The Difference Between Spiritual Diagnosis & Spiritual Change
Fred collapses on the side-walk outside with his hand over his heart. His labored breathe becomes shorter and shorter. His fingers tingle.
As Fred’s neighbors rush to aid the large 55-year-old man, they correctly diagnosis Fred’s condition as a heart attack and promptly call 911. But none of Fred’s neighbors hop into the ambulance with him, scrub up, and proceed to do the open heart surgery needed to save his life. While plumbers, retired office managers, and CPAs maybe spot a heart attack, they lack the medical skill needed to help Fred overcome his crisis. The ability to diagnosis a sickness does not equal the expertise needed to heal that sickness.
Similarly, a person’s ability to diagnosis spiritual problems does not mean he or she has the power to save those whom he or she has diagnosed. In 1 Samuel 8:5, the elders of Israel rightfully diagnosis their nation’s problem. The elders notice that Samuel’s sons have ceased to walk in Samuel’s ways. But while the elders had the skills necessary for diagnosis, they lacked the skills needed to find a good solution to their problem. They turned to the culture for answers and wound up with a solution [a king like the nations] that caused great harm to themselves and future generations.
The errors of 1 Samuel 8 are repeatedly over and over again in Christendom. We believe secular physiologist, counselors, and therapists can help us overcome our spiritual battles because they can and do often accurately describe our actions and emotions. The secular counselor can tell the alcoholic about his alcoholism, the angry teenager about her anger, and the immoral wife about her sexual urges.
Biblical counselors have consistently stated that the observations of secular psychology can often fill in the gaps for – and provoke biblical counselors to more careful biblical reflection about – all manner of issues.
But the secular therapist cannot treat these causes effectively regardless of how many degrees that he or she has on her wall. The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4:17-18,
They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to their hardness of heart.
Those living in darkness and ignorance cannot help those overcome by darkness and ignorance find the light, hope, and power of God. The secular counselors simply turn the darkened eyes to the darkened culture and come up with ideas that are dark and quite naturally unhelpful.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer rightfully concluded,
The pastor can learn very little from the psychologist, basically only to observe, to evaluate, and to analyze.
In the last few years alone, physiologists have backed away from the ideas of the five stages of grief, the high-self-esteem, and of catharsis. Even the popular program Alcoholics Anonymous has only a 5% success rate. The secular world can diagnosis spiritual problems but has no ability to save those suffering from their spiritual problems. The Christian who asks a secular therapist to help him or her overcome a spiritual problem is little different than Fred asking his neighborhood plumber to do open heart surgery. It will not go well.
The Way Forward:
Where does the power to change come from? The power to change comes Word of God through the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:3 tells us,
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.
If we want to improve our marriages, fight greed, find liberation from worry, we need to turn to the Scriptures. We need to hear the preaching of the Word both publicly and privately.
A new discipleship movement is sweeping through the American evangelical church calling for the creation of small groups. Such groups are not inherently bad, but they are often predicated on the idea that the preaching of the Word is in sufficient to bring real change. There is only one problem with this idea. It is not biblical.
Sermons are not an afterthought. They are main element of discipleship and spiritual growth. Notice what Paul tells Timothy, “Keep as close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Paul tells Titus to, “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority (Ti 2:15).” The teaching of the Word brings life change. Mark Dever hit the nail on the head when he commented that the pastor’s, “teaching of the Word is the core of the church’s discipleship ministry.” The famed pastor Martin Lloyd-Jones remarked that he eliminated the need for many counseling sessions by faithful teaching the whole counsel of God as revealed in the text of the Scriptures. Friends if our church lacks spiritual depth, discipleship, and sanctifying change, we do not need a new small group program; we need a new pastor.
But preaching from the pulpit is not enough. As the famed reformer John Calvin noted,
It is not enough for a pastor in God’s church to preach and to cast his words into the air, he must practice private admonitions.
The faithful pastor is the pastor who shares the Word of God with his people in public and in private. He helps people wrestle with the Scriptures, showing them the need for change and the means for change. Pastors who boast about how they pass of their sheep to secular counselors are poor pastors who love the title shepherd but hate the work. If we want to see people helped, we must have pastors who are willing to apply the Word to people’s lives. The pastor who is inadequate to the task of private preaching is equally inadequate to the task of public preaching.
When can adopt all kinds of teaching structures ranging from academic style lectures to prayer groups with no agenda. But the power source for change does not lie in our church structure nor in the power of diagnosis. The power that brings about lasting change is the Holy Spirit who communicates with us through his Word.