Step Four: The Moral Inventory

Step 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

The picture is painful. The homeowner and insurance adjuster walking around a tornado-ravaged home, assessing the damage and loss. The insurance man has done this before and feels sympathy for the homeowner, but he doesn’t know the extent of the loss and damage because much of the debris has been scattered for miles. But he can be an expert and gentle guide in making an inventory of what was lost and damaged.

We recovering addicts have to do the same thing: take a thorough inventory of ourselves.

This is the step where we go below the symptoms—the actions of the addiction—and look at what drives and feeds the addiction. This is the dirty, painful step, where we look at things like selfishness, pride, anger, bitterness, lying, and deceit. Then there are the more subtle things that we hide behind: denial, blaming, and rationalization. There is the realization that we have sinned against a holy God and our own conscience.

The denial is over. You know you have a problem and you know you are basically powerless. Life is doing its painful, chastening work and what was the “cure” has become a destructive force against all that is good in your life. There are two ways you can go here; you can continue to deny and blame, or you can take responsibility and start the process of “clearing away the wreckage of the past.”

While all this can sound dark and frightening, there is actually great hope here. There is the promise of mercy and forgiveness and the assurance that this is the will of God.

He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy (Proverbs 28:13).

Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:7).

There is great comfort here too, knowing that we don’t have to do it alone. Not only is God on our side, we will also be helped by a sponsor and others in the group.

It’s clear to me that self-examination is not just for addicts, but is a part of a healthy life. The Bible admonishes us, not only to examine ourselves, but to allow God to search our hearts.

Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD (Lamentations 3:40).

Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23, 24).

Here is a verse that showed me how important Step 4 would be for me in my own recovery:

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Notice the word reprobates, the plural of reprobate; a reprobate is someone rejected or “abandoned in sin; lost to virtue or grace.” This word is used to describe those that God had given over to sexual sin in Romans 1. That is exactly where I was; God had given me over to reap the consequences of my thoughts and actions.

One of the remedies for this is self-examination—”Examine yourselves”—and Step 4 gives us a safe structure to do this. Making a written inventory was the first of many times in my recovery where I felt a huge burden lifted from me. It gave me a glimpse of the freedom that was possible if I trusted the process.

Don’t delay. Do whatever it takes to get started right now. The pain will pale in comparison to the freedom you will gain.

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