Due to his transforming encounter and continual communion with the risen Christ, Saul of Tarsus “turned the world upside down” (Acts:17:6) and established many of the early churches (2 Cor:11:28). His epistles account for nearly one-third of the New Testament. What an amazing transformation—for the “chief of sinners” (1 Tim:1:15) to become the “chief apostle” (2 Cor:12:11,12)! What could have changed Saul from “breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts:9:1) to becoming one of them, knowing that he, too, would be hated, persecuted, imprisoned, beaten, and eventually martyred? What “recovery program” helped Paul in this remarkable deliverance and consistent, triumphant life, so that he could say, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor:11:1)?
Was there a “Murderers Anonymous” or “Persecutors Anonymous” that helped Paul along the path of “recovery” from his wicked past? Was he part of a “small group” of former haters of Christ who found comfort and support in weekly confessing to one another that they were still struggling with impulses to oppose Christ’s church? How else could Paul declare in triumph, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal:2:20)?
If such questions are absurd, what does that say of today’s “recovery programs”?
In fact, neither Paul, nor his fellow apostles, nor anyone in the early church, nor any of the millions who loved Christ so much and were so fervent for “the truth [as it] is in Jesus” (Eph:4:21) followed any “recovery program” at all yet were “faithful unto death” (Heb 11). The early church was made up of former “fornicators…idolaters…adulterers…effeminate…abusers of themselves with mankind [i.e., homosexuals/lesbians]…thieves…covetous…drunkards…revilers [and] extortioners....” After listing these sins, Paul reminds the Corinthians, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor:6:9-11). There is not a word about any special programs to keep them “recovering” from their sordid past.
Is it surprising that such wicked people, without any “recovery programs,” were completely delivered from deeply ingrained evil habits to live victoriously in Christ? Of course not! Such transformation is what our Lord promised to all who would believe in and obey Him! This is the normal Christian life that missionaries for centuries have seen lived out by converted natives in the darkest and most pagan areas of the world.
Even in the asphalt jungles of today’s world, multitudes are being instantly delivered from “addictions” of every kind and are living victoriously and joyfully for their Lord. It all begins with confessing one’s guilt before God and believing that Christ paid the full penalty His justice demanded for sin. Immediately follows the glorious new birth—becoming branches in Christ, the True Vine (Jn 15), who becomes the very life of those who know, love, and obey Him. Newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the Word (1 Pt 2:2), feed upon it, and begin to grow. Then comes responsibility to live out by faith what God is doing in one’s heart:
Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue…knowledge…temperance…patience… godliness…brotherly kindness…charity...that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind…and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore...brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall....(2 Pt 1:5-10)
But Christianity has lately fallen into the hands of leaders who have lost confidence in the sufficiency of Christ, His Word, and the Holy Spirit to live the life of Christ through them and others. They have also destroyed the confidence of their followers. That lack of faith spawned “Christian psychology” (borrowed from godless humanists who were themselves drowning in sin), with its multiple therapies that the early church never heard of and, without any of them, triumphed gloriously. From this godless source came the many “recovery programs” that are even more popular among Christians today than simple faith in Christ and His Word.
The victorious new life that Christ promised and will Himself live within all who know and trust Him is available to every Christian and requires no special program—just simple faith and obedience. The problem with all “therapies” is that they inherently deny the sufficiency of Christ and His Word to save, sanctify, and keep the worst of sinners. Thus, it is hypocritical for a “program” to claim to be biblical when its very existence denies what the Bible teaches and what the early church knew and proved to be sufficient.
Paul refers to the way unsaved Gentiles live as “having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God…given…over unto lasciviousness [and] uncleanness with greediness” (Eph:4:17-22). Addressing the believers, he says, “But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus....” The truth we have been taught must be lived out in our lives. This can only be by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Yet Paul continues in language that makes our responsibility clear:
Put off…the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind…put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour…let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil. Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour....Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth…grieve not the Holy Spirit....Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us....But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting…but rather giving of thanks. For this we know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words…ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light....(Eph:4:22- 5:8)
There is not a word about any programs to assist in the above. Methods and techniques not found in Scripture that would supposedly suppress the fleshly desires that plague even Christians seeking to live for Christ had not yet been invented in Paul’s day. Why are they needed today? They aren’t! Isaiah was very blunt: “If they speak not according to this Word [i.e., Scripture]…there is no light in them” (8:20). But today the Scripture is being denied.
Certainly no one in the early church (or for centuries thereafter) even imagined that there could possibly be a need among Christians for anything but Christ himself—His cleansing blood and power—to triumph over sin, Satan, and the world. A fervent love for Christ enabled millions for nearly 2,000 years to follow their Lord faithfully, even unto martyrdom, with joy. The secret of their victory has and will be declared to cowering demons and rejoicing angels and as a testimony to the universe for all eternity: “They overcame him [‘the great dragon…called the Devil, and Satan’] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” (Rev:12:9, 11).
Christ declared, “If a man love me, he will keep my words” (Jn:14:23). Love is the greatest motivating power in the universe. It caused Christ to bear, at infinite cost, the judgment deserved by those who hated and crucified Him—because He loved them. True love would sacrifice anything, including one’s own self, for the one loved. No “addiction,” lust, or selfish desire can overcome love! Those who claim to be Christians, yet who need some special “deliverance ministry” or “recovery program” to keep their behavior in line with what Christ has commanded, either don’t know Him or do not love Him as they ought. So says the Word of God.
To Christians consumed by a passionate gratitude and love for Christ, victory has always come through simple faith in God’s promise: “There hath no temptation taken you, but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not [allow] you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor:10:13). So it has been with the redeemed through the centuries—and ought to be today.
Yet in all ages there have always been those for whom Christ alone through the power of His Word and Spirit was insufficient—who said, in lack of love and unbelief, “I’ve tried, but it doesn’t work; I’m a special case; things are different today; I need some additional help.” Some of them became monks and tried to suppress the flesh by abusing it, living in caves and depriving themselves of the blessings God gave to all to be freely enjoyed with thanksgiving, even flagellating themselves, in order (so they thought) to become holy. Many well-meaning Roman Catholic and Orthodox priests and monks still do this today. It’s not their sincerity that we doubt but their true knowledge of Christ and their love for Him, which are the only remedy.
Many of the so-called “desert fathers” (See TBC Extra, Oct ‘05 ) adopted occult techniques, later popularized as the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. They thought that if they could visualize Christ and biblical events in their imagination, the Bible would become more real and they would mature spiritually. That delusion is still promoted by many Christian leaders today such as Richard Foster, Calvin Miller, Karen Mains, and others. Foster enticed thousands with the deceitful promise of spiritual maturity through occult methods such as the following in Celebration of Discipline (R. Foster, Harper and Row, Pub., 1978, pp. 24-27):
[Begin] with a daily period of from five to ten minutes…learning to “center down”…[using] two brief exercises….The first [is] called “palms down, palms up”…placing your palms down as a symbolic indication of your desire to turn over any concerns you may have to God. Inwardly you may pray “Lord, I give to You my anger toward John. I release my fear of my dentist appointment….I surrender my anxiety over not having enough money to pay the bills…my frustration over trying to find a baby-sitter for tonight.” Whatever it is that weighs on your mind…just say, “palms down.” Release it….After several moments of surrender, turn your palms up as a symbol of your desire to receive from the Lord… “I would like to receive Your divine love for John, Your peace about the dentist appointment, Your patience, Your joy.” Whatever you need, you say, “palms up.” Having centered down, spend the remaining moments in complete silence....
Another meditation aimed at centering oneself…seated…comfortably, slowly become conscious of your breathing [to] get in touch with…the level of tension within. Inhale deeply, slowly tilting your head back as far as it will go. Then exhale, allowing your head slowly to come forward until your chin nearly rests on your chest. Do this for several moments, praying inwardly something like this: “Lord, I exhale my fear....I inhale Your peace. I exhale my spiritual apathy. I inhale Your light and life.” Then, as before, become silent....
After you have gained some proficiency in centering down, add a five- to ten-minute meditation on some…tree, plant, bird, leaf, cloud, and each day ponder it carefully and prayerfully. God...uses His creation to show us something of His glory and give us something of His life...as Evelyn Underhill [says]…begin with that…contemplation which the old mystics sometimes called the “discovery of God in His creatures.”
Having practiced for some weeks with the two kinds of meditation listed above, you will want to add the meditation upon Scripture....Take a single event....Seek to live the experience, remembering the encouragement of Ignatius of Loyola to apply all our senses to our task. Smell the sea. Hear the lap of water along the shore. See the crowd. Feel the sun on your head and the hunger in your stomach.... Francis de Sales [says] “represent to your imagination the whole of the mystery on which you desire to meditate as if it really passed in your presence....” As you enter the story…remember that since Jesus…is not bound by time, this event in the past is a living present-tense experience for Him. Hence, you can actually encounter the living Christ in the event...Jesus Christ will actually come to you.
This is, of course, rank occultism. The visualized “Jesus” often takes on a life of its own and does indeed “speak.” This is not the Lord Jesus Christ come down from the right hand of His Father in heaven, but a seducing spirit, exactly as Paul warned would occur: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron…” (1 Tim:4:1, 2). There is no excuse for falling into such delusion, which is so contrary to the Word of God.
The early Christians lived in the expectant faith that Christ, “who is our life” (Col:3:4), would live that life through them in victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil (1 Jn:2:12-17). Christ promised: “Because I live, ye shall live also” (Jn:14:19). Then why does the church adopt techniques that come from worldly wisdom in order to gain “deliverance” from so-called addictions?
For Paul, every temptation and carnal desire was swept aside by his overpowering passion: “that...Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether by life, or by death” (Phil:1:20); “that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death…that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus....This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil:3:10-14). Is this not what we ought to hold before ourselves to empower our lives to forsake all for the love of our Lord?
As the chorus says, “After all He’s done for me; after all He’s done for me, how can I do less than give Him my best, and live for Him completely; after all He’s done for me!” This is the response of true love, and it will prevail over all. TBC