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Road to Recovery #4 - "Coming Clean"

Adapted from Rick Warren, Celebrate Recovery

Mar.17/13 Ps.139:23-24; 1Jn.1:5-2:2


In our series on Recovery we've been taking one letter each week to sum up the steps we can take with God's help to find freedom from our hurts, habits, and hang-ups. The first week we talked about the Reality Step--Realize I'm not God, that I'm powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and my life is unmanageable. In reality I realize that I have problems I can't seem to control.

The second week we talked about the Hope Step--Although I'm powerless to control all the problems and all the things in my life, God has the power to control them, and E stands for Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him, and He has to power to help me recover.

Last week we talked about the Commitment Step--It's not enough to know that I've got problems and not enough to know that God can solve them, but I must consciously turn them over to Him. I need to make a commitment of all my life and will and say, "God, here is my life, the good, the bad and the ugly." And God begins to take those problems and work on them. We call that the Commitment Step: [read together] "C onsciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ's care and control."


Step 4 is known as the "Housecleaning Step": It has to do with cleaning up the past, letting go of guilt, gaining a clear conscience, learning to live guilt free and the way God wants us to live. If you'll take this step today you're going to feel a whole lot better from now on. O STANDS FOR OPENLY EXAMINE AND CONFESS MY FAULTS TO GOD, TO MYSELF, AND TO SOMEONE I TRUST.

Why is this a part of the recovery process? Guilt keeps us stuck in the past. Guilt keeps us from growing, from becoming all God wants us to be. If you're going to learn how to really enjoy life, you've got to learn how to let go of guilt. The truth is, none of us is faultless. We all have sins, we've all made mistakes. So we all have regrets. We all have remorse. We all have things we wish we could turn back the clock on and say, "I wish I would have done that differently," but you didn't. So you feel bad about it, feel guilty about it, carry it with you. As a result we carry guilt around--sometimes consciously, but most of the time unconsciously. There are a lot of ways you react in life that are caused by unconscious guilt. Things you're not even aware of. Things you feel bad about. We may deny the guilt, or repress it; we may blame other people for our guilt. We can excuse our guilt, or try to rationalize it. But we still feel the effects of it. If you're really going to recover from the hurts, and habits, and hang-ups in your life, you've got to learn how to let go of guilt, how to live with a clear conscience.

There's a big difference here between Christianity and a secular worldview. If someone were to ask a secular psychologist, "I'm so consumed with guilt and don't know what to do with it - how do I get rid of it?" The secular psychologist might answer: "You can't.You've just got to learn to live with your guilt." So, we lie to ourselves, we try to rationalize our guilt. Rationalizing means telling myself in my mind that it's OK when I know in my heart it was wrong. We can rationalize all we want: "It's OK, everybody's doing it, it was a long time ago," but our heart keeps saying, "I know it was wrong." Because God's imbedded every human with a little built-in guilt gauge called "conscience". See Romans 2:15: it's standard equipment in humans, we're morally-geared beings, part of being created in God's image.

But rationalizing doesn't really deal with guilt, it won't remove it - like trying to plaster over a leaky pipe, it's just going to get rotten eventually and make a big mess. How do you get rid of guilt? By taking Step 4 in this Road to Recovery; this step is the key to relief. Once you take this step, you'll experience the truth of Psalm 32(1f): "What happiness for those whose guilt has been forgiven.What relief for those who have confessed their sins and God has cleared their record."


Why take this step? Because of 3 things guilt does to us.

1) Guilt destroys your confidence: You can't be a confident person if you have guilt in your life. It makes you feel insecure because you're always worried, "What if somebody finds out? If somebody really discovers the truth about me then they may not like me, they may reject me; they'll know I'm not all that I'm hyped up to be." As a result we're afraid of other people and it destroys our confidence.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, writer of the Sherlock Holmes novels, one day played a prank on five of the most prominent men in England. He sent an anonymous note to these five big shots and all it said was this: "All is found out, flee at once." Within 24 hours all five men had left the country! Their consciences practically catapulted them into self-imposed exile.

Guilt robs you of confidence. It's like a cloud hanging over your head and you're thinking, "I just can't get on with my life because I'm afraid somebody's going to find that skeleton in my closet, that deep, dark secret that I know about, and obviously God knows about, but nobody else knows about it and it carries a heavy, heavy weight." And it robs your confidence.

2) Guilt absolutely damages your relationships. Guilt causes us to respond to people in wrong ways. Guilt can make us impatient with other people. Guilt can cause us to overreact in anger. Have you ever seen somebody overreact in anger, like a nuclear explosion to a firecracker cause? Often that's motivated by guilt when you get down behind it. Sometimes the person theirself don't even know that. Guilt can cause you to spoil people, indulge people: "I feel like I'm guilty in this relationship so I buy them lots of things." Trying to buy approval, buy your way out of the hole. Parents often feel guilty and overcompensate by indulging. Guilt can cause you to avoid commitment in relationship. You get so close in the relationship but then no closer. "Why can't I open up and be vulnerable / risk intimacy? Why won't I let people get close to me?" One of the reasons is Guilt. So it damages our relationships, because it keeps us responding to people in ways that aren't healthy. A lot of marriage problems today have their roots in things that happened prior to marriage that a spouse still feels guilty about.

3) Guilt keeps me stuck in the past. Last week we talked about this, how living in the past is like driving always looking in the rearview mirror. You're going to end up crashing if you do that. You can't only look at life in a rearview mirror - it gives perspective but you never get ahead. What guilt does is tend to replay in your mind over and over the things you wish you could change but you're never going to change. Guilt can't change the past just like worry can't change the future - it just makes today miserable. On top of that it can make you sick.

A psychiatrists' report says that probably 70% of people in hospital could leave today if they knew how to resolve their guilt. When I swallow my guilt, my stomach keeps score, and if I don't talk it out to God and to others, I take it out on myself. This is a very important step. It's a scary step. This is the one that separates those who want to talk about recovery and those who really mean business saying, "I'm going to get on with my life.I want to get well.I want to grow.I want to let go of the past.I want to be able to close it.I want to bury the past." You can't bury it as long as it's alive. And so you have to know how you can take these steps.


How do you take these steps? The procedure's very simple, it just requires a lot of courage.

1) Take a personal moral inventory. What that means is that you get alone, you get a pencil and a notepad and you sit down and say, "What is wrong with me? What have I felt guilty about? What have I regretted? What have I felt remorseful about? What are the faults in my life that I know need changing?" And you ask God to help you out. You ask Him to bring to your mind, "What are the things I consciously feel guilty about, and what are the things I unconsciously feel guilty about that I don't know about but are messing up my life?" Lamentations 3:40: "Let us examine our ways and test them." God says we need to examine our lives and then we pray and ask God in this time to help us. Psalm 139:23f: "Search me O God, and know my heart.Test my thoughts, point out anything you find in me that makes you sad." Lord, I'm sitting here, I've got my pencil and paper, You just bring it to mind. If you're familiar with the John Regier materials, use the section on "Bitterness" to go through and list the people who have hurt you that you haven't forgiven, that you feel bitter about - that bitterness is making you guilty because you haven't released them. God can't forgive you if you won't forgive others (Mt 6:15).

When you take this moral inventory, you need to take your time, don't rush it. Inventorying ought to be a regular habit, a discipline, that keeps us in tune with the Holy Spirit and God's view of things, growing, healthy. This doesn't work unless you are ruthlessly honest with yourself. Say, "I'm going to be dead honest, quit pretending, I'm going to lay out what's wrong with my life," and then sit down and start writing it down.

Why in writing? Because it forces you to be specific. Why can't we just think about these things, pray about them? Dawson Trotman (found of The Navigators) observed, "Thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass over the lips and through the fingertips." That means if I've thought about it and I can say it and I can write it down, I've really got it clear. You can't just say, "God, I've blown it in life." We all know that! Specifically, you need to write it down, itemize it. This helps you be specific, face reality, helps you stop denying problems in your life. Write out what's bugging you, how have you bugged others. "What are my faults, my sins, my mistakes?"

2) Accept responsibility for my faults. Proverbs 20:27 GNB "The Lord gave us a mind and a conscience.We cannot hide from ourselves." The greatest holdup to the healing for my hang-ups is me. The greatest holdup to the healing for your hang-ups is you. It starts with being radically honest and saying, "I'm the problem." Some delude themselves by supposing, "If I just change relationships, just change jobs, or change towns, change locations, then everything will be fine." The only problem is - wherever you go, you're there! And you keep messing it up. So, instead, you need to quit trying to pin it on everybody else and accept responsibility for your faults. Don't rationalize. Don't say, "It happened a long time ago" or "it's just a stage" or "everybody does it." Cut out the excuses. And don't minimize it. Don't say, "It's no big deal." If it's "no big deal", how come you still remember it 20 years later? And you do. Don't minimize it. Don't blame others claiming, "It's mostly their fault." It may be mostly their fault, but God holds you responsible for the 10% that's your fault. Admit you messed up. 1Jn 1:8 "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." Phillips translation: "We live in a world of illusion." Living Bible: "We're only fooling ourselves." The point is that if I really want to stop defeating myself, I've got to stop deceiving myself...and pretending that it's everybody else's fault -- when the issue really is me.

What are you pretending to not feel guilty about, but in your heart you still do? Don't you think it's time to finally deal with it and get it over with so you can get on with your life? You make a moral inventory and then you look at that list and say, "Yes, that's me.I accept responsibility for my faults."

3) I ask God for forgiveness. 1John 1:9: NIV "If we confess our sins, He [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." Phillips - "If we freely admit that we have sinned we find God utterly reliable.He forgives our sin and makes us thoroughly clean from all that is evil." If we freely admit it, God will forgive us. How can that work? How can this be? What's different here from all the secular solutions possible? Here's where we find the "secret ingredient" of Christianity that no other faith-system offers - the sacrificial blood of Jesus, the holy and innocent Son of God, poured out for the forgiveness of sinners. His precursor pointed Him out saying, "Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (Jn 1:29) 1Jn 1:7, "the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin." The whole thrust of Jesus' life is captured in the cup at the Lord's Supper - "This is My blood of the covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Mt 26:28)

What's the right way to ask God for forgiveness? How do I do this? Don't bargain. Don't say, "If You'll just forgive me, I'll never do this again." If that's your area of weakness, you're probably putting yourself on. You don't have to bargain with God to get His forgiveness. Don't bribe. Don't say, "God if You'll forgive me, I promise to do a bunch of good things. I'll go to church, I'll tithe, I'll do this or that …" Just believe. Forgiveness is a gracious free gift, bought for you already by Jesus at the cross; God's waiting for you to ask so He can grant you forgiveness and cleansing. You just commit yourself, entrust your life to Him, believe that He will forgive you, as His word promises. When we freely admit that we have sinned, we find God utterly reliable. He forgives our sin and makes us thoroughly clean from all that is evil.

1Jn 1:9 says, "If we freely admit" (or, "confess" in NIV): the Greek word 'homologeo' comes from putting 2 words together, homo meaning "same" (like homogenized milk) and logo meaning "word". It means to speak the same. Lexicon: " to say the same thing as another, i.e. to agree with, assent; ...to confess, i.e.to admit or declare one's self guilty of what one is accused of. " To admit or to confess means to speak the same thing about the stuff on your list that God says about it. Agree with HIS angle on it. Say, "God, You're right - it's wrong." That's what it means to confess. Agree with God about the wrongness of what you did, your part in the mess.

The basis for forgiveness (according to 1Jn 1:9) is that God "is faithful and just", He's utterly reliable. It's God's nature. But you might protest to me, "If I make that list, you don't know what's going to be on that list, I know.And I could never be forgiven for that." You're wrong. As a pastor, there's not much that shocks me anymore. I've heard a lot of cruddy stuff! I doubt there's any sin plaguing you that I haven't already had somebody tell me personally about for themselves. And every time I've taken people through this step, God brings change in their lives. Apart from blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (which is basically rejecting God's grace, period) there is no sin too bad, too great; "there's no sin too big for the cross to handle."

A woman once came to Rick Warren and said, "I'm depressed.I've been in bed for weeks, and I don't have any energy to get out of bed and live anymore." Rick asked, "Is there something you really regret in your life?" She began to pour it out. Yes, her husband travels, she had an affair and got pregnant and had an abortion, and she had never told her husband about it. Rick explained to her how Jesus said, "I can forgive and I can cleanse you of every sin." She said, "It just doesn't seem fair. Somebody's got to pay for my sin." Rick said, "Somebody has - His name is Jesus Christ. That's why He died on the cross! And He died for that sin and every other one you've confessed and committed and ones you're going to."

In this step we humbly come to God and ask for forgiveness. In Isaiah 1:18 God makes this offer: "No matter how deep the stain of your sin is, I can take it out and make it clean as freshly fallen snow." Better than any detergent! God says, "No matter what the stain is, I can take it out."

4) Admit my faults to another person. We have a new Pope this week; in the Roman Catholic church, priests and Pope are very important because you need to go to a priest for confession, to receive absolution. Protestants scoff at this and point to Scripture's assertion that there's only one Mediator between God and man, that is, Jesus Christ (1Tim 2:5). Nevertheless, if you want to be absolutely Biblical about it, the New Testament does tell us to confess our sins to one another. God says admitting our faults to another person is essential for your recovery. James 5:16 "Admit your faults to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed." How are we healed? By admitting our faults to one another. Why do I need to drag another person into this? Why can't I just admit it to God? Why don't I just pray about it, make a list, talk to God about it? Why do I have to tell one other person? Because the root of our problem is relational. We lie to each other. We deceive each other. We're dishonest with each other. We wear masks. We pretend we have it together; but we don't. And we deny our true feelings, and we play games. It isolates us from each other and prevents intimacy. We end up living with shame and it makes us insecure. We think, "If they really knew the truth about me, they wouldn't love me.They'd reject me."

So we get sick. I am only as sick as my secrets. The secrets I hold onto are the secrets that make me sick. It's as if God says, "Revealing your feelings is the beginning of healing." If you don't do that, the more you hide it, the bigger it gets, you exaggerate it internally. But the amazing thing is, when you risk honesty with one person, all of a sudden a feeling of freedom comes into your life. You realize that everybody has problems, and often they have the same ones you do. You admit it to one other person. Everybody needs one. You don't need more than one, but you do need at least one person in life you can be totally honest with. Why? There's something therapeutic about this; it's God's way of freeing us.

Do I just go out and broadcast my sins to everybody? No - telling the wrong person could be big trouble! You don't just go out and indiscriminately tell your problems. So who do you tell?

A) Somebody you trust. Somebody who can keep a confidence, who is not a gossip and who has a reputation for keeping a confidence. You don't need to tell somebody and then next week it's in National Enquirer! (or all over the local phone lines)

B) Somebody who understands the value of what you're doing and will be supportive.

C) Somebody who is mature enough that they're not going to be shocked.

D) Somebody who knows the Lord well enough that they can reflect His forgiveness to you. That may be an elder, a close trusted friend, a Christian counselor. Most genuine Christians I know would be honored to listen to your fourth step.

Then what do you say? You find a safe place and take your moral inventory list and say, "I just need somebody to listen to me take my fourth step in recovery. Here are some things I know are wrong in my life, this is what I've done, this is what I've felt. Here are the habits, the hurts, the hang-ups." Whenever I have somebody tell me, "What I'm about to share I've never told anyone before in my life" it's truly exciting because, the moment they share it, they're going to experience tremendous relief. Suddenly the secret is exploded and loses its sickening power.

You don't have to tell everybody, just somebody. Now all of a sudden the secret that's been making you sick stops making you sick because you've started sharing it. Remember, be specific - the secret you want to conceal most is the one you need to reveal the most because that's the one that's blocking your healing, that's preventing you from experiencing God's release and grace.

When do you do it? As soon as possible. Don't procrastinate! You may be tempted to hear this sermon then go home and say to yourself, "I'll just think about this one for a while.I dunno - I acted on those first three." Maybe you're not ready to take this step yet. That's OK, keep coming. You just need a little more pain. Then God will get you ready and once you're ready you'll take this step. But spare yourself the additional agony - admit your faults as soon as possible.

5) Accept God's forgiveness and forgive myself. Romans 3:23 starts by declaring, "All of us have sinned." All. Some of you are feeling a little centred-out right now: "Pastor's talking directly to me. He planned this sermon for me, I know it." No, I didn't! All have sinned. We're all in the same boat. Early in this series someone said to me, "You've been listening in on our family conversations!" No, I haven't - I've had my own personal and family issues to deal with (some of which are now in print and available for sale on Amazon!). We're all in the same boat. Pastors need to take step 4 just like everybody else. We're all in the same boat. We're just a bunch of sinners - being transformed bit by bit into saints by God's grace. Who are we trying to kid? Nobody's perfect; we've all blown it, we've all made mistakes. It's not like anybody is more righteous than anybody else. We've all got different problems, just different areas. Rom 3:23f NLT "All of us have sinned, yet God declares us not guilty if we trust in Jesus Christ who freely takes away our sins."

What happens when I take this step? How does God forgive?

A) God forgives instantly. He doesn't wait. The moment you do this, you're forgiven. He never makes us wait, make us suffer for a while. Humans do that, but God doesn't do that.

B) He forgives freely. He freely takes away our sins. You don't deserve it, you don't earn it, you can't work for it. It's free!

C) He forgives completely. He wipes it out. Romans 8:1"There is no condemnation for those who live in union with Christ Jesus." From personal experience, I want to tell you how great that feels, to live with no condemnation! It's so freeing to keep short accounts with God. [VIDEO: James Caldemeyer, Iamsecond.com] Let's pray.[video description: "Today James Caldemeyer serves as a fishing guide on a Texas lake and competes in bass fishing tournaments around the country.Affable and eager to serve his fishing clients, James engages in all sorts of easy conversation on the water.Yet his demeanor belies a deeper secret- that at the age of 21 he was responsible for an alcohol-related car accident that killed a person and resulted in losing his job, wife, and family.With the guilt, anguish, and hurt overwhelming, James struggled to live.Yet in his darkest hours he found God waiting for him, with both the iron-fist of consequences and the mercy and grace that saved him from rotting in prison."]