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Christian Psychology and Sin

QUESTION: Christian Psychology – The Realistic Approach to Sin and Guilt


If the Christian psychologist denies the existence of most mental illnesses,1 what good is Christian psychology? That is, how can the Christian psychologist propose to help people if he or she views their mental problems as spiritual problems caused by alienation from God? Doesn’t this view place too much guilt on people and avoid any real therapy? If by the word therapy we mean consciousness-raising seminars or primal scream workshops, then it is true the Christian psychologist does away with therapy. However, the Christian psychologist, and for that matter any mature Christian, still offers solutions for the troubled person.

We are bound to experience real guilt because we have a conscience and because we rebelled and continue to rebel against God. Christian psychologists acknowledge this guilt and point the hurting person toward Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection, so the guilty can know deliverance from guilt. Our sins will dog us unceasingly until they are washed away by Christ’s work on the cross where God the Father declares us righteous and frees us from the penalty of sin. We no longer have to worry about the sin problem because God took care of it for us. Now we must live the life that God has ordained for us to live.

Christian Psychology – The Role of Personal Moral Responsibility
The Christian psychologist, then, must stress personal moral responsibility. Without this responsibility, we may deny any real guilt caused by our sins and thereby avoid the heart of our problem—our alienation from God. Only through recognizing our sinful nature and guilt before God can we reconcile our guilt feelings with reality.

This may seem like a rather insensitive approach to helping people with very sensitive problems. But what could be more cruel than treating merely a symptom of the problem and ignoring the actual sickness? Who would fault a doctor for giving patients a shot to fight a disease rather than a cough drop to mask a symptom? As Adams puts it, “It is important for counselors to remember that whenever clients camouflage...sick treatment only makes them worse. To act as if they may be excused for their condition is the most unkind thing one can do. Such an approach only compounds the problem.”2

The first step for the Christian psychologist in dealing with many mental and spiritual problems is to hold each client personally responsible for his or her sin. Crabb writes, “Hold your client responsible: for what? For confessing his sin, for willfully and firmly turning from it, and then for practicing the new behavior, believing that the indwelling Spirit will provide all the needed strength.”3

This is the key for all Christian healing of mental illnesses that are not organically caused: confession of sin, forgiveness of sin through Christ (1 John 1:9), reconciliation with God (2 Corinthians 5:17–21), and sanctification through the disciplining work of God’s Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 12:1–11). Christian psychology, for all its fascination with human nature and the existence of guilt, leads to one simple method, summarized in James 5:16: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”


Rendered with permission from the book,Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews(Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 For a secular work arguing in much the same vein, see Herb Kutchins and Stuart A. Kirk, Making Us Crazy: DSM [Diagnostic Statistical Manual]: The Psychiatric Bible and the Creation of Mental Disorders (New York, NY: The Free Press, 1997).
2 Adams, Competent to Counsel, 32–3.
3 Lawrence Crabb, Jr., Basic Principles of Biblical Counseling (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1975), 102.

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