The entire class of those recovering from addiction were gathered around Andy and me listening closely to our intense discussion about if grace frees people from addiction or keeps people in addiction. My belief and teaching to the group was that grace frees people from addiction, while Andy's belief and teaching was grace keeps people in addiction.
It all started immediately after an afternoon session on God's grace I had with the group. I taught the group grace is everything God has done for us through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection to save us, leaving us nothing to do earn salvation but to simply receive what he has done for us by faith or trusting in Jesus alone. Furthermore, I shared with them it was my understanding from God's word, the Bible, that salvation was eternally ours and could never be lost. I went on to share with them salvation is not something we obtain and then maintain by good works, but is completely ours through faith in Jesus. It can never be lost. Once we are saved, we are saved fully and forever.
During our recovery class, one of the group members told me Andy taught in his class that if a person in recovery went back to his addiction after coming to faith in Jesus, then he would lose his salvation and go to hell. The group asked me my thoughts on Andy's teaching.
Andy's teaching to this group, concerning losing their salvation and going to hell if they used again, was based upon fear. His goal was if he could scare them enough about losing their salvation and going to hell if they went back to their addiction, they would stay clean. However, my belief was his teaching would actually lead members of the group back into their addiction, rather than setting them free from their addiction.
I shared with the class grace actually begins the process of setting a person free from addiction rather than leading people back into their addiction. I shared with the group that, because of grace, those who come to faith in Jesus are 100% forgiven forever of all their sins, past, present, and future. When Jesus died for our sins he died for all of them. When we place our faith in Jesus we are forgiven of the sins he died for...all of them. Not only are we forgiven, but we are declared righteous or clean in God's sight. In addition, we are justified or declared not guilty by God. By grace, we have been permanently placed into God's family as his dearly loved children. What God has done by grace on our behalf is secure and can never be undone by any of our sins, including relapsing into one's addiction.
I also shared with the group salvation is much more than being forgiven of all our sins. God forgives us to fill us with himself. Through Jesus, God comes to live inside us by the Holy Spirit. God takes residence in our hearts and begins to lead us through life. We actually begin a relationship with God based upon his grace and love for us. It is this love-laced, grace-based relationship that begins to change us from the inside out. We know from God's word that perfect love casts out all fear of condemnation and eternal punishment.
The group found much hope in the message of grace. For the first time, they began to believe through a relationship with God based upon grace, they could change. Yet, Andy's teaching was replacing the hope they found in God's grace with fear. Whereas grace was drawing them to God, the fear of losing their salvation and going to hell was pushing them away from God.
After I dismissed the class in the afternoon, Andy immediately met me outside the door and demanded I stop teaching the group about grace. He told me teaching grace would lead this group right back into their addiction. Of course, I saw it just the opposite. It was my belief his teaching of losing their salvation and going to hell would lead the group back into their addictions and it was grace that would change their lives.
The group listened intently to our conversation. They were hanging on every word. Andy finally told the group to leave while he and I continued our discussion. I was not having any success in convincing Andy about grace. However, God brought an illustration to mind that I had read in a book called Growing In Grace by Bob George. It was an illustration about how grace keeps us close to God and away from the dangers of sin, and how law, religious rules based upon fear, actually pushes us away from God and into the dangers of sin. This illustration was based upon a country dog and a city dog. Something Andy could relate to.
Andy lived out in the country. I asked him if he had a dog. He said yes. I asked him if he had a yard with a fence around his dog. He said no. So I asked Andy where was his dog every morning when he walked outside. He told me his dog was just outside the door waiting to jump, run, and play. I asked Andy where his dog was when he came home from the recovery center each day. He said in the yard waiting on him. He told me when he got home his dog jumped on him with excitement just like in the morning, ready to run and play.
I asked Andy another question. I asked Andy what would happen if he built a fence around his yard and kept his dog in it every day. Andy told me his dog would probably dig a hole under the fence and take off. Or, if he left the gate open, his dog would leave. So I told Andy his dog had no fence and was free to leave and roam the country side. I reminded Andy that because of the bond existing between his dog and himself, his dog never leaves the yard. It is a bond based upon love and friendship. It was this love and friendship that kept his dog safe and secure. Yet, according to Andy, this same dog would dig a hole under the fence or go out the gate if it was left open and do the very thing it would never do if the fence was not there...leave the yard. So what a fence was intended to do, protect the dog, would become the very thing causing his dog to leave the safety and security of the yard, risking injury when the dog did leave the yard.
I could see the light beginning to go off in Andy's mind. I explained to him the relationship he enjoys with his own dog is much like our relationship with God. It is our love relationship with God based upon grace that draws us close to God. Because of this closeness we have with God, we are drawn away from sin or addictions and to our Savior, Jesus. Yet, building a fence of fear around the group where they would lose their salvation and go to hell if they ever escaped the "fence" and went back into a life of addiction again would be the same as building a fence in his yard around his dog. The "fence", or religious rule if they returned to their addiction, would actually cause them go right back into their addiction.
My encouragement to Andy was to begin emphasizing the greatness of God's grace to the group. If Andy would emphasize the beauty of God's grace found in Jesus Christ, then they would be drawn to God and away from their addiction. The more they understood and experienced God's grace, the more they would be like his dog living in the country without a fence...free to go anywhere, but always home ready to enjoy their relationship with their owner and friend, Jesus.
Then suddenly, Andy said to me, "Do you mean to tell me what I have been teaching at the recovery center about the group losing their salvation and going to hell if they return to their addiction when they leave the center will actually cause them to do the very thing I am trying to get them not to do?" I replied, "Yes." Then he said, "Do you mean to tell me that grace which I demanded you stop teaching will actually draw the group closer to God and away from their addiction?" Again, I replied, "Yes." And then he said these words to me, "Will you come up to the center and teach my whole staff about grace?" Of course I said, "Yes!"
Grace really does give people who are trapped and suffering in addictions hope. It removes the guilt of the addiction through God's unlimited forgiveness and the shame of the addiction through God's unconditional love. Once a person receives God's forgiveness and rests in his love, then true recovery can begin to take place. It is a recovery based upon a love-laced, grace based relationship with God that leads to restoration where God restores the person fully and begins the process of setting him free, not only from the addiction, but also to become the person God created him to be.