The Origin, Theology and Rationale of The Steps to Freedom in Christ
by Dr. Neil T. Anderson
A. A Brief History
Life is a journey and mine has been filled with excitement and unplanned turns in the road. I have attended church for as long as I can remember and I’ve always believed in God, but I didn’t come to know Christ until my mid-twenties while working as an aerospace engineer. I think I would have made a decision for Christ much earlier, but nobody ever shared the gospel with me, or at least I didn’t hear it in the mainline church I attended. Through the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, God opened my eyes to see the truth. Two years later I sensed God calling me into full-time ministry. I attended Talbot School of Theology and accepted a call to Lakewood First Baptist (in Long Beach, California) as a college pastor. Later, I became the minister of adult education. Having a burden for the lost, I established a school of evangelism that resulted in an average of twelve people coming to Christ every week. Then the Lord called me to a senior pastor’s position.
I pursued my first doctorate not knowing it would lead to a teaching position at Talbot School of Theology. I left the pastorate with a burden for people who were living defeated lives. I knew in my heart that Christ was the answer and that the truth of God’s Word would set them free, but I didn’t know how to help them resolve their personal and spiritual conflicts. Being alive and free in Christ is the birthright of every child of God, but how many Christians are living like children of God and how many are experiencing their freedom in Christ?
At Talbot School of Theology I requested permission to offer a Master of Theology elective to explore the nature of spiritual warfare. I was seeking a balanced and biblical answer for these troubled people. The class grew each year from 18 students to 23, to 35, to 65, to 150, and then one summer we had 250 students attend. Slowly I discovered how the truth could set people free, and I saw the lives of many students change dramatically. At the same time, the Lord was sending deeply disturbed people to me, and I had the privilege to see most of them find their freedom in Christ.
About that time, the Lord took my family through a very broken experience. For 15 months my wife suffered an illness and I didn’t know whether she was going to live or die. We didn’t have very much because seminary professors don’t earn large salaries, but we did own a house. To pay the medical bills we had to sell the house and lost everything we had. God stripped us down to nothing. My ministry was bearing much fruit, but my family was paying an incredible price.
It all changed one day when Biola University had a campus-wide day of prayer. I left the communion service that evening knowing in my heart that our trial was over. Indeed it was. Within a week my wife woke up and said, “I slept last night!” She never looked back. Why did we have to go through all that? I think there are two major reasons. First, I believe God took us through that period of darkness in order to develop a heart of compassion. The Lord said, ” . . . I desire compassion and not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13).
Second, I think God systematically brought Neil Anderson to the end of his resources. From man’s perspective I had a lot of them; twenty-five years of formal education which included three seminary degrees and two earned doctorates. Being broken before the Lord was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Only then did I really discover God’s resources. I know that I can’t set anybody free or bind up anybody’s broken heart. Only God can do that. I don’t even believe I can lead anyone to Christ, because Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (Jn. 6:44).
Freedom in Christ Ministries was born out of brokenness. I never had a desire to write a book and I never thought I would. But every book I have written and every tape series I have recorded was all after that experience. In writing Rivers of Revival with Dr. Elmer Towns, I came to the biblical conclusion that the major dam holding back the rivers of revival is our own self-sufficiency.
B. The Results of Brokenness
A Christian psychiatrist and his therapist wife did some informal research on people attending our “Living Free in Christ” conference. We estimate that 85% of the people will leave the conference with their personal and spiritual conflicts resolved. The remaining 15% can’t get through the process on their own in the amount of time we give them. So we offer individual appointments. A pre-test was given to those who requested additional help after the conference. Three months later they were given a post-test with the following results:
48% improvement in depression
46% improvement in anxiety
70% improvement in tormenting thoughts/voices
46% improvement in uncontrolled habits
55% improvement in inner conflict/distress
It is hard for some people to believe those kinds of results can come from one counseling session done by trained lay people. One church started a freedom ministry after they hosted our conference. In five years they have led over 1500 people to freedom in Christ and lay people led 95% of the counseling sessions. They were trained to use The Steps to Freedom in Christ, which is nothing more than a comprehensive process of repentance. Churches all over the world are using this approach to help people submit to God and resist the devil (Jas. 4:7). The Steps to Freedom in Christ don’t set you free. It is Christ who sets you free through your response to Him in repentance and faith.
We receive hundreds of unsolicited letters from people all over the world testifying to their newfound freedom in Christ. This is possible because we deeply believe that the Wonderful Counselor is Christ and He wants to see His children alive and free in Him. We share an answer, but He is the answer. We give people a way to repent and resolve their conflicts, but He is the way.
We found one common denominator for those who were living defeated lives. None of them knew who they were “in Christ” or understood what it meant to be a “child of God.” Why not? If the Holy Spirit is bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16), why weren’t we sensing that? Where was the “Abba Father?” After we helped them resolve their personal and spiritual conflicts and find their freedom in Christ, the sense of “Abba Father” was theirs!
It was for freedom that Christ set us free (Gal 5:1). Being free in Christ means that we are free from our past and free to be the person God created us to be. It does not mean maturity, because there is no such thing as instant maturity. It will take us the rest of our lives to renew our minds and conform to the image of God. Helping a person to experience their freedom in Christ is not an end. It is a beginning!
C. The Underlying Biblical Principles and Rationale
My book, Helping Others Find Freedom in Christ, gives a much more detailed theology, rationale and practical application for The Steps to Freedom in Christ. The following is just a summary of this approach to discipleship counseling:
1. The authority of Scripture
Truth sets people free. Therefore we must have an uncompromising commitment to the Word of God.
2. A biblical world view
Western rationalism and naturalism have greatly influenced the church in America, resulting in something less than a biblical worldview. Most conservative Christian leaders would theologically agree that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). John says the “whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19). Timothy warned, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Tim. 4:1).
We have seen evidence of this all over the world. Paul wrote, “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). We want to reach this world for Christ, but how are we going to do that if “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). Satan is also the ruler of this world (Jn. 16:11), the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2), and he “deceives the whole world” (Rev. 12:9).
We cannot have a biblical world view and leave out the kingdom of darkness. Beyond having a theological understanding of the above, we need to have a practical means of liberating the body of Christ and teaching them how to stand firm in their faith. I would strongly recommend the scholarly works of Dr. Clinton Arnold for further study: Three Crucial Questions about Spiritual Warfare, Baker Books; The Colossian Syncretism: The Interface between Christianity and Folk Belief, Baker Books; and Powers of Darkness, Principalities & Powers in Paul’s Letter, InterVarsity Press.
3. Toward a whole answer
I have often been asked, “How do I know whether my problem is psychological or spiritual?” I believe that trying to separate the two creates a false dichotomy. Our problems are never not psychological. Our minds, emotions, and wills are always a critical part of the process. And our problems are never not spiritual. There is no time when God is not here. He holds all things together according to the counsel of His will. And there is no time when it is safe to take off the armor of God. The possibility of being tempted, accused, or deceived is a critical part of our on-going struggle.
A whole answer must include submitting to God, as well as resisting the devil (Jas. 4:7). Trying to resist the devil without first submitting to God will result in a dogfight. Submitting to God without resisting the devil can leave one in bondage. The tragedy is that most of our recovery ministries aren’t doing either one. Well-intentioned programs and strategies can’t set anyone free. Only God can do that.
4. An encounter with God
Christian counseling is not just a technique that we learn. Christian counseling is an encounter with God. He is the Great Physician and Wonderful Counselor and He is the only One who can set the captive free and bind up the broken hearted. To effectively use our material, you would have to be totally dependent upon God, have the character of Christ, know the truth that sets people free and fully understand that it is God who grants repentance. “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
5. Christ is the answer
What Adam and Eve lost in the fall was life, spiritual life. What Jesus came to give us was life. The most important issue in discipleship counseling is to reconnect people with Christ who is their life. This would necessitate resolving any issues that are critical between ourselves and God. That is the basis for The Steps to Freedom in Christ.
D. Resolving Personal and Spiritual Conflicts by Submitting to God and Resisting the Devil in Genuine Repentance
It is not enough to know the Word of God; we need the life of Christ to change. The Steps to Freedom in Christ is a discipleship counseling process designed to help people resolve issues that are critical between themselves and God. Let’s examine what these issues are.
Every born-again Christian is a child of God and a new creation in Christ. Incomplete repentance, a lack of faith in Him, and unresolved conflicts can keep Christians from experiencing their freedom in Christ. This discipleship counseling approach is unique because the counselee is the one who is praying. They are inviting God to grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth which sets them free.
Step #1 – Counterfeit versus Real
In making a public profession of faith, the early church would stand, face the west and say, “I renounce you Satan and all your works and all your ways.” This was the first step in repentance. The Catholic church and most liturgical churches still require that to be said at confirmation. That is a generic statement, however. The early church would specifically renounce every counterfeit religious experience they had, every false vow or pledge they made, and every false teacher or doctrine in whom they believed. We encourage every person we counsel to do that as well. Renounce means to give up a claim or a right to something. When we renounce something, we are making a definite decision to let go of our past commitments, pledges, vows, pacts, and beliefs that are not Christian. “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Prov. 28:13 NIV).
Some people commit themselves to Christ and choose to believe the Word of God, but they hold on to past commitments and still believe what they always have. That would make salvation only addition instead of transformation. They just added something to what they already believe. Every believer must decisively let go of the past, which is the first step to genuine repentance. If we have totally embraced the truth, then we have also clearly understood what is not true. All this was made possible because of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Our sins are forgiven and we have new life in Christ, but nobody pushed the clear button in that organic computer between our ears. Our minds were not instantly transformed to the truth of God’s Word, but now we can repent by the grace of God.
The Apostle Paul said, “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the Word of God, but by the manifestation of truth, commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:1,2). Paul is contrasting the truth of divine revelation with that of false teachers and prophets. Knowing God’s holiness and His call for church purity, Paul exhorts us to renounce every immoral practice, every distortion of truth, and any deceitfulness of the heart.
God does not take lightly false guidance and false teachers. In the Old Testament they were to be stoned to death, and there were serious consequences for those who consulted them. “As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people” (Lev. 20:6). There are similar warnings about false teachers and false prophets in the New Testament. That is why we have found it necessary to renounce any and all involvement with false guidance, false teachers, false prophets, and every cult and occultic practice. We don’t want to be cut off by God; we want to be connected to Him.
Step #2 – Deception versus Truth
The ultimate battle is between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, between Christ and the anti-Christ, between good and evil, between the father of lies and the Spirit of Truth. An important step in realizing our freedom is to sort out the lies and choose the truth. We are admonished to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:25), walk in the light and have fellowship with one another (1 Jn. 1:7). Many who struggle in their Christian walk believe lies, walk in darkness, and avoid intimate contact with others. In order to live free in Christ, we must choose the truth by winning the battle for our minds. This requires an uncompromising commitment to God’s Word, regardless of how one feels.
Step #3 – Bitterness versus Forgiveness
We have never met a defeated Christian who isn’t struggling with bitterness. They carry emotional scars and the painful wounds inflicted upon them by others. They have never known how to let go of the past and forgive from the heart. Some have chosen not to. They hang on to their anger as a means of protecting themselves from being hurt again, but they are only hurting themselves. Forgiveness is to set a captive free and then discover you were the captive. People cannot be free from their past and emotionally free today without forgiving from the heart. If we don’t forgive from our heart, God will turn us over to the torturers (Matt. 18:34).
God is not out to get us; He is out to restore us. He knows that if we hang on to our bitterness, we will only hurt ourselves and others (Heb. 12:15). “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:31,32). We forgive others for our sake and for the sake of our relationship with God. What is to be gained in forgiving others is freedom. We are also warned by Paul that we need to forgive others so that Satan doesn’t take advantage of us (2 Cor. 2:10,11). This critical issue must be resolved in order to be free from our past.
Step #4 – Rebellion versus Submission
We live in a very rebellious age. Everyone thinks it is his right to criticize and sit in judgment of those who are over him. When sown, the seeds of rebellion reap anarchy and spiritual defeat. If you have a rebellion problem, you may have the worst problem in the world. Scripture instructs us to submit to and pray for those who are in authority over us. Honoring your mother and father is the first of the Ten Commandments that ends in a promise. The same is true in the New Testament (Rom. 13:1-3):
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same.
There are times when we must obey God rather than man, but they are usually rare exceptions. When a human authority requires you to do something that is forbidden by God, and restricts you from doing what God has called you to do, then you must obey God rather than man. The same applies when a person tries to exercise control over you when it exceeds the scope of his authority. A policeman can write you a ticket for breaking the traffic laws, but he cannot tell you what to believe or prevent you from going to church. Also, it is legitimate and necessary to set up scriptural boundaries to protect yourself from further abuse by tyrants.
Living under a repressive political regime, critical boss, or abusive parents can be depressing if we let it. But they are not determining who we are unless we let them. It takes a great act of faith to trust God to work through something less than perfect authority figures, but that is what He is asking us to do. This is critically important for a right relationship with God, and that is essential for our complete victory in Christ.
Step #5 – Pride versus Humility
God created Adam and Eve to live dependent upon Him. All temptation is an attempt to get us to live our lives independent of God. Pride is an independent spirit that wants to exalt self. “God is opposed to the proud, but He gives grace to the humble” (Jas. 4:6). Pride says I can do it myself, and I don’t need God or anyone else. Such arrogant thinking sets us up for a fall, because “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Prov. 16:18). We absolutely need God and we necessarily need each other. Paul says, “we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).
Shame and self-deprecation is not humility. Humility is confidence properly placed. That is why we put no confidence in our flesh. Our confidence is in God. Self-sufficiency robs us of our sufficiency in Christ, because only in Christ can we do all things through Him who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). God intended for His children to live victoriously by having great confidence in Christ. “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:5,6).
Step #6 – Bondage versus Freedom
Habitual sin will keep us in bondage. Paul wrote, “The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom. 13:12-14). Repentance and faith in God is the only answer for breaking the bondage to the sin which so easily entangles us. You can be free from bondage to sin, because every believer is alive in Christ and dead to sin (Rom. 6:11).
Step #7 – Curses versus Blessings
The last step in helping others find freedom in Christ is to renounce the sins of our ancestors and actively take our place in Christ and resist the devil. The Ten Commandments reveal that the iniquities of fathers can be visited upon the third and fourth generation. This is evident in our society in the well-known cycles of abuse. Jesus said in Matthew 23:29-31:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, “If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.
In other words, “Like father, like son.” We are not guilty of our father’s sins, but because they sinned, we will have to live with the consequences of their sin, and we are doomed to continue to live in the way we were taught by them unless we repent. “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher” (Lk. 6:40). The primary teachers in the first five years of our lives have been our parents, and much of our personality and temperament has been established in those early and formative years of our lives.
When they repented in the Old Testament, they confessed their sins and the sins of their fathers (see Lev.26:39,40; Neh.1:5,6, 9:2; Jer.14:20; Dan. 9:10,11). Rather than defending their fathers and continuing in their sins, they made a clean break from that which they knew was wrong, and so must we, “Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver and gold from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Jesus” (1 Pet. 1:18,19).
We don’t encourage people to confess the sins of their parents, but we do encourage them to repent from the futile way of life inherited from their forefathers which they now know to be wrong. This is the only way to stop cycles of abuse and do away with family traditions, habits and patterns of living that are not Christian.
E. The Purpose of Freedom in Christ Ministries
Freedom in Christ Ministries exists to establish Christians, their marriages, and their ministries alive and free in Christ. Our desire is to help other ministries be successful. If we are going to glorify God by bearing much fruit (Jn. 15:8), then we must abide in Christ. We don’t sit in judgment of hurting people or point out their weaknesses. We try to affirm them in Christ and trust the Holy Spirit to bring conviction at the appropriate time. We are delighted that such a wide variety of ministries and denominations are using our material, because that helps unite the body of Christ which is what our Lord is praying for (Jn. 17:21). The only basis for unity in the body of Christ is to realize that every true believer is a child of God (Jn. 1:12; 1 Jn. 3:1-3). Any attempt to unite fallen humanity on any other basis than Christ has always failed.
When Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, you would think the religious establishment would say, “Thank you for doing that for him. What a wonderful thing you did. Teach us to help others in the same way that we may relieve the suffering of so many hurting people and bring glory to God.” Unfortunately, they were furious and conspired against Him (Lk. 6:11). In order to attack Him, they found one little petty issue that went against their traditions. Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath! Nothing much has changed!
We have a chance to be part of the building crew or the wrecking crew. Let me encourage you to be a part of the crew that builds up one another. To equip yourself, seek those ministries which are bearing fruit and committed to the authority of Scripture. Take only those insights and methods which you can agree with and use them to the glory of God. In other words, don’t throw out the cherry pie if you happen to come upon an occasional pit. No one person or ministry has all the answers, but Jesus does. So let’s connect people to Him. Titus writes, “Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful” (3:14). I believe those needs are only met in a living and liberated relationship with God through Jesus Christ. That is our ministry, and I hope it is yours.