we "commit" sin ( John 8:34), John's words in 1 John 1:8 tell us that we "have" sin. We like to think that we are occasional sinners. We do sin but most of the time we don't. Or perhaps we find comfort in the fact that most of our life is pretty clean. Since most of the sin we commit is in the same area and perhaps even the same act just being repeated again and again, perhaps it isn't that bad after all. So, we can admit to having committed sin but don't like the idea of being a sinner. I was having a conversation of a friend of mine one day (I don't remember exactly what we were talking about) and he commented about sin, "Well, we all have something." We may wish, even present ourselves, as a person who has sinned and may sin occasionally, but there is something disconcerting to many about the idea of admitting that they "have" sin. Well, whether the sin we have may be something entirely morally repulsive to people (like pedophilia) or somewhat accepted or understood by our society (alcoholism) or it may be entirely accepted, even valued by our culture (greed, covetousness), it is still sin and it is something that we will "have" for the duration. At best, we keep from being a slave to it, and make progress in overcoming it so that it does not hurt us or others, but it will always be a threat.
John also wrote, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." We have all heard the saying, "The first step to overcoming a problem is admitting that you have one." This isn't as much about telling everyone you know all the details as much as it is about admitting it to yourself. Addicts don't fool anyone but themselves as to the reality of their problems. An honest admission of addiction is suprisingly liberating!
Is the first step in the twelve step program applicable to sin? Is it harmonious with Christianity? I think so. We are powerless, in and of ourselves, to overcome sin. Without help, our lives are or will become unmanageable. Every journey, including our walk with God, begins with a single step.
You have probably heard the saying, "The church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners." Is that correct? This is a consideration of that thought and a look at just what the church (christian groups) really are or at least should be.
A Museum is a building or place where works of art, scientific specimens, or other objects of permanent value are kept and displayed. We go to museums to see these things in person as pictures often just can't do justice to items deemed worthy of display in a museum. While there, we are to be quiet and respectful so all can enjoy their visit. Some get bored in Museums. Since the church is essentially the totality of Christians, that must be kept in mind when considering whether or not the church is a museum for the display of saints. There are some impressive people who have constituted the church. The Apostle Paul's dedication and hard work is admirable. He was focused. He never married so he could preach and teach. 2 Cor. 11:24-28 is quite a list of the hardships and sufferings he endured. And at last he was martyred for his cause. Rather saintly, wouldn't you say? The Apostle John was "the disciple who Jesus loved." Jesus entrusted the care of his own mother to John. John wrote some of the deepest thoughts God has revealed in the Bible. Wow! And not only Apostles are worthy of admiration. Paul said the Christians in Phillippi were his "joy and crown" (Phil 4:1.) He was proud of them in every consideration. There are impressive people in churches today, right? Some people are great thinkers, some are great encouragers, some are great providers for those who have a need, and others great at talking to others about Christ. If we are to "give honor to whom honor is due", and we are (Rom. 13:7) should we therefore evaluate churches based on what percentage of saintly people are members? I think not but we shouldn't be dismissive of the fact that Christians are to be exemplary people. After all, aren't we followers of Jesus Christ, who never sinned? Perhaps museums have a place. However, we can't forget that Jesus attracted sinners.
A Hospital is an institution in which sick or injured persons are given medical or surgical treatment. Hospitals are also for healthy people when they bring a new child into the world but the thought, "the church is a hospital for sinners" is best illustrated with sick people. We may go to a hospital in an ambulance with our very lives at risk. We may go to receive treatment for cancer or other life threatening conditions. And hospitals are critical to saving lives. Most of us have been to the hospital. If not, we probably will. They can be dangerous places and hospital-acquired infections can often be fatal. Since even the best Christians are not free of sin (1 John 1:7), the church as a place for healing is obviously appropriate. Down the road from Phillippi, the Christians at Corinth had a lot of sins and problems. Spiritually immature, contentious, tolerant of immorality, marriage problems, etc. All Apostolic letters to Christians repeat warnings against immorality, envy, jealousy and other social ills, even greed, religious pride, and idolatry. Lots of sick folks, it seems, doesn't it? Fortunately, Jesus is the great physician. While hospitals also have a place, we can't overlook the fact that no one wants to stay in the hospital. Get well and get home is the goal.
Perhaps it is important to recognize both "wings" of the church. There are saints and there are sinners. In fact, we are all saints and sinners. Perhaps we go back and forth daily, weekly, monthly, or just at different periods of life or in different areas of life. If we try to isolate the church to just one part of this dichotomy between saints and sinners, the situation gets distorted. We might expect perfection and run people away who need Christ. Perhaps so many today say they are "spiritual but not religious" because they see churches as just museums that display saints and they just aren't interested in groups of Christians that are more like a wealthy country club or perhaps that just isn't real! The Apostle Peter, after being with Jesus three years, denied Him three times. Those who think they are the strongest can be the most vulnerable to sin (1 Cor. 10:12.) On the other hand, if we expect little or nothing from those who have become Christians as far as growth goes, we might be inadvertently condoning sin. We cheapen the justification by faith that God offers if we fail to impress upon people that justification is to be followed by sanctification (Rom. 6.)
If we combine the museum and the hospital, we might find a model closer to what we read about in the New Testament. The sinners can grow in Christ and the saints can use their gifts in serving humanity. There are many twelve step programs, where essentially different kinds of sins are addressed by human beings. People are encouraged to come get help, even if they want to remain anonymous! Others, who are doing quite well but recognize they are in "recovery" and will be for the rest of their lives, welcome the visitor, even if the presence of sin is still clinging to them. Some in the support group are worthy of honor and some are overcome with shame. In an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting, there may be people who still smell of alcohol and others who haven't had a drink in decades. In a supportive group, sins can be confessed without fear of alienation (Jas. 5:16). In a supportive group, there are role models worthy of admiration and emulation.
"God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble." (Jas. 4:6) God's wrath will come upon the sinner who never repents (Rom. 1:18) but at the same time, God is not willing that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9) and there are no unforgivable sins. Psalms 51:17 states, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."
God also knows that we can be of great help or hurt to one another. Sinners can become saints and saints can fall into sin. We need each other.