printable version

A Biblical Model for Spiritual Wholeness

By J.R. Ensey
“But, pastor, if I am truly saved, why are some of my personal problems still hanging around? Should I see a psychologist?”

Those are not uncommon questions. New converts to Christianity sometimes think that the new birth will automatically solve all of their problems, relieve all of their stress, and remove all of their personality quirks overnight. It is true that our vertical relationship (with God) can be repaired rather quickly, but the healing of one’s horizontal relationships (with other people and situations in one’s immediate environment) usually takes a little more time, requiring the application of scriptural principles, submission to the Lordship of Christ, and the institution of personal disciplines based upon the Word of God.

It is conceded that our present world, out of which the church harvests its converts, is generously populated with people who manifest behavioral problems. Why is this? What are the root causes of the problems? How can behavior be changed? Does God have a plan for that? Is mankind left to determine his own ways?

These are perplexing questions indeed—until we look into the Word of God. The answers we seek are not within us. They are within the Sacred Scriptures. We must seek for divine direction and spiritual understanding.

The Bible provides an accurate picture of man’s dilemma:
O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps...if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth [cometh] knowledge and understanding. He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous (Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 2:3-7).

Unless man seeks and finds direction from a source outside of himself, he will lose his way.

The underlying reason for mankind’s spiritual dilemma is separation from God. Sin caused this separation: “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). The sin of Adam and Eve separated them from the safety and comforts of the Garden and from personal fellowship with God. All of man’s problems can be traced to this event. The emotional grief caused by this separation is immense. God, however, has made a way for man to deal with his sin and to restore fellowship with Him. In every dispensation of history there has been a means or method by which he could be accepted of God. In that acceptance he can find peace of mind, genuine freedom from guilt, and joy in living!

When a man finds God in the new birth, and subsequently walks in the Spirit, he then has all the equipment necessary to live a godly and peaceful life. Peter said, “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (II Peter 1:3). “Life and godliness” includes both mind and behavior. Therefore God says that the Scriptures are sufficient for structuring both mind (thoughts) and behavior (actions) in godliness, as II Timothy 3:16 also teaches: “All scripture is profitable for...instruction in righteousness.” To walk with God in “glory and virtue” will improve our relationships, overcome our spiritual enemies, and put a peace in our hearts that transcends understanding—“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). The psalmist declared: “Great peace have they that love thy law and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165). Isaiah added this observation: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3). Peace involves being relatively free from or unmoved by troublesome persons or circumstances. When a person is right with God, the virtues called the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 2:22,23), one of which is peace, are manifested in his life.

The qualities of love, peace and joy evolve from a right relationship with the Lord. This relationship develops a basic understanding of the themes of life and death. If death is a fearsome foe, then one’s joy is curtailed. If he understands that “life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth,” (Luke 12:15) and that “to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21), then joy is experienced. A knowledge of the Word of God and a personal relationship with Him make a tremendous difference in the way the stimuli of life are handled.
Those who are out of touch with God and true righteousness are apt to encounter feelings of guilt, shame, and discontent. As a result, one may react in violent anger in certain circumstances, debase himself in immorality, ingest drugs or alcohol, lash out at those who seek to help, turn his back on those who love him, deny the existence of God, and generally lose control of his emotions. Jesus said, “Those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man; For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:18). These activities can be expected from those who are not regenerated by the new birth, and/or from those who have known God but are presently walking in the flesh and are backsliding. Paul elaborated on this theme when he listed the gross sins that the natural man or the carnal Christian is capable of committing (Galatians 5:19-21). Jeremiah had made it plain hundreds of years before: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

By the same token, an unregenerate man may be a decent person by most human standards: faithful to his wife, kind to his children and/or his employees, diligent in financial matters, and ethically just. While these virtues may keep him out of trouble, or off of the psychologist’s couch, they will not put him into a personal relationship with God. Man’s righteousness—the good that he does on his own, out of his own sense of moral duty—is not counted as meritorious righteousness. Without the new birth, “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf” (Isaiah 64:6). It is only a personal relationship with the Lord, established by faith and obedience, that will keep us in the love of God (Jude 21). When we are covered by the blood of Christ and motivated by the love of God, “the righteousness which is of faith” (Romans 9:30) is imputed to us (Romans 4:8-24; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23; I John 1:7).

When the results of the Fall prey on one’s mind, he is tempted to turn to his own designs for relief. Having lost—or having never possessed confidence in God—one wanders about looking for a human fix. But turning to the humanistic advice provided by unconverted counselors for guidance in solving or abating human problems is futile: “The advice of the wicked is deceitful” (Proverbs 12:5 NIV). Such advice often leads to deeper frustration and sinful involvement, or provides an excuse for one’s sins and mismanagement of his life (such as a diagnosis of Multiple Personalities Disorder [MPD]). Psychological advice commonly offers an escape from the feelings of personal guilt as an alternative to dealing with them from a biblical, spiritual perspective. To hide guilt or to cover sin either by denial, the use of synthetic chemicals, or mental exercises is to invite the displeasure of God: “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).
It is not overly simplistic to say that man’s problems, his emotional frustrations, and his flawed relationships are the result of sin—both inherent and personal. The Lord provided directions for dealing with those sins: confess and forsake them (Proverbs 28:13). Refusal to do so only compounds man’s problems. When we confront and acknowledge our sin, we ultimately deal with bitterness, frustration, hate, anger, jealousy, violence and all the other negative emotional expressions of the human condition. When one is filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), he has the power and wisdom to make right choices, overcome temptation, and to resist and conquer the elements of his former life.
Paul described one’s past life before the new birth in Ephesians 2:1-7. To the Colossians he described the differences in philosophy and behavior after coming to Christ. His suggestions to them on how to handle the drives of the flesh are still relevant:

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him...Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful (Colossians 3:5-14).
What a marvelous prescription for emotional health! The counseling chambers would virtually fall silent if these principles were conscientiously embraced.
God’s Word is given to counsel and instruct us in righteous living and proper relationships:

For attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young—let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance—for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:2-7 NIV).
By contrast, the wisdom of this world is “earthly, sensual, devilish...But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:15,17).

But how does a man tap into godly wisdom? Again, the Scriptures provide the answer:

My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly. He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of his saints. Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path. When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee: To deliver thee from the way of the evil man, from the man that speaketh froward things (Proverbs 2:1-12).

Men would have no need to seek the counsel of the ungodly if they followed these directives of the Word. However, as Jeremiah declares, the Israelites had “committed two evils: they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). Heeding God’s Word and being refreshed by truth is drinking from the “fountain of living waters.” Turning to humanism and psychological answers amounts to dependence on “broken cisterns.”

How can man escape the pangs of a guilty conscience, the frustrations of a bitter spirit, and the stresses of modern living while maintaining his physical and emotional health? The Bible has the answer:

My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favour and a good name in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones (Proverbs 3:1-8 NIV).
There are also some things the believer should not do; for instance, “[Walk] not in the counsel of the ungodly” (Psalm 1:1). That is because their advice is deceitful (Proverbs 12:5). Paul warns of those who boast of their professional training and education and advises Timothy to avoid them in favor of faithfulness to the Word of God: “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. Grace be with you” (I Timothy 6:20,21 NIV). This writer can confirm that counsel from humanistic psychologists can have a devastating effect on those who subject themselves to it. Families have been divided, hate and bitterness engendered, and ongoing emotional distress put upon those who surrendered to the counsel of the ungodly.

The Psalmist suggested the wise alternative, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help” (Psalm 121:1). Acknowledging God as the source of his help, he was saying, “I will look away from the low, earthly, personality destroying distractions of hate, envy, jealousy, resentment, greed, covetousness, vengeance, inferiority, selfishness, unfairness and defeat to Him who can help me overcome them. By looking up, I can see my way out.”

When the Christian needs direction, he acknowledges, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). When he faces temptation, he declares, “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (I Corinthians 10:13). When he is challenged by fear, he remembers, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). When he faces tragedy, he confesses that “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). When he is lonely, and feels as if no one cares, he is reminded by Peter to “[Cast] all your care upon Him, for He careth for you” (I Peter 5:7). When abused and offended, he seeks comfort in the One who was most abused, knowing that He “also himself likewise took part of the same” (Hebrews 2:14). When he feels inadequate to meet the harsh challenges of life, he exclaims, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheth me” (Philippians 4:13). When he feels depressed he turns to Psalm 34 and 139 for a lift. When worry tries to cloud his mind, he reads Matthew 6:25-34 and Philippians 4:6-9 for spiritual confidence. Should doubts arise he knows to consult with the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, or perhaps the apostle Thomas in John 20:24-29. When discouragement becomes a weight, he goes to Psalm 23, Psalm 42, Isaiah 40, and Matthew 5:1-12. When comfort in trying circumstances is called for, there is John 16:33 and II Corinthians 1:3,4. Finally, when he is facing death, he can turn to John 14, I Corinthians 15:51-58, II Corinthians 5:1-8, and Philippians 1:21-23.

Whenever and for whatever reason the Christian needs counsel, he realizes that “Thy testimonies counsellors” (Psalm 119:24). He acknowledges the Messiah as his prime “Counsellor” (Isaiah 9:6). Rather than beating a path to the door of the psychologist, he looks to the Lord for comfort, guidance and affirmation, knowing that God has said, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? ...hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?...God is not the author of confusion” (I Corinthians 1:19,20; 14:33). The wise believer takes special care that “no one takes him captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ...These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion...but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Colossians 2:8,23 NIV).

Dr. Wayne A. Mack is chairman and professor of Biblical Counseling at The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, CA. He demonstrates his commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture by citing Psalm 19:7-11. He points out that Scripture...

1. Is perfect (whole, complete, sufficient, lacking nothing) and therefore able to restore (transform, renew) the soul (the inner man, the real self)—verse 7.

2. Is a sure (trustworthy, reliable, dependable) witness and therefore able to make wise the simple (people who lack a proper understanding of life, God, themselves, others)—verse 7.

3. Contains precepts (principles, guidelines, rules for character and conduct) that are right (correct, in accord with what is just and good, appropriate and fitting) and therefore able to cause the heart (the totality of man’s inner non-physical self) to rejoice (to experience a sense of well-being, serenity, tranquility, and peace)—verse 8.

4. Is authoritative (it gives mandates and directives that are always correct) and pure (clear, untainted with evil or error) and therefore able to bring light into man’s chaos and confusion, to replace man’s ignorance and lack of understanding with clear direction, perspective, and insight—verse 8.

5. Is clean (uncontaminated, free from impurity, defilement) and enduring (permanent, unchanging, relevant, up to date, never outdated, never in need of alteration) and therefore able to produce the fear of the Lord (a wholesome and incredibly practical and positive reverence for God)—verse 9.

6. Provides insights about God, man, life, and everything needed for living and godliness that are altogether true (they correspond to and accurately reflect reality, they tell it like it really is) and righteous (they reflect that which is right, good, and holy, that which is truly just and fair) and therefore lead men to understand and practice what is truly real and right—verse 9.

7. Being “more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold,” is able to produce in us a kind of prosperity that is more valuable than all the material riches of the world—verse 10.

8. Being “sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb,” is able to remove the sourness, acidity, and bitterness caused by sin and to produce in us a sweetness of life that surpasses anything the world can provide—verse 10.

9. Possessing all of the previously noted qualities, is able to infallibly warn and protect us from the many dangers and disasters that can result from an ignorance of what is truly right—verse 11.

10. Possessing all of the previously noted characteristics, is able to preserve us from temptation, sin, error, false teaching, and every other threat to the health and well-being of our inner man—our thoughts, emotions, affections, and attitudes—verse 11.

A common retort is: “But the Bible doesn’t mention many of the troubling and sinful factors at work in people’s lives drug addiction, anorexia, PMS, clinical depression, bulimia, etc.” These and similar practices and conditions may have been what God in mind when He inspired the apostle Paul to add to the lists of sinful involvements, lusts, and degrading activities recorded in I Corinthians 6:9,10 and Galatians 5:19-21 these words, “and such like.” This addendum helps make the Bible relevant to every age. To define what “and such like” means is the responsibility of the teaching ministry as it meets the cultural challenges in each generation. The Spirit of the Lord and the clear principles of Scripture will provide discernment to the man of God that he may guide his people into “a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair” (Proverbs 1:3 NIV). No sin or means of debauching one’s self has been or will be developed that falls outside of the application of the principles found in God’s Word.

The Word guides us around the above-mentioned pitfalls so that we will not have to be rescued from them:

Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee...O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts. I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word. I have not departed from thy judgments: for thou hast taught me. How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:9-11, 97-105).

Those who might be tempted to say that all of this sounds too idealistic should be reminded that the farther man moves away from God’s ideal, the more problems he invites to himself. Wise men still agree with David: “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7). By contrast, “The way of the wicked is as darkness, they know not at what they stumble” (Proverbs 4:19).

The Word of the Lord makes the simple wise, but the “way of the wicked” excuses sinful human behavior by making all men victims of other people’s evil intentions or foibles and of circumstances beyond their control. By taking responsibility for his own actions, and by turning to the Lord’s counsel—the Word of God—the believer finds wholeness and healing: “Thy word is truth...He sent his word and healed them...and with his stripes we are healed” (John 17:17; Psalm 107:20; Isaiah 53:5).

—Excerpted from the book The Couch and the Cross, available from Advance Ministries.
back to top