From time to time we get questions of a more practical nature regarding the application of the message of Freedom in Christ in various settings. The articles listed below may help to address some of these questions. Dr. Neil T. Anderson has written the book, Discipleship Counseling, to give a more complete explanation of these issues.
In Helping Others Find Freedom in Christ, we spend the first five chapters explaining our view of how to biblically help other people find spiritual victory. Please read this material very carefully before forming an opinion about what we teach regarding counseling and Christian Counseling.
In answer to the question, let us say briefly that the theory of integration looks at the relationship between psychological research (Christian and secular) and biblical information about people, problems, and solutions. We do not believe that you can take equal input from psychological theory and research and from biblical data and arrive at “biblical counseling.” The Bible is the authoritative source and must be foundational to our view of people, problems and solutions. We must carefully develop a biblical worldview from which to evaluate all data and every approach to helping others.
At the same time, we do not believe that all research is inherently evil and anti-biblical. After all, every pastor relies on historical and geographical data gathered by people who do not believe in the miracles of the Bible. We use their data about possible routes of the Exodus and the geography of Sinai, but—unlike them—we nevertheless believe in the reality of the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptians and the Almighty God who was and is active in human history.
Unlike history and geography, psychology and sociology are not precise sciences. What researchers in these fields have observed is helpful in describing what is, but it is not helpful in determining what should be. For example, the Bible clearly teaches that sin is perpetuated through the world (environmental factors), the flesh (internal factors), and the devil (spiritual factors) (see Ephesians 2:1-3). We have found that defense mechanisms identified in psychological research (denial, fantasy, emotional insulation, displacement, etc.) are useful descriptions of how Satan has deceived us, programming our flesh to respond in sinful, self-protective ways to environmental factors (the world). The solution to these defense mechanisms, however is not found in psychology. These false ways of coping with life must be repented of and replaced with trust in God and His truth. Only then can we let go of the defense mechanisms because then, having found freedom in Christ, we won’t need them.
A brief postscript: Psalm 19 describes the relative value of both natural and special revelation. Only special revelation—God’s written Word—can guide us to victory over sin and our relationship with God, but natural revelation (in general, what we see in nature; in this discussion, psychology) can give us insight into God and the world He has created. The critical factor is developing a thoroughly biblical worldview as a frame of reference.
According to the dictionary, the word, “acquiesce” means to agree or consent quietly without protest.” In our Christian life, acquiescence means spiritual passivity, and to live passively is to accept defeat by default. Spiritual freedom, however, can only be found when we actively make a series of choices based on the truth of God’s word. For example, we were all born spiritually dead and separated from God because of Adam’s sin (see Romans 5:12-15; Ephesians 2:1-3). When we were born again, we became new creations in Christ. But our minds were not instantly reprogrammed, and many of our old habits are still with us. Now that we are alive in Christ, you and I can be transformed by the renewing of our minds (see Romans 12:2). That renewal won’t happen, however, unless you are “diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth” (2 timothy 2:15). Spiritual victory is realized as we actively choose to place our faith or trust in Jesus Christ for justification and sanctification, rejecting dead works and other false means (see Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:4-9).
Dealing with intergenerational and corporate sin also calls for an active faith. For that reason, in Step Seven, “Acquiescence versus Renunciation,” we take an active stand by faith against any sins of our ancestors that may result in spiritual problems in our lives today (see Exodus 20:4-6). It is important to understand that we are not guilty for our parents’ sins, but that because they sinned we are likely to suffer the consequences. Some people struggle to accept the fact that sin can have intergenerational consequences even though one of the most well-accepted phenomenon of our day is the fact that the cycle of abuse continues in families from one generation to the next. The wonderful truth is that we can stop that cycle of abuse if we actively take our place in Christ.
Some people might explain the transmission of sin environmentally and genetically but not spiritually. But Jeremiah 32:16-18 says that iniquity is passed on into the bosom of the next generation, a statement which negates the role of the environment. The argument that iniquity is passed on genetically doesn’t fit with the definition of iniquity. (Iniquity refers to self-rule or self-will which operates from an independent spirit.) The issue is also a spiritual one, and we therefore need to actively choose to confess and renounce all the sins of our ancestors so that we may find the freedom God promises (see Leviticus 26: 38-40 and Ezekiel 18:18-22). If, like the kings which followed Jereboam, we simply continue in the sins of our ancestors, the spiritual bondage will continue.
Hear God’s admonition to actively assume responsibility for our minds and actively resist the devil: “Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit….Be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Peter 1:13; 5:8, 9). Even the armor of God requires active participation on our part: “Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore…” (Ephesians 6:13,14). A passive faith just doesn’t work.
If you have confessed your sin and named Jesus as your Savior and Lord, you don’t have to worry about your sin. When Christ died on the cross, He paid the penalty for all of our sins — past, present and future. Therefore, as Paul teaches, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The apostle also writes, “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered” (Romans 4:7, NIV). We are forgiven; we are assured of having eternal life. Those are matters we don’t have to worry about.
Although God has committed Himself to not condemn us for our sin, Satan has not made that promise. Satan is an accuser (see Revelation 12:10). His purpose is to try to place us under guilt and condemnation for sins which God has totally forgiven. He torments believers with thoughts like, “God can never really forgive me for this” and “You might as well give up. You’ll never be free from this sin. so why bother asking for forgiveness again?” If we believe lies like these, we will live in bondage and not the freedom that Christ has purchase and provided for us.
So don’t worry about your sin in reference to eternal life. Rejoice in the forgiveness God has provided through the death of His Son Jesus on the cross. At the same time, commit yourself to living a righteous life. Paul asked, “Are we to continue to sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1, 2). You should confess any and all sin which the Holy Spirit makes you aware of. To confess is to agree with God that what He says about our sinfulness is true (see 1 John 1:5-2:2). You don’t need to ask for forgiveness since you are already forgiven — but you do need to acknowledge your sin and consider yourself alive in Christ and dead to sin (see Romans 6:11). Besides, why would you want to go back into the bondage of sin when you can be alive and free in Christ? Choose to submit to God and to resist the devil (see James 4:7) and renounce any effort on the enemy’s part to place you under guilt and condemnation.
Your responsibility is to walk by faith in God and His truth, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh (see Galatians 5:16). You walk by faith when you choose to believe what God has done for you in Christ and what it means to be His child. We strongly recommend that you read Living Free in Christ, which explains the truth about who you are in Christ and how He meets your deepest needs.
James 4:7 says, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” We submit to God when we confess our sin to God, and when we do so, He forgives and cleanses us (see 1 John 1:9). And, because God is omniscient and knows our thoughts (see Psalm 139), we are assured that He hears us even when we silently confess our sins to Him. With such confession, we have submitted to God, but have we resisted the devil? We have received forgiveness, but have we found freedom? In our ministry, we have seen how verbally confessing sin and thereby resisting the devil helps many people find freedom. Why is this the case?
In many New Testament examples, the confrontation between believers and Satan and his evil associates is verbal (see Matthew 4:10 and 17:18; Mark 5:2-8; Luke 9:42; Revelation 12:10,11). In fact, in Ephesians 6:10-17 we are told to resist the devil using the Word (Greek=Rhema) of God. “Rhema” normally indicates the spoken word of God or God’s Word applied specifically (see Matthew 4:4; 18:16; Acts 5:20; Romans 10:17,18). Believers at Ephesus applied this principle of verbal confession in Acts 19: 18-20 when they publicly disclosed their participation in cultic and occult practices. Clearly they were concerned about any doors they may have left open to the demonic (see Acts 19:11-17). The Greek word for “confess” in Acts 19:18 usually indicates a verbal confession (see Mark 1:5; Romans 14:11). Such verbal confession seems to be a way to “submit to God and resist the devil” at the same time.
Note, too, the teaching of James 5:13-20, the most definitive instruction to individuals and to the Church about what to do for those who are sick and suffering. Apparently, their problem has a spiritual dimension (verses 15,16, 19 and 20 all focus on the spiritual dimension of their sickness and suffering). Therefore the person who is suffering is instructed to pray (v.13), seek prayer from his spiritual leaders (vv.14,15), and turn back to the truth of God (vv 19,20). The result is described as “healing”
(v. 16), from a Greek word that can indicate either physical healing (as in Matthew 8:8; 15:28; Mark 5:25) or spiritual freedom from demonic oppression (as in Luke 9:42; Acts 10:38). Though forgiveness is obtained through confession to God, verbal confession and agreement in prayer may be critical in finding spiritual freedom and healing.
On a practical level, many people have found it very freeing to share their secret sins with another believer and then experience acceptance and unconditional love instead of the rejection they have feared all their lives. For many people, this moment of experiencing God’s unconditional love through His children is the starting point of learning to trust God and other people at a more fundamental level. In other words, verbal confession can be a step into the light. The apostle John identifies two important results of learning to stop hiding in darkness and beginning to walk in the light: “If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
The fact that some practitioners of New Age thinking have adopted crystals as objects through which evil can manifest its power does not make crystals themselves evil. God has created all things for us to enjoy, and crystal can make beautiful jewelry (see 1 Timothy 6:17). Many believers see the beauty and order of crystals pointing to a beautiful God who created the universe with a marvelous order.
If, however, you have been using crystals as “power objects,” it may be advisable for you to follow the practice of the Ephesian believers in Acts 19:18-20 and remove any bridges the enemy could use to get back into your life. If you are unsure about what to do, simply ask God for wisdom, determining ahead of time that you will trust His guidance as He makes His will for you clear (see James 1:5-8).
The Origin, Theology and Rationale of The Steps to Freedom in Christ
Dr. Neil T. Anderson
A. A Brief History
Life is a journey and mine has been filled with excitement and unplanned turns in the road. I have attended church for as long as I can remember and I’ve always believed in God, but I didn’t come to know Christ until my mid-twenties while working as an aerospace engineer. I think I would have made a decision for Christ much earlier, but nobody ever shared the gospel with me, or at least I didn’t hear it in the mainline church I attended. Through the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, God opened my eyes to see the truth. Two years later I sensed God calling me into full-time ministry. I attended Talbot School of Theology and accepted a call to Lakewood First Baptist (in Long Beach, California) as a college pastor. Later, I became the minister of adult education. Having a burden for the lost, I established a school of evangelism that resulted in an average of twelve people coming to Christ every week. Then the Lord called me to a senior pastor’s position.
I pursued my first doctorate not knowing it would lead to a teaching position at Talbot School of Theology. I left the pastorate with a burden for people who were living defeated lives. I knew in my heart that Christ was the answer and that the truth of God’s Word would set them free, but I didn’t know how to help them resolve their personal and spiritual conflicts. Being alive and free in Christ is the birthright of every child of God, but how many Christians are living like children of God and how many are experiencing their freedom in Christ?
At Talbot School of Theology I requested permission to offer a Master of Theology elective to explore the nature of spiritual warfare. I was seeking a balanced and biblical answer for these troubled people. The class grew each year from 18 students to 23, to 35, to 65, to 150, and then one summer we had 250 students attend. Slowly I discovered how the truth could set people free, and I saw the lives of many students change dramatically. At the same time, the Lord was sending deeply disturbed people to me, and I had the privilege to see most of them find their freedom in Christ.
About that time, the Lord took my family through a very broken experience. For 15 months my wife suffered an illness and I didn’t know whether she was going to live or die. We didn’t have very much because seminary professors don’t earn large salaries, but we did own a house. To pay the medical bills we had to sell the house and lost everything we had. God stripped us down to nothing. My ministry was bearing much fruit, but my family was paying an incredible price.
It all changed one day when Biola University had a campus-wide day of prayer. I left the communion service that evening knowing in my heart that our trial was over. Indeed it was. Within a week my wife woke up and said, “I slept last night!” She never looked back. Why did we have to go through all that? I think there are two major reasons. First, I believe God took us through that period of darkness in order to develop a heart of compassion. The Lord said, ” . . . I desire compassion and not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13).
Second, I think God systematically brought Neil Anderson to the end of his resources. From man’s perspective I had a lot of them; twenty-five years of formal education which included three seminary degrees and two earned doctorates. Being broken before the Lord was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Only then did I really discover God’s resources. I know that I can’t set anybody free or bind up anybody’s broken heart. Only God can do that. I don’t even believe I can lead anyone to Christ, because Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (Jn. 6:44).
Freedom in Christ Ministries was born out of brokenness. I never had a desire to write a book and I never thought I would. But every book I have written and every tape series I have recorded was all after that experience. In writing Rivers of Revival with Dr. Elmer Towns, I came to the biblical conclusion that the major dam holding back the rivers of revival is our own self-sufficiency.
B. The Results of Brokenness
A Christian psychiatrist and his therapist wife did some informal research on people attending our “Living Free in Christ” conference. We estimate that 85% of the people will leave the conference with their personal and spiritual conflicts resolved. The remaining 15% can’t get through the process on their own in the amount of time we give them. So we offer individual appointments. A pre-test was given to those who requested additional help after the conference. Three months later they were given a post-test with the following results:
48% improvement in depression
46% improvement in anxiety
70% improvement in tormenting thoughts/voices
46% improvement in uncontrolled habits
55% improvement in inner conflict/distress
It is hard for some people to believe those kinds of results can come from one counseling session done by trained lay people. One church started a freedom ministry after they hosted our conference. In five years they have led over 1500 people to freedom in Christ and lay people led 95% of the counseling sessions. They were trained to use The Steps to Freedom in Christ, which is nothing more than a comprehensive process of repentance. Churches all over the world are using this approach to help people submit to God and resist the devil (Jas. 4:7). The Steps to Freedom in Christ don’t set you free. It is Christ who sets you free through your response to Him in repentance and faith.
We receive hundreds of unsolicited letters from people all over the world testifying to their newfound freedom in Christ. This is possible because we deeply believe that the Wonderful Counselor is Christ and He wants to see His children alive and free in Him. We share an answer, but He is the answer. We give people a way to repent and resolve their conflicts, but He is the way.
We found one common denominator for those who were living defeated lives. None of them knew who they were “in Christ” or understood what it meant to be a “child of God.” Why not? If the Holy Spirit is bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16), why weren’t we sensing that? Where was the “Abba Father?” After we helped them resolve their personal and spiritual conflicts and find their freedom in Christ, the sense of “Abba Father” was theirs!
It was for freedom that Christ set us free (Gal 5:1). Being free in Christ means that we are free from our past and free to be the person God created us to be. It does not mean maturity, because there is no such thing as instant maturity. It will take us the rest of our lives to renew our minds and conform to the image of God. Helping a person to experience their freedom in Christ is not an end. It is a beginning!
C. The Underlying Biblical Principles and Rationale
My book, Helping Others Find Freedom in Christ, gives a much more detailed theology, rationale and practical application for The Steps to Freedom in Christ. The following is just a summary of this approach to discipleship counseling:
1. The authority of Scripture
Truth sets people free. Therefore we must have an uncompromising commitment to the Word of God.
2. A biblical world view
Western rationalism and naturalism have greatly influenced the church in America, resulting in something less than a biblical worldview. Most conservative Christian leaders would theologically agree that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). John says the “whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19). Timothy warned, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Tim. 4:1).
We have seen evidence of this all over the world. Paul wrote, “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). We want to reach this world for Christ, but how are we going to do that if “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). Satan is also the ruler of this world (Jn. 16:11), the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2), and he “deceives the whole world” (Rev. 12:9).
We cannot have a biblical world view and leave out the kingdom of darkness. Beyond having a theological understanding of the above, we need to have a practical means of liberating the body of Christ and teaching them how to stand firm in their faith. I would strongly recommend the scholarly works of Dr. Clinton Arnold for further study: Three Crucial Questions about Spiritual Warfare, Baker Books; The Colossian Syncretism: The Interface between Christianity and Folk Belief, Baker Books; and Powers of Darkness, Principalities & Powers in Paul’s Letter, InterVarsity Press.
- Toward a whole answer
I have often been asked, “How do I know whether my problem is psychological or spiritual?” I believe that trying to separate the two creates a false dichotomy. Our problems are never not psychological. Our minds, emotions, and wills are always a critical part of the process. And our problems are never not spiritual. There is no time when God is not here. He holds all things together according to the counsel of His will. And there is no time when it is safe to take off the armor of God. The possibility of being tempted, accused, or deceived is a critical part of our on-going struggle.
A whole answer must include submitting to God, as well as resisting the devil (Jas. 4:7). Trying to resist the devil without first submitting to God will result in a dogfight. Submitting to God without resisting the devil can leave one in bondage. The tragedy is that most of our recovery ministries aren’t doing either one. Well-intentioned programs and strategies can’t set anyone free. Only God can do that.
4. An encounter with God
Christian counseling is not just a technique that we learn. Christian counseling is an encounter with God. He is the Great Physician and Wonderful Counselor and He is the only One who can set the captive free and bind up the broken hearted. To effectively use our material, you would have to be totally dependent upon God, have the character of Christ, know the truth that sets people free and fully understand that it is God who grants repentance. “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
5. Christ is the answer
What Adam and Eve lost in the fall was life, spiritual life. What Jesus came to give us was life. The most important issue in discipleship counseling is to reconnect people with Christ who is their life. This would necessitate resolving any issues that are critical between ourselves and God. That is the basis for The Steps to Freedom in Christ.
D. Resolving Personal and Spiritual Conflicts by Submitting to God and Resisting the Devil in Genuine Repentance
It is not enough to know the Word of God; we need the life of Christ to change. The Steps to Freedom in Christ is a discipleship counseling process designed to help people resolve issues that are critical between themselves and God. Let’s examine what these issues are.
Every born-again Christian is a child of God and a new creation in Christ. Incomplete repentance, a lack of faith in Him, and unresolved conflicts can keep Christians from experiencing their freedom in Christ. This discipleship counseling approach is unique because the counselee is the one who is praying. They are inviting God to grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth which sets them free.
Counterfeit versus Real
In making a public profession of faith, the early church would stand, face the west and say, “I renounce you Satan and all your works and all your ways.” This was the first step in repentance. The Catholic church and most liturgical churches still require that to be said at confirmation. That is a generic statement, however. The early church would specifically renounce every counterfeit religious experience they had, every false vow or pledge they made, and every false teacher or doctrine in whom they believed. We encourage every person we counsel to do that as well. Renounce means to give up a claim or a right to something. When we renounce something, we are making a definite decision to let go of our past commitments, pledges, vows, pacts, and beliefs that are not Christian. “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Prov. 28:13 NIV).
Some people commit themselves to Christ and choose to believe the Word of God, but they hold on to past commitments and still believe what they always have. That would make salvation only addition instead of transformation. They just added something to what they already believe. Every believer must decisively let go of the past, which is the first step to genuine repentance. If we have totally embraced the truth, then we have also clearly understood what is not true. All this was made possible because of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Our sins are forgiven and we have new life in Christ, but nobody pushed the clear button in that organic computer between our ears. Our minds were not instantly transformed to the truth of God’s Word, but now we can repent by the grace of God.
The Apostle Paul said, “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the Word of God, but by the manifestation of truth, commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:1,2). Paul is contrasting the truth of divine revelation with that of false teachers and prophets. Knowing God’s holiness and His call for church purity, Paul exhorts us to renounce every immoral practice, every distortion of truth, and any deceitfulness of the heart.
God does not take lightly false guidance and false teachers. In the Old Testament they were to be stoned to death, and there were serious consequences for those who consulted them. “As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people” (Lev. 20:6). There are similar warnings about false teachers and false prophets in the New Testament. That is why we have found it necessary to renounce any and all involvement with false guidance, false teachers, false prophets, and every cult and occultic practice. We don’t want to be cut off by God; we want to be connected to Him.
Deception versus Truth
The ultimate battle is between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, between Christ and the anti-Christ, between good and evil, between the father of lies and the Spirit of Truth. An important step in realizing our freedom is to sort out the lies and choose the truth. We are admonished to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:25), walk in the light and have fellowship with one another (1 Jn. 1:7). Many who struggle in their Christian walk believe lies, walk in darkness, and avoid intimate contact with others. In order to live free in Christ, we must choose the truth by winning the battle for our minds. This requires an uncompromising commitment to God’s Word, regardless of how one feels.
Bitterness versus Forgiveness
We have never met a defeated Christian who isn’t struggling with bitterness. They carry emotional scars and the painful wounds inflicted upon them by others. They have never known how to let go of the past and forgive from the heart. Some have chosen not to. They hang on to their anger as a means of protecting themselves from being hurt again, but they are only hurting themselves. Forgiveness is to set a captive free and then discover you were the captive. People cannot be free from their past and emotionally free today without forgiving from the heart. If we don’t forgive from our heart, God will turn us over to the torturers (Matt. 18:34).
God is not out to get us; He is out to restore us. He knows that if we hang on to our bitterness, we will only hurt ourselves and others (Heb. 12:15). “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:31,32). We forgive others for our sake and for the sake of our relationship with God. What is to be gained in forgiving others is freedom. We are also warned by Paul that we need to forgive others so that Satan doesn’t take advantage of us (2 Cor. 2:10,11). This critical issue must be resolved in order to be free from our past.
Rebellion versus Submission
We live in a very rebellious age. Everyone thinks it is his right to criticize and sit in judgment of those who are over him. When sown, the seeds of rebellion reap anarchy and spiritual defeat. If you have a rebellion problem, you may have the worst problem in the world. Scripture instructs us to submit to and pray for those who are in authority over us. Honoring your mother and father is the first of the Ten Commandments that ends in a promise. The same is true in the New Testament (Rom. 13:1-3):
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same.
There are times when we must obey God rather than man, but they are usually rare exceptions. When a human authority requires you to do something that is forbidden by God, and restricts you from doing what God has called you to do, then you must obey God rather than man. The same applies when a person tries to exercise control over you when it exceeds the scope of his authority. A policeman can write you a ticket for breaking the traffic laws, but he cannot tell you what to believe or prevent you from going to church. Also, it is legitimate and necessary to set up scriptural boundaries to protect yourself from further abuse by tyrants.
Living under a repressive political regime, critical boss, or abusive parents can be depressing if we let it. But they are not determining who we are unless we let them. It takes a great act of faith to trust God to work through something less than perfect authority figures, but that is what He is asking us to do. This is critically important for a right relationship with God, and that is essential for our complete victory in Christ.
Pride versus Humility
God created Adam and Eve to live dependent upon Him. All temptation is an attempt to get us to live our lives independent of God. Pride is an independent spirit that wants to exalt self. “God is opposed to the proud, but He gives grace to the humble” (Jas. 4:6). Pride says I can do it myself, and I don’t need God or anyone else. Such arrogant thinking sets us up for a fall, because “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Prov. 16:18). We absolutely need God and we necessarily need each other. Paul says, “we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).
Shame and self-deprecation is not humility. Humility is confidence properly placed. That is why we put no confidence in our flesh. Our confidence is in God. Self-sufficiency robs us of our sufficiency in Christ, because only in Christ can we do all things through Him who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). God intended for His children to live victoriously by having great confidence in Christ. “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:5,6).
Bondage versus Freedom
Habitual sin will keep us in bondage. Paul wrote, “The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom. 13:12-14). Repentance and faith in God is the only answer for breaking the bondage to the sin which so easily entangles us. You can be free from bondage to sin, because every believer is alive in Christ and dead to sin (Rom. 6:11).
Acquiescence versus Renunciation
The last step in helping others find freedom in Christ is to renounce the sins of our ancestors and actively take our place in Christ and resist the devil. The Ten Commandments reveal that the iniquities of fathers can be visited upon the third and fourth generation. This is evident in our society in the well-known cycles of abuse. Jesus said in Matthew 23:29-31:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, “If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.
In other words, “Like father, like son.” We are not guilty of our father’s sins, but because they sinned, we will have to live with the consequences of their sin, and we are doomed to continue to live in the way we were taught by them unless we repent. “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher” (Lk. 6:40). The primary teachers in the first five years of our lives have been our parents, and much of our personality and temperament has been established in those early and formative years of our lives.
When they repented in the Old Testament, they confessed their sins and the sins of their fathers (see Lev.26:39,40; Neh.1:5,6, 9:2; Jer.14:20; Dan. 9:10,11). Rather than defending their fathers and continuing in their sins, they made a clean break from that which they knew was wrong, and so must we, “Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver and gold from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Jesus” (1 Pet. 1:18,19).
We don’t encourage people to confess the sins of their parents, but we do encourage them to repent from the futile way of life inherited from their forefathers which they now know to be wrong. This is the only way to stop cycles of abuse and do away with family traditions, habits and patterns of living that are not Christian.
E. The Purpose of Freedom in Christ Ministries
Freedom in Christ Ministries exists to establish Christians, their marriages, and their ministries alive and free in Christ. Our desire is to help other ministries be successful. If we are going to glorify God by bearing much fruit (Jn. 15:8), then we must abide in Christ. We don’t sit in judgment of hurting people or point out their weaknesses. We try to affirm them in Christ and trust the Holy Spirit to bring conviction at the appropriate time. We are delighted that such a wide variety of ministries and denominations are using our material, because that helps unite the body of Christ which is what our Lord is praying for (Jn. 17:21). The only basis for unity in the body of Christ is to realize that every true believer is a child of God (Jn. 1:12; 1 Jn. 3:1-3). Any attempt to unite fallen humanity on any other basis than Christ has always failed.
When Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, you would think the religious establishment would say, “Thank you for doing that for him. What a wonderful thing you did. Teach us to help others in the same way that we may relieve the suffering of so many hurting people and bring glory to God.” Unfortunately, they were furious and conspired against Him (Lk. 6:11). In order to attack Him, they found one little petty issue that went against their traditions. Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath! Nothing much has changed!
We have a chance to be part of the building crew or the wrecking crew. Let me encourage you to be a part of the crew that builds up one another. To equip yourself, seek those ministries which are bearing fruit and committed to the authority of Scripture. Take only those insights and methods which you can agree with and use them to the glory of God. In other words, don’t throw out the cherry pie if you happen to come upon an occasional pit. No one person or ministry has all the answers, but Jesus does. So let’s connect people to Him. Titus writes, “Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful” (3:14). I believe those needs are only met in a living and liberated relationship with God through Jesus Christ. That is our ministry, and I hope it is yours.
Beyond Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Dr. Neil T. Anderson
While I was conducting a “Living Free in Christ” conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Judy King, a licensed Christian therapist, decided to do some informal testing on those who were in need of personal counseling. The subjects of her study were those who attended the conference and requested a “freedom appointment.”
They were given a questionnaire before their appointment and then again three months later. The counseling appointment was for one extended session and was conducted by a lay encourager who was trained to take a person through the “Steps to Freedom in Christ.” The results showed 52% improvement in depression, 47% improvement in anxiety, 57% improvement in tormenting thoughts, 48% improvement in personal and spiritual conflicts, and a 39% improvement in negative habits or behavior.
An independent research group headed by Dr. George Hurst from the University of Texas Medical Center found similar results after our conference in Oklahoma City. The same group conducted more testing after a conference in Tyler, Texas later in 2000. No attempt was made to determine what the counselee’s individual problems were before the pretest was completed. In other words, some asking for appointments may not have been depressed or overly anxious, which makes the results even more impressive. In January, 2000, I taught a Doctor of Ministry class at Regent University. Dr. Fernando Garzon who taught in their Psychology department requested permission to conduct some research on the students. The class was a one-week intensive, meeting eight hours every day. The students were working on their Master of Divinity, Doctor of Psychology, and Doctor of Ministry degrees. Dr. Garzon used the same questionnaire that Judy King used plus the students took a pre-test and post-test using the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Inventory, the Beck Anxiety Inventory and the Symptom Checklist 90-R. Dr. Garzon reported the results of his research; “Statistically significant reductions were found in several scales of the SCL-90-R (global severity index, anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive, interpersonal sensitivity, hostility, somatization, paranoid ideation, and psychoticism). Anxiety was reduced as measured by the Beck Anxiety Inventory, and statistically significant increases in self-esteem and spirituality items were also found.”
How does one explain such significant results? I can assure you that the results we are seeing routinely in our ministry have little to do with our personal skills as counselors. In fact we have no professionally trained counselors on our staff. The editors of the Journal of Psychology and Theology asked the critical question. What is Freedom in Christ Ministry doing that is different from standard cognitive therapy which is well accepted by both Christian as well as secular counselors? In other words, “if Neil taught a class (or conducted a conference) and the students experienced significant improvements, isn’t that just cognitive therapy being conducted on a group level?” The answer is “yes, cognitive therapy was a part of the process, but no, that would not explain the results.”
From a Christian perspective, Cognitive therapy is very close in concept to repentance, which literally means a change of mind. The cognitive therapy process could be summarized as follows:
- First, the client is helped to see the connection between negative thoughts, the emotions they create, and the behaviors that follow.
- Then the client is taught to recognize and monitor negative thoughts or distortions of reality. Thoughts or beliefs leading to negative feelings and improper responses to life are identified as ineffective or dysfunctional.
- Next, the client examines the evidence for and against such distorted thinking or perceptions of reality. What does the evidence indicate? Is the client going to continue to think in this way, to believe what is being thought, and to act accordingly-or will the client change? This is decision time.
- If the client concludes that what has been believed is not true and that his or her perception of reality was not right, then the client must substitute new ways of thinking/believing and responding.
- Finally, the client is helped to identify and change the inappropriate assumptions that predisposed him or her to distort the experience in the first place.
Such a process is not only appropriate for Christian pastors and counselors; it is extremely helpful for those seeking answers for their life. Biblical preaching and teaching can accomplish the same thing although the process is less personal and interactive. However, cognitive therapy as outlined above is not enough by itself to produce the kind of fruit that we believe every pastor and Christian counselor can.
In researching for our book, Freedom from Fear, I came across a book by Dr. Edmund Bourne entitled Healing Fear, which was published in 1998. Dr. Bourne wrote an earlier book entitled, The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, which won the Benjamin Franklin Book Award for Excellence in Psychology. A second edition was published in 1995, after which he went through the worst period of anxiety in his own life. It caused him to reevaluate his own life and approach to treatment. In the forward to his latest book, Dr. Bourne wrote:
The guiding metaphor for this book is “healing” as an approach to overcoming anxiety, in contrast to “applied technology.” I feel it’s important to introduce this perspective into the field of anxiety treatment since the vast majority of self-help books available (including my first book) utilize the applied technology approach. These books present-in a variety of ways-the mainstream cognitive behavioral methodology for treating anxiety disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy reflects the dominant zeitgeist of Western society-a worldview that has primary faith in scientifically validated technologies that give humans knowledge and power to overcome obstacles to successful adaptation . . . .I don’t want to diminish the importance of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and the applied technology approach. Such an approach produces effective results in many cases, and I use it in my professional practice every day. In the past few years, though, I feel that the cognitive behavioral strategy has reached its limits. CBT and medication can produce results quickly and are very compatible with the brief therapy, managed-care environment in the mental health profession at present. When follow-up is done over one-to three-years intervals, however, some of the gains are lost. Relapses occur rather often, and people seem to get themselves back into the same difficulties that precipitated the original anxiety disorder.
To get beyond CBT, Christians need to consider three critical issues. First, giving people the words of Christ without possessing the life of Christ will prove insufficient. Christianity is a righteous relationship with God, not just an intellectual exercise. The truth will set you free and Jesus is the truth. Dead orthodoxy is just that: dead! Jesus came to give us life, and without the life of Christ we lack the power to live a righteous life. Our approach to counseling is based on the need to help our people get right with God by resolving personal and spiritual conflicts. The Steps to Freedom in Christ (Steps) is just a tool to help people submit to God and resist the devil. The Steps don’t set you free. Who sets you free is Christ, and what sets you free is your response to Him in repentance and faith. The Steps, like any tool, can be used rightly or wrongly.
Second, we understand Christian counseling to be primarily an encounter with God as opposed to some learned technique. Jesus is the wonderful counselor and only He can set a captive free and only He can bind up the broken hearted, and only He can make us new creations in Christ, and only He can transform a sinner into a saint. Nobody can fix your past. But you can be free from your past if you are a new creation in Christ. Because of the Gospel, it is the birthright of every believer to be alive and free in Christ. The pastor, Christian counselor, and properly equipped lay person are a facilitator in the ministry of reconciliation. When one Christian sits down to help another, there are not just two people present. God is omnipresent and each person has a role and a responsibility, which the other can’t usurp and still be effective.
Third, CBT will not be effective if the counselor does not take into account the reality of the spiritual world or the potential that the suffering person could be paying attention to a deceiving spirit. We have been clearly warned by the Apostle Paul; “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). Paul also said, “I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). Such obvious Scriptural passages and years of experience have helped us to understand that many people considered to be mentally ill are actually experiencing a spiritual battle for their minds. Every believer is admonished in Scripture to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), put on the armor of God, choose to think upon that which is true, pure, and lovely, etc., (Phil. 4:6-8).
We were all born dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), i.e. we were born physically alive, but spiritually dead. During those early and informative years of our live we had neither the presence of God in our lives or the knowledge of His ways. So we all learned to live our lives independent of God. Then one day we were born-again spiritually, but nobody pushed the clear button in our memory bank. That is why we still struggle with many of the same things we did before our conversion. The Apostle Paul explains what must happen. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). CBT contributes to that process, but not without the presence of Christ who gives us life nor without the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth.
I had the privilege to co-author a book with Dr. Terry and Julie Zuehlke entitled, Christ Centered Therapy (Zondervan) and subtitled “The Practical Integration of Theology and Psychology. Both Terry and Julie have secular degrees. Terry has a Doctorate in Psychology and Julie has her Masters Degree in Psychiatric Nursing. They both began their practices in the market place as religious non-believers. Then they both came to Christ and struggled with integrating their newfound beliefs into their secular practices. Finally, Terry founded his own Christ-Centered practice in the suburbs of Minneapolis with offices around the state of Minnesota. Julie is on staff at Crystal Evangelical Free Church overseeing their care ministries. More than 2000 people have found their freedom in Christ through the ministry of that church. They have the working model that Freedom in Christ Ministries encourages other churches to adopt. Our passion is to see that churches and professional counselors consider how to work together and integrate the above three issues into their practice along with a biblical use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy so that God’s children can live free and productive lives in Christ.
I close with some final words from the book, Healing Fear by Dr. Bourne:
In my own experience, spirituality has been important, and I believe it will come to play an increasingly important role in the psychology of the future. Holistic medicine, with its interest in meditation, prayer, and the role of spiritual healing in recovery from serious illness, has become a mainstream movement in the nineties. I believe there will be a “holistic psychology” in the not too distant future, like holistic medicine, [that] integrates scientifically based treatment approaches with alternative, more spiritually based modalities.
How to Respond to Those Who Disagree
Dr. Neil T. Anderson
Peoples’ lives are governed by what they have chosen to believe. That is why an unshakable faith in God and an uncompromising belief in His Word is the only foundation for Christian living. The Christian’s calling is to walk by faith according to what God says is true. The Word of God is to be lived, not just intellectually discussed. Our credibility does not hinge upon our ability to argue, nor does it depend upon our ability to convince others that we are right and therefore they must be wrong.
We will be deemed credible only when we live what we profess to believe. We best defend the faith when we glorify God in our bodies. In this way we manifest His presence in the world. Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:20). I would take that to mean the fruit of reproduction, as well as the fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are the measure of a Spirit-filled Christian. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35).
The credibility of the church is at stake. Is Christ the answer and does the truth set us free? I have never been more convinced that the answer is an unqualified “yes,” and I have dedicated my life to help liberate the church and establish each member alive and free in Christ. I have made every effort to share the truth in love and stay committed to the authority of Scripture. It would grieve me to discover that what I share with others isn’t true, and I would readily correct my message if it were shown to be erroneous.
That is why I have chosen to be accountable to credible people for my message, as well as my morals. I am deeply thankful for the friendship of Dr. Robert Saucy who has been on my board from the beginning. He is one of the most gracious and intelligent theologians I know. I asked him to personally hold me accountable for my message. It was a privilege to co-author The Common Made Holy with him, which is a rather exhaustive book on sanctification. If you are interested in the message of Freedom in Christ, I would urge you to read this book.
I highly value higher education, but often Christian education is not accomplishing what it should. In many cases it has the wrong goal. In too many cases we have made doctrine or knowledge an end in itself. Such efforts will distort the very purpose for sound doctrine. Paul says, “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). You can graduate from a good seminary on the basis that you answered most, not even all, of the questions right. You could do that and not even be a Christian. In a similar fashion, you can know all about God and not know Him at all.
Paul is even more pointed when he says, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1,2). It is possible to be theologically correct and spiritually wrong, which will be revealed by our character. We are “servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). It is tragic to capture the letter of the law, but then live in such a way that reveals little understanding of the Spirit who gives life. Scripture says that “he who wins souls is wise” (Prov. 11:30) and “by this all men will know you are My disciples, if you love one another” (Jn.13:35). A godly theologian and a humble apologist will utilize their God-given gifts and talents to bolster your confidence in God and His Word, establish you alive and free in Christ, and set you on the path of conforming to His image.
Responding to Criticism
I must confess to a certain degree of naiveté about having an international ministry which resources the church with printed material. One veteran author suggested I better develop “thick skin” if I continued writing books. I was determined not to do that. The Lord led me through a lot of pain in order to develop a compassionate heart. I fight every day to keep my heart tender toward God and others by not letting a root of bitterness spring up or becoming indifferent to others and how they feel. This can be a real test of one’s character and convictions.
One of Satan’s major strategies is to discredit legitimate Christian leaders. The same is true for bearing fruit. The more fruit you bear the greater the opposition. The painful part is that it frequently comes from within the church! I am thankful for the experience I had when I was a young Christian, attending a growing church. The pastor was a real spiritual dynamo. In seven years the church tripled in size. As a new believer, I was very impressed by this man. One day I was playing golf with the music director. On the first tee, I asked him what he thought about the pastor. He responded, “Frankly, I can’t stand the man!” For the next eighteen holes, the music director shared every little character defect he saw in the pastor. For the next six months, I heard little of what the pastor said; I only saw his character defects.
My heart had been poisoned. I began to dislike the pastor and was tempted to talk negatively about him. I came under deep conviction for my attitude. I had no peace until I made an appointment with him. I asked him to forgive me for not loving him. His character was revealed when he asked me to join his staff at the end of our conversation. I never felt so humbled in all my life. We developed a good friendship.
How should I or any Christian respond to criticism or attacks upon his ministry or character? I have always taught that we should not be defensive for three reasons. First, because Jesus wasn’t. He was dumb before His accusers and “while being reviled, He did not revile in return” (1 Pet. 2:23). Second, if we are wrong, we don’t have a defense. Third, if we are right, we don’t need one. That is a hard example to follow, but it is Christlike to do so. Like Jesus, we must keep entrusting ourselves to Him who judges righteously (1 Pet. 2:23).
Growing through Legitimate Criticism
“Is there any truth in what they are saying?” That is the first question we should ask when our message and methods are criticized. Any ministry will suffer if it doesn’t pay attention to concerned critics. Our message and methods are sharpened by those who disagree. If what we have said isn’t true or our methods aren’t right, then we should humble ourselves and make the appropriate adjustments. The Book of Proverbs says, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid” (12:1). ” . . . He who regards reproof is prudent” (15:5). “He who regards reproof will be honored” (13:18).
Good and not harm will come of criticism if the reproof is directed toward the message and method and not the person. The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) asked me to write and present a paper on “Ethics in Christian Publishing.” One important point which I covered was to focus on issues and not personalities. The former will sharpen the Christian community, but the latter will divide.
When I was a lead systems engineer I had to submit to design reviews. If the original system design was not correct, then all the rest that followed would not work as well. I had to invite the sharpest people in the company to review my design. Their job was to find anything and everything wrong about it. It was a little intimidating, but when the meeting was over, it was still my design and I left with a greater degree of confidence. Even in a secular setting, I could tell if people were picking on me or my design. For instance, someone could say, “Neil, I’m not sure you have enough feedback in the system.” That criticism is directed toward the design which is legitimate. But someone could also say, “Neil, that is a stupid design. How can you call yourself an engineer?” That is a personal attack, and even if it comes from a friend, it is counterproductive to the process.
Not only how the criticism comes, but who offers it is of great importance. The Book of Proverbs says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (27:6). One has to consider the source of the criticism and be discerning. You need to put up the shield of faith against fiery darts which come from the enemy and keep entrusting yourself to God. In Psalm 119, David has some advice for such attacks. “The arrogant utterly deride me, yet I do not turn aside from Your law” (vs. 51). “The arrogant have forged a lie against me; with all my heart I will observe Your precepts” (vs. 69). “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (vs. 71). In other words, David didn’t receive their criticism. Rather it drove him to the Word of God and he grew through the crisis. You can’t let critical people determine who you are.
When in Doubt, Choose the Path of Humility
But how do you know if the criticism is legitimate? Let me illustrate how I responded one time to criticism. One particular group made public a very negative two-page paper about our ministry, which I felt was untrue. What should a person do? What would you do? In this case, I sent their critique to twenty-five churches and/or ministries who had hosted our conferences in the past. In the cover letter I explained that this is what was being said about my ministry. If any of the paper were saying were true, then I would need to repent, but in my heart I felt that none of it were true. Since we all have blind spots, I allowed that I could be coming across in a way of which I was unaware. I invited these churches and/or ministries to share with me any concerns they had about what I was teaching or how I was coming across. On the other hand, if they agreed with me that the content of this paper wasn’t true, I asked them to write a letter informing the group of their observations so that no more damage would be done to either the group or my ministry.
I received no corrective reproof, because none of these ministries agreed with the group who published the paper. You would think that would have put an end to it, but it hasn’t. There is no way you can stop negative criticism, but you can choose to do what Peter says (1 Pet. 5:6-10):
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.
Personally, I would be grieved to think that I had publicly said something negative about another person or ministry that was not true. Christians are admonished by God to support, build up and encourage one another. If we have a disagreement with someone, we are supposed to go in private and give him or her an opportunity to repent or change. One important guideline for working with other people and ministries is given in Philippians 2:3-5:
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.
Intellectual Arrogance or Honest Inquiry
John Stott said it well, “We cannot pander to their intellectual arrogance, but we must cater to their intellectual integrity.” I appreciate any pastor who wants to be sure that what is shared with his congregation is true. A pastor is responsible before God for shepherding his flock. Any legitimate ministry would gladly cooperate with such a pastor and answer any theological or methodological questions he may have. We should always be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within us with gentleness and reverence (1 Pet. 3:15). But it bears little if any fruit to spend time with those who don’t abide by any rules of scriptural order or decency. The field is white unto harvest and we must reach as many as we can for Christ. We cannot be distracted from being the persons God created us to be or stop doing what He has called us to do.
Does such criticism hurt? Of course it does! But we can survive if we know who we are in Christ. Many good people have withdrawn from ministry or refused to run for political office because of the barrage of criticism they know they will receive. If we are secure in Christ, then we can stand alone if we have to. My pain is for the millions of people who are living in bondage. I believe our ministry and many others like it can help them, but many will never be given that opportunity because of bad press. That greatly disappoints me, because the body of Christ and our witness to a lost world gets tarnished.
If other ministries disagree with what I am saying, then logically I would disagree with them. In fact I probably do disagree with the message and method of many ministries, but I’m not sharing my concerns in public. If I disagree with someone, I go to that person first, giving him or her a chance to clarify their position and to change and respond in private if they have been shown to be wrong. I do this to protect their reputation and the reputation of the Church. Mature people don’t slander their Christian brothers and sisters in public. Healthy Christians are known for what they do believe, not for what they don’t believe.
Responding to Personal Attacks
How should Christians respond to critics who publicly attack personalities instead of issues? First, I think we need to realize who we are dealing with. It could be a ploy of the enemy, in which case you need to resist such attacks by standing firm in your position in Christ, put up the shield of faith, and take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. If properly discerned, external attacks upon the body of Christ can actually unite true believers together. The attacks that can do the most damage usually come from deceived, hurting or very immature Christians. It has helped me to realize that mature Christians don’t tear down one another. Struggling and hurting Christians do, however, have a tendency to berate others or themselves. Nobody tears down another person out of a position of strength. Mature people, and especially those who are secure in Christ, don’t need to do that, and they are wise enough to understand why. Realizing this has helped me to respond appropriately to these hurting people.
The Church will never be destroyed from without. But if the enemy can get Christians to turn on one another, our witness and credibility will be severely damaged.
Second, I think we need to pray for these critical people. Don’t pray judgment upon them. If anything, ask God to be merciful to them. Jesus admonished those who would hear Him, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk. 6:27,28). It takes the grace of God to be merciful as He has been merciful, and to forgive as He has forgiven. Unless we freely give what we have freely received, we will never realize our potential in Christ.
I have often said in my conferences, “If we could memorize the following verse, put it into practice and never violate it, half of the problems in our churches and homes would disappear overnight. ‘Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear’ (Eph. 4:29). The next verse tells us how God feels when we tear down one another. ‘Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
Peter must have received his share of condemnation, because he writes so much about suffering. In the face of such opposition he writes, “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR GOD’S OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY” (1 Pet. 2:9,10). The world says you are nothing, therefore scheme, maneuver, and compete in order to get ahead and be someone. The Bible says you are something, therefore:
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evil doers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing what is right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king (1 Pet. 2:13-17).
Reject a Factious Man
Finally, the church at large and local expressions of the body of Christ may have to exercise church discipline for those who cause division according to Titus 3:9-11:
But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.
The literal definition of a heretic is “one who causes schisms.” Such a person could actually be right according to the letter of the law, but dead wrong spiritually. Usually they are struggling with a root of bitterness which is causing many to be defiled. That is why forgiveness is the core of our Christian experience with God and each other. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:31,32). We are called to be “servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). Anybody can divide the body of Christ, but it takes the Spirit of God to bring unity among those who are called children of God. Let me close with these words of Paul in Ephesians 4:1-3:
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
by Dr. Timothy Warner
Former Vice President of International Ministries, Freedom in Christ
Former Missions Chairman and President, Fort Wayne Bible College
Former Faculty member, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
When people hear that my wife and I served as missionaries in a West African tribal society, they often say, “I suppose you saw a lot of spiritual warfare out there.” My reply is, “No, I didn’t, not because it wasn’t there but because I had no mental categories that included that as a meaningful concept.”
Four years in a fine Christian college majoring in religion plus three years in a theological seminary majoring in Bible had not prepared me in any way for what I would meet in an African tribal village. I did not have a functional knowledge of animism as a belief system nor did I have a meaningful Christian response to animism. Most of the books that we consider standard texts in missions and especially missionary anthropology had not been written when I was in school. Teachers tend to teach subjects for which they have adequate texts, and in the absence of such texts there was a corresponding absence of classes in missions and spiritual warfare. God blessed in many ways in spite of my lack of knowledge, but in looking back on that missionary experience, I have often wished that I had known then at least something of what I know now.
I had taught in a Bible college for two years prior to African service, and after our term of ministry in Africa, I was asked to teach missions in the same Bible college. In my attempt to be prepared for my classes, I was reading as widely as I could in the missions literature of the day. Somewhere in that process, I picked up a book by the controversial German author, Kurt Koch. It introduced me to the realm of the occult and the Christian response to it in some systematic way for the first time. That led me to seek out other resources on the subject, only to discover that they were very scarce. But as I pursued my study, I became convinced that missionaries going into animistic societies needed to know about animism; so I introduced a course on that subject into the curriculum. I also became convinced that they needed to have a good Christian response to animistic beliefs and practices, but there were no adequate texts on which to build such a class.
I began to include some of these new ideas in other classes, however, and word got around that I believed in the reality of spiritual warfare. It is one thing to teach about something; it is another thing to practice it. Our first test to practice our new beliefs came in the form of our psychology teacher, a lady who was one of the most competent Christian counselors I have ever worked with. She asked my wife and me if we would meet with one of her clients who professed to be a Christian but was plagued with compulsions which kept her from living a normal life.
To make a longer story short, in that meeting we, for the first time, were challenged by a demon speaking through a person. While we passed that first test, we have since learned many things that would have helped us minister even more effectively to that young woman.
It has been a long pilgrimage, but today we would define spiritual warfare essentially as the battle for the mind. Satan is a liar and deceiver ( John 8:44; Rev. 12:9 ) and his deception operates in the areas of power and truth. In a sense it is all a matter of truth, including the truth about power, but power is such a significant element in the lives of so much of the world’s population that it deserves special attention. The primary power issues are the creation of fear and the seeking of knowledge or power from a supernatural source other than God. The primary truth issues are the character of God and the nature of our relationship to Him “in Christ.”
The Christian’s Stance toward Satan
For some reason most of the church seems to teach its members that, if they are good Christians, Satan can’t do anything to them. Therefore, the best thing to do with Satan and demons is to ignore them. The only problem is that that is not what the Bible says. There are numerous warnings about satanic activity in the Scriptures, and all of them are addressed to believers. Peter, for example, in 1 Peter 5:8-9a says, “Be self -controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith. . . .”
The Greek words translated “self-controlled and alert” which Peter uses here are the same words Paul uses in 1 Thessalonians 5:6 to speak of the second coming of Christ. We are to be self-controlled and alert in order to be ready to meet the Lord with no advanced notice whether that be in a sudden, accidental death or in a secret rapture. Peter is therefore telling us that we need to be ready to meet the devil at any moment. That doesn’t mean we lead a Satan-centered life, but it does mean that we need to be constantly alert to the “fiery darts” (Eph. 6:16) which Satan sends our way.
Paul writes to the Corinthians, “I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). Christians are not immune from Satan’s deception, and unless they use the armor and the weapons provided, they may become his victims. If that were not so, Peter would have said, “Yes, you have an adversary, but don’t worry about him. He can’t do anything to you. Your Father will protect you.” It is certainly true that when we do things God’s way, God will be responsible for the results, but if we do not do things God’s way, we have to be responsible for the results. Too many people want to live life their own way and then expect God to protect them from the devices of the enemy. It just doesn’t work that way.
The Christian and Demons
To what extent can Satan/demons influence a Christian? It is clear that believers can be tempted and that they can yield to temptation. It is also clear that they can be deceived. The degree to which a believer believes and lives out a lie of Satan is the degree to which Satan has control in his/her life. Paul indicates that believers can give foothold (literally “a place,” Eph. 4:26,27) to Satan. The only place one can give Satan a foothold is in one’s own life. He already is the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30) and the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Eph. 2:2); so we can’t give him a “place” out there.
But can a Christian be possessed by a demon? Definitely not. We have been bought with the price of the blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18,19). We belong to Christ. Some people use “possessed” to refer to any activity of Satan in a believer. That makes this question an either-or issue. Either you are possessed or you aren’t, and if “possession” includes influence and control, then the real issue is confused. I believe the original language does not support the broad definition of “possess,” and I use it only in relation to non-Christians.
Sometimes the question arises whether a Christian is really secure in Christ if he/she can come under demonic attack. The Bible warnings concerning demonic activity are all addressed to believers; so it is evident that Christians can come under attack. There is also abundant evidence that God has provided the resources for the believer to be victorious over such attacks. But the responsibility for choosing truth, for using the armor, for doing the resisting is clearly on the Christian. God does not do that for us. He commands us to use the resources He has provided (John 8:31,32; Eph. 6:10-18; James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8,9). This issue in this struggle is not salvation; it is fellowship with the Father and victory in the Christian life.
The Christian’s Enemy
The Bible does not give use a nice narrative account of how Satan became the fiend he is today. It appears that he was one of the higher ranking angels and that he became jealous of God’s glory. He then decided to try to get some of that glory for himself by having other angels and humans treat him like a god. He tried this with Jesus when he offered Him all the kingdoms of the world “if You will bow down and worship me,” that is, treat me like God (Matt. 4:9). The “man of lawlessness,” whom I assume to be possessed by Satan, “will oppose and exalt himself over all that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thess. 2:4).
When he chose to rebel against God in this way, God did not immediately execute punishment against him. The punishment has been determined (Matt. 25:41) but has not yet been enforced. In the meantime, Satan is the “roaring lion” Peter warns us about who is making war on the saints. While he may find a depraved kind of glee in seeing those who are already in his kingdom suffer, he is especially concerned about those who have forsaken his kingdom for the kingdom of God. Believers can live to the glory of God, and that is something he wants to prevent at all costs. It could be argued that his primary aim for Christians is to get them to live at a level that is less than to the glory of God. I call it the wilderness of spiritual mediocrity.
The Attack on God and His Children
Israel was told in one of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not bear [literal translation] the name of the Lord in vain” (Ex. 20:7). The usual interpretation is that we should not use the name of God as an oath or curse, and it certainly means that. I believe, however, that there is a much deeper meaning. The Hebrew word is nasa, and it means to lift up, to bear, or to carry. Israel was to “bear” the name of Yahweh among all the nations of the world. They were to be called the people of Yahweh. I believe the Lord is saying to them, “You are to be known as the people of Yahweh. Be sure that you do not bear that name among the nations in an empty, vain way.” The New Testament version is stated in a positive mode and is found in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
Because the glory of God is the real issue, Satan’s first attack is always on the character of God. His primary tactic is always deception (Rev. 12:9). Jesus called him a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44), and he begins with lies about God. This battle for the mind of man began in the garden when he led Eve to question the trustworthiness and love of God. He convinced her that God was not telling her the truth when He said that they would die if they ate of the forbidden fruit. “On the contrary,” Satan said, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). Eve “saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom.” By implication Satan is saying, “How can you believe that God loves you when He won’t let you have such a desirable fruit as that?” The first two items in Eve’s conclusion were true, but the third was a lie. And as soon as Eve began to question whether God could be trusted and whether He really loved them, the step into sin was an easy one.
If God cannot be trusted and He does not really love us, then it is no great thing to be His child. Who needs a father like that? And this is precisely the approach Satan has been using ever since that day in the garden. The battle for the mind always begins with the character of God and moves to our identity as the children of God. If those two items in our belief system are based on Satan’s deceptions, the rest of our theology and our living will be affected adversely, and other lies will more readily be accepted.
One area of life where Satan loves to take advantage of this lie is in his use of fear. Fear is a great controller, and if God is not really trustworthy and reliable, then I need to fear many things. The most frequent command in the Bible is “fear not.” It is repeated many times because God’s people have so easily fallen victim to fear when they began to doubt the character and promises of their Father.
But Satan also takes advantage of our low view of God by suggesting that there is a supernatural source of information and power apart from God. This opens up the whole world of occult practices that are so common in the world. Satan has enough power that he can deliver on some of his promises, but he never does it for our good. He does it only as a means of gaining control over us. He wants us to keep coming back to him for knowledge and power.
Once we open the door to our spiritual enemy through listening to one of his lies, he will seek to establish a stronghold in us in that particular area. This is what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 4:26-27 when he says we should not allow anger to go unresolved, because to do so gives the devil a place (topos) in our lives. That does not mean we are “demon possessed.” It simply means that Satan has a “foothold” (NIV) in our lives from which he will seek to exercise more and more control. From there he will seek to affect other areas of our lives.
Freedom through the Truth
If spiritual warfare is a battle for the mind, and if Satan’s primary tactic is lying or deception, then the Christian answer is the truth that comes from God. The battles we face that are in the nature of spiritual warfare require that we ask the truth questions about what we believe about God and about our relationship to God, and the truth about the circumstances from our past or those we are facing in the present. As we chose to speak the truth about everything in our lives and as we deal honestly before God with any unresolved sin issues in our lives, we can win the battle. The Steps to Freedom in Christ provide a tool to assist the believer to look honestly at all of these areas of life and to find resolution to spiritual problems and areas of bondage. The Steps are not a cure-all for all of one’s problems. The physical and psychological/emotional areas may need the help of those professionally qualified in these areas. (See Finding Hope Again by Anderson and Baumchen for a full discussion of a holistic approach to healing.)
Resisting the Devil
Some assume that the Bible teaches that a Christian can never be demonized and that it is never necessary or even proper to resist the devil directly or verbally. Resisting is defined in terms of walking in obedience to God and His Word, denying oneself, and resisting temptation. If that is the only definition, why didn’t James simply say, “Submit to God”? Why did he add, “Resist the devil.” Why do Paul (in Ephesians 6) and Peter (1 Peter 5:9) use the same word (anthistemi) in speaking about our attitude and behavior in relation to this spiritual enemy? The word literally means “stand against.” The prefix ‘anti’ makes it a negative word. If active resistance of Satan is not necessary, why not simply state the positive approach?
Some argue that because there are not clear teaching passages on the subject, we cannot find truth in a larger biblical context and by implication. If that were true, why are there no didactic passages on the Trinity or on personal evangelism? Why do we build a whole doctrine of the millennium on one passage found in apocalyptic literature, a genre known for its metaphorical nature?
While we do not build doctrine on church history, the most reliable of the account of the early practice of the church, Apostolic Tradition, preserved by Hippolytus of Rome, indicates that new Christians were all taken through a kind of deliverance since they were coming out of Satan’s kingdom. (See Clinton Arnold, Three Crucial Questions about Spiritual Warfare, Baker, 1997, chapter 2.) Many later writers speak of the ability of Christians to cast out demons (Justin Martyr, Tatian, Tertullian, Origen), and Clinton Arnold says, “It appears that the primary context for the casting out of evil spirits was in the classes for new Christians” (Arnold,Three Crucial Questions, p. 107). Justin Martyr uses his ability to deal with demons as an argument in his argument for Christianity and against heresy.
Both the Scriptures and the witness of church history indicate that Christians can bring areas of bondage with them into the Christian life and that through sin they can give Satan a “place” (foothold, NIV) in their lives. They are therefore consistently told to resist the devil. The evidence from the early church indicates that they saw this as an active, verbal resistance involving the authority of the believer over our spiritual enemy.
The spiritual conflict in which we are engaged is a real battle, a battle we are involved in whether we want to be or not. Since we can live to the glory of God, Satan has to do whatever he can to keep that from happening. He does not come dressed in his Satan suit very often. He usually comes with one of his many disguises so that we do not even recognize that we are dealing with a spiritual enemy. This is the nature of deception. It is what Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians 11:3 when he said, “I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” That battle is winnable, but it is won only when we choose the path of truth ( Psalm 119:30 ).