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Biblical Principles of Psychospiritual Transformation and its Application to Reparative Therapy

Biblical Principles of Psychospiritual Transformation and its Application to Reparative Therapy

By Bruce Atkinson, PhD
Special to Virtueonline
February 12, 2021

This teaching essay is focused on what the Bible reveals about transformation. It is applicable not just to our Christian born-again experience and sanctification process, it also is intended to inform our views about such things as reparative (or conversion) therapy for helping people with unwanted sexual attractions.

I use the term "psychospiritual" because although the transformation that God produces in Christians begins in the spiritual realm, it spreads to all dimensions of our being. It changes our desires, motivations, habits of thinking, and eventually it also changes our outward behaviors and lifestyle. As I will show, if the faith is real, then it must accomplish this change.

God Himself does not change (Malachi 3:6, Psalm 33:11, Hebrews 13:8) but He is in the change business... that is, He changes human creatures from the inside out, from being sinners to being children of God, and from being headed for hell to being headed for heaven.

I am starting this study with the following scripture passage because of the bottom-line point... that some desperately hurting people (even church people) refuse to believe that God is sovereign and omnipotent. They deny that He can and will transform their desires and habits into godly desires and habits (if they repent and trust in Christ).

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of great difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

Many liberal churches today are so inclusive that they fully accept the most degenerate of lifestyles. Rev. Miguel Grave de Peralta has famously said: "Instead of being an incentive for living a life of holiness, God's love has become an excuse for indulging every base human desire." These liberal churches preach a warped half-right gospel invitation that says-- "Come as you are... and stay as you are," denying the power of the Spirit to fully transform the believer.

But the power to transform people into increasing godliness does exist and the Lord still uses it constantly. Note the final sentence of this passage which was put in the past tense:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God
And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Obviously, people CAN be transformed. Although God loves us sinners just the way we are, He loves us too much to leave us this way. As C.S. Lewis put it, "Christians do not believe that God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us." But God will not transform us without our permission. We must first admit that we need to change and therefore repent of our sins. We need to go to the Cross and confess, trusting the Lord to forgive our sins. In this crucial event, the Lord receives us into His Body as believers and begins to transform us into His image.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-5)

If we are truly born-again from above and are "in Christ," then we will be getting better-- that is, we will be actively in the process of becoming more and more like Jesus. We certainly will not be getting any worse.

And we all [true believers], with unveiled faces contemplating the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord who is Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

However, those who have not the true faith in their core, will backslide again and again. I am not saying that any of us are fully perfected yet (we are not, we still have weaknesses and may even sin on occasion--but then repent), but we will not be guilty of immense hypocrisy and the abuse of other people like some of the religious leaders we hear about these days.

Now that we know the truth about God's will and power to transform us, we need to apply it to a particular case which is quite controversial, and that is reparative / conversion therapy for those with undesired sexual attraction for people of the same sex.

An article discussing this topic has been recently posted on VirtueOnline (VOL): https://virtueonline.org/conversion-therapy-should-we-ban-it

And for some interesting background reading from the VOL archives:

Why banning "conversion therapy" is more dangerous than you think | VirtueOnline -- The Voice for Global Orthodox Anglicanism

Gay conversion therapy: Hundreds of religious leaders call for ban | VirtueOnline -- The Voice for Global Orthodox Anglicanism

Faith, sexuality and conversion therapy: how not to do research | VirtueOnline -- The Voice for Global Orthodox Anglicanism

Why York Archbishop John Sentamu is Wrong about Conversion Therapy | VirtueOnline -- The Voice for Global Orthodox Anglicanism

GAYS CAN CHANGE. REPARATIVE THERAPY WORKS | VirtueOnline -- The Voice for Global Orthodox Anglicanism

Aside from the profound ethical issues involved in banning any therapy on the basis of merely sociopolitical reasons, there is also considerable scientific research proving that human sexual preference in general is quite mutable. A large percentage of those who were same-sex attracted when they were 16 or younger end up becoming heterosexual, even without any kind of therapy or religious conversion.

Besides, why would anyone want to prevent people from changing their unwanted sexual attraction to become more normal? Answer: Only those who want to promote the LGBTQ political agenda to fully normalize homosexuality and transgender craziness... and to disempower Christianity in the western cultures. There are no other reasons.

The therapies in the USA currently available for such changes are cognitive behavioral therapies, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, the old-style psychodynamic psychotherapy, healing-of-trauma therapies, motivational interviewing, and assorted kinds of client-centered talk counseling. Aversive and other punishing behavior therapies have not been used for decades for any mental diagnosis. These were primarily used (for the most part unsuccessfully) to eliminate pedophilia/child molestation and other violent sexual abuse. Rightfully so, these therapies got a bad name and are no longer used.

Christian counseling (which is used only with Christian clients who desire it) can utilize any of the accepted common techniques, with the addition of examining together the scriptures, praying for (and sometimes with) clients and their families, and an in-depth discussion of values that the individual learned in family and church.

There is a common joke (which is actually a maxim) among those in the behavioral health field: Question: How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: Only one, but the lightbulb has to want to change. You get the point. The most powerful tool for any therapeutic benefit is the motivation for change that the client brings to the therapy process. This why treatment for all types of addiction do not work until the addict has "hit bottom" and is willing to do almost anything (like be hospitalized) in order to be healed.

So no longer do any therapists try to change a person against their will. As all behavioral health professionals know, it does not work. But for those who DO want to change (if the change is not to become a criminal or terrorist), then why would anyone want to prevent them from working toward their desired change with a counselor? For Christians, I highly recommend such counseling to reduce any unwanted feelings, habits, or temptations.

What is terribly unethical and abusive is for any authority to ban reparative therapy; this policy is essentially political control and ignores the first amendment. It prevents people from getting the help they want and need. The banning of reparative therapy is what should be banned.

Dr. Bruce Atkinson is a practicing psychologist and Christian counselor in the Atlanta area. He earned a PhD in clinical psychology and MA in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary; he also received an MS in research psychology from Illinois State University and a BA from Beloit College, WI. He is a USAF Veteran (medic) who served in Vietnam. He is also a member of the Anglican Church in North America and is Moderator and a frequent contributor to VirtueOnline.org

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