Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
If there is one thing that is immediately clear for addicts getting sober, it’s that we need recovery, restoration and renewal in a lot of areas of our lives. Drinking, we are finding, was just a part of it, a symptom of a much bigger and more complex life problem. Though we may have accumulated a bit of sobriety, we still think and act like addicts and many of us still experience intense cravings.
We Are Powerless
For those who have newly come to faith, or who are reconsidering their faith in light of sobriety, we are seeing that the Christian life is vastly different from the life we were living in addiction. We feel overcome by our own sin, we wonder if we will ever straighten out, we question if it is even possible to be a Christian given the kind of life we have led up to this point.
The natural response is to exert more effort. But when we try to clean up our own lives, stop sinning and begin living in light of God’s word, we soon find out we can’t. Something irritating happens and we react in anger, we have a rough day and we give in to our craving for a drink. When asked to serve others, we selfishly decline so we can serve our own needs. We think it is a hopeless endeavor.
While many people think that sobriety and Christianity are about wayward people making better choices and crafting themselves into upstanding citizens, nothing could be further from the truth. What both the Christian faith and 12-step recovery recognize is that we are people who are powerless. Despite reason and the best of intentions, we cannot make ourselves good, right, sinless or sober.
There Is Hope
That doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless. Both Christianity and recovery are about positive, lasting life changes. They are about becoming sober, recognizing our sin and weakness, living renewed lives and growing in love for God and others.
But the part that is often misunderstood is how change happens. As self-sufficient creatures, we think it is up to us to clean up our acts and start behaving like sober, well-adjusted Christians. We think getting sober and staying that way is as simple as not uncorking the bottle and pouring a drink. All we need is a little willpower.
The Bible and the Big Book tell us differently. There we learn that we are powerless, that despite the best of intentions and the mustering of our willpower, we’re going to drift into these same patterns over and over again. It isn’t enough to force ourselves to change our actions or to fight against our lower desires. We need a psychic change that rewires the way we think about and respond to our lives. We need a mind and a heart that no longer craves our own destruction. We need full-scale renewal.
The Renewing of the Mind
The Bible speaks directly to the vital role of our minds in the carrying out of our faith. If we are not thinking rightly, we will not act rightly. As Romans 12:2 states, we must be transformed. Note that this is not an act that we perform. It is God who transforms us. It is He who changes our minds to desire what is good, acceptable and perfect. It is God, through the Holy Spirit, who renews us in mind and heart.
God is responsible for performing this major act of transformation, but that doesn’t mean the work is finished or that we don’t have a part in it. The mind is under our control, and it is our responsibility to master it. If we continue to let ourselves think endlessly about drinking, or if we fixate and fantasize about some particular sin, it won’t be long before we may actually carry those thoughts into action.
For this reason, Philippians 4:8 instructs:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Transformation begins in the mind and it begins with God. But we grow and heal by continuing to immerse ourselves in God, recovery and any number of good and positive thoughts and beliefs. With time, this becomes habit. Sobriety and recovery become second nature and the Christian life becomes our own. This doesn’t mean we will live without struggle or sin, but we will feel we are finally on a new plane of growth and grace, grounded in the mercy, power and wisdom of God.
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. Colossians 3:2