Twelve Steps to Freedom

The Twelve Steps originated with Alcoholics Anonymous in the mid 1930’s. Besides being used to help alcoholics and drug addicts, the Twelve Steps have been used in support groups for family members, over-eaters, compulsive gamblers, and even for those desiring to escape from sexual addiction. These Steps formed the basis of treatment and counseling activities at New Creation Center where I served as Executive Director for ten years in the 1980’s.

In the past few years, a movement recognizing the power of the Twelve Steps has sprung up among evangelical Christians concerned with those struggling with various addictions. Some believers worry that they bring secular concepts to the Christian counseling field.

From where do these Twelve Steps derive their power? The answer is very simple; from the Bible! Although following the Steps does not always bring an alcoholic (or other sufferer) into a saving relationship with Christ, they do work in overcoming addictions. This is shown by the millions of people who have found sobriety since AA’s beginning. In some ways, it is very much like the businessman who succeeds financially when he makes spiritual principles the basis of his business practices.

With so many excellent books discussing the Twelve Steps in depth, this article is written only as a simple introduction for those who have had no previous exposure to them. The Steps can be broken down into three categories; Step 1 the addict’s relationship with his addiction, Steps 2-5: his relationship with God, and Steps 7-12: his relationship with others. The word “recovery”, as used in this article, is synonymous with the Biblical term, “sanctification.” Just as the word sanctification implies that overcoming sin is a life-long process, so to, recovering from the “fall-out” of an addiction takes a lifetime program of growth.

Step One – “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Interestingly enough, the first step is the only one that mentions alcohol. This illustrates the fact that there is a big difference between being sober and just not drinking. Without a concrete program that leads to a changed life, most non-drinking alcoholics are just as dishonest and hard to live with as when they are actively drinking. Step One also emphasizes the necessity of an admission of complete defeat. As long as an alcoholic thinks he can handle his problem on his own, he will never find real freedom from his addiction. “Hitting bottom” is referred to as the time where the addict, through the confrontation of circumstances, is willing to admit powerlessness.

Step Two – “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

According to the Bible, God created human beings to be dependent by nature. The problem is not whether or not we are dependent. The issue is, what will we be dependent on? Trusting in ourselves is always destructive. Dependence on alcohol or drugs is even more so. Many have asked, “How can you get alcoholics to trust in Christ?” The answer is obvious. They already know what it means to be totally sold out to a higher power; their drug of choice! They need to learn how to transfer their dependence to something that will not destroy their lives, but will equip them to live a whole new way of life.

Step Three – “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

When the alcoholic or drug addict comes to a real understanding of the destructiveness of his addiction, the need for something (or Someone) outside of himself becomes clear. Step Three points him to the One who will set him free from his life of chemical-induced insanity. Although AA is not a Christian organization, like the other support groups mentioned earlier, millions of people have rediscovered their faith and have returned to the churches of their childhoods because of this Step. Only in heaven, will we actually know the number!

Step Four – “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

This Step is essentially an effort to help the alcoholic in recovery to discover his limitations. By examining his sins, as well as his character assets, he can regain his lost sense of self-awareness. This is the first step involving a review of his relationships with others.

Step Five – “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

Confession of our sins to one another, as commanded in James 5:16, is a too little practiced Christian discipline. Yet, for the recovering alcoholic, it is an essential step in the process of becoming free from the past and its guilt. Practicing it also helps him to overcome his sense of isolation while learning humility and the “rigorous honesty” that is essential for a successful recovery program. Furthermore, self-confidence returns, along with a good conscience and restored fellowship with God.

Step Six – “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Step Seven – “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”

These two steps work together to help the person in recovery to grow in the realization that only God Himself is really able to work the changes in his life that are so necessary to maintain sobriety.

Step Eight – “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”

Step Nine – “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except where to do so would injure them or others.”

These two steps are aids toward the restoration of the alcoholic’s personal relationships. A thorough examination of his past behavior is the first step toward making actual amends, restitution, and apologies to those most affected by his harmful behavior. It means that he must be ready to take responsibility for his own behavior and to share honestly with those he has hurt. (see “Restoration through Making Amends Part 1 & Part 2)

Step Ten – “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”

To succeed in a recovery program, a habit of self-searching must become a way of life. And, when wrongs are pointed out, they must be made right in all humility.

Step Eleven – “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry it out.”

The terms used in this Step are very familiar to most Christians. In it the recovering alcoholic is encouraged to develop the “lost” spiritual art of meditation. Through prayerful contemplation on spiritual truths, he is led into a knowledge of God’s will for his life. This Step emphasizes the need for continued spiritual growth, while he goes on in the faith-building adventure of answered prayer.

Step Twelve – “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry the message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

This last Step is an action step. The aim of the Twelve Steps, according to AA, is to bring the alcoholic into the experience of a spiritual awakening, a renewed consciousness of the presence and power of God in his life. He cannot keep this life-transforming experience to himself, but will want to share it with others who still suffer as he once did.

It is hoped that the significance of this approach can be seen through this very brief discussion. I believe that, as the message of the Twelve Steps coupled with the power of the Gospel spreads, many more suffering alcoholics will find their way to a fulfilled life, free of alcohol and drugs.

For additional information on the Twelve Steps and the role of the Bible in their origins, visit