Working the 12 Steps, Step by Step

by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project

Jesus said, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:33-34

This study of the twelve steps will make clear the Biblical foundation supporting each step, the progressive purpose of the steps from one step to the next, as well as the inclusive purpose of the steps, meaning that you cannot progress from one step to the next without continually working each of the steps previous to the step you are working on. As you journey through this study of the twelve steps, always be aware that you are powerless to work the steps on your own. You need to prayerfully consider who and what you are in relation to who and what God is. Then you can more adequately process this content with a spirit of humility.

What “Step by Step…” is not is a study on the origin of the steps as they were developed by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith. What else it is not is a secularized twist on the spiritual approach that Bill W and Dr. Bob intended at the time they very thoughtfully, and might I say prayerfully, developed the twelve steps.

Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith

Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith

Many say that we must be careful not to be too “religious” while considering these steps. But when you read Bill W and Dr. Bob’s How It Works you will find their devotion to absolute surrender to the endeavor of recovery God’s way in relationship with Him, as opposed to something merely religious.

Religion is defined as “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe… usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs… the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices” according to Dictionary.com. Outside of relationship with God, the twelve steps are nothing but religion without real power. The more one secularizes these steps the more he or she is being religious by definition, rather than authentically spiritual.

This is a study of the spirit at the core of each step. Before taking a closer look at each of the twelve steps and how they all work together, it is necessary to review the steps. Below are the twelve steps with key Scripture references for each step. Please read through the steps and the Scriptures relevant to each step, then continue reading to experience the blessing of the explanation of how the experience of working the steps will deliver the promise of blessing and victory into your life. I am excited for you to catch this glimpse of the possibility and hope for your life today and down the road.

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over addiction—that our lives had become unmanageable.

For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. Romans 7:18 (NIV)

“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. John 8:32-34 (NKJV)

But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. James 1:14-15 (NKJV)

They (people, places and things in the world) promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of sin and corruption. For you are a slave to whatever controls you. 2 Peter 2:19 (NLT)

Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

To whom can you compare God? What image can you find to resemble him? Can he be compared to an idol formed in a mold… Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing. O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles? O Israel, how can you say God ignores you? Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and sufficient strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40: 18-19, 26-31 (NLT)

“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness… so that the power of Christ can work through me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NLT)

For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Philippians 2:13 (NLT)

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. Romans 8:11 (NLT)

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Ephesians 3.20 (NLT)

Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him (came to believe).

Then He (Jesus) said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (NLT)

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy (came to believe), to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD. Lamentations 3:40 (NIV)

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. Proverbs 14:12 (NKJV)

Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. Ephesians 5:11 (NLT)

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 (NLT)

Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. Psalm 51:4 (NLT)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (NIV)

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. James 5:16 (NLT)

Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. Psalm 51:1-2 (NLT)

For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. Romans 10:10 (NLT)

Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

If you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land. Isaiah 1:19 (NASB)

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:13-16 (NLT)

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. 1 John 3:9 (NLT)

Step 7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:10 (NLT)

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me—now let me rejoice. Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Psalm 51:7-10 (NLT)

Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. Psalm 32:5 (NLT)

Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:30-31 (NIV)

“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. Luke 6:27-28 (NLT)

“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25 (NIV)

Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.” Matthew 5:23-24 (NLT)

Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright. Proverbs 14:9 (NIV)

If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is still living in darkness. Anyone who loves another brother or sister is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble. But anyone who hates another brother or sister is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness. 1 John 2:9-11 (NLT)

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 1 Peter 3-13-16 (NIV)

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” Matthew 7:12 (NIV)

Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 1 Corinthians 10:12 (NIV)

“I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.” Romans 12:3 (NLT)

If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. James 3:13-18 (NLT)

Step 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.

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. Colossians 3:16 (NLT)

My child, pay attention to what I say. Listen carefully to my words. Don’t lose sight of them. Let them penetrate deep into your heart, for they bring life to those who find them, and healing to their whole body. Proverbs 4:20-22 (NLT)

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NLT)

We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 (NLT)

Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

If a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Galatians 6:1 (NKJV)

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:7-8 (NLT)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NLT)

Progressive and Inclusive

Is there any doubt that the intentions of the forefathers of these twelve steps were to access the power of the living God in relationship with His Son Jesus Christ? They deliberately utilized the Word of God as their inspiration for recovery from addiction. It is important to understand the progression of each of the steps as a sensible path to sustained transformative recovery. Bill Elam, Founder of Eleeo Ministries, insists to the participants at his Twelve-Step meetings, that while the steps are progressive they must be inclusive. This means that while you progress, let’s say, from the third to the fourth step, you are working steps one through four in your daily recovery walk. So here we go.

step one

The first step targets the fact that I am powerless to fix myself. My selfish brain wants what it wants when it wants it and if given the opportunity will go to any lengths to get it. Not only is the brain selfish since the GO (excitatory) systems of the brain will override the STOP (inhibitory) systems of the brain whenever sound recovery principles are not effectively implemented in my life, but Scripture points out that my scientific selfish brain is especially disadvantaged by my sin nature—spiritually flawed.

step two

It is not enough to admit that I am powerless and out of control. That just means that I will die in my own futility without an intervention from something or someone more powerful than I am, with sovereign authority over everything that holds me hostage to my addiction. This second step is easily the step that everything in recovery hinges on. It is the most challenging step. Once I have a belief in God, known to me even though I do not see Him with my own eyes, faith catapults me into spiritually empowered recovery that is as real as the words on this page.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV)

step three

Once I believe, having experienced the powerful touch of God in some way, it only makes sense that in my third step that I would turn away from my addiction to selfishness by turning over my will and my life into His care to restore me to stability and into peace and joy. This requires a commitment to surrender everything into God’s care according to my belief that He is trustworthy and able to change everything into what He wants my life to be, which is His best for me. The question is: turn away from what specifically, and what specifically am I turning over to the will and plan of God in my third step?

step four

The specifics of what I am hoping to surrender to God is to be examined in my fourth step. If I am being honest and authentic in my first three steps, having admitted that I am not in control, and having believed in God through a relationship with Jesus Christ as my Savior from my mess, and then having made the most critical decision to let go of all that I treasure along with all that I fear and hope to preserve in my selfishness, then I am in a healthy place to search deeply into my soul with fearless honesty in my personal moral inventory. It is in this endeavor, empowered by Christ, that I will identify that which is to be turned over to Him in my life’s journey.

As I get to know God, not only does He unveil the mysteries in the spiritual realm which empower me, He reveals to me what is inside of me, even that which is buried deep if I will allow Him to take me there. It is in the fourth step that I come to know myself, accept myself for who I am in relationship with God, and come to love myself. In loving myself as the man I am as seen by God, from His point of view, I am prepared to learn and admit the exact nature of my wrongs, which I believe Scripture regards as my selfishness, rooted in a core belief of entitlement.

It was a selfish core belief of entitlement that allowed Adam and Eve to be deceived and persuaded to give into temptation to desire and pursue the one thing they could not have when they possessed everything except for the thing God said was not for them. They were led to believe that they were entitled to everything that was God’s (so they could be as God was) and consumed the one thing that they thought they were missing from having it all, even though they had everything else, more than they would ever need. Having ate of the tree of knowledge of their selfishness, they became selfish and addicted to self. Then, just like I need Jesus, they needed Jesus.

step five

Having identified the exact nature of my wrongs, my recovery journey takes me, not only to admitting (confessing) it to God like King David did, but confessing the exact nature of my wrongs with another person that I can trust will support me with the same fearless honesty that I needed for my fourth step; someone who cares deeply enough for me that He will help me to be accountable; someone who will not judge me, but will indeed judge me with a sincere heart as empowered by the Spirit of God in his recovery. This fifth step is critical to my recovery as it is the acceptance of the community of recovering people into my life. It is in the community—family, if you will—of recovering people that I can experience accountability and discipline that is healthy and loving.

step six

I am then in a humble place, able to embrace the qualities, the abilities, and the talents that God has blessed me with in my life—the God-given good that is within me. It is in my sixth step that I am willing for God to take from me my character defects that were revealed to me in my fourth step, unveiling what is at the core of my selfish addiction. It is again a letting go moment as there may be things that at my selfish core I would like to hold on to. Working these sixth and seventh steps is still inclusive of the previous step, especially steps one through three. Being ready and willing to ask God to remove my character defects means I might miss out on some of the things that in my selfishness I really enjoyed and perhaps believed I needed.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4

step seven

The seventh step is the moment when I ask God to remove those shortcomings that were products of the exact nature of my wrongs that I had decided to surrender to Him in my third step. It doesn’t matter that I am ready and willing to turn my will and life over to God until I ask Him to take it from me and transform me into something new. Even as He is changing me daily, it is only as I humbly ask Him to change me that He graciously responds to my willingness to be changed; to remove my defects of character with all of its shortcomings.

step eight

My defects of character include issues I have with others that I have harmed along the way; those that were sucked into the path of my destructive behavior. In working my fourth step it only makes sense that in my inventory were weapons against others, whether friend or foe, loved one or enemy. My eighth step shines a light on all those I had harmed, and if I am truly in recovery than I am compelled to make amends—make things right—with them. This can be a very sensitive matter so it must be done with the attitude of humility of the seventh step and surrender of the third step. In Step Eight I am willing to turn over my guilt and shame concerning those I have harmed into God’s care, trusting that He will guide and empower me in the amends process and that He will be the one to restore them into something better.

The Twelve-Step journey is a willing path. It is only possible to the extent that I am willing. Whatever I hold back holds back the blessing of recovery. Not because God withholds the blessing, but because it is about a two-way street of acceptance. To live in truth is to accept truth in all that it entails. To be entirely ready to make amends to all that I have harmed is to accept the truth of what I have done, as well as accepting the truth that I have been forgiven by God for all of it. It is in this truth that I have been set free, even when I struggle to forgive myself and do not feel forgiven or free. Therefore, I am free to attempt to reconcile where it is healthy to do so, and simply be willing to seek reconciliation even though it may not occur in those human relationships. The key is that I am willing in humility to do as led by the Spirit of God in my recovery. The bottom line is that while I am willing to amends to all I have harmed who may or may not be merciful to me, the only mercy that matters is God’s mercy.

Let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God. Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything. 1 John 3:18-20 (NLT)

step nine

It is in this place of willingness in recovery, living in truth, that I seek guidance from God. It is here that I trust God to lead me to the help of someone I know well and trust deeply to help me in my recovery (i.e., sponsor, discipler, mentor). It is here in a spirit of humility and willingness that I do the work of my ninth step and enter into the danger zone of seeking out those relationships that need to be made right again through the making of amends; where doing so would be healthy for them who may need something more from me than what they were left with. In many of these relationships reconciliation will be sweet and fulfilling. With others, it may be difficult and intense for awhile. I must be mindful that the amends process is for the benefit of those I have wronged, though I will be blessed and enriched along the way. I must be working steps One through Nine or I am in danger of jeopardizing my recovery and risking relapse; with perhaps great consequence.

steps ten through twelve

Steps Ten through Twelve assure me that, while I am making progress in recovery, I have not arrived. I am not recovered. As a citizen of heaven in relationship with Christ I am to press on and not fall prey to the appetites of the world and my own selfish desires, cravings, obsessions, and urges. Desires and cravings speak to what I want while obsessions and urges speak to what I seek. I am still human vulnerable to my self-centered ambitions and motivations. Therefore, I must press on empowered by my Savior everyday that I live.

12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. 15 Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. 16 But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.

17 Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. 18 For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. 20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. 21 He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. Philippians 3:12-21 (NLT)

The tenth step through twelfth steps keep me on this path to sustained life-long recovery that continues to free me from guilt and shame as I continue to pursue the will of God for my life. Through active prayer and meditation on the Word of God I am aware of the truth of who and what I am as the Spirit of God continues to reveal to me His truth. As soon as I go my own way, giving in to anger urges and resentful and jealous obsessions, my selfish pride strives to overwhelm the humble spirit of recovery that is paramount to progress. As I work through the Twelve Steps inclusive of all twelve steps, God is faithful to empower me to be honest with myself about my prideful ways and by His Spirit I have the courage and even the will to admit that I am wrong.

I am indeed consciously in touch with God who is accessible to me in relationship with Jesus. In the conscious reality of this relationship, having received the blessing of His promise to empower me to live in freedom, I do not want to keep this to myself. I am compelled by love to share this incredible reality of freedom in relationship with God to everyone I know. This is the other end of the miracle of recovery. The first seven steps are about me and getting right in my relationship with God in the awareness of my insanity; my disease. Steps Eight and Nine are about my relationship with God and how it affects you as I seek to get back into right relationship with you. Steps Ten and Eleven keep me grounded and focused in my recovery; and then Step Twelve is about telling everyone in need of recovery about how it all works as I seek to be in right relationship with the world as testimony of God’s mercy and grace in my life.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced… If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit. Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 4:13-17 (NLT)

working the steps one day at a time

If you made it this far in this long reading, I thank you and now encourage you to immerse yourself into the reality of relationship with God into the miracle of recovery from your addiction to you. Start at Step One and prayerfully over time work your way through these steps. If you are reading this and you struggle with Step Two then simply ask out loud for God to show up and show Himself to you. If you believe in God but are not quite sure where else to go with that then ask out loud for God to reveal more and more of the truth of who He is and where He wants to go with you in real relationship with you.

It is the sensible thing to do to pursue something better than what you are, what you have, and the way things are. God can and will take you farther along in your journey than you have ever gone before; to places you cannot experience without Him, even if it doesn’t feel altogether comfortable for awhile. If you struggle to trust God than you need to ask Him for faith to believe—to really believe. Then at some point make the decision to trust Him. Then hope for and anticipate the results of believing in the One with boundless resources and in complete authority over all things.

I wonder how it’ll turn out.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)

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