Sinners Anonymous

Folks have debated the possibility that alcoholics, homosexuals, and murderers have some sort of genetic make-up which predisposes them to their behaviors. Well, the folks at Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) have provided a wonderful service in answer to this issue as examples of alcoholics who have reformed themselves. Yes, some may be redisposed to the allure of alcohol, but even after falling, some of these folks rebuild their lives. The same is true of homosexuals and murderers who rehabilitate themselves. When individuals have the will to overcome some proclivity, they can do so.

Now, what about the inclination that some folks might have toward lying? Or fornication? Stealing or bullying? These sinful behaviors are routinely overcome by the training and discipline of parents who expect their children to become morally responsible. However, when grown adults continue to lie, cheat, and steal, they are not treated as folks with genetic abnormalities, because we all know about temptation and the responsibility we have to overcome it. We simply expect them to behave themselves, and society prescribes punishments for folks who extort, assault, vandalize, and defraud.

Once, as a church contemplated a couple who were trying to get their lives straightened out before God, one of the members objected, “The church will be full of sinners.” Yes, any and all church members are expected to repent and leave their sin behind (II Thess 3:6), but the truth of the matter is that the church has always been filled with sinners. Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Lk 5:32) Those who obey the gospel have their sins washed away in the blood of the Lamb (Acts 22:16; Rev 1:5), but even then there is the threat of temptation and sin looming overhead for every saint (I Cor 9:27), and the memory of who we are and what we’ve done. (I Tim 1:15)

So, the Christian is a reformed sinner, and the church is Sinners Anonymous. The malady, sin, has nothing to do with genes, inheritance, or a sinful disposition which can be erased only by miraculous intervention into the human heart. It has everything to do with free moral agency and the gospel call issued to “every creature,” to accept God’s grace, to obey the gospel, and to repent. (Mt 28:18-20; Lk 24:48)

The reader may have noticed the similarities between AA and the church. First, alcoholics are expected to openly confess that they have a serious problem and need help, including help from a “Higher Power.” Likewise, sinners who would be saints are required by the Bible to confess. They confess their sins, and they confess their faith in Jesus as the Son of God, the one who has the authority to forgive their sins. (Acts 8:37; Rom 10:9-10) Again, Jesus said that He came to save sinners, and the righteous have no need of a savior. If sinners don’t have enough understanding about them to see that they need help, they will certainly be as lost before God as any stubborn addict who is lost to addiction. The understanding brought by the gospel gives hope!

Further, a caustic lady once exclaimed that the folks in the church are “the sickest people of all.” The God-ordained organization designed to give rebirth to sinners is by no means filled with “the sickest of all.” Rather, Christians are simply the ones who are serious about dealing with the issues of right and wrong, forgiveness, reformation, and promoting the Lord’s cause. Confirmed sinners like this lady are like the Pharisees who did not see their need for Jesus as they didn’t see their own sin. (Jn 9:41) Life is not so messy and hard when one is oblivious to the wrong about him, a practice developed to an art by many in our tolerant society.

Second, AA recruits are expected to identify with the organization and attend meetings. I am not sure what is required to become an AA member, but I do know that becoming a Christian includes belief in Christ, repentance from sin, the Good confession, and baptism for remission of sins. (Acts 2:38) As reformed alcoholics are urged to attend AA meetings to become educated about addiction, to receive moral support, to see that they are not alone in their struggle, and to call upon their “Higher Power;” so are Christians to meet with others for communion (I Cor 11:17ff), to receive encouragement (Heb 10:24-25), and to worship the Savior. Judges are sometimes involved in AA’s rehabilitation efforts and enforce attendance of meetings with the threat of jail. Christians who drop out of their rehabilitation efforts are answerable to God.

Christians need the “group therapy” of singing (Col 3:16), prayer (Jms 5:16), Bible study, and communion, along with their duty to serve God in worship. Life for the sober is good after all! Those who claim to be Christians and fail to attend the meetings ordained by the Word are simply fooling themselves. They are not reformed, but are still in their sins. “Going to church” may not prove a person’s faithfulness to God, but a failure to go is a dead giveaway to unfaithfulness.

There are other sins besides the ones listed above, including the sins of apathy and laziness. Also, the church and Christians cannot be “anonymous,” but are required to publicly advocate their faith. (Mt 10:32-33) Wearing sheets over the head, secret missions, and Al Quieda are simply not the Lord’s way. (Mt 28:18-20)

Third, AA adherants say that their struggle is a life-time thing, and that they have to remember daily that they are alcoholics to overcome their addiction that day. “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic,” they say, pointing to the ever-present threat of the temptations before them. Their’s is a day-by-day battle for their lives.

This point on reforming sounds very much like Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “ Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (Mt 6:34) And, “Exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb 3:13) Peter said concerning the Christian graces, “He that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.” (II Pet 1:9)

A human being’s ability to rebuild his life is a great blessing, and is celebrated in our heros, education, and medical “miracles” overcoming disease and bodily or mental injury. Being “born again” spiritually should be celebrated also, especially considering that it has eternal consequences. (Jn 3:1-5; I Pet 1:22-25) Daily cross-bearing is the Lord’s prescription. (Lk 9:23)

If sin were a genetic problem of some sort, surely God would have prescribed hormonal therapy, surgery, or chemotherapy to correct the problem. Rather, the Lord has given the whole world the command to repent. (Lk 13:3; Lk 24:48; Acts 17:30)

There are other points in AA’s “twelve step” program to rehabilitation, but I’m not sure how they might relate to the sinner’s reformation. The gospel of Christ is the God-ordained program for bringing sinners to God for eternal salvation, for reforming broken lives. (Rom 1:16) There may be other programs to help addicts reform, but there is no program other than the gospel to reform sinners, making them fit for the kingdom of heaven.

“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (I Cor 10:13)

By George Hutto

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