The 12 Steps are designed for people to evaluate their lives and identify behaviors to modify or remove in order to live a life of serenity, a life devoted to serving our higher powers (We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him – Step 3). The primary goal of any 12 Step program is to stop the destructive behavior. While some of the 12 Step fellowships differ between abstinent and non-abstinent sobriety, the goal remains the same, “admit we were powerless over our addiction and our lives had become unmanageable” (Step 1). If you gamble, the goal is to stop gambling. If you are a drug addict or an alcoholic, it is to stop putting in the substance to altar the mind and body. If you are a sex or porn addict, it is to learn what behaviors are appropriate and to have healthy sexual relationships.
How does a person start to do this? For some, the pain of addiction becomes severe enough change is needed. For others, a power greater than themselves, the judicial system, forced them into the rooms as part of the consequences of their use. Either way, the unmanageability of our lives brought us into the rooms. We begin to have a desire to stop using. As the desire continues to build, and “keep coming back, it works if you work it” becomes a reality, we start to see our addiction is more than just behaviors and thought processes. We begin to see our addiction is based on the character defects we have inside of us. Whether you call it a spiritual disease or sin, the reality is addiction is rooted in the our hearts desires for comfort, pleasure, gratification, or even a sense of belonging. We eventually find a sponsor and start working steps. As we work the steps, we see the behaviors associated with out character defects and start to remove, modify, or change them.
This process can be described as “progressive extremism.” Progressive extremism may sound like a political stance, but it is far from it. The idea of progressive extremism is taking small steps to the extreme level. It is also attaching your identity to this new mindset or set of behaviors. Mark Resnick explains Nir Eyal’s theory with the following example: “For example, to replace the yo-yo diets that never stick, he suggests taking individual food items that you want to cut out of your diet and removing them 100% all at one time. Tell yourself “Never ever again eat cheesecake.” Except with one key difference. He includes (correctly) that we need to attach this proscription to our self-identity so future self-denial will resonate with our identity. Instead of telling yourself that you won’t eat cheesecake, or that you can’t eat cheesecake, you tell yourself that you are the kind of person who does not eat cheesecake. Eating cheesecake simply is not an attribute that you possess. So when you look at cheesecake, you don’t crave it. Instead it becomes something ritually violate.” Eventually, the end result is small changes, made in extreme, and identifying oneself with those changes, results in behavior change.
As in earlier writings I have completed, there are shadows of Biblical theology. The process of the 12 Steps and the idea of progressive extremism foreshadows “progressive sanctification.” “Progressive” or “experiential” sanctification, as it is sometimes called, is the effect of obedience to the Word of God in one’s life. It is the same as growing in the Lord (2 Peter 3:18) or spiritual maturity. Prior to salvation, our behavior bore witness to our standing in the world in separation from God, but now our behavior should bear witness to our standing before God in separation from the world. Little by little, every day, “those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14, ESV) are becoming more like Christ” (GotQuestions.org).
Through the Biblical counseling I received for more than two years, a reoccurring theme and pattern emerged in my life and from the words of wisdom provided me by my counselor. It was the fact, no matter how hard I tried to change my life, without God, it would not succeed. The reason for this is “for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander (Matt 15:19). The only way to change my heart is to allow Christ to change it for me.
Rick Ezwell states it better than I can; “For we are His creation – created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). God works in us before he can work through us. Our English word energy comes from the word translated work in verse 13. It is God’s divine energy at work in us and through us. When we give our life to Christ, our eternal destiny is altered, there is a radical reorientation of priorities, there is a new life purpose, and there is the indwelling Holy Spirit. Rather than instant liberation from every bad habit or character flaw we’ve ever possessed, however, what takes place is more like the landing of an army on a beach and the routing out of the enemy as the army makes its way inland. At salvation God establishes a beachhead. Total occupation will come in time as the other parts of the formula are implemented. Here’s another way of looking at it. The event of salvation is best seen as the beginning of a journey as God begins his work in us that will lead to life change. Just as there was a process that led up to our conversion, so is there a process that moves us toward life change.
God guides us to maturity, a practical, progressive holiness. In the future, God will give us glorification, a permanent, ultimate holiness. These three phases of sanctification separate the believer from the penalty of sin (justification), the power of sin (maturity), and the presence of sin (glorification) (GotQuestions.org). Through God and the indwelling of the Spirit, real change happens. Through God and he indwelling of the Spirit, the bonds of addiction and sin are broken. When sin is broken, hope arises, faith increases, and trust in God is established. Our lives are then filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23). Working Steps 1-3 and progressive extremism are in essence glimpses of God’s general revelation to the world of progressive sanctification – God’s saving glory for those who choose to believe.