The Difference Between Spiritual Diagnosis & Spiritual Change

diagnosisFred 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.

Dr. Heath Lambert, the former president of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, explains,

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.

Are you ready for real lasting change? Are you ready to turn to the Word when you need help? What are our pastor’s doing? 

Peter’s Top 3 Ministry PodCasts

podacstMy favorite podcasts rank only below my books when it comes to finding likeminded friends and biblical encouragement. Being a big believer in networking,  I want to share with you the three podcasts that have shaped me and my ministry the most.

Ready to be challenged with the Word? Let's go.

Pastor’s Talkpastors talk

This is not just any pastors talking. This podcast consists of Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman talking through everything from cooperate prayer to church planting. They bring the gospel and the vast amount of experience (Check out Dever's Book Nine Marks of a Health Church) to bear on every issue. And they always leave their audience with a better understanding of what biblical Christianity looks like. Click here to download the podcast.


For The Church

for the church

Jared C. Wilson (the author of several great books including The Prodigal Church) hosts this podcast. He regularly brings in guests from all over the evangelical world to tackle topics that directly affect us, our ministry and our church body such as preaching, preventing ministry burnout, and the danger of skipping church. Click here to download his podcast.


Truth In Love

truth in love

Dr. Heath Lambert, the Executive Director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and an Executive pastor at First Baptist Jacksonville, Fl,  hosts this podcast devoted to equipping the church to counsel. This podcast is by far one of the most practical and relevant podcasts available for believers. Dr. Lambert and his guests tackle the daily struggles that we regularly run up against such as depression, mental illness, and addictions. Together, they reveal how the Bible equips us to achieve victory over our sin. Since we all have problems, we all can benefit from this podcast. Give it a listen. Click here to download the podcast. 

Now it's your turn. What podcast have you found helpful?

How To Get Ahold Of Your Emotions

emottionsIf the NCAA Tournament has taught us anything, its  that emotions are everywhere. Seemingly after every game, the world of social media was flooded with pictures of depressed girls with tear stained faces. And it is not just basketball or sports. Emotions seep in and out of every area of our lives. Believe it or not, even guys have emotions. Sorry Brohemes; its true.

So  how do we  biblical think through our emotions? Well, we inform them:

The Bible And Emotions

According to the scriptures, emotions flow from the heart. The things we think and meditate on determine what we do and how we feel about our actions and the actions of others. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, /for from it flow the springs of life.” People’s emotions are driven by the things their heart treasures.

Sadly, we cannot trust our hearts. They are desperately wicked and unstable (Jer. 17:9). As Christ says in Mathew 15:19 “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”  And if we do let our heart be our guide,  we the only path we will find is the one that ends in death and destruction.

 Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, /but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered (Proverbs 28:26). 

Rather than listen or being controlled by emotions, Christians all called to think biblically (Col 3:1-2). They are to let the gospel inform their emotions (Ps 51:1-2). As Proverbs 23:19 says, “Hear, my son, and be wise, /and direct your heart in the way.”

Responding To Sinful Emotions

When we encounter someone overcome with emotion, we should be cautiously thankful. While the emotion is not the ultimate problem, it does reveal what’s is in a person’s heart. Instead of focusing on the emotion, the we should focus on why the emotion is being displayed. If a friend is angry about his wife cooking, we should ask him, “when you sin and shout at your wife what do you want? What would make you stop getting angry?” We should try to get at the thoughts and ideas that are driven the man to snap at his wife instead of lecturing him solely on the evils of anger.

Fixing Our Emotions

To tell the difference between sinful emotions and righteous emotions, we must examine our actions. Righteous emotions lead to godliness, peace and  repentance. Unrighteous emotions lead to worldliness and sin. For example, two men can both feel guilt when they look at pornography. The first responds by asking he wife for forgiveness, places filters on his pc and phone, and  submits himself to accountability and is satisfied with God. The second confesses his sin, but refuses to put filters. He regularly looks at pornography, and lives for pleasure. Emotions are always tied to actions. Good emotions result in godly actions. Bad emotions lead us to sin.  As 2 Corinthians 7:10 makes clear,

For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.

To change improper emotions, a we must change the way they think. Instead of focusing upon our problems, our struggles, and our enemies, we need to meditate on God’s character and person.

As Psalm 34:8 says, “Oh, taste and see that the is good! /Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!.