By Brandon Sutton
In Alcoholics Anonymous, step one reads, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.” That’s good and true (for me at least), but it doesn’t go far enough. My problem is far more than alcohol. I struggle with all kinds of sin. Which is why I like the steps as they are written by Water Mark Church’s Regeneration Program. Step one reads, “We admit we are powerless over our addictions, brokenness, and sinful patterns – that in our own power our lives are unmanageable.” This language is all encompassing. It deals not only with my addiction but sin in general and admits we’re powerless over the problem.
The Apostle Paul echoed this truth. In Romans 7:17-18, he said, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Paul was powerless over his sin. He had the desire to good but not the ability to carry out it. Ability refers to one’s power to do something. I don’t have the ability to lift a car over my head because I lack the power to do so. If I don’t have the ability to overcome my sin, that means I am powerless spiritually. And when you’re powerless over sin, sin has mastered you and your life will become more than unmanageable. It becomes miserable.
If we’re going to overcome our sin, we must start with accepting this truth. In and of ourselves we are powerless, and we must admit that. We have to give up. In step one, we say, I am done. I can’t do this anymore. I don’t have the ability or strength to win this battle. Lord, please help me.
And we do this in community. Did you notice, the first word in step one is “we”? This is a “we” program, not an “I” program. If you try to fight your sin by yourself, you will lose every time. And by “we”, the step is not referring to your relationship with God. That’s important, but the word “we” is referring to other people who struggle like you do but are there to help you fight.
Jesus told His disciples to love one another as He loved them (John 13:33-34). Jesus’ words are full of meaning in this passage, but at the very least, He’s telling His disciples to be there for one another. Following Christ is not a solo job. It’s a community endeavor. We don’t follow Jesus alone. We follow Him with other people. Whenever Jesus sent His disciples out do preach, it was always in groups of at least two. Christianity isn’t meant to be done isolation. “We” need each other.
I can’t recover from my addiction and gain victory over my sins, but we can. We’re stronger together. Solomon wrote, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). If we face battle alone, we will be defeated, but when we stand and fight together, we will have victory in the Lord.
The aspect of this step that fascinates me the most is the word powerless. If you are truly an addict—whether that be drugs or pornography or maybe you’re addicted to control—then you are truly powerless over whatever sin you’re dealing with. For me, it’s drugs and alcohol, primarily. I can’t put them in my body. If I were to do so, I believe they would take over and I wouldn’t be able to stop. That’s what it means to be powerless. To be powerless means, once you begin to engage in your sin of choice, you lose the ability to stop. This is why recovering addicts must practice complete abstinence. There is no such thing as having the occasional drink or using the occasional drug. For me, it’s all or nothing.
Otherwise, my life falls apart. “Unmanageable” is too soft a word. Destruction is more like it. I will come undone if I go back to my sin. But I don’t have to and neither do you. They say that step one is the only step you have to work perfectly every day. That might be a little narrow sighted, but I see their point. So long as I remain substance free today (maybe for you it’s something else) then there’s a good chance I can have functioning life and good relationship with God and others. But if I use, it’s all over. So just for today, I admit that I am powerless over my sin; which means I need another power. That brings us to step two, but that’s for a future article.