This blog was originally posted in the Biblical Counseling Coalition’s Grace and Truth blogs. Pastor Mark Shaw discusses the Biblical basis for a persepctive of “transformation,” rather than “recovery” in labeling the month of September and addiction. Join the conversation and follow along.
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
September has traditionally been recognized in the US as “National Recovery Month.” While I like the word recovery, I really love the biblical word transformation instead because God offers real hope and help for the person struggling with an addiction. God wants more for us than just recovery, though recovery is a good word.
If you were to have surgery tomorrow, you would be wheeled into one of two rooms following the procedure: the recovery room or the morgue. The room of choice for most of us is the recovery room because recovery after surgery is a good thing. (Of course, we understand as Christians that to be with Christ is gain according to Philippians 1:21 but that is a blog post for another day!)
My point is that while recovery is a good word, it does not best capture a biblical goal and motivation for addicts. Is recovery the best word to depict God’s goal for us? I believe the better word is found in the verse above and in Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Right Eternal Goals
Some wonder why I would split hairs over such an issue especially when both words are good. But here’s why: using the word transformation instead of recovery sets the bar higher which is where God sets it. The original language of the biblical word transformation is similar to our English word metamorphosis, and so it has an eternal component that is lacking in the word recovery.
Recovery is usually more focused upon self (i.e. how is this change going to help me?) and the things we can have in this life while transformation is more centered upon Christ and our service to Him (how can this change in me glorify God and advance His Kingdom?).
For the Christian, Romans 8:28-29 and 1 Corinthians 10:31 tell us that transformation will result in being conformed to the image of God’s Son and all our life will be lived ultimately for the glory of God. When we lower the standards that God has set, we miss out on opportunities to acknowledge our own sinfulness before God, ask forgiveness through Jesus, and receive the majestic grace of God which lovingly atones for those sins through Christ’s righteousness alone. That is the Gospel and I don’t want us to miss opportunities to share it with those who are going through addictive struggles. Transformation is a word that points to Christ and presents the power of the Gospel.
I train counselors to teach their counselees this simple illustration to get them to aim higher: teach them to be butterflies and not just caterpillars with rarely used wings. How ludicrous it would be to see a beautiful butterfly with huge wings wandering around the garden mile after mile on his 6 short legs!
I love the picture that the Bible gives us of being a new creation in Christ in 2 Corinthians 5:17. I am concerned that some Christians are missing the opportunity to proclaim this new position in Christ and new identity in Christ whereby the power to be transformed is possible. We have been transformed from the Kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of light (salvation) and we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another (progressive sanctification). Too many Christian counselees in “recovery” from addictions are now in fact butterflies but are being trained to act like caterpillars taught to aim for lower goals than those found in Scripture. By the power of the Holy Spirit, just as the wind carries the butterfly along, they can fly!
Now, let’s pause a moment and recall the most recent butterfly you have observed in flight. Often their flight path may appear disjointed, a little difficult to track, and frankly a little scary to watch, but God does not promise that the flight will be smooth. His will is to be glorified and have the counselee continually being conformed to the likeness of Christ. What a glorious and hope-filled promise for all who trust in Christ for salvation!
Right Godly Motivation for Change
One key element of using the right word for the right goal involves our motivation. Those struggling with addictions of all types must focus upon the put-on of Ephesians 4:24 or they will rarely be motivated to change. Most addicts I counsel are not motivated by the put-off (never drink or drug again).
Rather, they are motivated by the new relationships they can possess with Christ and others. They are motivated by the promises of God and His grace. They are motivated by the fruit of the Spirit God produces in and through them (Galatians 5:22-23). These are the things that come from a right goal of transformation which focuses upon serving Christ through obedience to His Word and Spirit.
Again, the Christian recovery movement has good goals. One of them is to be a better me. I am all for being a better Mark, but only in light of becoming a better ambassador of Christ. That is a new, rightly motivated goal that has me focused upon Someone bigger than myself.
Transformational goals are possible through Christ and His power and we must be motivated by the desire to be pleasing to Him and make that our goal (2 Corinthians 5:9).
Romans 12:2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18 remind us that God wants to transform our minds by making us more Christ-like. His plan is fantastic and is more than just staying clean and sober.
So can biblical counselors campaign to rename this month? How does “National Transformation Month” sound to you? In reality, every month of the entire year for every believer is national transformation month because God is still actively involved in the business of transforming lives for His own glory!
Join the Conversation
- What other biblical words reflect biblical constructs that conflict with worldly words and ideas? Give examples.
- How can you promote Christ as the answer to all types of addiction?