By Chad Prigmore
When reading the writings of some of the earliest Christian believers it becomes clear that there is a damage caused by the modern Christian recovery movement that we don’t often recognize. That damage is a lost joy in Jesus Christ and a lost amazement at the wonder of how by God’s grace a sinner is raised from the dead and brought to life as a new creation in Jesus Christ. After so many years of the modern Church becoming man centered rather than Christ centered, of entertaining “seekers” while believers starve for the meat of the word, working on addictions rather than repenting of sin; when we read of an early believers rapturous joy in being born again in Jesus Christ and the ensuing praise pouring forth from this glorious truth - we should mourn for a modern Church that embraces the world rather than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Consider the response of Augustine, who after years of sin and struggle and fighting against the only truth in Jesus Christ is brought to believe by the power of God’s amazing grace.
Augustine writes, “But who am I, what am I? Is there any evil I have not committed in my deeds, or if not in deeds, then in my words, or if not in my words, at least by willing it? But you, Lord, are good and merciful, and your right hand plumbed the depths of my death, draining the cesspit of corruption in my heart, so that I ceased to will all that I had been wont to will, and now willed what you willed. But where had my power of free decision been throughout those long, weary years, and from what depth, what hidden profundity, was it called forth in a moment, enabling me to bow my neck to your benign yoke and my shoulders to your light burden, O Christ Jesus, my helper and redeemer? How sweet did it suddenly seem to me to shrug off those sweet frivolities, and how glad I now was to get rid of them - I who had been loath to let them go! For it was you who cast them out from me, you, our real and all-surpassing sweetness. You cast them out and entered yourself to take their place, you who are lovelier than any pleasure, though not to flesh and blood, more lustrous than any light, yet more inward than is any secret intimacy, loftier than all honor, yet not to those who look for loftiness in themselves. My mind was free at last from the gnawing need to seek advancement and riches, to welter in filth and scratch my itching lust. Childlike, I chattered away to you, my glory, my wealth, my salvation, and my Lord and God.”1
Such passion, rapture, and absolute joy are Augustine’s in Jesus Christ his redeemer. Where has all of that gone? Why do so many in the modern Church, instead of forsaking the world and pointing only to Christ as our victory over all sin and struggle, look to the world in compromise and apathetic resignation? Is it not time, as everything in this sinful world crumbles and falls apart to look only to Christ and honor and worship and praise Him at a level hardly experienced in such a long time?
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Make a stand. Be the one who exposes the heresy in the Church that snuck in the door in the guise of recovery. Be the one that points to Christ, who stands on the authority and sufficiency of His word and nothing else. Be like Christians used to be - bold, courageous, confident, and powerful in God’s word, rejoicing always, praying ceaselessly, and thanking God from a heart in love with Him.
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, - 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. - John 3:3-15
When considered deeply from a Biblical perspective, the reason that the modern recovery movement has been allowed to infiltrate the contemporary Church is largely due to a severe lack of faith in the Lord and in the power of God’s word in proclaiming the gospel. This truth is evidenced by the most common responses provided by those claiming to be in Christian ministry but mainly focused on programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery. When these people are shown how the recovery programs they support and promote are proven to be apostate when held up to the light of scripture they either angrily reject the proof presented outright, or claim that there is no way anyone trapped in alcoholism or addiction could come to grasp the Christian message without first working through a program in order to heal them and bring them into a coherent state. They simply do not have the faith necessary to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ with power and authority and instead rely on man made concepts and programs which contradict scripture. This is why not just recovery programs but the entire worldly concept of recovery is contrary to the Christian message of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
In the story of Jesus and Nicodemus we see the response to the gospel from a man who was a teacher at the highest level of Jewish society. Nicodemus probably knew all there was to know of religion except for the main point and purpose of it all - the doctrine of salvation. This man prefigured what so many have suffered from down through the centuries - the danger of knowing about Jesus but not knowing Jesus.
Nicodemus had to be brought above the limitations of his mind and what he thought he knew. Jesus presented to him a truth that was beyond his mind’s capacity to understand and accept. But in spite of this fact did the Lord water down the truth or try to come at it from a different angle? No, Jesus presented the truth simply and without compromise obviously knowing that understanding and belief come by the working of the power of the Holy Spirit.
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." - John 3:8
Nicodemus became a believer.
Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. - John 19:39-40
We must witness and share the gospel with faith in and reliance on the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit. We must stop inventing new ways to pitch the gospel and just proclaim it. We must have faith and trust in the Holy Spirit to save those lost in sin and darkness. If we, as individuals are truly faithfully seeking the Lord and striving to be conformed to His image, His light in us will be the only attraction needed for those in the darkness. And we must have absolute faith in the sufficiency of scripture and throw out all of the worldly programs and concepts that have slithered into the contemporary Church.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. - Hebrews 4:12-14
The fall into idolatry that so much of the Church has made can be very incremental and subtle. Beware of worshipping another Christ, another Christianity, or a Church, or a program, or a Pastor. Salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone is not a concept - it is the transforming, re-creating, life-giving, loving power of God saving us in Christ eternally. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so that those who looked upon it might live (Numbers 21:4-9), we must lift up Christ and His gospel looking only to Him knowing that whoever believes in Him will be saved and have eternal life.
Look to, seek, follow, worship only Jesus Christ as revealed to you by the working of the Holy Spirit through God’s word.
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. - Matthew 7:7-8
The desires of the sinful become lusts. They are selfish, sensual, evil lusts that make the lost sinner their slave.
Those who are in Christ, by being born again desire God and His righteousness, and rise above the lower sinful self of the flesh. Believers in Christ - transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit desire the best things of God. Instead of the futile and fleeting things of a lost world, those in Christ desire purity, peace, joy, humility, beauty, etc...They desire God's righteousness and glory.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. - Philippians 4:8
The world shows the fruit of the wicked contentiously striving to satisfy their lustful desires. But the righteous in Christ seek and express their desires in fervent and persistent prayer. Those in Christ ask and receive the fulfillment of their desires from the very hand of God.
If your prayer life is stagnant, if it is void of a fervent passionate fire - then ask, seek, and knock that your heart may be set ablaze with a passion to know more of God. Pray and go to the Word in prayer.
Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. - John 16:24
As a Christian, affected by erroneous teachings so prevalent in much of the contemporary Church - how much of Christ do you lack simply because you have never known to ask, seek and knock? How much more glory to God through a vibrant living sacrifice could you send up to heaven if only you could overcome the limitations of your own heart and mind? Step out of the world. Ask, seek and knock and the Lord will lift you up to heights beyond what you could ever have dreamed of. The burdensome influences and limitations of this world must be cast off!
We must pray and we must ask. Never doubt the radical transforming power of prayer.
Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. - James 5:17-18
And the people of Israel said to Samuel, "Do not cease to cry out to the LORD our God for us, that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines." So Samuel took a nursing lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the LORD. And Samuel cried out to the LORD for Israel, and the LORD answered him. As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the LORD thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were routed before Israel. - 1 Samuel 7:8-10
While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the LORD my God for the holy hill of my God, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, "O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision. - Daniel 9:20-23
Ask, seek and knock. Pray, pray and continue praying. Ask as a beggar seeking alms, as a child in distress, or as a criminal seeking mercy. When have you heard anyone in the contemporary Church beg the Lord for mercy? If you do not understand your need for mercy, then you do not understand the gospel. And if you do not understand the gospel you do not understand the need for Jesus Christ as your Savior. This is why the contemporary Church is polluted with heresy and why man is worshiped rather than the Holy sovereign God.
Seek as if you have lost the most precious thing imaginable. Seek in prayer and in prayerful meditation of God's word. If you struggle in prayer and your mind is turmoil then go to the Psalms - use them as lessons in how to pray and use them as prayers.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. - Psalm 34:4-7
Knock as one who desires more than anything to enter the house of our heavenly Father. To just ask is not enough. Being blessed and born again by the power of the Holy Spirit we are driven passionately to see the Lord and to knock on the door of heaven for more and more of what only the Lord can bless us with.
Venture through Jesus' ministry in the scriptures and take note of all who sought Him and came to Him. We must not only ask - we must seek, plead and wrestle with God.
For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. - Matthew 7:8
Imagine in a few years it is discovered that there is indeed a planet far far away inhabited by an alien race. This alien race is ahead of us technologically - but not by as much as we had for years speculated they would be. However, they are very advanced spiritually and emotionally. They never fight, argue, or even have disagreements. This race of aliens gets along great, and their planet is awesome because the planet actually is what to each alien mind feels and wishes it should be. It's everything the perfect planet could be for everyone there and even though they all have different tastes and interests all their tastes and interests are satisfied by the planets unfathomable ability to be the best it can be for each individual alien.
We earthlings send astronauts to investigate and the aliens on this planet treat our astronauts with grace and hospitality when they arrive. And after a very short time it becomes clear to the astronauts that this is the place that we humans need to move to - it is literally perfect. However, the aliens have one very strict law which states that the only way to become a citizen of their planet and live there is if you are born there. What a bummer.
So, as it is with us humans, we beg and plead and try our best to get the aliens to change the law - but they can't - it's not possible. We even try looking just like the aliens (they aren't little and grey with big eyes), we dress like them, learn to talk like them, walk like them, but it just can't be done. We cannot live on their planet.
So it is with the kingdom of heaven.
Put on all you like of Christianity, appear in every way Christian. However, if you are not born again of the spirit - then heaven is closed to you.
A person may do wonderful and caring works, spend their life in altruistic pursuits. If they are not born again of the spirit - then heaven is closed to them.
A reprobate in the clutches of the sins of alcoholism and addiction may strive valiantly and reform themselves. They may turn away from their destructive vices and lead a commendable life as a fine member of society. But if they are not born again of the spirit - then heaven is closed to them.
A christian is not a Christian without a Christian heart. And for a heart to be Christian it must be born again of the spirit in the heavenly country. To see and dwell in the kingdom of God we must be born anew there.
This may seem like a frightening and confrontational message - but it is the message the Lord gives us: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." - Jesus (John 3:5)
There is no wiggle room.
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4
Chad Prigmore is Pastor and President of The Way Ministry Church USA & Kenya.