By Don Umphrey
(with scriptural citations from the NIV)
“Self-centeredness has been widely touted as one of the main characteristics of individuals who are addicted”1
This opinion has plenty of backers.
For example, the Christian recovery group re:generation said it this way: “Self-will comes naturally. It is the automatic response to ‘what we want.’ In recovery, our self-will gets us drunk, starves us, rages with anger, surfs for more pornography, spends too much, eats too much… Our selfishness is limitless but is never fully satisfied even when it gets what it wants.”2
Alcoholics Anonymous addresses the same problem: “Selfishness — self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt. So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn't think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible.”3
These ideas about self-centeredness—or ego run amok— have very deep roots in the Bible.
For example, read the following parable from Jesus: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21).
Now go back and count the number of first-person pronouns (I, me, my, and you (when referring to self) the rich man uses in just a few sentences. Is this man self-centered? God called him a fool.
The Lower Power
There are plenty of references in recovery groups to God, the Higher Power, and, of course, the Lord God is worshipped in churches. But there is also a lower power who is at the root of self-centeredness.
Many biblical scholars believe that the quotation below describes this lower power who we know as Satan or the devil. He was originally an angel, referred to below as “morning star,” while angels are called “stars.”
“How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart,
I will ascend to the heavens;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.
I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:12-14).
In the short quotation above, how many times is Satan quoted as saying, “I will”? How many times does he say, “God’s will”?
The Lying Serpent
Before the devil appeared to Adam and Eve in the form of a serpent (Genesis 3), he led an unsuccessful revolution among the angels to take over as God. This is demonstrated in the quotation above and also in Revelation 12:7-9. Also see Revelation 12:3-4 and Ezekiel 29:12-19. He and his followers were expelled from Heaven. The fall of humanity resulted when Eve took Satan’s bait described in Genesis 3:5, “…you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Referring to Satan, Erwin Lutzer wrote, “Please note that his (Satan’s) desire was to be like God, not to be unlike Him. Ironically, this arrogant desire would make him as much unlike God as it is possible to be!”4
Writing about the prodigal (or lost) son from Luke 15:11-32, Robert R. Brown describes how such a person acts on Satanic influence: “Self was the consuming passion which drove him out to an undisciplined life and made him indifferent to the wounds he inflicted on those around him.”5
Concerning the son’s motivations Brown asserted: "There was deep down in the younger son’s nature a demonic power which constantly urged him to put self at the center of the universe. Such a condition allowed no place for others because it insisted he must claim every place for himself. He was the sole arbiter of his destiny and his own wisdom was the only judge…"6
The Old Testament of the Bible is full of references to godly people building monuments to God. For example, Jacob set up a stone pillar at Bethel, where God had talked to him, and offered sacrifices there (Genesis 35:14). However, self-centered people build monuments to themselves. According to I Samuel 15:12, King Saul “set up a monument in his own honor.”
What kind of monuments do we try to establish in our own honor?
Liar, Liar Pants on Fire
Jesus called Satan “a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44).”
People in addiction start off by believing a lie from Satan that the substance, behavior, or pattern of thinking will serve them in a positive way. If they continue using, they will be in denial by lying to themselves as they continually turn for help to the same thing that is leading them toward self-destruction.
Why the 12 Steps Work
I was initially introduced to12-step recovery in 1973.
The steps were written by early members of Alcoholics Anonymous during the 1930s and based on Christian principles espoused by the Oxford Group. This organization was founded by minister Frank Buchman in 1921. He believed that fear and selfishness were the root of all problems. Further, Buchman believed that the solution to living with fear and selfishness was to "surrender one's life over to God's plan.”7
Over the years many other addiction-recovery groups adopted the same 12 steps, such as people dealing with overeating, gambling, sex addiction, marijuana, cocaine, neuroticism, the list goes on and on. The only difference in the groups is what they name as their problem in Step One and the people to whom they will carry God’s message of help in Step Twelve. So, for example, someone saying he or she is powerless over gambling in Step One would carry a message of hope to other people who have gambling problems in Step TwelvI wondered why the same steps would work for such diverse problems. Finally, I figured that the steps will take someone from self-centered to God-centered OR from Satan to God and His son Jesus Christ.
Here are the 12 steps written by the program of Alcoholics Anonymous:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. 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 that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.8
Copyright 2023 by Don Umphrey
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2. Re:generation, Recovery in Christ When Life Is Broken, Groundwork, Book 1, Watermark Community Church, 2021, p. 76.
3. Alcoholics Anonymous Third Edition, Alcoholics Anonymous World Series, Inc. New York, 1976, p. 62.
4. Erwin Lutzer, The Serpent of Paradise, Moody Publishers, New York, 1996, p 30.
5. Robert R. Brown, Alive Again, Morehouse Barlow Co., New York, 1964, p. 25.
6. Brown, p. 23
7. The Oxford Group, Wikipedia.
8. Alcoholics Anonymous Third Edition, Alcoholics Anonymous World Series, Inc. New York, 1976, pp. 59-60.