A Biblical Analysis of the 12-Step Program


Many churches have adopted and regularly use the twelve step program. Their reason for using it is the notion that the steps were originally part of the church, the world incorporated them into programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, and the church needs to take them back.

This is simply not true. There are elements of truth within the steps, which creates a cloak of deception. If something is a blatant lie no one will buy it. The fact that there are hints of truths within the program makes the steps easier to accept.

We can’t just throw a Jesus tag on a few “steps” to make them acceptable to the church. In this article, I comment briefly on each of the twelve steps, highlighting both the truth and error of the step compared to scripture.

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (other addiction, sin, or bondage) that our lives had become unmanageable. Yes, it is true that a person can, after experimenting with something, come under its control and be powerless over it. Jesus said, “whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34).We can become its slave and it become our master.

    The biblical term for this would be bondage rather than addiction. On the other hand, it is the power of Christ that can sets us free from anything that attempts to hold us in its grip. Jesus is still in the delivering business (Matthew 1:21, Luke 4:18-19, Romans 11:26-27).”We can do all things through Christ who strengthens” us (Philippians 4:13). It also says that as born again believers God’s “divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3-4).

  2. We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. This has truth in it as well. The key is, what is the power source we are looking to? If we are looking to the one true God and Jesus Christ whom He sent (John 17:3), we are indeed tapping into the correct source of power (Philippians 4:13, 2 Peter 1:3). The problem comes when according to AA, NA, etc. our power source can be anything we choose.
  3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. There are a number of problems with this statement:
    • God cannot be reduced to our understanding. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). When we attempt to reduce Him to our level of understanding, He inevitably becomes less than who He really is. God is above and beyond our understanding. Job said, “Can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty” (Job 11:7)?
    • Jesus as your higher power. Many claim they made Jesus their higher power, which is commendable. However, Jesus is not simply a “higher power” among a multiplicity of “higher powers” or a “god” among a multiplicity of “gods.” Jesus is the Most High God!
    • No where in scripture are we ever told to turn our will over to anyone or anything – even God. We are to submit ourselves to God’s will and plan as Jesus and Paul did (Luke 22:42, Acts 21:8-14), but we continue to have free will.
    • This step treads in dangerous territory. According to scripture, any generic or false “god” is actually a demon (Deuteronomy 32:16-17, 1 Corinthians 10:20). To turn our will over to some generic “god” could very well open us to demon possession or influence. We are turning our will and life over to their control. Beware!
  4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Making a moral inventory of ourselves and our behavior is always good. Paul challenged, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

    However, we are not always the best ones to examine ourselves. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). It’s much wiser to ask God or the Holy Spirit to examine us. The Psalmist prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my thoughts” (Psalm 139:23). He does a much better job than we do. We are influenced by our flesh.

  5. We admitted to God, ourselves and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. Confession is always good. We’re told “confession is good for the soul.” It’s never good to keep our sins and faults to ourselves. It has an affect on us spiritually, emotionally, mentally and even physically.
    • Confession in general: “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will find compassion” (Proverbs 28:13).
    • Confession to God: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
    • Confession to those we’ve wronged: “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
    • Confession for prayer, healing and accountability: “Confess your sins (faults) to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).
  6. We are entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. Only God can change us. However, we need to be ready and willing to allow Him to change us. This is what the new birth is all about (John 3:3). Make sure you have the right God! 1 Peter 1:23 – “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which lives and abides for ever.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 – “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
  7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. Once we are willing and ready for God to change our lives, we must simply ask. We must, however, be calling on the right God, not some generic “god” of our own making and understanding. 

    “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3). “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). In the context, this has to do with believing in Jesus, that He died for our sins, rose from the dead and confessing Him as Lord of our life.” “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame or disappointed” (Romans 10:11).

  8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. This has to do with going to the person you have wronged, confessing the wrong, and asking them to forgive you. “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
  9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. This, of course, has much to do with the previous step. In the previous step we had to be willing to make amends and here we must do whatever is necessary to make right the wrong we have done. You must attempt to “be reconciled to your brother” (Matthew 5:24).
  10. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. This is a continuation of previous steps dealing with confession and inventory. Again, it is best to ask God to make continuous inventory of our lives on a daily basis. Our personal inventory can be misleading and deceptive. Ask God to show you where we have wronged Him or anyone else and then set forth to make it right.
  11. We 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. There are a few disturbing aspects of this step:
    • According to this step, how does one improve their conscious contact with God? The only way to make contact with God is through His Son Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
    • This is still a generic “god.” The true and living God cannot be reduced to our understanding and still be God. Our concept of God must be viewed through the revelation of Himself in scripture.
    • Knowledge of His will must be sought through scripture and the Holy Spirit. “Through Prayer” to a generic “god” opens a pandoras box of potential demonic influence.
    • Meditation on anything other than the true and living God and His Word is strictly forbidden in scripture (Psalms 1:2-3, Joshua 1:8). People are increasingly turning to various forms of Eastern meditation and Hinduism. In these meditative practices is a worldview in conflict with biblical spirituality. Christians must not use any form of meditation other than what is found in scripture.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics (addicts) and to practice these principles in all our affairs. This step is riddled with heresy:
    • “Practice these principles in all our affairs.” Make no mistake about it, the recovery movement is a false religion.The idea of practicing these principles places these steps on plateau above that of the Bible. For a Christian to prioritize the twelve steps above God’s Word is idolatry. Not to mention how they exalt “the big book” above the Word of God.
    • “Carry this message.” The propagation of the twelve steps is prioritized above that of the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15). If this doesn’t make the movement a religion, it at least mimics one very closely.
    • “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps.” A spiritual awaking comes as a result of realizing we’re a sinner and turning to Christ for forgiveness or a move of the Holy Spirit bringing revival, not as the result of these steps. This phase is so deceptive. I have known those who were convinced they were born again because of this phrase and they had absolutely no understanding of Jesus, redemption or what the new birth actually means.

Want to learn more about the role of recovery programs in the church? Check out Twelve Steps Versus the Church.

Starting a new church or ministry is one of the most rewarding things you can do to advance the kingdom, but it can also be very challenging. With over 40 years of church planting and ministry experience, Dr. Linton’s passion is to encourage, support and equip pastors and church leaders.