How a 12-Step Program Did (and Did Not) Help Me

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I am a Biblical Counselor at Pure Life Ministries in Northern Kentucky. I came here as a student in the Residential Program in 2015 and stayed on after graduation, answering the call of God to ministry here. Before coming finally to Pure Life, I previously had a nearly five-year journey of seeking freedom through local sources, which included psychological counseling, pastoral counseling and weekly attending a 12-step support group. It is my personal experience as an attender in a 12-step fellowship that I want to share about in this article. I do not intend this to be a statement of the Pure Life position on 12-Step Programs, but the personal testimony of one man’s experience.

When I finally got serious enough to do something about my pornography addiction, I went online to look for a 12 Step Program. I first found Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA). I read about them on the Internet, called a few phone numbers, and soon found myself calling an international phone meeting several times a week. I found it helpful, for it was the first time in my life that I began sharing with anyone about the struggles that I had had for so long. It was a relief to finally come out of the dark.

I also began psychological counseling. My counselor did not offer Christian counseling or Biblical counseling, but he was insightful enough to suggest to me early that I change my support group. He knew that I was a Christian and suggested that I would be much more comfortable with the definition of sobriety in a Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) group than in my SAA group. That’s when I found out that there’s a difference in the various groups. He was right. Once I found out the difference, to me, it was apparent which one I should attend. There was also a local SA group close enough that I could attend weekly 

The difference between these two was simple, yet stark in comparison. SAA does not define sexual sobriety. They allow the attendee to determine what sexual sobriety looks like for himself, depending on the habits and behaviors that the member wants to curtail. Each member defines his own abstinence. What this means is that a homosexual man can define sobriety for himself as being faithful to one partner and so stop engaging in affairs. That is an acceptable definition of sobriety for someone in SAA.

Sexaholics Anonymous defines sobriety much more narrowly, and directly in line with the teaching of the New Testament. They define sobriety as “no sex with self or with partners other than with one's spouse in the marriage between a man and a woman, and progressive victory over lust.” This is a definition that a Christian can accept as biblical.

This is my personal experience. For me, it was helpful to start admitting my sin to other men. It was helpful to have the accountability that having a sponsor provided. It was helpful to admit my need, turn my life over to God, and begin to do a moral inventory. It was helpful to make amends to those whom I sinned against. My Higher Power was God the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.

However, I discovered that I needed much more than weekly meetings. I needed something more than maintaining my sobriety. I needed a deeper repentance, a breaking of my stubborn will, the destruction of my self-life, and a thorough work of the Holy Spirit that simply wasn’t happening through my weekly SA group. In fact, what I saw on a regular basis was a room full of men who were seldom able to maintain their sobriety for more than a week at a time. There was a lot of “white-knuckling,” and very little real heart change. I saw the same men come into meetings every Sunday night and tell the group that they had been sober since last Thursday. There was never any lasting freedom from acting out.

So, knowing that I needed much more than what I was getting, I eventually found Pure Life Ministries. Shortly after I arrived, I came into a level of brokenness that I had never experienced before, even though I had already completely gone through all 12 steps with my sponsor. I experienced a deeper level of repentance and a work of the Holy Spirit that I had never known before. I came into an understanding of the Gospel that was real and liberating, though I was a trained theologian and Christian pastor for 30 years. I would never have found any of that in a 12-step program. 

When men leave Pure Life, we always suggest strongly that they have accountability relationships with other men, and some kind of small group meeting they can attend regularly. For some men, that ends up being a Celebrate Recovery group in their local church, or a 12-step meeting. Some men find that CR or SA help them stay accountable after they have found freedom at Pure Life.

The 12 steps of AA are based on Biblical principles. They have been used of God to help men find sobriety from addictions to alcohol, drugs, and a variety of life-dominating sinful habits. We celebrate with every man who has found freedom and victory over habitual sin. We believe that only God changes the human heart, for He made it. Heart change, and not behavior modification is needful. I personally believe that for me, the 12 steps would never have been enough. I’m thankful every day that God led me to Pure Life, and then used it to set me free.

Jim Lewis is a Biblical Counselor at Pure Life Ministries. He received a B.A. in Religion from Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, FL and both the M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Dr. Lewis served as a pastor for 30 years..

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