AA speaker Dr. Mike presents a Big Book study podcast and thoughts on recovery

Thoughts on Recovery – No. 51 – Faith without Works is Dead – Pages 76 and 88 – The spiritual awakening as the result of the steps and what this means for me today – Part 1

This powerful verse from the book of James is referenced twice in the big book. Before looking at this verse in relation to the program of recovery I wanted to give some of the history behind the study of the book of James and AA in it’s early days.
AA claims it’s foundation day June 10, 1935. This is the day of Dr. Bob’s last drink. You will recall that Bill met Bob in Akron, Ohio in May of 1935. They are our founders. Bill lived in Dr Bob’s house those first few months. They studied scripture every night and in particular the book of James. Lois Smith’s favorite verse was 2:14. They put it in the big book before step 8 and at the end of the chapter into action as an introduction into working with others.
The Akron group began in 1935. In the first few years before the big book was written the members were referred to as “the James Club”. In fact, when they were considering titles for the big book, one of the titles considered was “the James club”. Why was the book of James of such paramount importance to the founders of AA? I am no biblical scholar but can only share my thoughts.. My understanding is James purpose was to produce in believers what is called spiritual maturity. Faith in God should result in behavior that is in harmony with God’s will. Faith and behavior are key terms in this book just as in AA we teach that the result of our spiritual awakening produces a change in our attitudes and actions. The theme of the book of James has been identified by some as living by faith. This epistle was written so that Christians would live their faith. To advance from spiritual immaturity to spiritual maturity. Isn’t that the purpose of the 12 steps? James was concerned about behavior and ethics as expressive of belief.  Remember our belief in step 2 if not followed by the action of the rest of the steps won’t result in any change in our thinking or actions.

James was not so much concerned with doctrine but how to put faith into action resulting in our growing closer to our creator. As a result of our relationship with God how are our actions changed in our daily life. How do we live each day? Sound like the program of recovery? This book deals with where we live. It has practical application for the individual and if you study this epistle you will see how he suggests we apply the principles in all our affairs.

The sermon on the mount was of primary importance to the writing of our big book and this epistle’s teaching is rooted in the sermon on the mount. The sermon on the mount was the discourse on ethical behavior and the book of James was written to how we may practice the ethics discussed in the sermon. There are 15 references to the sermon on the mount in the book of James. The behavior of believers is discussed in the sermon on the mount. The practical demonstration of righteousness of believers, right conduct, right relationship with God. How righteous behavior manifests itself. Sound like the program?

James commented on 5 behaviors in which his readers needed to demonstrate this righteousness. He said our behavior should be centered to obtain God’s approval not other peoples. He tried to show through these 5 behaviors how we can obtain God’s approval. In AA we build positive self esteem by positive behavior. Taking right actions.
He said God gives us trials so we can grow in personal maturity. In AA we talk about how God disciplines us when we separate from him and we don’t have peace till we turn back to him. He said we patiently accept our trials as opportunities to get closer to God to access his power to deal with our tribulations. In AA that is the essence of the steps. Our solution is now God not alcohol. We achieve this solution by working the 12 steps on a continual basis. Conscious contact not conscious separation.

The second behavior he talks about is prejudice or prejudging. We have prejudgments which we impose on other individuals or groups or ideas. Sound like old ideas! He says prejudgment is a major block to spiritual growth. In AA we must let go of our old ideas absolutely or the result is nil! He says judgement blocks us from loving all people and thus blocks us from God. My judgment blocks me from God. He says we now trust in God and through our faith bring love and tolerance into our daily living. Remember on page 84 it says that love and tolerance is our code for living.
He says we must live out our faith. The third behavior he discusses is the use of our tongue.  Spiritual wisdom is a prerequisite for proper use of the tongue. In AA we seek to pause and not react when agitated or doubtful and ask God to direct our thoughts or actions. In AA we talk about self restraint especially by tongue or pen.
The fourth behavior is our relationships with other people. How do we get along with others?
How do we get along with our inner selves? In AA we talk about the need to stop fighting everything or everyone. In AA our inner and outer turmoil is manifested in anger, fear, or shame and guilt and negative behavior. The goal in James is peace with ourselves and the world. Isn’t that the essence of the 9th step promises. James method of achieving this peace is submission of our will to God. Aligning my will to God’s will. How true for me. I can see how the founders incorporated the spiritual message in James into the big book.
The fifth behavior in James is our use of money or possessions. The goal is to use money and possessions to serve others. To live an unselfish life. The method of achieving this he says is twofold. To be good stewards of what God entrusted with us he says we have to be patient with God and pray to God. He may be using the word patience to mean to allow myself to act on God’s will. We are told in the big book to ask God how I should be . Do I carry a vision of God’s will into all my activities? How can I best serve him? His will not mine be done. Does it sound like knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry it out? Using our gifts for love and service. Not making things or possessions our higher power. Being good stewards of his gifts.

The life of faith as presented by James will be marked by trials. How do I handle them? To be righteous in my behavior is the goal. To do this I must overcome the obstacles in my way. I believe my obstacles all arise from my selfishness. My character defects. The things that I worship. Remember in steps 4-5 we  face and be rid of the things blocking me. In the chapter to the agnostic it says the fundamental idea of God is blocked out by calamity, pomp, and worship of other things. Do I use speech and actions to serve myself rather than God! The world says defend your rights. The world says to rely on self to get what I think I need. To wrest satisfaction and happiness in life by managing well. This reliance on self rather than God leads to fear, anger, shame and guilt and harm to myself and others. My problems are of my own making. I must live on a different basis. That of relying and trusting in God. So when I have trials I can use the spiritual exercises of the 12 steps to gain knowledge of God’s will in every situation and his power to carry it out. I believe this leads to righteous living and I believe is what the book of James is all about!

I can see how the book of James could have such a powerful influence on our founders. In the next thought I will look at the verse “faith without works is dead”. An again I am no theological or spiritual giant just giving my thoughts on this subject and how it relates to my recovery. Hope it has been of service to you. As always can contact me mhurwitz50@gmail.com.

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  1. Jimmy B. on March 16, 2018 at 3:57 am

    This is a great reminder of the correlation and foundation for our recovery in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Mike.

  2. Marty Flynn on May 11, 2019 at 12:18 pm

    Thank you . I now see the direct relationship between the 2

  3. Anonymous on March 13, 2020 at 11:08 pm

    This was so interesting!

    • Neil Docherty on August 7, 2020 at 12:48 pm

      Thanks Mike, so the foundation of all fellowships AA…NA and others are based on the book of James ?
      Makes good sense that the foundation of recovery is built on a conscience contact with God, and a less reliance on self…..his will not mine be done.

      • Dr. Mike on August 11, 2020 at 12:30 pm

        Neil as I have studied the scriptures more over the past few years I see how the book of James in conjunction with the sermon on theme mount had great influence on the Oxford group and dr bob and the principles of aa… would love to discuss more my email mhurwitz50@gmail.com

  4. Frank F. on October 5, 2020 at 10:15 am

    Hi Dr. Mike, I have a question, are the 5 behaviors outlined in this post from a study of the James Club? And if they are, what sources were you referencing?

  5. Tim Sullivan on January 26, 2021 at 8:07 pm

    That verse is also in Bill’s Story, page 14 BB. I came across all three one night in the course of back-to-back meetings. I think God was telling me something very specific about my Program.

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