Sober? Or Holy?

One of the unique features of  SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous) is it’s sobriety plan.   Unlike AA where the boundaries of sobriety are easily demarcated (no drinking), sex apparently has a lot of gray area.   As such, each person, along with the help of their sponsor (mentor), defines a sobriety plan unique to the individual.

I knew guys who had sobriety plans which stated they had to remain completely abstinent from pornography.   I knew others who thought pornography was OK so long as they did not sleep with prostitutes.  Others had a sobriety plan which stated they could not masturbate more than twice in one week.   Anything more than that was a “slip” which meant they were no longer sober.

Everyone had a different definition of sobriety based upon their own understanding of themselves and their struggle.  A sponsor’s task was to help the sponsee formulate and stick to a plan.  Each member of the group supported each person’s individual goals for sobriety and it was considered improper to question the adequacy of the sobriety plan of another.

Looking back, it’s remarkable to me that as a professing Christian and practicing pastor I never thought to question this.  I probably even thought it compassionate.  Or maybe I thought how wonderfully liberating it is to not have anyone telling me what is best for me!   Knowing myself, probably more of the latter.

Jesus no doubt would have been banned from an SAA meeting because he would not have tolerated such “compassion” to one’s self.   Nor would he flinch from asserting authority where needed.    He would have set the bar much higher than any one of us would set it ourselves and he would demand our pursuit of it.   Jesus would say to us today, just as he did then, “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

Jesus didn’t call us to be sober.   He called us to be holy.

God’s idea of holiness is not subject to change based upon our understanding of ourselves or our personal struggle.   God is not impressed with our sobriety plans and how well we uphold them, particularly when they fail to meet His plan for holiness in our lives.    Jesus said that anyone who even looks at a woman with the intent to lust has already committed adultery (Matt. 5:28).   Thus, pornography (not to mention sleeping around), is not just a “slip” that may or may not jeopardize a sobriety plan but a sin against a holy God.  It’s adultery, and God hates it.

Likewise, the man or woman who equivocates about masturbation is bargaining with God.   Limiting the occurrence to twice a week (which may be a victory for some) may earn a person a sobriety chip at their next meeting but it is not going to be a sacrifice pleasing to God.   God wants our heart- all of it – and a sobriety plan which allows for “just a little sin a few times a week” is a poor path towards God’s will for us, such as…

Be holy, for I am holy (1 Peter 1:16) or,

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thess. 4:3)

God wants more for us than sobriety.   God wants us to be holy.

The same is true for the Christian who feels they are not addicted to anything.    There is a corollary here between the addict pursuing sobriety and the Christian pursuing God.

In the same way the sex addict gets to choose their sobriety plan we are now part of a Church culture which allows the Christian to dictate their own plan of salvation.   Respect for authority is nil.  We all have our own ways of “doing church” and “worshiping God” and if anyone tells us we are wrong we will happily find another “group” that will accept us as we are and demand little if nothing of us in return.   Pastors in every circle seem to fear man more than God and have long abdicated their sacred calling to disciple people to holiness in favor of catering to congregants felt-needs.   We dare not question anyone’s “salvation path” in the same way it is uncouth to question anyone’s sobriety plan.

Pleasing our own self-interests is not a game only addicts play.   It happens among the best and the soberest among us. 

Jesus said that the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many (Matt. 7:13).   The way forward, Jesus says, is through the narrow gate.    The road may be hard, but it is worth it.   It leads to a life beyond “recovery” and one the Scriptures call “new creation.”

So what should we do?   New creation doesn’t happen unless the old one dies.  Addict or not, it’s wise to follow Paul’s advice to the Corinthian church and,

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Cor. 13:5)

Does the power of God reside within you, enabling you to say no to your flesh?   Is your heart’s desire to please God and bring Him glory for the sole purpose that He is God?   Do you long for holiness in your life?   Do you allow others to have an authoritative voice into your life to help squash the tentacles of pride and the deceitfulness of your own heart?   Are you walking in the Spirit or in your flesh?

How we answer these questions could reveal a life that is either chasing after sobriety (as an addict or a church-consuming Christian) or one that is chasing after God’s own heart.    The former seems to be what the masses are doing and it leads to death.   The latter, Jesus said, is a path few will find, but it leads to life.

So what will you choose?   Being sober?  Or being holy?

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12 thoughts on “Sober? Or Holy?

  1. When I read your blog, the first thing that came to my mind was all the verses that basically said “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Deu 12:8, Jdg 17:6, and Jdg 21:25) and God’s perspective on this way of thinking.

    It is evil:
    Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil. (Pro 3:7)

    It is foolish (unwise):
    The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise. (Pro 12:15)

    It is based not on the flesh or mind but on the heart or spirit:
    All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the LORD weigheth the spirits. (Pro_16:2)
    Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts. (Pro_21:2)

    It is based on God standard of good and evil and not mans:
    There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness. (Pro 30:12)

    There are consequences to thinking this way:
    Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! (Isa 5:21)

    Sobriety is man’s plan, holiness is God’s plan.

    1. “Sobriety is man’s plan, holiness is God’s plan.”

      Well said, Craig! We will always, in our flesh, set the bar much lower than God does, don’t you think?

      1. I kind of think that it is worse than setting the bar to low, consider the following verses:

        To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Rom 8:6)

        So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh– for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Rom 8:12-13)

        To follow a plan born of the flesh is death.

  2. I choose both. I have heard too many men use the “holy” excuse and continued to sexually act out, and then they throw scripture out as if were some sort of “get out of jail free card” for them to continue the behaviors.

    In working a proper Christ-centered recovery program, a sponsor should be knowledgeable of what is and is not allowed and form the three circles based on that plan. I’ve heard too many improperly instituted sobriety plans that were absurd to say the least! A woman who claims she is still sober because she only has oral sex with men but abstains from full sexual intercourse??? A man that has sex with women but abstains from “paid sex” with them???

    I believe all sponsors should submit to the Holy Spirit to allow the Spirit to help them to clearly define sexual boundaries for their sponsees.

    Therefore, in a proper Christ-centered recovery program, one can strive to be holy and remain sober!

    1. To be sober is to simply be without something – it’s a negative disposition. Being holy is to be like God.

      One can be sober without being holy, but one cannot be holy without being sober. This is why I believe the goal for anyone (addict or not) should be holiness, not sobriety. God doesn’t desire for us to be sober, but holy.

      1. Not true! An alcoholic who has one drink is not sober, but they are not breaking God’s law. God tells us to not get drunk.

        Ultimately, extended sobriety and the spiritual awakening that comes from working the program leads to Jesus Christ. It worked for me, in some way I believe it worked for you, and it will continue to work for others because God is all-powerful and will use whatever He has to use to bring his lost sheep back to Him. Stop hating on 12-step groups and therapy because you don’t understand how God works. Open your mind to the all-powerful God who set you and me free and understand that we don’t know everything about God, only what has been recorded in the Bible.

      2. So when a person finds Jesus, which you claim is the goal of 12 Step programs and therapy, can they stop working the steps and stop going to therapy?

      3. “An alcoholic who has one drink is not sober, but they are not breaking God’s law. God tells us to not get drunk.”

        I disagree. Talk of “sobriety”, I think, muddies the waters. While I have no problem (nor do I think Scripture does) with the casual drink, for the alcoholic, drink is an idol. To have a drink as an alcoholic is not a matter of losing sobriety but a matter of sin. It’s walking in their flesh vs. the Spirit. They need to repent, not get sober.

        The person striving for holiness is not worried about keeping sober, for that is a natural by-product of becoming like Christ. Might they fall along the path? Yes, they might. But we must speak about these things the way God sees them and not as man does -God sees it as sin and calls us to repent. Man sees it as addiction and tells us to call our sponsor.

      4. 1. Finding Jesus is only the start. We must strive for sanctification. One thing that helps us is working our spiritual program, seeking counsel from Christian men (therapists), and doing the work it takes to allow God to heal us. You might be “healed” but I (and many others) are a work in process. We strive for spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection, relying on God’s mercy every day we remain sober.

        I can play the “Bible Box” game as well! – Step 5 – “Confess your sins to each other (a sponsor, a friend in the program, a pastor) and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” James 5:16

        So yes, after finding Jesus, a Christian continues to work the 12 steps. One of the things I see in you is that the secular “12-steps,” as you understood them, failed you and your recovery. Perhaps you should work a Christ-centered 12-step program instead? Then maybe you wouldn’t be so angry and attack 12-step programs? Just a thought.

        2. I have heard many Christian men use the “holy” excuse as a cop out to continued acting out. As long as they strive for holiness, sobriety does not matter, so they continue slipping into their compulsive sexual behaviors, but as long as they strive for holiness, then it is ok. This is a lie the enemy has told you and others. I just hope you are not one of those that continue to sexually act out and then say it’s ok, because you are striving for holiness, not sobriety.

        One can strive for holiness and still act out.

  3. Just a few thoughts Chad. Sobriety vs Holiness aside for a moment, is there any of the 12 steps that you find incompatible with scripture?

    Like Castimonia, I too attend a decidedly Christ centered 12 step program (prodigalsinternational.org) where Jesus is our higher and only power. We make that known at every meeting. Our group has a high bar, and defines sobriety equally for each of us. I have never been to a secular SA group, but have attended CR briefly.

    So if in the course of recovery via a 12 step program, I experience the holiness and freedom you speak of –isn’t it the same result, different path? Or to put it another way, if I follow a path to holiness that includes 12 scriptural steps, plus the two words “sober” & “recovery”, is that really missing the mark? Let me further explain that I see the word “sober” as simply acknowledging I no longer act out, and “recovery” as indicating that I need new manna, a new Holy Spirit empowerment every day, for the rest of my life. That if I’m rigorously honest, how can I say that I’m fixed to the point where I cannot fall again? Jesus remains the center, the focus, the chain breaker through it all, ahh but my flesh still wrestles with me! Do you honestly not wrestle with lustful thoughts? Are there no visual images that trigger the old man that still resides within you?

    I do know all too well that I may be missing something here. Perhaps Pure Life Ministries has a better answer, I don’t know. I appreciate your perspective Brother, I really do. Trust me, I would love to shed the whole addict-recovery model/label. The New Man-No Looking Back emphasis is appealing. Fact is, I pray for that break-thru regularly. I agree that true sanctification is the key, and so I continue working in that direction. It just so happens that at the moment, I work it through an SA group!

    To God Be the Glory,
    Dan P.

  4. Hi Dan, thanks for reading and commenting. I checked out the site you linked to – it’s looks very good! I’m glad such places exist and pray they continue to help many on the road to victory.

    I don’t have any argument with you, brother. I think a Christ-centered program like the one you describe sounds good, so long as people are not becoming dependent on a program or a sponsor and learning to lean on Christ (which it sounds like you say is the case). Praise God!

    Most of my years seeking “recovery” were spent in SAA (the secular version you speak of). As such, step 3 “giving our lives over to the care of God as we understood God” amounted to nothing more than surrendering to a god of our own making. For some it was Buddha, others it was Allah, for some it was Zen, for others it was the group itself, and for some it was Jesus. And the funny thing was, it didn’t matter. Sobriety fell on some and on others. It didn’t really matter who their God was. Some things just work. But that does not make them “holy” nor “righteous.” A person could find themselves living sober for a year but be very far from the one true God, don’t you think?

    I loved those groups. I staked my life on them. In fact, I even started a group when I moved where I am now and realized the closest one was 30 miles away. Before leaving for Pure Life I told a friend of mine that I thought my greatest obstacle being there was going to be dealing with what I perceived to be an anti-step ethos – I thought that would bug me to the point of not being able to glean anything useful. I share all that to simply say that I have obviously changed my views quite a bit about the benefits of groups like SAA and have also repented of my former belief (which affected my theology) that went something like, “If it works for you, that’s all that really matters.”

    I’ve now come to a place where I don’t want to “work a program” and “any one will do so long as it works” (and I’m not implying this is what you are doing). Instead, I want to align my life with the word of God – for only Jesus has the words of life. I want to bring Him glory. I fear God and believe that is the beginning of wisdom.

    And I want my language and counsel to reflect God’s language and counsel to us. Thus, I say, “God doesn’t want me to be sober, but holy.” This, I believe, is fact. While being “sober” and in “recovery” is good, God calls us to be “over-comers” and “victors.” Scripture says Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil” and to “break the bonds of sin.” God can and does set people FREE from the lusts that plague us! I and many other men testify to this truth.

    There was a time when I lived in fear. I lived “one day at a time” with sobriety and recovery as my #1 goals. I lived in fear of my “addict” and had zero will-power to withstand temptation. I was convinced that if I missed a meeting one week or a phone call one day I was sure to “slip” and lose my shot at receiving a “one-month sobriety chip.” I embraced the damaging lie I and everyone else said everytime we spoke at a meeting: “Hi, I’m Chad, a sex-addict.”

    God truly does make “new creations.” He truly does turn a heart of stone (or lust) into a new one of flesh. God is still making people “born again.” And he does it for His name’s sake – to make us holy like Himself – not so that we can be “sober.” I am as sure of this as I once was sure about being a hopeless addict who’s best bet was to find a new wife who would just understand me for who I am. God has much more for us than that, which is why I write what I write. 18 months ago I would have called the me of today crazy and out of touch. Since I know all too well what that guy was like 18 months ago, I’m OK with that 🙂 In fact, I praise God for it.

    I’ve rambled on enough. Sorry! I really appreciate your comment – I do! And I pray God’s blessings and continued healing for you and those who are ministered to through your site!

    1. “There was a time when I lived in fear. I lived “one day at a time” with sobriety and recovery as my #1 goals. I lived in fear of my “addict” and had zero will-power to withstand temptation. I was convinced that if I missed a meeting one week or a phone call one day I was sure to “slip” and lose my shot at receiving a “one-month sobriety chip.” I embraced the damaging lie I and everyone else said everytime we spoke at a meeting: “Hi, I’m Chad, a sex-addict.””

      This is truly sad. You never achieved the spiritual awakening that comes from working the 12 steps the right way. I can see now why you are against 12-step programs. They are not for everyone, what did not work for you, worked for me and others. What worked for me and others, may not work for the next guy. To each their own. The bottom line is that God is bigger than any one “program” or method of restoration/renewal. Only God can decide what works best for each individual, to believe otherwise is to be as foolish as Job in his protest to God.

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