Morality and Psychology in the Church

Joshua West

As Western culture becomes more and more self-focused, it has also become more and more interested in and influenced by psychology, and frankly probably more accurately stated “pop psychology.” And as the visible church has become increasingly influenced by culture this has birthed a sort of “therapeutic” gospel that seems to appeal to this hunger. There is nothing wrong with talking about the make-up of the mind or psychology in general, but the problem is that many of the presuppositions of modern psychology are in opposition to the teaching of Scripture. 

It is not a question of whether our mental make-up and way of thinking need attention or not, because it does. We are fallen humans who have been and are being negatively affected by the fallen pattern of this world. The question is where we look to find these answers. For the Christian the answer is clear:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

The problem with most psychology is that its end goal is not a renewed mind that can rightly discern the will of God. It is self-focused instead of God-focused. The other serious problem is that the therapeutic gospel it has produced focuses on the health of the mind often at the expense of the intentions of the heart. One main presupposition that is in polar opposition to the sound teaching of the Scripture is the idea that man is basically good when the Bible says that none are good in the sight of a holy God, not even one (Romans 3:12).

The therapeutic brand of teaching that permeates much of the church today, is basically “self-help” with a little bit of “God’s help” but it completely ignores the moral implications of the gospel. A gospel that doesn’t deal with the moral problem of sinners who have offended the holiness of God is a powerless gospel and honestly, it is a pointless gospel. If the problem of sin is not that serious or non-existent then Jesus died for nothing. If our problem is something that we can work our way out of or grow our way out of then the biblical gospel is unnecessary. 

Therapeutic deism is something the lost and false converts who fill the seats of many American churches love because it is the idea that God wants to help you grow, feel better, and do better all without the inconvenience of the moral implications of the true gospel. 
Sadly, for them, it is the moral implications that make the gospel necessary because God is holy, and apart from divine intervention we are desperate and damned sinners. It is not that we need to merely educate and heal our minds, the moral imperative of Christianity is that we are dead in sin and trespass and that we must be born again. We need a new heart, and this is exactly what God promises to those who repent of their sin and by faith put their faith in Christ alone for their salvation. Renewing our mind is secondary and follows being born again. 

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

This isn’t merely something we need to hear at the beginning of our walk with God, it is the enduring substance of our faith; Christ and him crucified, raised to life, and currently ruling and interceding for us. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “I don’t preach decisions, I preach regeneration.” Christianity is rooted in spiritual rebirth, not self-improvement, being reconciled to God, not being true to yourself.

Joshua West is a pastor, evangelist, and author. He is also director of the World Challenge Pastors Network.


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