Tag Archives: sin

More on “Can Your Body Make You Sin?”


I’ve written about this topic here and here before. In those posts I argue that there is a better question for counselors to consider than the one of culpability. Last night, we started the 2012 edition of Counseling & Physiology with the question of culpability and whether or bodies/brains can cause us to sin outside of our will. We also looked at our tendency to focus on judging whether a person is culpable for their sins (e.g., someone with Tourette’s who swears, someone with a TBI who is easily enraged, someone who is chronically anxious or still another who falls prey to addictive behavior). One of my main goals was to get students thinking about whether they under or overestimate the body’s role in counseling problems.

In the second post listed above I indicate the possibility of a better question than culpability. However, one of my students last night raised a question that went something like this,

Doesn’t the fact that you will choose how to respond to a client indicate that you have to judge the cause of the problem? If you encourage a client to consider psychoactive medications, aren’t you suggesting it is a body problem? If you focus on habits or heart issues, aren’t you assuming the problem is primarily a spiritual, will or behavioral control problem?

This was a great question and my answer was something like the following.

No and yes. Functionally, you will choose an area to work first. This does not mean you think that the type of intervention you choose indicates the main problem. It may only indicate that you think one intervention is an easier entry gate to counseling than another.

Here’s an example. Even if my client is severely depressed and I believe that the primary cause of this depression is their longstanding bitterness and anger towards God, I may encourage a psychiatric evaluation and the consideration of an antidepressant. It may be that once their mood improves, we can make better progress in investigating some spiritual matters in their life.

Human sins and weaknesses have multi-factored sources

Have you ever thought of the various sources of human sin? Here’s a visual of all of the things I think of that are a part of nearly every human sinful behavior. The sizes of the factors surely change depending on the situation. For some, will, high-handed rebellion, may be most of the pie. In other cases, bodily weakness may be the prime source. Also, some of these surely overlap and are not distinct. I may have started out in a rebellious state when I started doing drugs. Now, my body and psychological habits are equal players in why I maintain a drug habit.

What else would you add to this chart? Note that I place “will” in the smallest concentric circle. I imagine that we have far less conscious control over sin than we sometimes ascribe. Habits, unconscious motivations, and foolish (unthinking) choices probably dictate more of our behavior than our direct, willful, planned rebellion. Of course, none of this has ANY influence over culpability or morality as Scripture clearly indicates our guilt even when we are unaware of the Law’s commands. When Jesus says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” it tells us that consciousness of sin has little to do with our need for forgiveness.

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2nd Post: Can Your Body Make You Sin?


Over at Biblical Seminary’s Faculty Blog you can read my second of two posts on the topic of bodily weakness, sin, and culpability. I conclude with the realization that there is something more important in this conversation than ascribing blame or parsing fault.

I’m curious about your thoughts. How much does culpability really matter when determining your response to those whose bodies seem to cause them to sin?

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3 Signs of Repentance Every Church Leader Should Learn


Regular readers will notice that I have posted little of late. The combination of too much to do at this point in the semester (2 weeks to go!) plus nothing much to say are the reasons why. However, I have a new post over at the faculty blog at www.biblical.edu. This post is a version of a short essay that I wrote for the AACC Christian Counseling Today magazine in 2006.

On regular occasions church leaders request consultations about complex pastoral cases in their churches. The most frequent consultation has to do with some form of abuse or offense by one parishioner against another. The offending party wants to be reconciled with the victim party but the victim party is hesitant if not downright refusing such reconciliation. In other situations, the church is trying to figure how long to discipline or restrict the parishioner. The big question is commonly,

“How do we know when [name] is really repentant?”

Here’s the problem with answering this question. The fruits of repentance are quite hard to distinguish from their counterfeits. Tears, words, and time are poor estimates of true repentance. However, there are some very good evidences of repentance. Click here for my 3 signs every church leader should know.

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Bookend sins?


Human moral frailty is never singular. Meaning, we don’t sin with just one sin. Every moral failing includes at least 3 parts: deception, action, cover-up. Think of deception and cover-up as bookends and the specific behaviors as the books in the middle. And just as it is hard to keep books on a shelf without bookends, it is hard to do what we know is wrong without deception of self and cover-ups.

What are your versions of bookends that give you “permission” to hate, to excuse, to overlook your faults?

Knocking down the bookends goes a long way to defeating outward sins like abuse as well as inward sins like festering bitterness.

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Life amidst brokenness?


As one who makes a living listening to brokenness, there are times when troubles seem everywhere. Everyone is swimming in a pool of their own tears–to quote the former PBS motivational speaker John Bradshaw. Sometimes, the pool seems pretty deep…cancer, mental illness, sexual abuse, infidelity, mania, marital discord, identity confusion, etc.

If not careful, we counselors can begin to believe that brokenness is the ONLY reality–a dreadful position if all we have to offer our clients is a knowing sad smile. On Sunday I went to a class on Isaiah, what some call 2nd Genesis because of the prophetic descriptions of re-birth and redemption of Israel through the work of Emmanuel.

In the class, someone said something that has been banging around in my head. It went something like this (gist, not quote)

It is not a challenge to see brokenness around us–that is easy. The challenge is to see God’s re-creative activity. Oddly, we call reality (God’s activity in redeeming us) a myth and prefer myth (superficial Christmas peace) over the reality of God’s working through brokenness to make us whole. I repeat, the challenge is to see God’s recreation and Glory.

Not sure how much of that was said and how much of that is just my own thoughts. But, still, the challenge for us is to see re-birth and not merely dying and death. What looks like an ugly stump (Isaiah 11:1) to us is a fruit bearing shoot.

See if you can catch glimpses of growth and rebirth today!

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Backsliding?


I’m planning a series of writings on issues that Christians often bring to counseling; where they bring unique and significant questions that are difficult to answer. One of those issues is the topic of backsliding. We all know that the word backsliding carries the meaning of slipping away from a habit, identity, belief, etc. In Christian circles it means that one who was once active in their faith has stopped living it out or altogether moved away from said faith. One of my favorite quotes on this topic is from Tolstoy,

Quite often a man  goes on for years imagining that the religious teaching that had been imparted to him since childhood is still intact, while all the time there is not a trace of it left in him. (Confession, 1983 reprint, p. 15)

When someone is in this position, they often ask questions about how it happened or what the future will hold. I’ve just run across a sermon by G. Campbell Morgan on the topic (The Westminster Pulpit, v. 1, 1954). The full text can be found here.

There are several things I found helpful:

1. His take on Deuteronomy as the law of love and containing the treatment of the disease of backsliding.

2. His take on how backsliding happens.

What is this process [of backsliding]? Mark three things…. The first is purely personal, perhaps hidden from men, the corruption of the self. The second is the sequel to self-corruption, the making of a graven image. Finally, the overt act of evil.

What is self-corruption? It is the devotion of the life to something lower than the highest. The first movement of backsliding may be accomplished without committing any sin which the [present] age names vulgar. In the moment in which a man takes his eye from the highest and sets it upon something lower, be the distance apparently never so small, he has set himself upon the decline which ends in the desert and in the agony of rejection. (p. 100)

3. His conception of idolatry.

You say….”I have set up no graven image.” Remember, the graven image is always the figure of that which lies behind it. When a man has corrupted himself, the issue is always that he thinks falsely of God. Man is so linked to deity in the very essential of his being that he will form his conception of God upon what he is in himself….He is forever projecting his own personality into immensity, and calling that God. (p. 101)

4. His closing on the promise: If you seek him, you shall surely find him…

If you seek him with all your heart and soul you will find him….Will he come with flaming and flashing glory? In all probability, no. Will he come with some new sense of his coming, making you thrill in every fiber of your being? In all probability, no. It is far more likely that he will come with a still small voice…. Trample your pride beneath your feet, Crucify your prejudice….

One of the struggles I hear in “backsliding” or relapsing sinners is that they (and me too!) look for Christianity to provide the same stimulus as an addiction. We look for God to give us the high, the excitement, the freedom from pain. He may, but never in the way that an addiction or a sin pattern might provide (in the short run). The struggle I hear is that when God does not supply an equally exciting substitute for the addiction then the person wonders if God is real or if the fight for freedom from addiction is really worth the effort in the end.

If you know someone with this struggle, send them the link to the chapter. It may provide a bit of relief.

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How to fail after hitting it big


Had an interesting talk with my boys about how money and fame does not protect from one’s sins being found out–whether in this life or the next. We were talking about faithfulness and keeping promises and how it feels when someone violates that covenant, and how much more it hurts when that violation goes public.

Right after that, my friend Doug forwarded me a Christianity Today article on the recipe for failing. It is written by Gordon McDonald and is directed at church leaders, especially those who lead big churches. But, you could apply it to your own life. Read the story here, but in short, here is recipe:

1. “Hubris, born of success.” It is interesting how we allow success to lead to pride. Moses told the Israelites that when they got into the promised land and received houses and gardens they didn’t build, they should not become arrogant and say, “look at what I have” and thus forget the Lord.

2. “Undisciplined pursuit of more.” Whether we have little or lots, we always want more. And we find all sorts of creative ways to make our pursuit right and good.

3. “Denial of risk and peril.” The more we succeed the more temptation to give in to brazenness.

4. “Grasping for salvation.” I think this works for successful people as well as those who feel desperate to succeed (after all, you can never rest on your laurels). We look for the silver bullet, the hail Mary, the lotto ticket to the next level of fame.

5. “Capitulation to irrelevance or death.” Once you go too far, you know you can’t recover so you just keep going. Why is it that we find it so hard to repent, to admit, to acknowledge our sins? Because we cannot give up our pride. We sometimes choose character death rather than admit, to stop. I think this is also why people commit hid and runs. We know we will get caught but we keep trying to run because admitting seems like death (when it often contains redemption possibilities).

Notice that the real recipe needs only one ingredient–deception of self and other.

Lord, save us from our prideful, self-deceiving selves.

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Filed under adultery, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, deception, Repentance, self-deception

Can your body cause you to sin, part 3


As promised, I offer you a vignette to consider as we think about the matter of culpability and involuntary sins.

Consider a 2 year old that has missed his daily nap, is hungry, and tired of being out in public. He has a meltdown. He kicks, screams, cries, refuses his mother’s comfort because he wants some object he cannot have. The good parent recognizes the child’s distress, whispers in his ear to comfort him, says “no” firmly to his kicks, and finds something for him to eat and a place to take a nap. Has the child sinned? He surely has demanded something, acted aggressively, maybe even disobeyed by going after the object after his mother said to stop. Yes, he sinned. But was it really voluntary? Well, maybe partly. But don’t we consider the circumstances and the fact that his body is not helping matters. We forgive, we overlook, we understand, we help. We do so because we know his choices are not really voluntary.

Now, we may have another reaction altogether when we see our little boy (fully rested and fed) look us in the eye and try to bite his baby brother after we just told him to stop. We know he has great voluntary control here and is in a power struggle. And we respond with appropriate discipline.

We could easily have considered a vignette of a brain injured man or a panic disordered woman. We respond to individuals based not on whether something is sinful or not but on how much voluntary control we think they have and the circumstances in play (environment, biology, understanding, etc.).

So, our bodies can cause us to sin. In the classic sense, we are guilty whether it is voluntary or not. And yet we, and God himself, varies responses to such sins based on a variety of factors. We do not ascribe innocence to those less culpable but do try to determine levels of responsibility. Thankfully, all of it is covered by the cross.

Here’s one way this might matter. I find many afraid to seek biological aids for what they determine to be spiritual problems (addictions, depression, anxiety, etc.). If we see body and soul together, then both body and soul interventions are working toward the same goal.

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Can your body make you sin, part 2


Yesterday I posted an introduction to this topic. Today, I want to give my answer to the first question:

Is it possible that my body (against or apart from my will) might cause me to sin?

  • What is gained and/or lost if we say yes? If we say no?

My answer: Yes.

I suppose you might like some defense of this position. Okay, here’s my best shot in five minutes:

1. Nothing is done by a person apart from their cells. We mediate all worship, desire, etc. through our cells. When we do good or evil, all of us are involved.

2. Sin is not merely an act, but a disposition. All of me is tainted and not functioning as it was originally intended, including my physical body (and don’t I feel the effects of being over 40!).  The dualist position is more in danger of treating sin as only what we consciously choose.

3. I don’t have to know that I broke the law (biblical or federal) to be guilty of violating the law. I didn’t know I was speeding but I still got a ticket. In the OT, lack of intention or knowledge violating the law did not protect against impurity or guilt (e.g., Lev. 4:22; 5:3).

4. If the body is broken and under sin’s curse it stands to reason that our bodies function in ways that are out of accord with our will. If they can move without our control (e.g., Parkinsonian tremors) can they not also move in such a way that violates God’s design for us. We have scientific evidence of this. Stimulate a certain part of the brain, and you will have rageful feelings. Stimulate another part and you may have sexual thoughts. Consider, as a commenter suggested yesterday, a person with Tourettes. There is some evidence of temporary volitional control (a surgeon is able to stop a tick during an operation) but other evidence that the ticks, and in some cases, curses burst out against the conscious effort of the person.

Saying yes to this question violates our Western sensibilities:

If we accept that our bodies can act against or without the will, what do we gain or lose? I think the primary concern by many would be that somehow we will either be held culpable for sins we didn’t want to commit or claim innocence for sins we didn’t willfully commit. And this gets to our thinking patterns here in the West. We want to be only held accountable for things we did do and not held accountable for things we either didn’t do or didn’t have any control over.

It strikes us as evil to be held accountable for that which we didn’t know was wrong. I once got a ticket for making a u-turn on a Chicago city street at 11 pm when no one (but the cop!) was around. There were no signs. I wasn’t familiar with Chicago rules, was lost in an unsavory neighborhood. And yet I still got the ticket. It didn’t seem right. But I did violate the law.

Our American judicial system isn’t the only system that holds us accountable for involuntary acts. Romans teaches us that because of Adam’s sin, all are sinners. I bear the culpability for his sin (and I make plenty of my own as well). I bear the impact of his choices in my entire being. Further we see OT prophets confessing the sins of the community as if they were their own.

So, in short, I think we can answer yes to the question about whether our bodies can make us sin. They can because we (body and soul) are tainted by the Fall. It doesn’t make us more or less out of sorts with God whether our sin is chosen or involuntary. Happily, God doesn’t just forgive willful sin, he forgives sin period and makes it possible to not sin by imputing his righteousness to us.

For those still thinking about culpability, I’ll give a little vignette tomorrow to chew on.

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Connecting the dots: porn and rape


A few days ago a young woman/teen was found partially clothed and semi-conscious under a Philadelphia bridge. At the time I am writing this post, it is assumed (nothing too outlandish here) that she was assaulted and raped and left for dead. Whether or not this turns out to be the exact situation for this injured woman matters not for the rest of the post. What does matter is that we know that rape happens.

How does one get to the place of treating another human being like an object and caring nothing for that person’s feelings, interests? We’d like to believe that rape, murder, slavery, trafficking, and the sort are different sorts of animals than the wee little sins we commit. But such heinous acts have exactly the same roots as “normal” objectification.

Take porn for example. On first blush, there is not any interpersonal crime in looking at a pornographic image. The assumption goes that the individuals in the pictures have voluntarily allowed themselves to be photographed and are happy with what they are doing. Of course, we know that these two assumptions are not always true. But even IF we accept the assumption, we must also accept that the viewer of the pictures cares nothing about the person in the picture. They exist for one reason only–to provide pleasure for the viewer. They have no feelings, they are only objects on a page.

The one dimensional image allows the viewer to begin the process of not seeing the other and not seeing their abuse of the other. And we are well aware of the common path of porn use. Start with a scantily clad image, move to complete nude, then to more and more dramatic pictures of sex acts which often include bondage, pain, or other grotesque acts.

Most people would have trouble watching a friend or a loved one engage in such an act, much less act out such activity on someone in pain. Most of us couldn’t just rape a stranger–at least at this point. But the root is the same: ignoring the personhood of the person in front of us. The person who is able to rape, traffick, or enslave has just been more successful in protecting themself from empathy, putting themself in the shoes of another, etc. We haven’t yet gone that far but notice that we begin such activities by our ability to objectify people on television or even in our everyday life. We murder (in our hearts) the incompetent bagger at the grocery store. We care little about his or her life. I’m not putting a passing hateful thought on par with rape but when we fail to recognize the person on the other side we begin to make it possible to deny the humanness of the other, whether a victim of a crime or the perpetrator.

Reminds me of Miroslav Volf’s quote in Exclusion and Embrace (p. 124): 

“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners.”

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