Recovering from Religion - Phoenix Message Board › Christianity and the Self-Concept Part II

Christianity and the Self-Concept Part II

user 2326427
Phoenix, AZ
Post #: 217
Many evangelical Christians regard “salvation” as being just the initial step in a life-long and arduous "spiritual" process by which God develops the “believer’s” new nature, a process often referred to as sanctification. One Christian denomination, the Church of the Nazarene, defines sanctification as an “act of God, subsequent to regeneration, by which believers are made free of original sin, or depravity, and brought into a state of entire devotement to God and the holy obedience of love made perfect.” Although, according to Brad Greenberg, “it hasn’t always, if ever, been clear what such a sanctified life should look like,” Rev. Tchvidijian regards sanctification as “progressive” while admitting that it is misleading to think that “believers” will completely overcome the flesh-Spirit conflict during their lifetime. He believes that, if Christians “walk by the Spirit,” then they will move forward in their internal struggle against remaining sin.

Just what does it mean for a “believer” to “walk by the Spirit”? In Galatians 5:16, the Apostle Paul admonishes Christians to “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” Rev. Tchvidijian interprets this Bible verse to mean that “believers” are to live in conscious reliance on God. He writes: “It is living a God-centered life, not a self-centered life.” He quotes Proverbs 3:5 as containing the prescription for “walking by the Spirit,” which reads: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding”. As this author pointed out in a separate essay, this particular Bible verse warns the “believer” not to trust their own thought processes. What are the implications for your mental health if you truly believe that you cannot trust your own thought processes?

Besides casting doubt on the efficacy of human cognition, the biblical prescription for achieving sanctification also requires the “believer” to deny their own wishes, wants, and desires. The above quote from the Old Testament book of Proverbs continues in verse 6 as follows: “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” According to Rev. James Ellis, “. . .radically following Jesus inevitably means dying to your way of life, and finding fulfillment in him, and him alone.” He writes further that “We affirm that our lives no longer belong to us,” and “We die to our dreams and adopt the dreams, definitions, and disposition that God has for us.” In John 3:30, the historical New Testament prophet John the Baptist is purported to have said, in reference to the historical Jesus of Nazareth, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Evangelical Christians are encouraged to adopt the same attitude. Dr. Marlene Winell describes the negative implications of this attitude for the individual “believer’s” self-concept.

"When you were religious, your individual identity was probably of little
importance to you. You probably thought that focusing on yourself was
selfish and that there were larger issues of greater importance. You may
have frequently heard the phrase “Jesus first, then others; self last” or its
equivalent. As a result, you may believe you are not important and even
feel ashamed when attention is drawn to you."

For the devout evangelical Christian, as Dr. Winell observes, “To fuse with God was considered desirable, to the point of losing your individual identity. To be like Christ was the ideal, not to be yourself. . . .” Thus, the deep Bible indoctrination required to further the process of sanctification can precipitate an identity crisis in the sincere “believer”. In the process of consciously striving to emulate Jesus (or the highly idealized image of Jesus that is portrayed in many evangelical Christian churches), and while waiting patiently for God to “direct their paths,” the sincere “believer” can enter a psychological state where they have no idea who or what they are, where they belong, or where they want to go. If this identity crisis persists, the “believer” may withdraw from reality and become unable to successfully deal with the activities of daily living. Such a condition, clearly indicative of poor mental health, would be a direct result of the deep Bible indoctrination associated with the “born-again” experience, the so-called sanctification process, or both. As Dr. Edmund Cohen contends, deep Bible indoctrination can often have negative mental health consequences because of “the many Bible teachings that are too formidable for contemporary people and that make the strain of being a modern born-again too great.”

In summary, the “born-again” Christian experience, and the so-called sanctification process, can be hazardous to a person’s mental health, particularly when that person becomes deeply indoctrinated in the Bible and fully immersed in the born-again Christian subculture, where sincere believers are taught that they must continually “work out their salvation with fear and trembling” (see Philippians 2:13) if they want “to experience God-centered success in the midst of. . .life-long conflict.” For the sincere "believer," the outcome of this nominally "spiritual" process may range from a fragmented self-concept to a debilitating identity crisis.


All Bible citations are to the New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Cohen, Edmund D. “And Now – Psychiatric Wards for Born-Again Christians Only”
Free Inquiry, Summer 1993.

Ellis, James.

Graham, Billy. “Billy Graham’s My Answer”

Greenberg, Brad. "Identity 'crisis' - Nazarenes rethink entire sanctification" Christianity Today online.

Tchividjian, W. Tullian. “The Christian in Conflict” Reformed Perspectives, Vol. 7, No. 44, 2005.

Winell, Marlene. Leaving the Fold. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, 1993

Dana D.
user 90187162
Surprise, AZ
Post #: 1
Great share and with respect to what Dr. Marlene Winell has to say about the believer's identity as it pertains to the self-concept of losing oneself to follow through on what "scripture" teaches is spot on. I can attest to being pulled into this very mindset leaving behind Roman Catholicism for the trade-off of the Evangelical faith. I have ordered her book 'Leaving The Fold,' a considerable savings ordering it from Kindle.

user 2326427
Phoenix, AZ
Post #: 226
Dr. Winell's book is excellent but of course her focus is on recovery from fundamentalist evangelical Christianity (the so-called "born-again" experience) since that is her own personal background. Her book could be used as a study guide for a small group of people who may be struggling with religious recovery issues and really want to explore the recovery process in depth. As with my post regarding my interest in a strategic life planning group, I'd be happy to facilitate a small group experience, at no cost and no obligation. Participants would have to supply their own materials. The only caveat would be that, since I live in the far N. Valley, I would most likely select a location in that area, possibly the Barnes & Noble at Desert Ridge.
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