by Julie Ganschow
As a counselor, most people who come to me for help are looking for a change. Those in relationship counseling are usually looking for the other person to change. Those in individual counseling are often looking for their circumstances or feelings to change, and they don’t know how to make that happen.
In 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Galatians 5:19-22 we find lists of ugly issues that are typical as presenting problems in a biblical counseling relationship. (These, of course, are not the only two places in the Bible we find sinful habits listed). While you may want to believe that your particular sin is new or unique, the Bible does cover all of the heart-level sins known to man. We vary in how each of us acts out our sin, but honestly, there is no new sin under the sun. This is excellent news for sinners! The problem you bring to the table can be completely different, yet the cause of sin is identical.
Battling Besetting Sins
Every one of us can become habituated to one or more kinds of sin. Another way of thinking about habitual sin might be found in an older term: besetting sin. Our sinful habits develop when we do something so frequently that it becomes an automatic, comfortable pattern of living. It becomes an automatic behavior, such as the woman who habitually overeats chocolate or cake when she is feeling sad or lonely.
She is told by well-meaning people that she has a disease such as Compulsive Overeating. She might be prescribed an anti-depressant and told to attend a self-help group. These responses remove her responsibility for her actions and steal her hope. However, identifying these behaviors biblically can give her tremendous hope when she learns that her eating too much of the wrong kinds of food have become habits that can be unlearned. Taking medication will not help a person put off a sinful habit, but by employing the process of biblical change, with practice, she will change and restructure her life in a manner that glorifies God.
It is important to realize that such habits did not develop overnight, and new habits will not become automatic overnight. Biblical change takes time and practice. It takes time for someone who is habituated to a particular sin to transform and begin to consistently demonstrate new attitudes and actions.
Biblical Process of Change
The key to real and lasting change is found in the biblical process of putting off and putting on presented in Ephesians 4:22 – 24. As you read through the Bible, you will find a number of verses that inform us in one way or another about disciplining ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7; Colossians 1:29; 1 Timothy 6:11). Part of the process that I would recommend is found in 2 Timothy 3:16 which instructs us to teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness. We all need to know more about God and how to bring Him glory by how we live our lives, right? Sit under sound biblical teaching. We must be willing to accept a reproof or a rebuke for our ungodly behavior and attitudes, and then correct them by putting on a biblical response, and finally, to be trained in the particular righteous behaviors that we must put on.
The idea of training means to practice it over and over, very much like a gymnast practices the same routine to the point that the moves she makes on the balance beam or the floor are identical time after time. Rather than learning physical moves, we replace the thoughts, beliefs, and desires of our heart that we currently practice (Galatians 5:19 – 20), with those that honor and glorify God (Ephesians 4 – 5, Philippians 2, and Colossians 3).
Biblical Change vs. Behaviorism
Some verses in the Scriptures talk about re-habituation. Hebrews 5:13 and 10:25 are among them. Our goal is not merely to change behavior, putting off and putting on; we must realize and understand the importance the heart plays in putting off those old habits and putting on righteous ones. Because our behavior comes from our immaterial part, or what the Bible calls the heart, the changes to put off and put on must originate there. The sinful thoughts, beliefs, and desires that bring us into counseling arise in the heart. As the heart submits to God’s authority, and the Word of God renews the mind, new behavior patterns will form. To leave out the critical component of heart change for life change makes the biblical counselor a mere behaviorist, and this type of counsel is sure to fail.
Ephesians 4:22-24 can be misused to become rote behaviorism. Behaviorism is a danger with some forms of counseling. The critical component in this passage is the renewal of the mind. The mind is equal to the heart and must be biblically informed (Romans 12:2) about how to change. This is why reading and meditating on the Word of God is so critical to this process of biblical change. We must know what the Word of God says about the attitudes and sins of the heart. The new response (putting on) ideally will flow from a heart that now sees our sin as grievous to God.
Julie Ganschow is a member of FCC and Director of FCC’s counseling ministry, Reigning Grace Counseling Center.