I feel like I should start this post out with a giant disclaimer, because I really don’t feel qualified to write something so audacious so early in this process. It’s too soon to be able to tell if this is going to last, or even know for sure that it’s real recovery. It’s too soon to claim any level of expertise. I’m NOT an expert. I’m simply a student of the Word of God. As I walk this difficult road, I am looking to Him to show me truth, and I believe He’s led me to a passage that does exactly that.
Of course, I’m also a wife who is deeply in love with the man I married. I WANT him to be in real recovery. It’s possible that I’m looking for reasons to believe things are different, because it’s what I want so desperately to be true. It wouldn’t be the first time. I’m not going to pretend otherwise. But what I’m seeing in my love these days sure seems different. A new creation. And I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that my God is capable of that.
So, I’d like to tell you about it. To tell you what I’ve seen in the past, what I’m seeing now, and why I think they’re very different. I’d like to look at Scripture and relay to you what God has shown me there to validate what I’ve observed. Let’s look together at Galatians 5 to see how to tell the difference between someone who is living to satisfy the flesh (addiction), and one who is living to satisfy the Holy Spirit (recovery).
This is scary. There is a vulnerability in putting this out there for the world to see. What if I’m wrong? But I definitely feel a leading to write this, so here I go. Lord help me, I’m trusting You!!!
The “I Can Do it Myself” (trying to follow the law) Trap
Galatians 5:1-6 – So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.
Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.
But we who live by the Spirit wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised us. For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.
Slavery to the law – it’s how we all started out. It’s synonymous with slavery to sin. We’re all born into it. Incapable of “being good,” no matter how hard we try. Still, we all try! We grow from infancy trying to gain the approval of others.
As our authorities make rules, we try, and fail, to keep them. We learn early that no amount of effort on our parts will quench that thing in us that wants what we know we’re not supposed to have, more than we want to do what’s right. And so, we all break the “law.” Over time, though, most of us learn that there is at least one area in which we excel. One area in which we appear to be “good.” And so, we do our best to show the world that area, and hide the rest.
Alas, the effort to make ourselves “good” by counting on that one thing inevitably fails. As we mature, we begin to understand the disparity between our futile attempts at righteousness and the perfect, holy standard required by God.
Unfortunately, maturity is not a number. Some people reach that point as very young children, while others go to the grave in ignorance; never recognizing their own ineptitude, and never having the humility to accept the help that has been offered through the cross of Christ.
For far too many years, my love tried to do it on his own. He had so much going for him: An idyllic childhood, a wonderful family, a successful career, a marriage that looked picture perfect from the outside, (and often even from the inside) and children that would make any parent proud. He was (and still is) brilliant, talented, funny, and charming. He had it all.
He took comfort in his many blessings, believing they had come to him as a result of his own merit. He believed himself worthy. He enjoyed the image he had achieved. People thought he had it all together. People looked to him for wisdom. He even started to believe it himself.
The enemy convinced him that God was lucky to have such an exemplary person on His team. If he “occasionally” stepped outside the boundaries of God’s law, did it really matter? Those hidden sins were just little pleasures that he deserved. No one knew about them anyhow, so they weren’t hurting anyone. He was going to get them under control before they got too out of hand. God would forgive him. He could do it on his own, no one needed to know.
Before you start shaking your head and thinking what a terrible person he was, I challenge you to examine your own heart. Because, I think if we’re honest, many of us can relate to this very flawed way of thinking. I know I can. We all must come to a point when we come face to face with our own depravity and see it for what it truly is.
For me, that happened somewhere in my late teens or early twenties, as I read through Genesis. For my love, that moment finally came about 9 months ago. He sat in our bedroom, having been caught once again in an affair, confessing to me for the first time ALL the infidelities. When he finished he looked up at me, and the only words I could muster were, “What a waste of a human being!”
He looked at me for a second, like he wanted to fight that statement, and then something broke. He dropped his head and said, “You’re absolutely right.”
Broken Humility Before the Lord
My words may sound harsh to you, but I believe they were of God. I believe the Holy Spirit Himself put those words in my mouth. Because as mean as they may sound, they were truth. He had wasted his life up to that point. God had blessed him beyond measure and he had thrown it all away. God had given him countless opportunities to turn from his sin, and he had lived in prideful rebellion.
Scripture says, “You cannot serve two masters…” and that even the good deeds we do on our own, apart from the Holy Spirit, are about as good and pure as a pile of soiled rags, because there are always secret motives. Our depraved hearts always have a hidden agenda. The first step toward a Spirit–filled life is a brokenness that recognizes the uselessness of our own attempts at righteousness, and a humility that asks God for help.
In order for God to do His redemptive work, my love had to come to a place in which he realized that he had wasted his life because he could not achieve a drop of righteousness on his own. He needed to understand that he was not good. He needed to be broken. He needed to be humbled.
For some, brokenness happens in an instant. A sharp turn in the road of their lives. For others, it’s a process. A drawn out 180-degree curve in the road. God spent the next month opening the cracks that had formed in my love’s pride-filled façade and the month after that shattering his hard heart so that he could begin to have a faith built on the righteousness of God, a faith expressing itself in love. The Creator had started something new!
The War Within
Galatians 5:13-18 – For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.
So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. (vs.16-18)
From this place in the journey, my love can look back and still see his old self with quite a bit of clarity. I would guess that over time, as he moves further and further away from it things might blur a bit, so I want to capture as much understanding as I can from here. I ask a lot of questions. And for the first time, he doesn’t seem to mind. He often even seems to appreciate the opportunity to process these things together.
We’ve talked a lot about the war that is waged inside the heart and mind of an addict. He describes a constant pull towards the evil that held him in its clutches. But at the same time, there was a sincere longing inside of him to be free of it. He wanted out. He hated the sin, and yet loved it at the same time. He would make plans to break away from it, but find himself incapable of carrying out those plans. He might last a day, a week, or on rare occasions, maybe even a month! Each time, though, that pull would draw him back. He was miserable!
This never-ending battle created turmoil in his heart, which spilled out as a total disregard for the feelings of others. He became a user. No longer seeing people as precious children of God, but as tools purposed for his pleasure. He devoured those in his path, leaving destruction in his wake. The broken surrender to God I described above was the only way out. He had to forsake the lustful pleasures of his flesh, repent, and finally invite God’s power into the equation. He had to finally allow the Holy Spirit to guide his life so that he could be free of the obligation to do what his sinful nature craved.
Recognizing the Difference – Flesh vs Spirit
Following the Sinful Nature
As I’ve mentioned before, there have been other times when I believed, at least for a while, that my love had repented and was no longer living according to his sinful nature. But over time, as the characteristics below became more and more prevalent, it became obvious that there had been no real change. Now that I’ve seen the real deal, it seems so obvious, but I’m trusting that there was a purpose for my past naivete. If you find yourself in a situation in which you’re trying to figure this out, dear sister, plead with God to reveal truth to you, to guide you into His will, and then examine the fruit.
Galatians 5:19-21 – When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissention, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
Sexual immorality – Despite his insistence in the past that he was changing, my love would always continue to have “slips.” What he claimed to be isolated incidents of immorality. (Turns out the “slips” weren’t that isolated, just getting caught.) Obviously, if a person is still acting out sexually, stepping outside of the marriage in any way, recovery is not happening.
Impurity – This trait can manifest in so many ways. For us, it wasn’t very obvious when he was around me. Away from home, though, it was a lot worse. Lude jokes, flirtation, and a general disregard for marriage were a part of his normal behavior. Though it never got to this point with us, I’ve heard of many situations in which wives have been asked to participate in things that were, without question, outside the boundaries of a God-honoring marriage. If you’re seeing behavior that degrades the sanctity of the marriage bed, it is unlikely that recovery is active.
Lustful pleasures – This was a big one for my love. If I could sum up the way he lived before in one word it would be “indulgence.” If he wanted something, he had it. An expensive toy, another decadent dessert, time for his hobbies, a mistress, you name it. If it would bring him pleasure he should have it. If someone tried to tell him he shouldn’t or that self-control might be in order, he would become furious. How dare someone question what he was entitled to! But a life of indulgence is not in line with the Spirit of Jesus Christ who GAVE UP Himself for us.
Idolatry/Sorcery – This one can be a little subtler in our culture, but my love has spoken about it quite a bit in recent months. He is realizing how much he idolized the things of this world. Isaiah 44:6-20 was a part of our daily reading the other day, and he was very convicted by the passage as it described the foolishness of trusting in idols. Money, a good job, status, himself. He told me how he found his identity and his security there rather in the Lord God Almighty. He said now, as he’s learning to trust God instead, he’s realizing how completely absurd that was. Placing anything on a higher pedestal than God or relying on anything apart from Jesus is the behavior of one who is a still a slave to sin.
Hostility – I would describe this characteristic with the word, “haughtiness.” Before he humbled himself in true repentance, my love believed himself to be above reproach. He had nothing to learn from anyone. If someone (especially me) tried to point out an area in which he may need improvement, he became indignant. Hostile. He would point to my many faults and use them to invalidate my ability to rightly evaluate him. If you’re seeing an attitude that will not be corrected, or a person who gets furious whenever he is questioned, it is unlikely that submission to the Holy Spirit is present.
Quarreling – This is a big one. It seems that those who are living to satisfy the sinful nature are always looking for a fight. The most innocent comments are taken as aggression and met with retribution. It seems people like this are constantly on the lookout for an opportunity to put others down. In the past, I was never sure how what I would say would be taken. There was a constant fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. A quarrelsome spirit is not evidence of repentance, but of rebellion. It is not a fruit of the Spirit, but of the flesh.
Jealousy – I’ve heard of this one a lot. My love would do it a little, and questioned my fidelity (with absolutely no cause!) on a few occasions. But, I’ve seen others who seemingly go crazy with jealousy. They are constantly suspicious. They accuse their spouses of the very things they themselves are doing, but can’t seem to see that the pain they feel at the thought could be felt by the other. A person who is constantly suspicious and jealous is not a person who is trusting God and living in submission to Him.
Outbursts of anger – This was another big one for my love. Life became a game of walking on eggshells. We never knew what minor incident would cause him to fly off the handle. Things that seemed so inconsequential to me, like asking to pick up a gallon of milk since we were already in the store to get something for him, would evoke a tirade. Anything that interfered with his agenda in any way could not be accepted and would not be permitted. Such disregard for others can only be attributed to the flesh!
Selfish ambition – Another area in which my love really struggled. He had big goals for himself. He wanted the biggest and the best of everything. He deserved it, and nothing else mattered. If someone or something got in the way of that, it was a very big deal. If the sellers didn’t accept the low-ball offer we made on the house he wanted, for example, he would get depressed and full of self-pity for weeks. He would get suspicious, looking for conspiracy where there was none, believing “the world” was trying to hold him back. It seemed he wasn’t even aware of the fact that other people played into the equation and that they mattered too. That reality didn’t even exist to him. It was as if he existed on an island, and everything that happened affected only him. If a person perceives the world to revolve exclusively around himself, it is unlikely that person is in active recovery.
Dissention/ Division – Divide and conquer. These are the goals of the flesh. If he can get people questioning each other, arguing, and tearing each other apart, then no one is going to be looking at him and his faults. They are characteristics of one who is hiding in darkness, not living in light.
Envy – Again, my love struggled here. Anything that anyone else had or achieved was something he didn’t have or couldn’t achieve. Even if it was something he didn’t want! There was no room to be happy for someone else, because that wouldn’t be about him. Only the sinful nature exhibits that kind of misery and selfishness.
Drunkenness/Wild parties – Not an issue for my love because he has always stayed away from alcohol, and partying isn’t really a part of our lifestyle. But I have no doubt that if he had ever started, it would have been a very big deal too. But many others I know and love have to deal with these addictions. They are as oppressive as any other stronghold of the enemy, and evidence that the Spirit is not in control!
And other sins like these – The bottom line here is SELF! The indulgence of self. When a person is living to please his sinful nature, he will be living to please himself. He won’t care about others. He won’t take your feelings into consideration. He won’t serve you or your children. He won’t consider how his actions might hurt you. YOU won’t really exist to him. Not on your own. You will simply be an extension of himself. There for him to use. There for his pleasure. These are the characteristics of the flesh, and there is no room for recovery there. They are symptoms of one who is in bondage to sin and death.
Following the Holy Spirit
Galatians 5:22-23 – But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
While what I saw in the actions of my love in the past was much more in line with the sinful nature, what I’m seeing this time around is an abundant harvest of the fruits of the Spirit. It’s not just me that’s noticing it either, many involved in his life on a regular basis can see the difference. Even though most of them would never have guessed that the sins of his past existed, it’s obvious that there’s something different now. He’s no longer living for himself, but rather, he’s living to please the Holy Spirit of God who has graciously filled him with the supernatural power to overcome even the stronghold of addiction! Instead of selfish, prideful, abusive behavior, we are seeing:
Love – Not affection, not friendship, not sensual attraction – all of which were always a part of our relationship; but true, Biblical, agape love. Love that is patient and kind. Love that is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love that does not demand its own way, but is quick to sacrifice in order to please me, and others. Love that is not irritable, and is no longer keeping track of my faults, storing them up to be used against me when he needs something to deflect attention off himself. Love that is devastated over the injustices I’ve suffered, and that has decided he’d rather lose me than ever lie to me again. Love that is ready to fight ’till the end for us; that will never give up, never lose faith. Love that is looking for reasons to see hope for us and for our future, and is willing to endure whatever it has to in order to get to a place of healing. It is a love that is willing to give up himself for me and for others, a love that I am praying will last forever!
Joy – Gone is the irritability over every little thing that doesn’t go his way! In its place is a quiet contentment, and a spirit of thanksgiving. Rarely does a day pass on which he hasn’t shared with me some new revelation of God’s abundant blessings, and his sincere gratitude! No longer does he feel entitled to life’s pleasures, but instead sees every good thing (and even a lot of difficult things) as an undeserved gift from above. He is overwhelmed with gratitude and completely humbled that these blessings would be given to him, in spite of his failures. The prayers he leads me in have shifted from an extensive list of requests to a time of praise and adoration to the gracious God we serve.
Peace – Progress has been huge in this area, but my love would tell you it’s something God is still really working on in him. I see a new man, but he sees a long way still to go. From my perspective, the paranoid, “the world is out to get me” monster is dead, and in his place, stands a man who is trusting God. Especially in the past two months, there have been a number of situations surrounding his job that have been major stressors. In the past this would have led to a downward spiral of self-pity, isolation, and depression; but not this time. This time, he has been quick to talk to me about his worries, quick to listen as I pointed out truth, and quick to cast his cares upon the Lord and leave them in His sovereign care.
Patience/Gentleness – The patience and gentleness God has produced in my love makes it hard to even recognize him! I’m still not used to it. I still react to situations as if he’s going to pounce, forgetting that he has been made new. It still catches me off guard each time I make a blatant mistake and my love reacts with tenderness. He’s not waiting to rub my face in my faults, but instead seems eager to humbly help me right whatever is wrong. It is SO refreshing! He’s also really different with the kids. He’s always been a great dad, but now he seems so much more invested in their souls, instead of just their behavior. Kids that are well behaved reflect well upon the parents, so that was still something worth investing in to him before. Now, though, it is less about how they are going to reflect upon him, and more about guiding them to be healthy, God-fearing people. He isn’t just correcting and punishing them when they misbehave, but is taking the time to lovingly teach and guide them too. It’s a subtle difference, and many may not even notice it, but to me it’s huge. I no longer feel like I am carrying the weight of their spiritual development on my own, (Of course, it’s ultimately in God’s hands, don’t get me wrong.) but have the joy of filling the role I was meant to fill under the godly leadership of my husband!
Kindness – I think this is probably the area that is the most noticeable to the world around us. My love has always been respected and even admired by many, but I don’t think there are a lot of people who would have described him as kind. He wasn’t necessarily mean, although he certainly could be. (Can’t we all, really?) He just wasn’t one to go out of his way for another. If he didn’t want to do something, he didn’t do it. Period. Not so anymore. Now, don’t get me wrong, he’s probably still not going to be the first to volunteer for the most unwanted jobs. But he’s also not completely unwilling to do anything that he would deem “beneath” him. He notices things he wouldn’t have noticed before, and he steps up. He volunteers to help others with things he knows they need help with, but that he has no desire to do. He takes the trash out when the trash can is full. I know that sounds silly and like a small thing that shouldn’t even be celebrated, because really, he should have been doing that all along. And, well, if that’s the way you want to live your life, fine. But my Lord celebrates when one who was lost is found, and I want to be like Him! So I’m going to throw a party over that fresh trash bag, because it is evidence that my prodigal husband has returned!! Kill the fattened calf!
Goodness – This one is simple. My love spent his life with a rebellious spirit. Now, he is eager to do what is right. He is seeking God in even the minor things. He is fiercely committed to being a man of integrity, and has no delusions that he’s capable of that on his own. He is relying on God to make him “good.”
Faithfulness – This one is kind of heartbreaking, because it still feels like it’s too late. But that is me believing a lie. God can make something new out of our relationship. For heaven’s sakes, He already IS making something new out of it! My love repeats to me again and again, “I’m not going back.” “I’m committed to you, and to our marriage.” “I hate what I’ve done, it’s disgusting to me now, and I don’t want any part of it ever again!” He takes the time to reassure me in situations he knows are likely to be triggering. Even as I write this right now, he is at an event with our children that he suggested I stay home from because he knew it was likely to remind me of a terrible day two years ago. The fact that he even thought to offer that is huge. He has also become a diligent student of the Bible. Reading it and meditating upon it and asking God to use it to penetrate his heart. This faithfulness to God is what will inevitable spill over into every other area of his life and make him a man who is faithful in everything.
Self-control – This, obviously, is going to be a big one for any addict. Of all the fruits, it’s the one it seems to me God is still working to develop the most. Change is obvious though. My love told me that before God changed him, he felt incapable of resisting the temptations. He would often give in simply because he felt like he was eventually going to, so he might as well just do it. Now, though, he has learned to call on God in moments of temptation and ask for help. He’s learned to be on guard, and to flee the things that might make him vulnerable to temptation in the first place. But it’s not just in his mind. He’s learning self-control in other areas too. He’s slowly but surely resisting the urge to indulge every little desire. To stop at one dessert, or to spend extra money on things that will benefit the family instead of just on things he wants. He’s learning to listen – really listen to people, which is surely an act of self-control! There’s plenty of room still for growth, but seriously, who can’t say the same of themselves?
Crucified with Christ
Galatians 5:24-25 – Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to the cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.
I know this has been really long, and a little raw and unpolished. I’m sorry for that. This was by far the most difficult piece I’ve written so far. I’ve gone over it again and again looking for what to cut, and feeling led to keep it as is. I hope that if you’re someone who loves an addict, as I do, this has helped you understand a little better how to know the difference between what real repentance looks like and what is just temporary pretenses. All those years in the past I wondered if there was really any way to have confidence in what I perceived, or to know when change was genuine. Now that I’ve seen it, I can say (with as much certainty as is possible in this disorienting situation) that the difference will be obvious when it’s real. Trust God. He has given us His Word to guide us into all truth. Start here in Galatians 5 – examine the fruit! Ask God for help. Pray without ceasing.
If you’re just someone who is following our story, I hope it’s as clear to you as you read this as it is to me that God is doing a new thing. (Or nu thang – early 90s DCTalk fans – Represent!!) I sincerely hope you will be able to celebrate this with us! Especially those of you who actually know us in real life. I hope that with the help of God, you will be able to put the past behind us and look toward the future. I hope that you will remember the many sins God has so graciously forgiven in your life, and that you will be eager to recognize the change as it envelops every part of his life! I hope that as my love grows into the man God created him to be, you will be there with us to experience first-hand the excitement of a modern-day miracle in action! For Jesus has returned with that precious wandering lamb on his shoulders. He has loosed the chains and set a captive free! Let’s dance with the angels and sing praises to our mighty, compassionate, gracious God!