The Darkness Runs Deep
I’ve done recovery ministry for six years, and it didn’t take long for me to stop being surprised when people told me about the issues they are dealing with. Addiction, sexual brokenness, substance abuse, uncontrollable anxiety, eating disorders—these and many more are no respecter of persons, cultures, economic classes, or family backgrounds. Every person you see each day is far more broken than you’ll ever know, just like you are far more broken than the many people you interact with daily know. Sin, and the effects of sin in our world, cause profound scars and overwhelming battles for people. In our church, we ask people what sins feel “unbeatable” in their lives and we have gotten answers from all over the map. Satan has indeed come to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).
Light is Never Afraid of Darkness
The good news is, John 10:10 doesn’t stop with the popular line about our spiritual enemy—it goes on to say that Jesus came “that they may have life and have it abundantly.” When the sun peaks up over the horizon each morning, it does not do so in fear. It is not intimidated by the darkness in any way—it races forth and conquers the darkness in a “no contest” event. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5) We will never be 100% free from the effects of sin in our earthly lives, but Jesus has not called us to sit in our church pews and remain silent about the idols and sins that are eating us alive. He has provided us a means to recover our original design of being humans who walk with and reflect the very image of our God through the power of the Holy Spirit inside of us.
He has provided us a means to recover our original design of being humans who walk with and reflect the very image of our God through the power of the Holy Spirit inside of us.
Two Keys to Recovery: The Gospel & Community
In our recovery ministry, we teach that the most important things for our growth are applying the gospel to all areas of our lives in the midst of genuine, transparent Christian community. This is actually laid out beautifully in John 3:19-21: 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”Verse 19 tells us why we hate bringing our issues out into the light of community—we are sinful people and we hate being exposed as that. We want to have our act together, to be impressive and strong. But Jesus says our refusal to come out into the light of community for healing is actually an evil pride. Verse 21 tells us the gospel—our works “have been carried out in God. There is nothing we have to earn, because Jesus has earned our righteousness for us! It also tells us that whoever understands the gospel fully will walk out into the light of community, because he will understand he has nothing to hide. He can fully expose his issues because People don’t need another self-improvement strategy or technique. Ultimately people need the good news of the gospel applied to their specific struggles and sins, and that happens best in a group of believers who are committed to pushing one another towards Jesus, speaking truth in love and watching out for each other’s blind spots.
Ultimately people need the good news of the gospel applied to their specific struggles and sins, and that happens best in a group of believers who are committed to pushing one another towards Jesus, speaking truth in love and watching out for each other’s blind spots.
There is massive freedom alone in exposing your deepest darkness to the light of Christ in a Christian community who will remind you of Jesus’ love for you when you forget it.
Once you get into the ring with others and the real stuff starts coming out, you are going to need more than trite platitudes or helpful advice. Again, people need to hear, to be reminded of the gospel, over and over again. In the middle of overwhelming sin issues and struggles, it’s hard to believe that Christ actually still loves you, that your approval and standing before God isn’t based on your performance. We cannot tire of reminding people of the gospel! This chart is a helpful reminder of how to give people the gospel and not only advice: Advice: Typically starts with some version of “You just need to…” Good News: Typically starts with some version of “In Christ you are…” (Righteous, justified, made new, clean, loved, adopted, etc.) Advice: Primarily focuses on behavior modification and accountability. Good News: Does not neglect accountability, but does not stop there—it digs deeper and focuses on the heart change that will lead to behavior change. Advice: About what you should do. Good News: About what Jesus has done on your behalf. Advice:Makes people feel increased pressure. Good News:Makes people feel relieved from pressure. (Jeff Vanderstelt, a pastor in Washington, has some helpful teaching on gospel fluency on Youtube for anyone interested.)
Sin is a Worship Issue
Another extremely helpful thing for people to realize is why they are chasing after their particular sin issues. Idolatry is a central theme in the Bible, and it illustrates that we ultimately chase after and devote ourselves to what we think is going to bring us satisfaction. Tim Keller says, “You worship your way into sin, and you worship your way out.” The only way to displace an affection is to uproot it with a much stronger affection–the same way the guy Jesus describes in Matthew 13 saw a pearl in a field and went and sold everything he had to buy the field. In order to truly change we have to see that Jesus is much more worthwhile than our idols and let deeper desires displace our surface desires for sin.
In order to truly change we have to see that Jesus is much more worthwhile than our idols and let deeper desires displace our surface desires for sin.
Psalm 16 illustrates this point well: verse 4 says “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply.” But verse 11 goes on to say “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Speaking the good news of the gospel to someone battling a sin issue that feels unbeatable means telling them over and over that Jesus is the good life—the only true fountain of joy. Anything else will only prove to let them down and multiply their sorrows. As ministers of the gospel to the broken and overwhelmed, let’s echo the invitation of the Lord through the prophet Isaiah: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live;” -Isaiah 55:1-3
Published August 27, 2015