If I’m spiritual enough, I will have no pain or sinfulness.
“Christian” Beliefs that Can Drive You Crazy – Part 1
False Assumption — If I’m spiritual enough, I will have no pain or sinfulness.
Ted was discouraged. He was becoming more and more depressed every day, so much so that he had begun wondering if he were really a Christian. So he increased his Bible study and prayer and listened to all the spiritual-life tapes he could get his hands on.
His depression only got worse. With nowhere else to turn, Ted sought professional counseling.
“I just don’t get it,” he admitted to me. I’ve studied the Bible and diligently tried to obey it. I exercise as much faith as possible. I memorize Scripture. I try to make right choices. I’ve sat under the best Bible teachers in the world. But I’m still so depressed I can’t function.”
“What do you mean you don’t get it?” I asked him. “Why should all those things keep you from depression?”
“If a Christian is really walking with the Lord, he won’t get depressed like this,” Ted reasoned. “Depression is always the result of some spiritual failure. Only I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong.”
What does pain have to do with goodness?
Ted is not alone in his thinking. Many Christians believe that if they have their spiritual lives together, they will not suffer from emotional problems and will somehow avoid sin. If pain or sin invade their lives, they conclude that something is spiritually wrong with them.
The false assumption under which these Christians suffer is this: If I’m spiritual enough, I will have no pain or sinfulness.
When these people do hurt, they cannot explain it. Have they failed? Has God abandoned them? Should they do something differently spiritually to make the pain go away? Are they being punished for some sin?
People under the cloud of this assumption see only two options: try harder at the spiritual disciplines, or give up on the spiritual life altogether.
God tells us that we will encounter sin and pain—even if we have regular daily devotions and we go to church twice on Sunday. Being a Christian does not exclude you from problems and pain.
Ways we try to avoid pain
What do you do when you uncover feelings in yourself that “good Christians” aren’t supposed to feel? Or when you find yourself doing things a “good Christians” should not do?
There are three common ways we handle our negative feelings and behaviors if we don’t allow ourselves to own them.
When we deny the feelings we believe we shouldn’t feel, this can produce psychological symptoms such as depression or anxiety.
The Bible clearly teaches we are wrong to deny our sinfulness. Again and again Jesus points out our need to confess and face our sinfulness. “It is the thought-life that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God” (Mark 7:20-23). Jesus wants us to own our real feelings, not cover them up with religious activity.
Denial is clearly not a biblical option: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8). The good news is that we are safe in the love and grace of God. We can own our badness and not fear condemnation.
Another way we try to handle our bad sides is by working harder, usually to make up for our faults, improve ourselves, or ease our guilt. The Bible calls this “salvation by works” (Ephesians 2:9); we try to save ourselves by working harder. More accurately, we try to perfect and sanctify ourselves by working harder (Galatians 3:3).
We try reading the Bible and praying daily, for example, thinking that these alone will somehow transform our inner selves. But religious efforts like these done by rote, without facing our problems, are useless. They become empty rules, lacking “any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Colossians 2:23).
Another trick we pull trying to deal with our badness is to “put it under the law”—that is, condemning it, feeling guilty about it, and getting angry at it. We actually believe our guilt will cause us to change.
Guilt is a key feature of the law. As Paul and others frequently mention in their letters, the law brings wrath, makes us sin more, holds us prisoner, and condemns us as complete failures when we break even one letter of it (Romans 4:15; 5:20; 7:5; Galatians 3:23; James 2:10). The law has an angry nature to it; and when we are angry with ourselves and condemn ourselves for our sinfulness, we are acting out of the law of sin and death. We are destined to repeat this pattern until God overcomes it with grace (Romans 7:9-10).
The Bible is clear about the destructiveness of guilt. Christ died to set us free from condemnation; it has no place in the life of the believer (Romans 8:1).
These methods of dealing with our sin—denial, works, and the law—are all fruits of the false assumption that if we are Christians, we will have no sinfulness.
Not All Negative Feelings Are Sin
Denying our sinfulness is natural. Who wants to claim ugly sins such as bitterness, envy, or hatred?
But what about negative feelings that are not sinful—the ones that result merely from living in a less-than-perfect world or from getting sinned against? What is one to do with pain, grief, anger, sadness, or fear that results from sexual, physical, or emotional abuse as a child?
When we feel hurt and anger over what happens to us, we need to respond to our pain correctly. The Bible talks about the importance of dealing appropriately with sadness (see Romans 12:15; Ecclesiastes 3:4; 7:2-4). It talks about how to deal with anger and explains how suffering refines us. But nowhere does the Bible say that pain resulting from an act against you is sin.
Throughout the Bible, God sides with the wounded victim. Scripture commands us to heal the brokenhearted, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, etc. Nowhere does Scripture tell us to confront the wounded. Rather, it tells us instead to love them. Admonition, we are told should be reserved for those who are unruly or rebellious (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
Too often the church confronts hurting people about their pain instead of treating them with kindness and compassion. Because of this message, the wounded person often forsakes God and the church.
You Will Suffer Pain, You Will Sin
If it is erroneous to believe that Christians should have no pain or sin, then what does the Bible teach? The exact opposite—that we will have pain, that we are free to face these things.
If confession is agreeing with the truth, then we must understand the Bible’s truth about badness.
Sinfulness is normal. Expect failure. That is why Jesus had to die for us, after all. To believe we can become perfect after we become Christians is denying our falleness (1 John 1:8). So expect to find within you all that Jesus mentions in Mark 7:20-23 (above). But do not fear it. Own it, because God is gracious.
Seeing sin as normal does not contradict other teaching about becoming victorious over sin. It simply means that as long as we’re on earth, we can expect to be sinners.
Negative feelings are normal, not sinful, when they arise from a sin against you. It is natural to feel angry when someone betrays you, or hurt when someone lies to you, or sad when someone omits your name from the party list. We will inevitably have pain to work through. To get well, we must process these normal responses by grieving losses. (Ecclesiastes 7:3,4).
We need to deal appropriately with both sets of feelings. We must confess and forsake our sin—our envy, jealousy, bitterness, pride, and judgmental attitude. We must also take our pain—our sadness, grief, hurt, abandonment, woundedness, and rejection-to God and to others, where it can be loved and healed.
Like David in the Psalms, we can pour out our heart to God and give thanks for his deliverance. Likewise, after we receive grace, we must forgive those who have wronged us. Freedom from the past is both receiving and giving grace.
The gospel is grace, and we must grow in it. Any feeling or behavior that we feel condemned for is a signal that we have not accepted the grace of God. As you receive grace and love from others you will begin to sense in a deeper way God’s grace for you.
In summary, we need to accept the presence of badness in us. We need not fear it, for Christ died for us. He made it safe for us to own our badness and not fear it anymore. Through this gospel, he brings us back together with him and others.
Because God accepts our fallenness, we can too. We need not hide anymore. We can take our fallenness to each other and to God, and through those safe relationships find healing that leads to love and good deeds.
Taken from 12 “Christian” Beliefs That Can Drive You Crazy, © Drs. Henry Cloud & John Townsend, Zondervan 1995
12 “Christian” Beliefs That Can Drive You Crazy helps you find relief from 12 false assumptions that are commonly believed. Drs. Cloud & Townsend explain the origin of these false principles, show where they go wrong, and pressent a biblical path for resolving emotional and spiritual problems.
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