Waiting to Feel Better: The Greatest Snare in the Christian Life

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his typical hyperbolic preaching style, explains how important it is for Christians to know who they are:

“The whole matter of putting on the new man is in essence the application of truth to ourselves. It is the most important thing that one can ever discover in the Christian life. The real secret of Christian living is to discover the art of talking to yourself. We must talk to ourselves, we must preach to ourselves, and we must take truth and apply it to ourselves, and keep on doing so. That is the putting on of the new man. We have to hammer away at ourselves until we have really convinced ourselves. In other words, this is not something that you wait for passively. If you wait until you feel like the new man it will probably never happen. We must be active in this. There is no greater snare in the Christian life than to entertain the idea of waiting until we feel better, and of then putting on the new man. On the contrary, we have got to go on telling ourselves the new man is already in us. In his Epistle to the Romans the Apostle Paul says, ‘Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God’ (6:11).” Darkness and Light, An Exposition of Ephesians 4:17-5:17, 191-192

The Devil, No, My Brain Made Me Do It: Neuroscience, Sin, & Personal Responsibility

I came across an article the other day on how neuroscience is playing out in the courtroom. In some cases, if a person is convicted of a crime, say, rape, murder, or child molestation the perpetrators and their legal team are using neuroscience to essentially show that their brain made them commit the crime or at least influenced them in such a way that they bear less of a responsibility for it. The writer states,

It’s the latest example of how neuroscience – the science of the brain and how it works – is taking the stand and beginning to challenge society’s notions of crime and punishment.

The issue has been thrown into the spotlight by new technologies, like structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET) scans and DNA analysis, that can help pinpoint the biological basis of mental disorders.

A series of recent studies has established that psychopathic rapists and murderers have distinct brain structures that show up when their heads are scanned using MRI…

The lawyers for American serial killer Brian Dugan, who was facing execution in Illinois after pleading guilty to raping and killing a 10-year-old girl, used scans of his brain activity to argue he had mental malfunctions and should be spared the death penalty. In the event, Illinois abolished capital punishment while he was on death row.

Further breakthroughs in psychiatry and neuroscience are continuing to bring up complicated moral questions. The question of biological and genetic determinism is a classic battle between behavior and identity and brings up all kinds of questions about human responsibility. Courts, families, and churches will all be affected by these scientific breakthroughs and the debate that ensues. After all, if my brain gives me a propensity toward something that is immoral, am I responsible for it? For instance, in legal matters, if murder and/or child molestation is immoral and someone murders or molests someone else but had a “malfunction” in their brain that led to the act, should their punishment be reduced? In biblical studies, If homosexuality is sinful but you were born with a homosexual orientation and disposition, can it be considered sinful? The list can go on. Essentially the excuse “the Devil made me do it” has now been replaced “my brain made me do it.”

There is no doubt that neuroscience is uncovering all kinds of intriguing and important reasons for why we do what we do and feel what we feel as human beings and it should not be ignored by Christians. But not ignoring it does not mean necessarily embracing all the conclusions that judges, therapists, and psychiatrists will give.

From a Christian perspective, every single one of these breakthroughs is subject to the authority of God and the authority of his Word. Most likely we will continue to find biological reasons for human behavior but this will never take the sinfulness out of sin.

We humans love excuses for our sinful and immoral ways. Since the Bible assumes a view of human nature that is already bent toward sin, if neuroscience continues to uncover sins that human beings are bent toward it should not be surprising. An internal biological influencer toward a particular immoral act or crime does not strip us of personal responsibility. The Bible assumes original sin–all of us don’t just commit sins but are born sinners because of our father Adam–and personal responsibility–you are responsible for sinning like your father did. Being prone to a particular sin (whatever that is) is normal and does not exempt us from that particular sins penalties. Dr. David Powlison puts it this way,

Those with the “worry gene,” the “anger gene,” the “addictive pleasure gene,” or the “kleptomania gene” will be prone to the respective sins. Such findings cause no problem for the Faith. They do trouble a Pelagian view that defines sin only as conscious “choice.” But sin is an unsearchable morass of disposition, drift, willful choice, unwitting impulse, obsession, compulsion, seeming happenstance, the devil’s appetite for souls, the world’s shaping influence, and God’s hardening of hard hearts. Of course biological factors are at work: we are embodied sinners and saints. [Quoted by Justin Taylor from his blog post “Powlison on Biological Tendencies, Homosexual and Beyond” (March 6, 2007)]


As sinful human beings in a complicated world within and without, we need more than the mending of the malfunctions of our brains. We are not primarily in need of an innovative rehabilitation program, a new antidepressant, or sexual “freedom”, but a great Savior. And God has provided this in sending his Son to die and rise from death for sinners–those who are biologically predisposed to sin and simultaneously actively choose sin in their behaviors–and make them new creations.

Sure, your brain influences all kinds of your sinful behaviors, and for that matter so does the devil, just ask Jesus’ disciple Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31). Neuroscience will probably give us more biological insight and psychiatry may give more medical ways to alleviate and manipulate certain biological tendencies, but neither one can do what Jesus does and give the freedom he provides. He calls sinners to repent (take personal responsibility for their sins and sinfulness) and believe his good news–that he has taken the penalty of death sinners deserve and alone gives the grace of true freedom and transformation.


9 Reasons to Affirm Others

Sam Crabtree’s book, Practicing Affirmation, gives 9 reasons one should affirm others:

Affirmation is a way to bring life and healing to those around you.

1. Affirming others earns us the right standing from which to make suggestions. (p. 71)

2. Affirmation lifts morale. (p. 71)

3. Affirmation energizes people. (p. 72)

4. Affirmation of others makes us easier to live with. (p. 72)

5. Striving to affirm others puts us in the practice of looking at them positively–that is, looking for evidence of God’s work in them. (p. 73)

6. Affirmation constructively uses time that could have been wasted complaining. (p. 73)

7. By commending Christlike qualities, and celebrating them when we spot them, affirmation showcases the character of God, giving him honor for being the kind of God he is. (p. 74)

8. Behaviors that are rewarded and celebrated are more likely to be repeated. (p. 74)

9. When we commend God’s image in people, God is glorified, and that’s why we were made–to glorify God. (p. 75)

Life and death is in the power of the tongue (Prov. 18:21). The tongue can be used either as a weapon or as an instrument of healing: “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov. 12:18). Affirmation is a way to bring life and healing to those around you.

Do it. A lot.

I need to grow in this area. Big time.

The Apostle Paul’s unAmerican Dream

The Apostle Paul’s statement in Acts 20:24 is so unbelievably contrary to the ethos that I am used to as an American I have to read it again and again for it to sink in.

“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself [STOP!]” (ESV). 

Let’s try that one more time and use a different translation:

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me…” (NIV)

Alright, let’s try a paraphrase. Surely that will help soften this a bit.

“But frankly I do not consider my own life valuable to me…” (J.B. Phillips)


Paul, its time for a prescription of SSRIs. Your serotonin must be low. Anti-depressants would help. Haven’t you seen the commercials?

So, I invite you to dream a different kind of dream.

American Christians don’t talk like this. I don’t normally talk like this. Some preachers and teachers talk and preach precisely the opposite of this. Paul, as the verse before shows, knows that instead of comfort and convenience prison and affliction await him in each and every city and yet he has the resolve to keep going on with is mission and purpose in life. He is not depressed. In fact, his view of himself is a portrait of grace-shaped mental health.

Let’s look at the whole verse:

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Paul doesn’t derive value and worth from within himself or bother with techniques to increase his own self-esteem, but from something else altogether. He’s overwhelmed with God’s grace in and on his life, and the calling and mission God has given him to proclaim this grace to every city he goes to. It’s not that Paul is clouded by some poverty mindset or after some ruthless asceticism and desire to get beat up every-other-day, but that his life has been gripped by the good news of God’s grace for sinful people who don’t want to hear it. He wants to share this message because his own identity has been re-shaped by it. Paul calls himself the chief of sinners (1 Ti. 1:15) because he himself persecuted sinners God had saved, yet God graced him with forgiveness anyway.

Paul was forgiven much. God’s grace was extravagant to him, and he knew God’s big gospel of grace is for the whole world no matter how big the sinner because he was the biggest. His identity was gospel-shaped and led him to look at himself and live life with a different ethos and dream a different kind of dream than what I’m used to in this culture.

Wikipedia says the following about the American Dream

“[it] is a national ethos…in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, an upward social mobility achieved through hard work. In the definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, ‘life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement’ regardless of social class or circumstances or birth.”

Paul’s dream is far different.

His dream is that people regardless of social class or circumstances or birth hear that they can achieve nothing before God through their hard work because they are sinners, but that God has achieved everything for sinners by sending his Son to die for the ungodly and save them from their sins. Paul’s good news is that even though you are a sinful failure, God comes for sinful failures in the person of Jesus and makes them perfectly righteous. You can’t achieve the gospel. You can’t work hard for it. You simply receive the grace God gives in Jesus.

And this dream of Paul’s did not make him prosperous or successful at least in the way that America defines it. Paul’s definition of prosperity and success is a life lived for God’s glory in God’s grace. The gospel message doesn’t promise you temporal success or prosperity. It promises something greater–being swept up in the glory of God and his ever-loving-you, never-ever-leaving-you grace.

Don’t buy the lies of psychologized self-worth, but theologize it with something far more meaningful, namely, God’s grandiose—not sparing of his own Son—love for sinners to make them sons. Don’t buy the lies of living for Americanized prosperity and success, but join the mission of eternal success and prosperity of “testify[ing] to the gospel of the grace of God” regardless of social, economic, and physical impact because one day “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).

Grace can make you say “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself” without being self-deprecating and self-pitying because God in Christ is most precious of all. He is more precious and more valuable than life. Paul’s unAmerican dream is only unAmerican in that it is a kingdom of God dream for all people of every ethnicity and every nation (including America!) and carries an ethos that derives ultimate value from God and his gracious gospel not temporal comfort, convenience, happiness, and hard work.

So, I invite you to dream a different kind of dream. The church doesn’t necessarily need more dreamers but a different kind of dream. A dream soaked in more of God’s grace and more of God’s glory and less self. Dreams that are dictated by the shape and size of the gospel of God not the shape of size of the gospel of consumerism.

I know it starts here. In my heart. This dreamer in accordance with this gospel.

Come. Let’s join Paul.

7 Negative Effects of Porn

This is a rather frank post on porn, so proceed or not with that in mind.

Porn is a problem. It is a personal problem for many and a cultural problem for all. You may think that you have not been effected by porn, but you have because it is embedded in the surrounding culture. The staggering size of the pornography industry, its influence upon the media and the acceleration of technology, paired with the accessibility, anonymity, and affordability of porn all contribute to its increasing impact upon the culture.

Pornography effects you whether you’ve ever viewed it or not, and it is helpful to understand some of its negative effects whether you are a man or women struggling with watching it or simply a mom or dad with a son or daughter. There is a plethora of research on the detrimental effects of pornography (and I do not think that what follows are necessarily the worst of them), but here are seven negative effects of porn upon men and women:

Pornography effects you whether you’ve ever viewed it or not, and it is helpful to understand some of its negative effects whether you are a man or women struggling with watching it or simply a mom or dad with a son or daughter.

1. Porn contributes to social and psychological problems within men. Feminist and anti-pornography activist, Gail Dines, notes that young men who become addicted to porn, “neglect their schoolwork, spend huge amounts of money they don’t have, become isolated from others, and often suffer depression.” (Pornland, 93). Dr. William Struthers, who has a PhD in biopsychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago, confirms some of these and adds more, finding that men who use porn become controlling, highly introverted, have high anxiety, narcissistic, curious, have low self-esteem, depressed, dissociative, distractible (Wired for Intimacy, 64-65). Ironically, while viewing porn creates momentary intensely pleasurable experiences, it ends up leading to several negative lingering psychological experiences.

2. Porn rewires the male brain. Struthers elaborates,

As men fall deeper into the mental habit of fixating on [pornographic images], the exposure to them creates neural pathways.  Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set the course for the next time an erotic image is viewed.  Over time these neural paths become wider as they are repeatedly traveled with each exposure to pornography.  They become the automatic pathway through which interactions with woman are routed….They have unknowingly created a neurological circuit that imprisons their ability to see women rightly as created in God’s image (Wired For Intimacy, 85)

In a similar vein regarding porn’s effect upon the brain, Naomi Wolf, a feminist author, writes,

After all, pornography works in the most basic of ways on the brain: It is Pavlovian. An orgasm is one of the biggest reinforcers imaginable. If you associate orgasm with your wife, a kiss, a scent, a body, that is what, over time, will turn you on; if you open your focus to an endless stream of ever-more-transgressive images of cybersex slaves, that is what it will take to turn you on. The ubiquity of sexual images does not free eros but dilutes it. (“The Porn Myth”)

3. Porn turns sex into masturbation. Dines tell the story of how one man’s porn use essentially taught him “how to masturbate into a woman” (Pornland, 92). Sex becomes self-serving. It becomes about your pleasure and not the self-giving, mutually reciprocating intimacy that it was designed for.

4. Porn demeans and objectifies women. This occurs from hard-core to soft-core pornography. Pamela Paul, in her book Pornified, quoting the research of one psychologist who has researched pornography at Texas A&M, writes,

‘softcore pornography has  a very negative effect on men as well. The problem with softcore pornography is that it’s voyeurism teaches men to view women as objects rather than to be in relationships with women as human beings.’ According to Brooks, pornography gives men the false impression that sex and pleasure are entirely divorced from relatoinships. In other words, pornography is inherently self-centered–something a man does by himself, for himself–by using another women as the means to pleasure, as yet another product to consume (80).

Paul references one experiment that revealed a rather shocking further effect of porn: “men and women who were exposed to large amounts of pornography were significantly less likely to want daughters than those who had none. Who would want their own little girl to be treated that way?” (80). Similarly, Dines, states, “While porn is by no means the only socializing agent, thanks to its intense imagery and effect on the body, it is a powerful persuader that erodes men’s ability to see women as equal and as deserving of the same human rights that they themselves take for granted (Pornland, 98).”

Again, it needs to be emphasized, that this is not an effect that only rests upon those who have viewed porn. The massive consumption of porn and the the size of the porn industry has hypersexualized the entire culture. Men and women are born into a pornified culture, and women are the biggest losers. Dines continues,

By inundating girls and women with the message that their most worthy attribute is their sexual hotness and crowding out other messages, pop culture is grooming them just like an individual perpetrator would.  It is slowly chipping away at their self-esteem, stripping them of a sense of themselves as whole human beings, and providing them with an identity that emphasizes sex and de-emphasizes every other human attribute (Pornland, 118).

5. Porn squashes the beauty of a real naked woman. Wolf, in her own blunt way, confirms this,

For most of human history, the erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women. For the first time in history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn (Quoted in Wired for Intimacy, 38).

6. Porn has a numbing effect upon reality. It makes real sex and even the real world boring in comparison. It particularly anesthetizes the emotional life of a man. Paul comments,

Pornography leaves men desensitivzed to both outrage and to excitement, leading to an overall diminishment of feeling and eventually to dissatisfaction with the emotional tugs of everyday life…Eventually they are left with a confusing mix of supersized expectations about sex and numbed emotions about women…When a man gets bored with pornography, both his fantasy and real worlds become imbued with indifference. The real world often gets really boring…” (Pornified, 90, 91)

7. Porn lies about what it means to be male and female. Dines records how porn tells a false story about men and women. In the story of porn, women are “one-dimensional…who are nothing more than collections of holes (Pornland, xxiv)”–they never say no, never get pregnant, and can’t wait to have sex with any man and please them in whatever way imaginable (or even unimaginable). On the other hand, the story porn tells about men is that they are “soulless, unfeeling, amoral life-support systems for erect penises who are entitled to use women in any way they want. These men demonstrated zero empathy, respect, or love for the women they have sex with…(Pornland, xxiv).”

Drugs Are NOT the Only Answer for Mental Illness

Marcia Angell, Senior Lecturer in Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, in her article “The Illusions of Psychiatry” in The New York Review of Books concludes:

The books by Irving Kirsch, Robert Whitaker, and Daniel Carlat are powerful indictments of the way psychiatry is now practiced. They document the “frenzy” of diagnosis, the overuse of drugs with sometimes devastating side effects, and widespread conflicts of interest. Critics of these books might argue, as Nancy Andreasen implied in her paper on the loss of brain tissue with long-term antipsychotic treatment, that the side effects are the price that must be paid to relieve the suffering caused by mental illness. If we knew that the benefits of psychoactive drugs outweighed their harms, that would be a strong argument, since there is no doubt that many people suffer grievously from mental illness. But as Kirsch, Whitaker, and Carlat argue convincingly, that expectation may be wrong.

Above all, we should remember the time-honored medical dictum: first, do no harm.

At the very least, we need to stop thinking of psychoactive drugs as the best, and often the only, treatment for mental illness or emotional distress. Both psychotherapy and exercise have been shown to be as effective as drugs for depression, and their effects are longer-lasting, but unfortunately, there is no industry to push these alternatives and Americans have come to believe that pills must be more potent. More research is needed to study alternatives to psychoactive drugs, and the results should be included in medical education.

In particular, we need to rethink the care of troubled children. Here the problem is often troubled families in troubled circumstances. Treatment directed at these environmental conditions—such as one-on-one tutoring to help parents cope or after-school centers for the children—should be studied and compared with drug treatment. In the long run, such alternatives would probably be less expensive. Our reliance on psychoactive drugs, seemingly for all of life’s discontents, tends to close off other options. In view of the risks and questionable long-term effectiveness of drugs, we need to do better. Above all, we should remember the time-honored medical dictum: first, do no harm. [Emphasis mine]