Note: The reader should review the article “Building Character – As God Sees it – Self-Discipline – The Problem” for best understanding of this article.
This article deals with how the spirit of God provides the recovering person the power needed to overcome alcoholism and character defects, when their own attempts seem to fail. This power is available to the Christian in recovery. The bible tells us this is the power we need for self-control to become a reality. (As God Sees It) This is the truth we find in Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV): But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
It is difficult to imagine that this list of character attributes could be obtained in ones life through self motivation alone. These are not natural attributes to the human nature. Our own self centered nature has a difficult time because they ask us to perform these acts in a totally unselfish way – i.e. without a personal motive. We are conditioned to believe that unless we benefit somehow there is little value in developing these characteristics. Of course we can develop them to some degree with the right motives but to wear these all of the time and in all situations and with all personalities it is going to require a power of a supernatural kind. It is only by practicing them in the spirit (knowing that God is at work in us) will we find the value that they have to our long term peace and serenity.
In Step 11 of the 12-Steps we are instructed to pray . . . only for knowledge of His will for us and the POWER to carry that out. His will of course includes removing our character defects – a process which requires a true partnership with HIM. It is His power that we seek and real spiritual help can only come from the spirit of God living within the Christian. That is the truth as explained biblically. You may already be a Christian which entitles you to the spirit of God. The bible clearly defines the spirit of God as a real person who comes to live within the Christian.
In the book “Eternal Sobriety”, Chapter Four, What is God Like, we find “God’s love is all around the recovering alcoholic. The closer we get to God, the more we sense this. A recovering alcoholic, who has God’s spirit living within, will find a quickening to the sensing of God’s love and presence. (John 3) This is a result of the relationship now established between the believer and God, through the presence of the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost (a real person who energizes us).
This does not imply that a measure of self-control cannot exist in a person who is not a Christian. However, it does imply that trying to remove the passions and desire of our instinctual nature (the source of all character defects) is going to be a rough road to trudge without God’s spirit. In fact, without God we will only be mired down on that road. There are many benefits to being a Christian, one of which is to give us a new nature. If you need to know more about how God’s spirit comes to live in a person and how it can help your recovery, you can find an abundance of truth in the book Eternal Sobriety.
Speaking to the Christian, we can now evaluate how the spirit of God helps produce in us self-control – the attribute we need to remove character defects. We begin with a biblical understanding of the lack of self-control, that is, “As God Sees It.” Proverbs 25:28 states that “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” A wall around an ancient city was designed to keep out the enemy. Judges at the gates determined who should be allowed in and who should remain outside. Soldiers and gates enforced those decisions. One breach in a wall led to an avalanche of wall breaking around the entire city, not just from the outside but now aided from the inside.
In our lives, these defenses might include avoiding close relationships with old playmates and playpens and trying to remember not letting ourselves become hungry, angry, lonely and tired. However our worst enemy comes from within in the form of old beliefs and bad thinking. During our drinking years we established in our beliefs many bad habits, tons of error and multiple shortcomings. We need to have self-control to prevent a relapse event that can start with a bad thought or memory followed by a character defect, such as anger. We need inside help to help us purge these defects because it is from within ourselves that defects become energized.
Not having self-control is obvious when we look at our past. The debris field left from our alcoholism is littered with evidence of the results of having no self-control. When we put no restraint on our passions, desires, and affections we are in dangerous territory. It makes us susceptible to not only lose the battle against a specific character defect but it opens the door to all other defects, including the possibility of relapse. Our wills begin to waver in all areas once we have given into a temptation. In the book of James we find “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
The initiation of a defect starts with a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen – something our conscience knows is out of God’s will. That feeling is desire. There is both good desire and bad desire. If bad desire remains in our thinking process and gets fed by more thinking that desire will conceive into a plan and the habit or defect is birthed. Like a real pregnancy is it difficult to stop it after its conception. It is at the point where the initial desire is sensed that the desire to not act (self-control) is needed. The desire to not act on the defect has got to be stronger that the desire to act on it. So a transformation of desire in the mind has to take place if self-control is to become a reality. In Romans 12: 1- 2, we find: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is— his good, pleasing and perfect will (NIV).
This is the same recovery process we see in the alcoholic’s desire to not drink. When the desire to not drink is stronger than the desire to drink, we stay sober. Coming out of denial enables the process to begin. The desire to not drink has its birth in the renewing of our minds about alcoholism with the truth that we find in the fellowship of A.A. It is the collective wisdom we gain in A.A. that enables us (gives us power) to restrain ourselves from drinking. This is the very same process that we have available to us in the removal of our character defects. It first begins with our no longer denying that they exist in us and by claiming our ownership of them rather than trying to find external reasons we can blame for them. The desire to restrain ourselves, that is, to not act on the defects, is going to come through the process of renewing of our mind with God’s truth, His wisdom.
Christ told a story in Luke 11 that illustrates this principle in breaking a bad habit (defect). A man, who had been inhabited by a demon, rejoiced when that sinister spirit was expelled. The wicked spirit then passed through waterless places, seeking rest. Finding none, it decided to return to its original place of residence. The demon saw that its original house was unoccupied, swept, and had lots of empty space. “Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.” This man didn’t understand the principle of replacement. None of us can overcome our character defects and habits by simply deciding we do not want them anymore. Rather, we can only do so by substituting a better habit or belief in its place. Sinful habits or defects cannot be broken without replacing them with good habits or character attributes.
Don’t miss this important principle of removing character defects by adding character attributes, a process that involves the replacement of bad beliefs, that drive these defects, with good beliefs that counteract them. i.e. renewing the mind. The source of our new beliefs needs to be coming from the truth and wisdom of God which we find in the bible. If this is not currently a part of your practice of spiritual tools you are going to miss out on the advantage this has in removing defects. A.A. has a lot of good information about the need to practice principles, the process of helping us to own our character defects, and emphasizing the need to meditate and pray for knowledge of His will for us and asking for the power to carry it out. If we are relying on just A.A. and its material and are not recognizing the value of “being quick to see that religious people are right” then we are going to have a lot of ongoing problems with defects.
The real spiritual solution to the removal of defects requires the type of self-control produced as a fruit by the Holy Spirit. It is a twofold process of growth. First it requires God’s word being placed into our beliefs (by reading and hearing) and that becomes energized by the power of the Holy Spirit to help us walk in that truth (His Word). In both elements it is a joint partnership with God. He does His part and we do our part. God never removes our free will. The “renewal of our mind” process is one of becoming aware of choices and then creating the desire in us to make the choice that He wants us to make. God’s Will for us becomes a reality as we choose to do it without bondage from the defects.
When we accept Christ as our savior He implants a new nature in us. The old nature is crucified with Christ but the body of sin with its sensuous desires hangs on until we die. To diffuse the desires of our sensual nature which produce the character defects we need to have our thought patterns replaced by the Word of God. That’s our part. Then the enabling power of the Holy Spirit to create godly desires can work. Every temptation comes to us by our thoughts which must be brought under the control of the Spirit. God wants us to be free from the defects that arise from our sensuous self-centered nature but only if we choose to practice His will.
The power of the Holy Spirit was given to believers to do more than our own self-efforts are capable of doing. As we have discovered in our recovery walk we simply do not have the strength to fight the wrongful use of our instincts and passions without God’s help. Intentions alone are not sufficient to change the internal selfish desires that our defects and bad habits bring when temptation comes. Galatians 5:16 explains “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
The Holy Spirit living in the Christian has another task besides creating the desire in us to do the right thing. It sets up an inner struggle when we attempt to do the wrong thing. It uses our conscience. We will not attempt to go into detail about this in this article as you can get a complete picture of how that inside help works in the book Eternal Sobriety. There you will find an entire chapter called The Helper which provides some major insight in how God has provided in His word and in His Spirit all we need to have success in recovery with our spiritual growth. We can say in simple terms that the Holy Spirit wants to abolish (remove) not only the defects found in the old nature – He also wants to create healthy desires to replace the bad ones removed. It seems to me that when we no longer desire to act on the defect- it’s removed. A real spiritual solution, I would say.
In time, our struggles become less and less as we develop a self-disciplined mind. God’s purpose is a mind that avoids the intoxicating allurements the world system offers. It’s a mind that is clear and sober and functions with self-control in its thinking. The spiritual principles we practice become fixed and help us properly balance our priorities and steer us to proper behavior – to always do the right thing. We will no longer whimsically hop through life in reckless self indulgence at the command of our emotions, lusts, spurious impulses and wrongful desires. Instead we are finally set free from hate, sorrow, war, impatience, mercilessness, badness, infidelity, harshness, and unconstraint and become filled with love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
This is the goal that in A.A. we call peace and serenity. And it’s yours if you choose it.