There are numerous secular recovery programs that help many people to reform their lives. But only Jesus Christ gives us an entirely new life. That new life is one of total transformation from darkness into “light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8). We must make sure we don’t stop short of this goal.
When is a thief no longer a thief? When he stops stealing? Society, the world, and our culture might settle for that response. But Paul provides a higher standard. A thief is no longer a thief when he not only has stopped stealing but also is seeking hard work as a means of sharing with those in need (see 4:28).
Paul offers many similar contrasts in this passage. Most of us can probably find our “former way of life” and our “old self” (4:22) in his writings. However, running down the road to recovery while looking over our shoulder results in a lot of unnecessary bruises. So as we advance down the road of recovery, it’s crucial that we also identify our “new self.”
Recovery is forward-looking. We entered recovery in the first place because we’ve experienced the damaging dangers of the darkness (see 4:17-19). Every single child of the light was, after all, like ourselves, “once darkness” (5:8). We’re discovering that we can “put off [our] old self . . . to be made new . . . created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:22-24). We are in the process of becoming an accurate reflection of God. Our goal is to “live as children of light . . . and find out what pleases the Lord” (5:8, 10).
According to Romans 5:1-11, each of us is either God’s child or God’s enemy. Paul’s words offer reassurance to suffering Christians. He wants his readers to know that their misery doesn’t signify that God has rejected them. The apostle reasons that, if Jesus died for us when we were still God’s enemies, he certainly won’t abandon us after we’ve joined his side (see v. 10).
As God’s children we begin to recognize that the path of trials, when traveled with perseverance, improves our character. And God is more interested in our character than in our comfort. Our improved character may be identified as an informed hope and a deepened experience of God’s love (see vv. 3-5). That Christ lives in us becomes apparent when our endurance of suffering differs from that of an unbeliever.
As children of God, we don’t have to react negatively and powerlessly to changing circumstances. Instead, we can respond positively and proactively to Jesus Christ. This new capacity isn’t our creation but God’s. Jesus made this attitude possible at the point where we were most incapacitated, at our worst rather than at our best (see v. 6). Understanding that Jesus came to restore relationships, not to establish another religion, is the key to enjoying reconciliation. As we grow in our relationship to him, God removes anything in us that has separated us from him (see vv. 9-11).
Jesus died for our sins once and for all (see Hebrews 7:27). And he did this while we were helpless, ungodly sinners and enemies of God. Therefore, we can pray confidently, knowing that God’s love for us can’t be diminished by any failure on our part. We can pray for direction and power, knowing that, since we have already “been reconciled,” there’s no doubt that we’ll “be saved through his life” (Romans 5:10).
One of the “proverbs” of recovery is this: Service keeps us healthy. But in Christ-centered recovery, service does far, far more. Giving of ourselves is central to our ability to enjoy life as Jesus desires and be a blessing to others.
Tabitha had an impressive résumé: She “was always doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36). She wasn’t an apostle, a preacher, a professor, or a famous evangelist. But she assisted others in need. Good deeds didn’t deliver her from difficulties or disease. In fact, she became sick and died. Tabitha, like many others who give of themselves out of genuine love and humility, probably never thought of herself as having any great impact on God’s kingdom. But her death revealed just how much she mattered to so many.
Tabitha’s hometown was Joppa, an ancient seaport on the Mediterranean. Peter was at the time nearby in the town of Lydda. The impact of Tabitha’s illness and death is seen in the disciples’ urgent plea that Peter come immediately (see v. 38). When the apostle arrived, he was shown examples of Tabitha’s love: “All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas [Tabitha] had made while she was still with them” (v. 39). What were the results of Tabitha’s service to others? First, she was restored to life by God’s miraculous intervention (see v. 40). Then she became an example for all time to come of God’s life-giving power and grace (see v. 41). Finally, her story led to the salvation of many (see v. 42).
Like Tabitha, we need to make ourselves available continuously in a helping capacity. Our deeds of love bless others in ways we may never know. Indeed, our service makes us shining examples of God’s grace.
This is reality: If you’re not yet serving, you’re not yet recovering.
All of us, without exception, need a sponsor and/or accountability partner—someone who can confront us with truth and love without placing shame and guilt. A sponsor must demonstrate compassion, care, and hope—but not pity.
In John 21 we see an ideal sponsor working to help Peter in his recovery. Peter had publicly denied ever knowing Jesus—the man who was his Lord, his teacher and his best friend. He needed to get back on the road to recovery, to undergo some authentic character changes. To Peter’s credit, note that, even in the pain of his failure, he stayed with his group (see vv. 1–3).
Jesus himself filled the role of the sponsor/accountability partner for his fallen disciple. He sought Peter out, fed him (see vv. 4-14) and showed him compassion before he moved to confrontation. Then Jesus took Peter aside to help him face his pain and shame (see vv. 15-22). Jesus’ words to Peter included a call to evaluate his love for Jesus and to minister to others (see vv. 15-17). How would this disciple take the first step? The Lord gave him a simple instruction: “Follow me!” (21:19)
In recovery, we are called to honestly examine the past and face our pain and shame so that our love for Jesus can continue to grow. We are able to do this by making attendance at our recovery meetings a priority, maintaining an honest view of ourselves, staying connected to a group, getting involved in service, and maintaining spiritual contact with Jesus through prayer and study.
How do we know our love for Jesus is growing? How do we know when we are following him? We know we love the Lord when we think less about ourselves and more about the needs of others.
In Christ, our identity isn’t tied to our past failures. We’re what we’ve become solely by God’s grace. The recipient of grace in this story is described simply as “a man with leprosy” (Mark 1:40), but Christ’s healing touch would transform this individual’s anonymous suffering into a powerful testimony (see Matthew 8:2). Labeling his problem was simple, and obtaining cleansing from Christ was, in his case, immediate (see Mark 1:42). For some, sobriety comes quickly, instantaneously, as soon as they surrender to Jesus. But for others it is a process.
This one-time leper was cured of his disease by the touch of Jesus. But Jesus wasn’t through with him. There were still some steps to take. Our Lord instructed the man to
– keep silent about the miracle
– show himself to the priest
– offer the gift (sacrifice) required by the Mosaic Law
All these steps tie directly to that law. Jesus was careful to do everything according to the law under which he had been born and now lived. The new covenant, which depended on Jesus’ death and resurrection, was still in the future. Under the law, neither the cured man nor Jesus had the authority to publicly declare a leper cleansed. That was work assigned by God to the priests (see Leviticus 14:2-32). Jesus wouldn’t consider breaking the law, and keeping that particular law would make this man a “testimony to them” (Matthew 8:4)—that is, to the priests who would carry out the required rituals.
Jesus wants to transform us, too, into testimonies as we practice the principles that Christ presented (see 5:1-10) during his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. This man’s healing took place as Jesus “came down from the mountainside” after delivering the great sermon that encapsulates the principles of recovery. These principles, combined with God’s power, change our identity. Rather than being an alcoholic, an addict, or an abuse victim, each of us becomes a testimony to God’s grace.