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A Biblical Method for Lasting Change
“Has God really said…” the serpent whispered, introducing doubt into the Garden so long ago. Throughout the centuries, the devil has prompted man to question God’s warnings about the consequences of sin, His promises of redemption, and His healing power. The answer to all of these is found in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Believers since the time of Christ have found God’s promise to change man’s inner character through the work of the Holy Spirit to be true. But in our own generation, Satan has once again created doubts in God’s people that God really means what He said.
Christian psychologists have added to these doubts when they suggest that “inviting the Holy Spirit to take over our life leaves part of our being untouched.”1 To declare such a thing is to say that if anyone is in Christ, he really is not a new creation. The old things have not really passed away; all things have not become new. No, if the psychologists are right, the old things have to be dredged back up and fondled until a mystical healing takes place. The bottom line is this: If 2 Corinthians 5:17 is wrong, then the Bible is false and Jesus is a liar. Paul would respond, “Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar” (Romans 3:4).
The Source of Total Transformation
Let’s look at what God says about the changes He produces in people’s lives. He promises, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19). That is a description of a total transformation of the inner being. With that comes an entirely new lifestyle: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4).
This is not a superficial change that lasts only a short time, “for you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). According to Ephesians 4:24, this is a “new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Paul repeats this concept in Colossians 3:10, where he says the new self “is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
This is a difficult concept for intellectuals to understand. Just as Nicodemus wondered how a grown man could be born again (John 3:3), modern scholars ask, “How can accepting Christ as Savior really transform a troubled mind? Surely it takes more than the Bible and the Holy Spirit to permanently heal the dysfunctional.”
While some people insist that years of therapy are required to cleanse the troubled soul of painful memories, Paul recommends “the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). The Bible provides real hope: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). In view of psychological claims, is that “living hope” to be understood only as a warm theological sentiment? Does Jesus’ resurrection mean nothing to our practical day-to-day experiences in this depraved world? If so, so the world has the right to laugh at Christians for clinging to such a weak and powerless faith.
Biblical Case Histories of Change
Let’s look at some case histories in the Bible that show the transforming power of God through Jesus Christ. Look first at the change that took place in Peter’s life. In Matthew 26:74, he cursed and denied the Lord because of his fear of the Jewish leaders. Yet in Acts 2:22–24 we witness a dramatic change as he fearlessly accused the Jewish leaders of murdering Jesus:
Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
Peter’s life was undeniably and forever changed by the resurrection power of Jesus Christ and the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit.
Look at the change in the demon-possessed man in Mark 5. He was described as violent and in agony of soul. “Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones” (verse 5). But after his personal encounter with Jesus, when his town’s people came to see what was happening, “they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid” (verse 15). He was “in his right mind” not after years of therapy, but after only a few minutes with the Savior.
A little further on it says that the man begged to go with Jesus. “Jesus did not let him, but said, ‘Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed” (verses 18–20). Why do you suppose they were amazed? Because he had been hopelessly insane and now he was obviously healed. The Lord who cured dysfunctional minds centuries ago still heals hearts and minds in our own day.
Some integrationists might argue, “That may be true if the problem is demon possession, but for common problems of modern life we still need psychotherapy. For example, what about serious psychological problems like sexual addictions?”
Well, let’s consider the woman of Samaria. Meeting her at the city well, Jesus asked her for water. “The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ ” Jesus sensed an opportunity to minister and turned the conversation to spiritual things: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:9, 10).
When the woman showed an interest, Jesus invited her to get her husband so he could join their conversation. “ ‘I have no husband,’ she replied. Jesus said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true’ ” (John 4:17, 18).
The woman was so amazed at Jesus’ insight into her life that she recognized Him as a prophet. Jesus explained to her that He was the Messiah her people and the Jews had been expecting for so long. “Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’ They came out of the town and made their way toward him” (John 4:28–30). John writes that many of the townspeople became believers because of her testimony, and “they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world” (verses 39–42). A woman who might be described as a nymphomaniac was totally changed and became a sincere evangelist through the power of God!
The apostle Paul’s conversion was so intense that even his name was changed. Consider these contrasting descriptions of Paul’s attitude toward the members of the early church: “Saul was still breathing o
Personal Case Histories of Change
Example after example could be given of Christ’s transforming power not only from the Scriptures, but also from the testimonies of today’s saints. Every Bible-preaching pastor could relate story after story of dysfunctional people who have been saved and are being sanctified by the gentle work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
I could tell you of a woman who was on her way to commit suicide when she saw our church’s banner on a movie-theater roof. She slipped into our service unnoticed and was gloriously saved by the grace of God. She had lived a life of sorrow, immorality, and abuse, but she became a beautiful witness of God’s transforming grace.
Then there was a young man who timidly sat in the darkness at the back of the theater one Sunday. His shoulder-length hair and biker outfit masked the pain in his heart, and he was trapped by alcohol and drugs and deathly afraid of the future. Christ met him that morning and drew him into the family of God. He became a new creation in Christ and was freed from substance abuse. Now he and his wife and darling children work faithfully with us in our church. He serves as one of our elders.
A young lesbian began attending our church and listened intently to the promises of God. She found freedom in Christ and rejoices in what God has done for her. A young father struggled with deep anxiety and depression for years until he turned his life over to Christ and found relief. Now he is an example of patience and joy as he faithfully serves in our ministries. I could go on and on, but this is the point: Christ promises to change human lives if we will only follow His directions. And He keeps His Word!
Real Change for Your Life
Paul instructs believers to follow an entirely different therapy: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). Fortunately, the Lord does not merely tell us to be transformed; He tells us how it can actually be accomplished.
Four Biblical Steps
to Permanent Change
In the Scriptures, God has given us a clear four-step process of transformation. It is found in 2 Timothy 3:16, 17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Step One: Teaching Doctrine
Our belief system is the foundation of our every thought and action. Some have said, “You are what you eat.” In the spiritual realm, we are what we believe. If we want to help people solve the problems of living, we must teach them solid doctrine.
Many Christians actually believe that the truths of the Bible are just too complicated for the average person to understand. Please don’t make that common mistake. The Scriptures were given to be read, understood, and obeyed by everyone.
We need to know about God and His attributes, His role as Creator, man’s sinful condition, and God’s plan of salvation. We need to know about the practical working of the Holy Spirit in our personal lives. All of that is food for the soul. That’s what Jesus meant when He said, “ ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ ” (Matthew 4:4).
New believers will not understand the deeper truths of God all at once, but if they are truly born again they will “like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it [they] may grow up in [their] salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). God wants believers to feed on the meat of the Word, not just milk, as they mature. The writer of Hebrews makes this plain:
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:11–14).
Knowing how to distinguish good from evil is one of the purposes of doctrine. Because modern Christians have so little doctrinal training, they are easily led into false doctrines and empty philosophies. Not being familiar with the basic truths of the Word, they fall for psychological pabulum being advertised as deep wisdom. Their souls hunger for deeply satisfying truths, but they are given shallow and tainted solutions for their heartaches.
Jesus said that the reason people fall for error is that they “do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). The reason Christians are enticed into immorality, pornography, lust, unfaithfulness, and divorce is not just carnal weakness. The greater cause is that they do not know the truths of the Bible or God’s power to deliver them from temptation. They believe the addictive lie that “I just couldn’t help myself.” Many Christians call themselves alcoholics because they believe the disease myth and the dogma that once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. Yet the Scriptures clearly promise total cleansing and power over sin. The reason so many believers are being dragged back into their painful past is that they believe the theories of psychologists who act as though they know more about the wounded heart than God does.
Doctrine can be called another name: wisdom from God. Solomon exhorts us to make the pursuit of wisdom our top priority: “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7). He insists that there is no better investment: “Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold” (Proverbs 3:13, 14). Paul exhorts Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).
Biblical counseling is deeply concerned with accurate doctrine. Paul told Titus that a minister “must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9). In counseling, I am not nearly as concerned with the latest finding or newest therapy as I am with a counselee’s beliefs. I want to know what the counselee believes about God, what he believes about man’s need, what he believes about Jesus, and what he believes about the work of the Holy Spirit. I want to know whether he is committed to obeying all the commands of Scripture or he is inclined to submit only to the principles that please him.
I want the counselee to understand the character of Jesus so that he will have God’s model against which to measure his own attitudes and actions. The goal in counseling is for believers to “reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:13, 14).
Spiritual growth—developing maturity in Christ—and permanent change require accurate doctrine.
Step Two: Rebuking
Note that Jesus balances this responsibility by warning us to examine our own hearts before we dare to rebuke someone else: “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). That is why a counselor’s personal life is very relevant to the counseling situation.
Reproof is an uncomfortable procedure for the counselor and the counselee. I understand the reluctance with which pastors rebuke sinful behavior in their people. It is dangerous to tell a prominent member of the church board that he is sinning. It is risky to confront a strong-willed chairwoman of a music committee about divisive attitudes. The pastor’s job may well be placed on the line. Nonetheless, God has called faithful preachers of the Word to the ministry of rebuking.
Think how Nathan the prophet must have trembled on his way to David’s palace to confront him about his sin with Bathsheba. Yet with the authority of God he pointed at David and said, “Thou art the man!” Boldly he asked, “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites” (2 Samuel 12:7, 9).
Fortunately for Nathan, David was tenderhearted toward the Lord and received the rebuke as from God and genuinely repented. Not all counselees react that way. Still, even if his life had been required, I believe Nathan would have fulfilled his calling. Pastors and counselors, we must do the same for our Lord and for our people. Failure to do so is a form of malpractice, and God will hold us accountable. “Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt” (Leviticus 19:17).
A person who truly wants to change will receive rebuke. He will repent if he has the attitude David had: “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it” (Psalm 141:5).
We need to remind our people that loving, biblical rebuke is from the Lord: “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke” (Proverbs 3:11).
God does not enjoy rebuking His children, but He firmly says, “Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you” (Deuteronomy 8:5). I am comforted to know that “the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in” (Proverbs 3:12). Though reprimand is unpleasant, it is a necessary part of the process of change, and it is a proof of God’s love and our relationship to Him.
A counselee who turns away from rebuke in pride and anger is not really interested in change. Until he humbles himself before the Lord and is ready to listen and obey, he will continue his destructive patterns. Though the rebuke may be received negatively, the biblical counselor is obligated to obey the Lord. Jesus commands believers to rebuke one another: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3).
As a point of balance, Paul reminds us to have a right attitude when we rebuke another: “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers” (1 Timothy 5:1). Nonetheless, Paul insists that ministers fulfill their duty to “preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2). If there are those who resist, Paul says to “rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13). Because the biblical counselor is speaking from the platform of the Scriptures, he is to “encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you” (Titus 2:15).
If a counselor loves his counselees, he will rebuke them when necessary and will lovingly plead with them to respond, as God urges us: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent” (Revelation 3:19).
It is not enough for a counselor to point out sinful behavior and to tell a counselee to mend his ways. That’s like a doctor with a patient who complains of pain in his shoulder. “When does it hurt?” the doctor asks. The patient lifts his arm over his head with great effort and misery, and says with a grimace, “When I raise my arm like this.” The doctor takes his glasses off, leans back in his chair, and says, “Then don’t raise your arm like that.” The doctor didn’t really help the patient. All he did was rebuke the action causing the pain.
Biblical rebuke gets down below the surface error to discover the real cause of sinful attitudes and behaviors. Almost without fail, the immediate cause of sin is wrong belief, wrong thinking patterns, selfishness, or some combination of the three. The young husband who is bitter toward his wife for resisting his too-frequent demands for sex may complain that she is “frigid” and unresponsive. But the truth is that he has a wrong understanding of God’s purpose for sexual intimacy. He has allowed his mind to dwell on lustful thoughts, and is thinking only of his own physical urges rather than his wife’s needs. An examination of the man’s doctrinal (yes, doctrinal!) beliefs about sex, his pattern of dwelling on sexual thoughts, and his self-interest must be compared with biblical teaching on each of those issues in order to expose the sin behind the behavior.
Step Three: Correction
Let’s review the process so far: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). The first step for change is teaching right belief, or doctrine. The second is rebuke, or the recognition and exposure of error in belief, thinking, or action.
The third step is correction of those errors. The Greek term epanorthosis (epi, “to”; ana, “up,” or “again”; orthoo, “to make straight”) is almost a picture of step three, for it literally means “to make upright again.”
Paul explains this process in Ephesians 4 when he says, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires” (verse 22). There is an active choice required in correcting one’s self: putting off the old self, or, as Paul calls it, the “sinful nature.” He reminds us that we do not have to satisfy our old nature: “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it” (Romans 8:12).
Paul readily admits that Christians have experienced all of the evil desires common to man: “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). He is more explicit in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11:
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were.
This is one of the most important passages in biblical counseling. Note how Paul des
Putting off the old nature requires an active choice of the one desiring change, but without the supernatural work of God, it is impossible. Paul completes the description of the process in 1 Corinthians 6:11: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” It is the work of the Holy Spirit to “wash” us clean—to correct us, to set us upright again. This is done in the name of Jesus as we identify with His crucifixion by considering our old desires as though they were dead. “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6).
Choosing to change is difficult, to be sure. We humans hate change because of our fear of the unknown. We grow comfortable with the familiar, even if it is harmful. On the one hand, we want things to remain the same, yet pain and guilt can become so oppressive that we are motivated to seek relief. That is why a sense of guilt is necessary and productive. Just as physical pain is a sign that something in our body is damaged and needs to be treated, so spiritual pain—conviction and guilt—are given to us to show us that something in our inner man is wrong and that we need to seek correction.
Correction begins when a person accepts Jesus as Savior and Lord. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). And it continues as the believer endeavors to “live by the Spirit, [so that he]…will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Galatians 5:16).
Actual permanent correction, therefore, can only be accomplished when a person has been born again and has experienced the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. A counselor who does not understand this dynamic principle will try to help his client change outward behaviors by dealing with symptoms, but ultimately the counseling will fail unless the counselee makes a personal commitment of his inner being to Jesus Christ.
Step Four: Instruction in Righteousness
Correcting what is wrong in a person’s life through faith in Jesus Christ enables a counselee to put off the old nature, at least for a time. The battle between the old nature and the new continues, however, as Paul confessed in Romans 7:15–19:
Correction is a choice. “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1, 2). And just as correction is a choice of submission that each person must make, so maintaining one’s walk with God is also a matter of choice. Paul calls this part of the change process putting “on the new self,” and indicates that it happens when we are “made new in the attitude of your minds” (Ephesians 4:24). The characteristics of the new self are “true righteousness and holiness.”
The Scriptures indicate that the focus of our mind largely determines the results. Paul writes about the enemies of Christ, that “their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19). Paul said that those who “oppose the truth—men of depraved minds…as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected” (2 Timothy 3:8). Writing to Titus, Paul says, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted” (Titus 1:15).
In order to put on the new nature, Paul advises the child of God to “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2). Peter takes up this theme when he writes, “Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:13). When the believer commits himself to this process, the result is similar to what God promised Israel: “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Hebrews 8:10).
Paul clarifies this process in Romans 12:1, 2 and declares that putting on the new nature involves every area of one’s life—physical, spiritual, social, and mental: “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices [physical discipline], holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship [spiritual discipline]. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world [social, cultural discipline], but be transformed by the renewing of your mind [mental discipline].”
Each of these four areas needs to be explored in counseling. What is the counselee doing physically that is displeasing to the Lord? What spiritual principles is he violating that contribute to his problems? What social and cultural compromises is he making that prevent him from living a life that is pleasing to the Lord? What is the focus of his mind? Is he filling his thoughts with worldly values, goals, and solutions, or is he concentrating on Christ Himself and the glorious promises in His Word?
God offers His children incredible fringe benefits for following His blueprint for change. Not only has He provided a way for us to live eternally in the future, but He gives us the keys to joyful living in the present.
Characteristics of the Transformed Life
Psalm 119 is only one of many passages on the transforming power of God’s Word. Consider some of the characteristics that can be manifest in believers’ lives when they fill their inner beings with biblical principles.
• Their lives are obedient to the Lord: “Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart. They do nothing wrong; they walk in his ways. You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed” (verses 2–4).
• Their lives are full of praise: “I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws” (verse 7).
• Their lives are characterized as pure: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word” (verse 9).
• They have victory over sin: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (verse 11).
• They enjoy obeying the Lord: “I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word” (verse 16).
• They receive direct counsel from the Word: “Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors” (verse 24).
• They are refreshed and strengthened by the Word: “My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word” (verse 28).
• They are people of integrity: “I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws” (verse 30).
• They experience inner freedom: “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free” (verse 32); “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts” (verse 45).
• They become unselfish: “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain” (verse 36).
• They turn away
• They have hope: “Do not snatch the word of truth from my mouth, for I have put my hope in your laws” (verse 43); “remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope” (verse 49).
• They experience comfort in the midst of suffering: “My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise renews my life” (verse 50); “I remember your ancient laws, O Lord, and I find comfort in them” (verse 52).
• They develop good judgment: “Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands” (verse 66).
• Their hearts are sensitive: “[Unbelievers’] hearts are callous and unfeeling, but I delight in your law” (verse 70).
• They have eternal values: “The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold” (verse 72).
• They develop wisdom: “Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me” (verse 98); “I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes” (verse 99); “I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts” (verse 100).
• They find guidance: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (verse 105).
• They have an aversion for evil: “Because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path” (verse 128).
• They understand deep truths: “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (verse 130).
• They sorrow over the sinfulness of the world: “Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed” (verse 136).
• They experience joy in the midst of trouble: “Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands are my delight” (verse 143).
• They become people of prayer: “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word” (verse 147).
• They remain true to God even through persecution: “Many are the foes who persecute me, but I have not turned from your statutes” (verse 157).
• They have peace and stability: “Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble” (verse 165).
• They receive help from God: “May your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts” (verse 173).
And these promises are from one psalm alone! They are promises for every child of God who will seek His truth, regardless of how serious our problems are. They are promises for me. They are promises for you.
Go back and note all the characteristics of mental health that are related to the Scriptures. How dare psychologists tell us that the Scriptures are deficient in ways that only modern psychology can supply! The Bible provides all the necessary information for “training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). Thoroughly equipped.
Instruction in righteousness is the maintenance program for spiritual and mental health. Too many Christians mistakenly believe that they can experience “maintenance-free” spirituality; that it comes without choice, effort, or discipline. The truth is that it requires daily submission of our wills to the Lord by feeding on His Word to sustain the transformed life. There really is no mystery to this process; it just seems like too much work. We would rather depend upon a radio preacher or televangelist for our spiritual food. We would rather warm our hearts with contemporary music than the cleansing coals of God’s Word. We would rather pick up the newspaper than the Bible. We would rather play than pray. We want excuses instead of exhortation. We want man’s theories instead of God’s truth. We want comfort rather than conviction. We want to be entertained more than we want holiness. We want self-esteem instead of self-denial. But instruction in righteousness requires us to turn back to God and His Word.
There you have it—four steps in a biblical method for permanent change: doctrinal teaching, acceptance of rebuke, correction of wrong patterns of thinking and acting by putting off the old nature, and building up the new nature through instruction in righteousness.
Summary of Contrasts
In summary, let us review the two systems that claim to effect change in people’s lives. One comes from the heart of God, the other from the heart of man. You must decide which system you will follow.
Psychology has offered an alternative to Christianity with a fully developed system of faith. Christianity starts with the assumption “In the beginning, God…”—the existence of the Creator—while psychology starts with the assumption “In the beginning, bog…”—the evolutionary theory. Christianity sees man as a special creation of God, made in His moral image, while psychology views man as the end result of billions of years of random events.
Christianity believes that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and the only absolute source of truth; psychology believes that truth is where you find it and that man’s mind is the final judge. Christianity has a leadership of ministers who preach from the Scriptures; psychology has a priesthood of therapists who quote one another. Christianity is supported by the tithes and offerings of its disciples; psychology is supported by fee schedules and insurance payments.
The Bible claims to have explanations for man’s deepest questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? How are we to behave? How can we change? What is our future? Psychology claims to have even deeper answers for these ultimate questions, which can only be revealed by therapists who have had years of formal training.
The Bible claims to reveal the motives of the human heart, while psychology claims to explain the unconscious drives of the human mind. Christianity claims that humans can be transformed by the miraculous and mysterious power of God. Psychology claims that it can transform man by helping him to understand, accept, and love himself.
The Bible says that man is by nature a sinner, separated from the life of God. Psychology says that man is essentially good and needs to recognize his full potential. The Bible says that without Christ, man is hopeless; psychology says that man is limited only by his imagination. The Bible says that man is lost and that Christ is the only way; psychology says it can help man find his own way.
The Bible calls sin by name; psychology says that man suffers from disorders. The Bible says that God’s people must not conform to the world; integrationists say that we must counsel the way the world does. The Bible says that each person is responsible for his own choices; psychology says that each person is a victim of his environment.
The Bible says that man can be forgiven, cleansed, and healed. Psychology says we must return to our past, embrace our pain, and explore our inner self. The Bible’s answer for guilt is man’s repentance and God’s forgiveness; psychology’s way is for the conscience to be desensitized. The Bible says that we must crucify self; psychology says that we must actualize self. The Bible says that our battle is spiritual; Freud says that the battle is sexual.
Down through the centuries, without the aid of psychotherapy or innovative techniques, Christianity has produced millions of permanently transformed lives by the liberating truths found in Jesus Christ. In barely one century, psychology has captured the minds of millions with a message that has enslaved mankind to vacillating theories which promote sinful behavior.
Psychology points man to self. The Bible points man to God.
1 Lawrence J. Crabb, Jr., Inside Out (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1991), p. 49.
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