- There is no therapy for sin
- Repentance is inappropriate for brokenness
- Category-confusion / misdiagnosis can be very harmful
- However, the sin and brokenness can work in tandem
So, now, people don't sin; they make mistakes. They aren't sinners; they're broken. They don't need repentance; they need healing, and therapy.
You know what I'm going to say next, don't you? Maybe not.
Truth is, people do make mistakes. People are broken. And people do need healing. But people also sin, are sinners, and need repentance.
Here's where it gets dicey.
The first problem is in correctly diagnosing which is which, so as to point this soul in the right direction. Misdiagnosis can be absolutely disastrous.
Take for instance a woman I met some twenty years ago. She told me she had spent years in a deep, dark depression. She had packed on a lot of weight, and her life had pretty much gone down the toilet.
What do you say, doctor? What is your diagnosis? Sin can cause depression, can't it? Yes, indeed it can (cf. Genesis 4:5-7). So shall we urge this woman to root out the sin in her life, and repent — and, if that doesn't work, tell her she clearly either hasn't confessed all her sin, or hasn't sincerely repented?
In this case, that would have been some serious soul-malpractice. This woman's doctor diagnosed (if I recall correctly) an issue with her thyroid, and prescribed a supplement. The change was dramatic and almost instantaneous. She saw herself in the mirror as for the first time, and completely changed her life. Cause: strictly glandular.
However, suppose someone comes to us with all sorts of physical and emotional symptoms. This person is in physical pain, can't sleep, is plagued with fatigue, free-floating fears and anxieties, and with a sense of impending doom. Physical symptoms... must be physical cause, right? This is clearly a broken person who needs encouragement, medication, affirmation, and assurance. Right?
Except Scripture shows that unconfessed sin can cause symptoms both emotional and physical.
For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing;What to do?
my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away.
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
Treebeard's counsel is good: "Do not be hasty." If you know there is sin in someone's life, then the loving thing to do is point him to the only remedy for sin: the blood of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:7; 1 John 1:9).
Counseling will not alleviate the guilt, power, nor dreadful side-effects of sin; therapy will not, medication will not, self-help will not, self-talk will not, positive thinking will not, possibility thinking will not, living our best life now will not, being purpose-driven will not, Jabez' prayer will not — nothing is a sovereign remedy sin except the blood of Jesus Christ, which is applied to us through repentant faith.
In fact, if any of those "remedies" does succeed in dulling the ache and misery of guilt and its accompaniments, then the person is twice as bad-off as he was before. That he can now stick his hand into the flame without feeling pain is not a good thing.
But at the same time, remember that there can be an interplay in the same person. Elijah was very depressed (1 Kings 19:4). Why? I reason from the cure to the cause. God did four things for Elijah, directly and mediated:
- Got him some food (vv. 5-8)
- Got him some rest (vv. 5-6)
- Gave him some corrective counsel (vv. 9-18)
- Got him some assistance (v. 16b)
What is the practical, perhaps pastoral upshot? Caution, care, and humility are called for. Wisdom is called for. Depression can have any one or five of a dozen causes, easily. Piling guilt on someone who is simply overworked, oppressed, abused, or melancholy, will exacerbate the problem. Equally, affirming and encouraging someone who has rebelled against the Word of God is worse than worthless.
In our culture, too many rely on formula's and quick-fixes. Beware the pastor with 5 "P's" to banish depression. Don't be that pastor. People aren't reducible to snappy formula's. We were created complex, and then sin made us complicated.
"Flee fornication" is not complicated. "Why do I always feel so sad?" can be very complicated. You like being treated as an individual, and not as if you're mass-produced widget? Then do unto others.