Psychology Without Sin

Biblical Authority

by Ernie Baker on July 1, 2012
Featured in Answers Magazine

Who wouldn’t like to help others with their psychological problems? Finding a cure, however, demands that we understand two things: the nature of the disease and true mental health. Both are found in Genesis.

Imagine a street named Counseling Street where you can visit therapy shop after therapy shop. In each store you present your struggles with chronic depression and anxiety and listen to the solutions. But it gets confusing—almost every shop offers different solutions. One therapist diagnoses low self-esteem and says you need to feel better about yourself. Another explains that your brain chemicals are out of balance and the wiring needs help to fire properly. Yet another says that you have all the symptoms of repressed memories.

Like a doctor, a therapist bases diagnosis and treatment on what he or she believes is the source of the problem. But secular psychologists do not agree on the problem, so their treatments vary dramatically. In fact no standard psychology or therapy exists. There are hundreds of psychologies and therapies! Do we have any hope of finding the right treatment?

Inaccurate Reference Books

The Bible reveals the root of all human problems: sin’s effects on the soul. Sadly, though, God’s Word is not among the references in the therapy shops. The secular psychologies do not allow for an inherent sin nature, so it is hard to imagine how they could stumble upon the right treatment. The famous psychologist Carl Rogers represents many before and after him. “I am very well aware of the incredible amount of destructive, cruel, malevolent behavior in today’s world—from the threats of war to the senseless violence in the streets—I do not find that this evil is inherent in human nature.”

Rogers continues, “It is cultural influences which are the major factor in our evil behaviors. . . . I see members of the human species . . . as essentially constructive in their fundamental nature but damaged by their experience.”1 His view of mankind was his starting point for developing a system to help (a therapeutic approach).

A Step to a Cure: Identifying a Healthy Human

In our culture of endless therapies, God’s Word diagnoses the ultimate root of human problems. Genesis 1 through 3 emphasizes the problem of sin against our Creator. In fact, any truly biblical approach to human problems must be built upon these foundational chapters. Unlike the shifting theories of the world, these chapters speak absolute truth about mankind’s need.

We are made to glorify the majestic God of the universe, and our basic need is to return to this purpose.

Genesis 1:26–27 is particularly important to counseling since it tells us that we are image bearers and not merely advanced animals. As God’s image bearers, we were made to glorify the majestic God of the universe—to live as worshippers—and our basic need is to return to this purpose.

Romans 11:36 gives wonderful guidance on what it means to live as a restored worshipper. Paul breaks it down into three parts: “For of [from] Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” We were made to view all things as from Him (He’s the source of our lives). We were made to view all things as if they are through Him (He’s the sustainer of our lives). And we are made to view all things as if they are to Him (He’s the specific purpose of our lives). If God is the source, the sustainer, and the goal, He is everything we need! Whether paying bills or loving a spouse, we should do all things as if they were from, through, and to Him. What a wonderful way to live, and God gets the glory!

The Worldwide Epidemic

But something radical disrupted this beautiful purpose for our existence. Adam and Eve, designed to worship (love, trust, honor, and obey) the Creator, “worshipped and served the creature” instead (Romans 1:25). This is the ultimate origin of personal problems. Not surprisingly, counseling issues arose immediately after the Fall—hiding, fear, guilt, and blame shifting entered human experience. Sin immediately marred the marriage relationship. Most unfortunately, though, we were separated from the God who designed us to be in a close relationship with Him.

The holy prescription of Romans 11:36 comes appropriately at the end of eleven chapters describing God’s redemptive plan to solve our sinful condition. God embedded within the gospel the power to restore my broken relationship with Him and others. Christ has the power to liberate me from the “worship disorders” of my life so I can again live to glorify Him.

Rogers, like many before and after him, blamed our problems on our experiences. We cannot adopt that view without turning everyone into a victim who does not have to take responsibility for his or her actions. The Bible, in contrast, places the responsibility on us for how we respond to our circumstances, while still remaining merciful to sinners and sensitive to those sinned against. A memorable illustration is a tea bag in hot water. Our experiences are like the hot water, and the tea bag is our heart with its sin nature. The hot water of life draws out what is already in my heart. Of course, the boiling water still hurts!

As we seek answers for life’s problems, we rob God of His glory when we ignore His prescription and turn to other diagnoses and treatments.

God made the cause of our problem clear in Genesis 1–3, and He has prescribed the only cure, Jesus Christ. The details of applying God’s answer to each person’s problem may be complex and varied, but the reference book and its basic prescriptions are the same for everyone.

Discussion Questions

  1. Look at Psalm 18:1–6 and note David’s “experiences” (Rogers’s terminology). How did David deal with his pressures/experiences?
  2. Continuing to think about Psalm 18, ask yourself what you tend to make your “rocks” and “fortresses” to deal with life’s pressures.
  3. How do these metaphors relate to counseling problems like alcohol abuse and viewing pornography? How could these behaviors be considered “worship disorders”?
  4. According to Scripture what are some key principles for a discipler/counselor to follow when working with someone who has been sinned against? (See Romans 12:10; 12:15; and Galatians 6:2 to get you started.)
  5. What role should theology play in developing a biblical counseling system? For example, how do hamartiology (the doctrine of sin), anthropology (the nature of man), bibliology (the nature of the Bible), and soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) relate to counseling?
  6. Think about what Isaiah 61:1–2a promises concerning Christ’s ministry and the power of the gospel. What does He promise? Relate this to counseling issues.
  7. Think through the prepositions in Romans 11:36 that help us understand what it means to live as a worshiper. How can you view conflicts as if they are from, through, and to God? How can you view difficult relationships with your spouse or parents as if they are from, through, and to Him?
Dr. Ernie Baker is a certified biblical counselor with the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors and a Council Board member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition. He has 25 years’ experience as a pastor and is on the faculty at The Master’s College, where he teaches a wide range of biblical counseling courses.

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Biblical Authority Discussion Questions: Psychology Without Sin

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  1. Carl Rogers, “Notes on Rollo May,” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 22 (Summer 1982): 9.


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