Many professing Christians seek change in their lives using methods which are contrary to Scripture. As a result, they don’t experience the change which God seeks to produce in his people. In the very helpful booklet, HELP! Want to Change, which I refer to as a primer on progressive sanctification, pastor and biblical counselor Jim Newheiser mentions six common, but ineffective, methods for lasting personal transformation.
- Deliverance Ministries: Some claim that the source of every personal problem is demonic and that the solution is to identify and cast out the evil spirit(s). Certain preachers claim to have the special powers and methods to perform these deliverances. They often draw large crowds of people desperate for help. While the Bible does teach that we are engaged in spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:11–12), it does not teach that all our spiritual problems can be solved by casting out demons.
- Mysticism: Many believers expect that God will somehow instantly zap away their sin patterns and problems through dramatic answers to certain kinds of prayers. Some seek out spiritual leaders who claim to have special powers in prayer to produce dramatic results. The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that spiritual growth and true wisdom are typically obtained through a persistent disciplined pursuit of God (Proverbs 2:2–12), not through a one-time experience.
- Medication: While we embrace the use of medicine for true medical problems, many believers are hoping to find quick and easy solutions to their spiritual problems through pills. Some drugs may dull some of the symptoms of our emotional pain, but they do not address the heart issues from which sin comes (Proverbs 4:23; Mark 7:20–23). Wisdom must be exercised.
- Self-Improvement Formulas: Worldly methods of change typically involve finding the resources within yourself to successfully lose weight, stop smoking, control anger, and so on. This is contrary to Scripture, which teaches that we are totally dependent upon God for meaningful transformation. Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
- Moralism: Many try to change by seeking to discipline themselves to do the “right thing” by keeping a list of rules. God’s Word teaches that we can’t keep God’s law in our own power (Romans 3:20) and that we cannot be truly changed merely by keeping rules. “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son…” (Romans 8:3). Those pursuing moralistic solutions will either have to lower their standards far below those of Scripture, resulting in pride, or they will endure an endless cycle of failure, resulting in despair.
- Recovery Programs: Twelve-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, are very widely used by those who seek to make significant changes in their lives. Such programs typically combine elements of mysticism (relying on an undefined higher power), self-improvement formulas, and moralism, while neglecting the biblical instructions as to how we can change.
In contrast to all these methods, Scripture teaches us that God transforms us as we understand and experience the power of the gospel and then step forward in Spirit-enabled obedience.
You should consider adding Jim Newheiser’s new booklet HELP! Want to Change to your counseling resource toolbox.
Take a look at all 24 titles in the Living in a Fallen World booklet series.
[Originally posted April 18, 2012]