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The Armor Of God. Spiritual Diagnosis

The Armor Of God. Spiritual Diagnosis

By Ted Schroder

Many people have been affected in life by an erroneous diagnosis of their problems. Ailments that have been wrongly diagnosed and treated accordingly have produced more problems than they have solved. That is why getting a second opinion is almost standard before any drastic and irreversible procedures are authorized. While this is routine in the medical field it is not always customary in the spiritual realm. Too many sincere seekers are all too ready to accept diagnoses of their condition that are questionable. The devil uses gullibility and trust in popular preachers, church leaders and authors to sow discouragement and despair. This is often done by confusing the physical, psychological and the spiritual realms.

Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a medical doctor who, at one point was assistant to Lord Moran, the personal physician to Winston Churchill, became a celebrated preacher and was assistant to, and then succeeded, G. Campbell Morgan as Minister at the famous Westminster Chapel, next to Buckingham Palace in London from 1938-1968. He was especially skilled at distinguishing between the spiritual, the physical, and the psychological. He wrote: "We are strange creatures, made up of body, mind, and spirit; these are interrelated and react upon one another. Many of our troubles in life are due to this fact, and to our failure to realize the place, function, and sphere of each of these realms. The devil, of course, takes full advantage of this, and attacks us along this line."

He once preached 52 sermons on Ephesians 6:10-20, which have been published in two volumes: The Christian Warfare and The Christian Soldier. He points out that when Paul tells us that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms," (Eph.6:12) we must make sure of the correct spiritual diagnosis. Dr Lloyd-Jones lists three incorrect diagnoses.

Wrong Diagnosis #1

Confusing the physical with the spiritual. We are sick, overworked, or simply aging, and the tempter suggests that we are slipping spiritually in our walk with God because we don't feel as good as we used to. We confuse our physical well-being with our spiritual relationship with God. The prescription is not more prayer or trust in God, but treatment for our physical condition. We need a proper medical diagnosis, adequate rest, and adjustment to our expectations rather than pressure to conform to increased spiritual exercises. As we age our abilities change. We may begin to feel guilty because we cannot do all that we used to do. That is a physical problem not a spiritual problem. Paul encouraged Timothy to look after his physical health by prescribing a physical remedy: "Stop drinking only water and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses." (1 Tim.5:23) The Bible takes sickness seriously and encourages caring for the body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit. That is one of the reasons why Christian Science is believed to deviate from orthodox Christianity. Mary Baker Eddy teaches, in her Science and Health, With a Key to the Scriptures, that sickness is an illusion, and to be ignored. Christian Science does not believe in medical science, and discourages its adherents from seeking medical help. The wife of my congressman in Texas, Mrs Lamar Smith, a strict Christian Scientist, died unnecessarily because she would not take her illness seriously. That is an example of the forces of evil blinding the understanding and deceiving a gullible soul. Mary Baker Eddy has a lot to answer for in being such an ally of deception.

Wrong Diagnosis #2

Confusing the psychological with the spiritual. There is a popular conception that when a person becomes a Christian his personality changes. That is not so. Christians are not expected to become Brand X or Type B personalities through sanctification! How dull that would be! There is no one kind of personality that qualifies for a superior spiritual rating.

Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones again, "Certain people by birth, by nature, and by temperament, belong to a depressed type; some are mercurial; others are phlegmatic. Some people are lively and animated, some are very slow...It is simply a fact that some people are born with a depressed and melancholic temperament."

There are also cultural temperaments. Scandinavians are different from Hispanics; Yankees are different from Southerners. The difference is psychological not spiritual.

The condition of our soul is not subject to our biological or psychological inheritance. Saul of Tarsus did not become a different personality when he became Paul the Apostle. We have to get to know ourselves so that we do not get accused by the devil, or other spiritual people, who accuse us of not being what they want us to be. That does not mean that we should not attempt to control our temperament. But we must not allow the devil to come in and make us think that our psychological problems are always purely spiritual.

Some people who suffer from psychological disorders benefit from medical treatment, but that does not mean that they are deficient spiritually. Mental illness is a disease that needs compassionate counseling and medication not criticism and intolerance. William Cowper, the poet and hymn writer, was subject to severe bouts of depression, and tried to take his own life several times. He asked in one of his hymns, "Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord?" He thought his problem was spiritual. He was in agony of soul, and felt at times that God had deserted him. It was entirely due to the diseased condition of his mind.

Another version of this wrong diagnosis is to attribute all problems to ourselves. We become so psychological in our thinking that we fail to remember that the devil tempts us to blame ourselves or someone else for our problems. The devil uses false guilt to distress us when we are simply being ourselves. We become depressed and discouraged because we feel that we are failures and we do not know what to do. We look for psychological answers when we need to recognize the temptations of the devil.

Jesus himself was tempted. He did not go into an emotional funk and blame himself or his parents for the disturbance in his soul. The temptation came from the outside, not from his personality, or his upbringing. We must learn to draw a distinction between what we are in our personality and what the devil is doing to us. We must refuse to be condemned and resist the devil's insinuations about our character. We can become too introspective and depressed by comparing ourselves with other people and being anxious to be something we are not. We stand against this wrong diagnosis by saying: "I am myself, and I am meant to be myself; and all God asks of me is that I do my best as I am." A person who does not seek the help of God may be controlled by his temperament. That is why, so often, others find it difficult to live with him. He cannot control his temper. A believer in Christ has the same temperament, but he is given the power of the Spirit to control his temperament. He recognizes what his temptation is and is on guard against it. He does not allow the devil to come in and make him think that his problems are always purely spiritual. So you must not be a victim of your temperament, and must be careful of the wiles of the devil. I have had to learn the limits of my patience, and to recognize the danger signals before I give in to the temptation to unload on someone when the stress gets too much for me. I have also had to learn to value who I am and not beat up on myself for not being perfect, or not being someone else. Some people have tried to make me over into their image of what I should be, and it didn't work. They would have been better employed befriending me and affirming my strengths rather than alienating themselves by constant criticism.

Paul writes, "think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you." (Romans 12:3) Accept the personality and the gifts God has given you, and stand against the schemes of the devil to try to make you something different.

Wrong Diagnosis #3

Confusing the spiritual with the physical and the psychological. This is the tendency to evade spiritual problems by explaining them away in terms of the physical or the psychological. This happens when we are out of the will of God in our lives and feel miserable. We seek help to relieve our distress. We end up seeking medication or psychological counseling to help us adjust to the guilt of our rebellion against God, our disobedience to his purpose for our lives. The devil is saying to us that our problem is not with God but with our coming to terms with our life style or our lack of self control. This is especially so with respect to relational sins, sexual sins, sins of anger or greed. What we need is to stand against the sin in our lives, not seek permission and support to make us feel good about our sin. Just because something may legal does not make it moral.

There is the tendency to explain away sin altogether by excusing immoral behavior as being due to diminished responsibility. Everything is explained away in terms of diseased conditions or psychological states. Immoral behavior is justified on the grounds that a person is biologically determined, and therefore made by God to live that way. What was previously considered sin is now considered to be natural, and therefore to be accepted by society. The forces of evil have confused young people growing up in this environment so that they believe that what they see on television, and in the movies, is acceptable behavior, despite it being condemned by Scripture and a recipe for an unhealthy and tragic lifestyle.

Many conflicts and problems in life would be prevented by a more thorough understanding of the truth. Regular Bible reading and prayer, the reading of Christian books, and participation in worship and Christian community promote a healthy lifestyle that can prevent undue physical and psychological illness.

Fears and phobias are not merely psychological problems. St. Paul talks about "conflicts on the outside, fears within", which he had to deal with in his life. (2 Cor.7:5) The devil will try to get you to think that this is a purely psychological matter, and that you need psychological treatment. Instead learn to say, "I am a child of God, and whatever happens to me, I am in God's hands, and God will allow no harm to come to me ultimately. He has said, 'I will never leave you, nor forsake you', so I must not give way to these fears." We have to stand against fears by putting on the armor of God and not give way to them. We must apply our faith and see that fears are of the devil, and resist them, standing on the rock who is Christ.

How do we make sure that we have the correct spiritual diagnosis of our condition? We are fortunate to have the Great Physician to help us. Read the Scriptures, seek counsel from godly people whom you respect, pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light rises up in the darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from false choices, and that in your light we may see light, and in your straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP p.832)

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