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Psychology's View of Guilt and Moral Responsibility

Psychology's View of Guilt and Moral ResponsibilityHow does psychology deal with the problems of guilt, sin, and evil? Do psychologists and psychiatrists teach people to practice moral responsibility, or do they justify, rationalize, and excuse immorality and blame shifting? Are mental problems a disease for which people are not accountable? Should people who sin just accept themselves as they are? Should they ventilate their feelings and be free from inhibitions and moral standards, or should they be rebuked and instructed to practice restraint and self-control? 

What about the need to acknowledge error, repent, and be forgiven by God? How do psychology and psychiatry harmonize with the Bible standards of Christianity?


Many people who seek help from psychologists have conducted themselves in ways that clearly violate the standard of God's word. This results in guilt, and often this guilt is a fundamental part of people's mental and emotional struggles. How do psychologists deal with these problems? 

In this study we will examine ways that psychologists sometimes attempt to justify people in practicing sin or lead them to deny guilt when they have sinned but have not repented, corrected their conduct, or been forgiven by God. Not all psychologists hold the views we will discuss, but many of them seem to have an unlimited supply of excuses and rationalizations for sin and guilt.

I. Psychology Often Teaches People to Blame Others for Their Failures in Life.

A. The Teachings of Psychology

When people fail to live up to proper standards, psychologists have a number of scapegoats clients can blame. 


Wayne Oates writes that mental illness is the result of "the rejection and exploitation of the individual by the community" (Adams, p 6). In other words, "It is society's fault."

"Fromm emphasized society as the major determinant of human personality. In particular, Fromm describes man as intrinsically and naturally good and attributes anything bad - evil - to society, especially when society causes the self to deny its own potential for growth and expression" (Vitz, p. 18). But society is people. If people are basically good, how then can society (people) be the source of everything bad?

A TV commercial advertised an article in Time Magazine that attempted to explain riots in Los Angeles by saying, "The enemy is us. All of us." See? When people riot, loot, burn, and murder - even people thousands of miles away, whom you and I have never met or contacted in any way - it is nevertheless our responsibility!


Another favorite scapegoat is ones spouse: "My spouse drives me to act the way I do. If he/she would only change, then I would do better." Psychologists often encourage and defend such thinking.


Sylling wrote: "Most unwed mothers are victims of their parent's problems" (Adams, p. 8). So, blame it on the parents.

Many of us know of psychologists who have excused some criminal or grossly immoral person because his parents or society somehow deprived him of something years ago.

A folk song by Anna Russell states it very well:

I went to my psychiatrist to be psychoanalyzed
To find out why I killed the cat and blacked my husband's eyes.
He laid me on a downy couch to see what he could find,
And here is what he dredged up from my subconscious mind:
When I was one, my mommie hid my dolly in a trunk,
And so it follows naturally that I am always drunk.
When I was two, I saw my father kiss the maid one day,
And that is why I suffer now from kleptomania.
At three, I had the feeling of ambivalence toward my brothers,
And so it follows naturally I poison all my lovers.
But I am happy; now I've learned the lesson this has taught;
That everything I do that's wrong is someone else's fault.
- Via Adams, p. 8

Somehow, by hook or crook, the psychologist makes his client out to be, not the perpetrator of evil, but the victim of someone else's evil. This is the idea that leads people to think every misbehavior is caused by people's environment, so if you just clean up their environment they will act good.

B. The Teachings of the Bible

Yes, other people can contribute to our errors by tempting us, mistreating us, etc. Such people will be held accountable by God. But are we released from responsibility for our conduct just because someone else contributed to it?

Genesis 3:9-13 - Adam blamed Eve for sin because she tempted him, and Eve blamed the serpent because he tempted her. Yet God punished all three. It may not have been Eve's fault she was tempted, but she was punished because she did not resist it properly. From the first sin till now, sinners have tried to excuse sin by blaming others. Today, sinners find professional help in their blame shifting at the psychologist's office, for a substantial fee!

1 Samuel 15:3,9,15,22,23 - God told Saul and Israel to destroy all the Amalekites and their animals, but instead they spared the king and the best of the animals. Saul blamed the people; but God said Saul had committed stubborn rebellion, so He rejected him as king. The people contributed to the wrong, but that did not excuse Saul.

Romans 12:17-21 - Do not seek vengeance, but overcome evil with good. Mistreatment by others does not justify us in doing wrong. It is not even an excuse to do nothing. It obligates us to do good.

1 Peter 3:1,2; Colossians 3:9 - Specifically, what about the person whose husband or wife does not obey the Bible? Does this excuse our sins? "Poor me. Look how bad my husband or wife acts. How can anyone expect me to do right under these difficulties?" No, God says we must do right no matter how our spouse acts.

Matthew 10:34-37 - If our parents do wrong - in fact, if every member of our family and loved ones does wrong - that is no excuse for our wrongs. We must love Jesus enough to do what He says regardless of how others treat us.

Perhaps you cannot control your parents, society, or anyone else around you does. But you can still control yourself. No matter how other people act, you can still do right. And that is exactly what God expects you to do.

II. Psychology Often Views Guilt as a Disease for Which the Sinner Is Not Accountable

A. Quotations from Psychology

Harry Milt, Director of Public Information for the National Association of Mental Health is quoted as saying people who are mentally ill deserve "Sympathetic understanding, the kind you give to a person when he is sick with a physical illness ... You make allowances because you know he's sick, that he can't help his sickness, that he needs your sympathy and understanding. The person with a mental problem is also sick and most of the time he can't help it either." (via Adams, pp 4,5)

A chaplain from a state mental hospital gave the following advice to preachers:

"First of all, there is little you can do as ministers for people in a mental hospital. Secondly, what you can do is support the patient's right to feel injured by others. Thirdly, it is important to understand that in a mental institution people with guilt no longer are subjected to rebuke from others outside, the pressure is off, and in this way they quietly lose their guilt and get well. Fourthly, we must consider people in mental hospitals not as violators of conscience but as victims of their conscience. Finally, when we look at their erratic behavior, it seems to be sin, but it isn't; the patient is not really responsible for his actions. He can't help what he's doing; he's sick. Often he blames himself for what he can't help, for what isn't his fault, and this is a cause of his problems. Consequently bad behavior as blameworthy is taboo in a mental hospital. The usual religious approach of responsibility, guilt, confession and forgiveness is no good here. The patients' consciences are already too severe. There people are morally neutral persons, and all we can do is be ventilators for them" (summarized by Adams, p. 9).

Other psychologists urge preachers to "help both the family and the community at large to accept mental illness as sickness and not as a disgrace" (Adams, p. 28).

Dr. William Radar specifically applies this principle to alcohol and drug abuse, shop-lifting, and sexual perversion [obviously including homosexuality]. He says the problem of all such people "is a disease, not a sin" (Berkley, p. 147).

The consequence of explaining such conduct as disease is that it makes the person not accountable. He can't help it, just like he can't help having a brain tumor or a heart attack. It's not his fault. He is not a sinner who should have a guilty conscience; rather, is a victim of his conscience and mistreatment by others.

It also follows that there is nothing he can do about his problem. He didn't cause it; therefore he can't cure it. He has to call on the experts (the psychologists) and let them solve the problem. If they can't solve it, his case is hopeless because there is nothing he can do.

B. The Bible Teaching

It is true that some emotional or mental problems are the result of physical malfunction of the brain or glands. Physical illness can cause emotional problems. However, such illness is caused by some physical impairment or malfunction, such as a good physical doctor could find. There should be some physical evidence or test that demonstrates a physical malfunction of some organ of the body.

While sin may in some ways be like disease, the claims of psychologists contradict the Bible in the following ways:

The Bible says that sin, unlike disease, is something we can avoid and overcome.

Sin is not a force outside ourselves that is beyond our ability to cope with.

1 Corinthians 10:13 - No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Philippians 4:13 - I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

James 4:7 - Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

1 Peter 5:8,9 - Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith.

Ephesians 6:10-18 - By using the armor God provides, we can resist the devil. We have the power to stand against all his wiles and quench every fiery dart (temptation). If we fail to stand, it is because we are not using the armor he provides.

The Bible claims that God provides everything we need to overcome sin. Resisting temptation is always within our power, if we use the means God provides. If we fail to do so, it is because we failed to use God's power. Therefore, sin is without excuse.

[John 8:31-34]

So God holds people accountable for their sins.

When we participate in sinful behavior, we cannot excuse ourselves by saying or thinking that we should not be held accountable because we could not help ourselves.

Matthew 13:20,21 - In the parable of the sower, the rocky soil represents people who stumble because they faced tribulation and persecution. Despite their problems, God did not excuse them for sin. He concluded they were not good soil.

Proverbs 24:10 - If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. When we give in to sin, even when facing serious difficulties, it is not because we could not help it, but because our strength is small. We are still responsible for the sin.

Luke 6:27,28 - No matter how much other people mistreat us, we are not justified in doing wrong. Rather, we are expected to do good even to the people who did us wrong [cf. Romans 12:14,17-21]

Unlike with disease, people sin because it is pleasurable and appeals to their desires.

James 1:14,15 - Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, brings forth death. People sin because something about it allures, attracts, or appeals to them. Is that why people get diseases?

1 John 2:15-17 - Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world. Human lusts lead us to love the world and displease God. People sin because they find sin more attractive than doing right.

Titus 3:3 - For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. People sin because they give in to their lusts and pleasures, not because they are overwhelmed by some irresistible disease.

Hebrews 11:24-26 - Moses chose to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, because he looked to the reward. Moses had the power to choose to sin or not sin. This is an example for us to imitate. If we appreciate the reward God offers us, we too will resist the allurement of sin.

1 Corinthians 10:6 - Israel was an example, showing that we should not lust after evil things. They sinned because of their lusts. We can resist sin, and God expects us to do so.

Ephesians 2:3 - When we lived in sin we conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were children of wrath. People sin because they fulfill their lusts and desires.

Do people get cancer, heart attacks, arthritis, and stomach flu because those diseases are so pleasurable that people just love to participate in them? People contract diseases, not because they want them, but because they are overcome by germs, etc. People in sin often seek ways to justify continuing in the conduct. But no one tries to justify continuing a disease; they want to be cured!

It is true that, after sinning awhile, people often find it is not as pleasurable as they anticipated; yet they may continue because the habit has captured them - they are "hooked" and find it very difficult to quit (as in alcoholism, drug abuse). Nevertheless, they began the sin because they chose a pattern of life that led to the habit. For that reason God continues to hold them accountable, even after they are hooked and might wish they could quit (2 Timothy 2:24-26; John 8:31-34; Romans 6:12-23).

[2 Timothy 3:1,4; Luke 8:14]

Unlike diseases, people often encourage other people to participate in sin.

Do people encourage friends, whom they really care about, to get a heart attack or brain tumor? No, but people often encourage others to sin.

Genesis 39:7-12 - Potiphar's wife wanted to commit fornication with Joseph and repeatedly asked him to do so. Would a person tempt someone like this to get appendicitis?

Genesis 3:1ff - After Eve sinned, she urged Adam to sin likewise.

Acts 5:1ff - Ananias and Sapphira agreed together to lie about their gift to the church.

Why do people sometimes encourage other people to sin? It is because of the pleasure of sin. They think it will be enjoyable, sociable, or have other advantages. But why would anyone encourage someone else to get a physical disease?

Unlike disease, God says that people in sin will be eternally punished.

God does not punish people for physical diseases which are truly beyond their control. But He will punish people for sin, including the sins psychologists often say people are not accountable for.

Matthew 25:46 - Those who are wicked will go into everlasting punishment.

Romans 2:5-10 - Those who do not repent but continue in disobedience will receive tribulation and anguish.

Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 - Those who are guilty of the works of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God. This includes fornication, drunkenness, stealing, homosexuality, etc.

Revelation 21:8 - The cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.

The fact that God will condemn sinners to eternal punishment proves that He knows they are accountable for their sins.

Unlike disease, the Bible says people can choose to repent of sin and cease the practice.

In fact this is the Bible solution to the problem of sin. The fact God tells people to quit proves that they can quit and that they are accountable to do so. Yet who has the power to quit a disease simply because they are sorry they have it and make up their minds to quit?

Proverbs 28:13 - He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy. People get emotionally disturbed when they are guilty of sin because they try to cover it up. This will not prosper them, but leads to a guilty conscience which shows itself in emotional problems. The solution is confession and forsaking the sin so God can forgive it.

Psalms 51:2,3,8-10 - Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities. The real solution to sin requires godly sorrow, repentance, confession, and forgiveness.

Psalms 32:5 - I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord," And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.

Psalms 38:18 - For I will declare my iniquity; I will be in anguish over my sin.

Acts 8:22 - Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you.

James 5:16 - Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.

The bizarre, erratic behavior of people with emotional problems, even very extreme cases, often begins and continues as cover up to divert attention from their sinful conduct. Consciously or subconsciously they seek to convince people they are mentally unbalanced and therefore not accountable.

Yet even in extreme cases, the real problem with these people is that they know, at least subconsciously, that they are guilty of evil. They are capable of understanding the message of the gospel, repenting, and seeking God's forgiveness. This is the real solution to the problem, and most are capable of doing it.

When psychologists claim these people are not accountable, they contribute, not to the solution of the problem, but to its continuation! There is hope for the mentally and emotionally troubled person when he becomes willing to admit and turn from his sin. (See Adams, p. 14, xvii, 30,31,33.)

[2 Corinthians 7:10; 2 Peter 3:9]

III. Psychology Often Urges People to Accept Themselves as They Are Without Changing Their Sinful Conduct.

A. Teachings of Psychology

Quotations from psychologists:

Carl Rogers describes encounter groups saying, "Each member moves toward greater acceptance of his total being - emotional, intellectual and physical - as it is ..." (Vitz, p. 29). He further says therapy requires the client to feel "unconditional positive self regard," meaning that the client "perceives himself in such a way that no self-experience can be discriminated as more or less worthy of positive regard than any other" (Vitz p. 45,79).

So everything you do, no matter what it is, should be accepted as just as good as anything else you do. In other words, there is no such thing as right and wrong! Whatever you do and however you act, you must accept yourself as you are.

Kilpatrick describes a psychology training film that discusses a divorced woman who is having an adulterous affair. She is ashamed to have her daughter find out about it, so she tells her therapist, "I want to have you help me get rid of my guilt." He does [though she obviously continues the affair], and he then explains that he helped the woman change "from not accepting herself to accepting herself" - p. 75,76.

Kilpatrick (who opposes all this) explains that this is typical of current psychological thinking. When people do not live according to what they believe is right, they have an internal conflict. So:

"The new psychological idea seems to be that we should have harmony at any price. If our actions aren't in line with our beliefs, then we ought to change the beliefs (beliefs being considerably easier to change than behavior).

"This, upon examination, is what a lot of the talk about 'improving your self-concept' amounts to. It means that if your self-concept won't let you feel good about having casual sex, and yet you still want casual sex, then you ought to adjust your self-concept accordingly. The alternative is feeling bad about yourself, and that seems an almost unacceptable alternative these days" - p. 75.

Some of the arguments used by psychologists to get people to accept themselves as they are include the following:

"Don't be afraid to be yourself."

People want to be themselves, so psychologists use this to rationalize doing whatever they want, even if it's evil and immoral. If it's really you, do it! People infected by this thinking continually talk about "being my own person." But the psychologist does not mention the possibility that the person you are is sinful and really needs to change.

"Be honest about yourself. If this is the kind of person you are, just accept yourself."

Honesty is good, so be honest! If you really want to do this, then it would be dishonest not to do it. So be honest and do it, even if it is immoral, etc.

"What you want to do is only natural. Animals in nature follow their impulses and it isn't wrong for them to do it."

Psychologists typically believe that whatever is natural is good. So just "do what comes naturally," just like animals. This amounts to, "If it feels right, do it," regardless of the moral consequences. Of course, this ignores that fact that people are supposed to be better than animals. Doing whatever feels natural lowers us to the level of brute beasts.

"This can be a growthful experience, a learning experience."

Growing and learning are supposed to be good, so evil is rationalized because you are growing, learning something new, and expanding your personality. But this assumes all learning and all progress is good. As Kilpatrick says, whether it's good or bad, anything can fit the definition of a "learning experience."

"You need to improve your self-image."

As described earlier, the reason people don't think highly of themselves is often guilt. They feel bad about themselves because they have sinned. Instead of encouraging repentance, psychologists encourage people to just overlook the sin so they can feel better about themselves. The important thing is not being good, but just feeling good.

What is overlooked is the fact that all these arguments can be used to justify any kind of evil from stealing to murder to sexual molestation. If I have never experienced committing murder, then doing it would be a learning experience. If I really want to do it, should I just be "honest" and "be myself," and "do what comes naturally"? Animals do it.

It is exactly such reasoning that leads homosexuals, polygamists, pedophiles, prostitutes, and people involved in all other kinds of evil to militantly demand that people "accept them as they are." If we don't accept them, they say they don't "feel good about themselves." So its our fault they have guilt feelings. If we would just accept them, they could get rid of their guilt feelings.

The idea is summed up in the popular psychological expression, "I'm ok, you're ok." Nobody is wrong. Nobody is any more right than anybody else. Just accept yourself as you are and accept everybody else as they are.

B. The Teaching of the Bible

Many people truly have physical circumstances or natural limitations for which they are really not responsible and which do not matter in their relationship to God - appearance, height, race, deformities, etc. Such characteristics truly should just be accepted, but none of these are defined as sinful in Scripture. Cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. But this is not true of sin.

No matter how a person acts, we ought to love the person.

But we must "love" them in the Biblical sense, which does not mean that we just accept whatever people do and oppose nothing. It means we should seek the well being of all people.

John 3:16; Romans 5:6-9 - God loved the world and sent Jesus to die for us while we were sinners. God loves sinners and we should too. But does God not care how we act? Does He not oppose evil conduct?

Matthew 22:37-39 - The second greatest command is to love your neighbor as yourself, no matter who your neighbor is. We must love everyone, regardless of how they act.

Romans 12:17-21; Luke 6:27,28 - We should do good to others no matter how they treat us. We should love even our enemies, but does that mean we think whatever they do is just fine? [2 Thessalonians 3:14,15]

God says that some conduct is just not acceptable.

It simply is not true that all conduct is equally acceptable. Some conduct God has decreed to be sinful, and He requires that we not accept it in ourselves or in others.

Jeremiah 14:10 - God said regarding Judah: "Thus they have loved to wander; they have not restrained their feet. Therefore the Lord does not accept them; He will remember their iniquity now, and punish their sins." God does not accept everyone as they are, but expects them to restrain themselves. If they sin, He holds them accountable and will punish them unless they repent. [Cf. v12]

2 Samuel 11:27 - King David committed adultery with Bathsheeba. When she conceived, he had her husband killed to cover up. What if he had gone to a psychologist? He would have been told that, if this is how he honestly felt, then he should be himself and do it. After all, animals do it. He should not feel guilty, but just accept himself as he is. But the Bible says that the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.

Hebrews 11:6 - But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Psychology would say, if you don't believe, be honest about it. Just accept yourself as you are. You can't say one view is any better than the other (though, of course, they prefer unbelief). The Bible says such people cannot please God.

Romans 8:8 - So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Psychologists say to do whatever comes natural. But God says if you do, you can't please Him.

Acts 10:34,35 - God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. God does not accept you simply if you are yourself or you do what comes natural or accept yourself as you are. If you want Him to accept you, you must respect His will and obey Him.

[1 Corinthians 10:5,6; Romans 12:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:14,15; 2 Corinthians 5:9; Proverbs 10:32; Ephesians 5:10,11]

God hates evil conduct and requires us to hate it.

We must love all people, but we must not love everything they do. This is the concept of "hate the sin, but love the sinner."

Proverbs 15:9 - The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but He loves him who follows righteousness.

Psalms 97:10 - You who love the Lord, hate evil!

Proverbs 8:13 - The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate.

Psalms 119:104 - Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.

Psalms 36:1,4 - One reason God condemns evil people is that they do not abhor evil. Not only does God Himself hate evil, he expects us to do the same. If we do not hate evil, then He considers us to be evil.

The problem with psychology's concept of acceptable conduct is that it is entirely based on human ideas, human feelings, and human standards. We cannot determine what is acceptable conduct simply on the basis of nature or feeling good or even simply a matter of honesty. Those are all human standards.

If there is an all-wise, all-powerful God who made us for the purpose of serving Him, then He alone, as the absolute monarch of the universe, has the right to say what is and is not acceptable. His word is the absolute standard. Our duty is to accept what He says and abide by it. If we don't, then we ought to feel guilty until we repent and do what is right.

[1 John 2:15; Psalm 119:163]

If no conduct is better than any other, this means we cannot praise good conduct either.

If we should not view any deeds as worse than any other, then it follows that we cannot accept any conduct as better than any other. We can feel no sense of accomplishment or achievement in having done good. We cannot reward or praise anything as being good. In fact all distinction between good and bad must be eliminated.

Amos 5:15; Romans 12:9 - Hate evil, love good. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. How can we do this if nothing is any worse than anything else?

Hebrews 1:9 - Jesus loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God blessed and honored Him. But how could He love righteousness if no deeds are better than any others? Psychologists say there is no virtue in hating evil or loving good, and in fact there is no way to say anything is good or evil.

Psalms 119:127,128 - I love Your commandments more than gold, yes, than fine gold! Therefore all Your precepts concerning all things I consider to be right; I hate every false way. According to psychology this is all impossible nonsense.

Hebrews 5:14 - God expects people to mature spiritually so that, by reason of use, they have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. People are expected by God to distinguish good from evil, but psychologists say it can't be done.

Man is not an animal. He was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28) and is required to live above animals. When people teach that there is no distinction between right and wrong, they degrade man to the level of animals and destroy the meaning in life (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Isaiah 5:20 - Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! This is exactly what psychologists do. They say you can't distinguish good from evil, then they pretend that people who do evil are no worse off than people who do good. Woe to them.

[1 Thessalonians 5:21,22; Proverbs 17:15; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Psalm 26:3-5]

If people should just accept themselves as they are, then the gospel is worthless and Christ died in vain.

The gospel teaches that Jesus was crucified to save men from the consequences of sin. But if all conduct is as good as any other, then there is no such thing as sin, no such thing as consequences for sin, and therefore no need for Jesus to die!

Ephesians 1:7 - In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace. But if no deeds are any worse than any other, why do we need grace, forgiveness, or Jesus' blood?

Matthew 26:28 - "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." But according to psychology no one needs remission. Just accept yourself as you are.

Titus 2:14 - Jesus gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. But the consequence of psychology is that there are no lawless deeds to be redeemed from and no good works to be zealous for. No wonder most psychologists do not accept the gospel of Jesus!

1 Corinthians 15:3 - For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. The crucifixion of Christ for our sins is the essence of the gospel. But psychology denies the need and the value of this most basic gospel truth. It so doing it denies the truth of "the Scriptures."

Romans 6:23 - For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. But psychology says there is no sin and therefore no wages (except that if we mistakenly listen to our consciences we unnecessarily feel guilty). Therefore, Jesus has no gift to give us, the gospel is worthless, and Jesus died in vain.

[Revelation 1:5; Isaiah 53:5-12; Romans 5:6-10; 1 Peter 2:21-24; 3:18; Hebrews 9:22; 10:18; 1 John 1:7,9]

Psychology cannot meet the real needs of people when it teaches them to just be satisfied with the way they are. Yet in their real inner hearts, people often know this is not enough. They still feel guilty, not because they have overactive consciences, but because they really are guilty!

The gospel of Jesus Christ meets the real needs of mankind, because it provides the only real solution to the problem of guilt. It provides forgiveness by the blood of Jesus Christ.

IV. Psychology Often Justifies Sin in the Name of Freedom And Ventilating Feelings.

A. The Teachings of Psychology

Psychologists often express such ideas.

Vitz says, regarding psychologists who emphasize the self: "For selfists there seem to be no acceptable duties, denials, inhibitions, or restraints. Instead there are only rights and opportunities for change" (p. 38).

Donald Campbell, president of the American Psychological Association, criticized psychology as follows: "There is in psychology today a general background assumption ... that repressive or inhibitory moral traditions are wrong" (Vitz, p. 49).

He also said: "It is certainly my impression, after 40 years of reading psychology, that psychologists almost invariably side with self-gratification over traditional restraint" (Berkley, p. 105).

Many psychologists advocate that clients should freely express what they think and feel, with little or no restraint, on the theory that this "ventilates" the emotion, so it doesn't stay "bottled up inside" and lead to some more extreme evil. Pornography, for example, is justified as an outlet for sexual desires that might otherwise express themselves in violent assaults. This may be compared to shaking pop and letting out the fizz - this "gets it out of its system," so after that it doesn't fizz any more.

The mental hospital chaplain (cited earlier) advised that there is little preachers can do for people in mental institutions except to just "be ventilators for them" (Adams, p. 9). That means we just let them say whatever they feel like saying, no matter what it is.

News on the radio once reported that a group of psychologists viewed the 1992 Los Angeles riot as serving a beneficial purpose, because it gave people an outlet for their frustrations which would otherwise have been kept bottled up. Never mind that dozens of people were mugged, millions of dollars of goods were stolen, millions more destroyed by arson, and 65 people murdered, all of which was entirely illegal. It's all justified because people could ventilate their frustrations!

These ideas are especially common in dealing with children.

Kilpatrick explains (pp. 198-200) that psychologists view children as seedlings that will naturally bloom into beautiful flowers if only adults don't inhibit them and thwart their growth. Parents should not "warp their children's personalities" by requiring them to obey rules and act respectfully.

They think little children are happy because they are uninhibited. If adults would also be uninhibited, we too could be happy. Our emotional hang-ups are the result of trying to follow so many rules and restraints.

In a parent training manual entitled Caring for Children Draper and Draper advocate "allowing children the right to have all kinds of feelings and wishes and to express them freely" (p. 281). So we should just let them express whatever they feel, no matter how rebellious, disrespectful, profane, or hateful their language or thoughts may be. This is the psychological concept of "ventilation."

So again psychologists prove to be experts in rationalizing and justifying sin and immorality. It's all justified in the name of freedom and ventilating our feelings.

B. The Teaching of the Bible

People ought to control and discipline themselves to do God's will.

Galatians 5:22,23 - Self-control is a fruit Christians develop by obeying the Holy Spirit. We are not free to do as we choose but should restrain ourselves to submit to God's rules. [2 Timothy 1:7]

2 Timothy 3:1-4 - Perilous times come when people, among other things, are "without self control." When society believes people need not restrain themselves but may freely "express themselves" in any manner they choose, perilous times have come.

2 Peter 1:5-11 - God expects Christians to add to their lives qualities including self control. These qualities make us not barren nor unfruitful, make our calling and election sure, and lead to an abundant entrance into the eternal kingdom. Those who lack these things have forgotten the purpose for which God saved them. Psychology advocates the very opposite of this passage.

Proverbs 29:11 - A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back. Psychology encourages people to vent their feelings, get it out of their system, etc. The Bible calls people who do such things "fools." Wise people know they must control their feelings and how they express them. [29:20]

Proverbs 16:32; 25:28 - He who rules his spirit is better than he who takes a city. Whoever has no rule over his spirit is like a city without walls. Those who control their emotions are greater than men who conquer and rule a city. Many famous conquerors could not control their own desires, and will be lost eternally. The person who can control his conduct will be saved eternally.

Further, a city without a wall was defenseless, easily captured by enemies. A person who, following psychology, indulges his desires without restraint, is likewise defenseless. Evil can easily enter his life and destroy him. Psychology, instead of helping us deal with problems of life, leaves us wide open to problems.

2 Corinthians 10:4,5 - God provides us with the weapons we need to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. We are not free to do as we please. Even our thoughts are to be controlled by the will of God.

Lack of self-restraint is not in the best interest of anyone. God knows what is best and He says we must restrain ourselves to follow His moral standards. A society that exercises the kind of "freedom" advocated by psychology is a society doomed to sink deeper and deeper into moral degradation and eternal condemnation.

[Matthew 12:50; Acts 24:25]

"Ventilating" sin does not keep us from greater sins. Instead it leads us into them.

Psychologists argue that, by indulging their desires in relatively mild ways, people will eliminate their desire to commit more severe evils - like the fizz in the pop bottle. But restraining these desires causes frustration to build up and break out in more extreme forms of evil. What does God say?

James 1:19,20 - Be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. God says we should not express wrath freely, because unrestrained wrath leads to worse forms of unrighteousness. God says the opposite of psychology.

Proverbs 29:22; 15:1 - An angry man stirs up strife, and a furious man abounds in transgression. A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Again, ventilating our emotions and desires is what leads to greater evils, so we abound in evil.

Proverbs 4:23 - Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. The purpose of restraint is to protect the heart from evil. Conduct comes from the heart. The heart that feeds on evil, will allow evil thoughts to grow and express themselves in greater evil.

Contrary to psychology, practicing "mild" evil does not hinder further evil. Instead it makes evil a habit, ingraining it in our lives and making it more likely, not less likely, that we will move on to greater evils. Meantime we stand guilty before God because of the evils we have committed. To decrease evil, we must do the opposite of psychological theory and restrain our emotions.

Studies have repeatedly shown, for example, that feeding on pornography does not result in fewer violent assaults on women, but rather more. Pornography does not satisfy men's sexual desires but arouses them! Often men act out the forms of sexual perversion they just read or saw. Many have pornography with them as they perform their sexual assaults.

[Proverbs 14:17; Ephesians 4:26,31]

Children specifically need restraint and control.

Psychology says, if you restrain children, they build up frustrations and become more rebellious. Some parents even in the church think the same. They tell others: "Don't be too strict. Don't compel your kids to go to church. Let them experience some of the world's temptations. Otherwise they will rebel and do really bad things." So parents hesitate to stand up to their own children for fear they will really rebel.

1 Samuel 3:13 - God said he would judge Eli's house, because his sons made themselves vile and Eli did not restrain them. Eli's lack of restraint did not prevent his sons from committing more extreme evils but led them to abuse the priests' office, commit fornication, take what did not belong to them, and threaten violence to those who tried to stop them (2:12-17,22-25). God expects parents to restrain their children, not let them ventilate all their desires.

Restraint must be given with love for the child, guided by God's law. But properly given it leads the child to obey and respect God and his parents. God says the unrestrained child is the one that rebels. The lenient approach of the psychologists has produced what we see all around us in society: a generation of immoral rebels.

Yes, children are in some ways like flowers that bloom. But growing a good garden or flowerbed requires exercising control. Seeds must be planted only when the weather is right. They must receive enough water, but not too much. Weeds must be pulled. Good does not grow naturally. It must be nurtured with control and restraint.

Evil desires are not like fizz in pop but like fire. Psychology's approach is like giving kids matches and gasoline with no restraints, then hoping they will only start small fires. But fire that is not restrained leads to an inferno. To stop a fire, you must contain it, suffocate it, and take away the fuel that feeds it. But the best course is to teach children not to play with matches to begin with. That is the approach God's word takes to evil.

Bible freedom is not freedom from restraint, but freedom from sin and its consequences.

2 Peter 2:19 - False teachers promise liberty, but are themselves slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. [cf. v18-22] This is the kind of liberty psychologists recommend - liberty to do as one pleases. God says this leads to slavery and corruption. A person is in bondage to whatever force he obeys. People who practice sin are slaves of sin. [2 Timothy 2:25,26]

John 8:31-34 - Jesus' taught people to know the truth and abide in His word. Then they will be freed from slavery to sin. Bible freedom is not freedom to do as we please or give free rein to our emotions and desires. Bible liberty is freedom from sin and guilt, but to have that we must know and obey the truth.

Romans 6:12-23 - All people are slaves, but we have different masters. And all people are free, but we are free from different things. Those who live free from restraints, as psychologists urge, will become slaves of sin but will be freed from righteousness. Those who obey God's word will be slaves to righteousness, but will be free from sin and eternal death. This is Biblical freedom, but to obtain it we must not let sin reign in our bodies, but present our members as instruments of righteousness to God.

Galatians 5:13 - We must not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh. Freedom in Christ is not license to do as we please.

Most people can find plenty of excuses to rationalize their sins, but often our excuses may not convince others or even ourselves. Excuses that come from psychologists are more convincing, because they are professionals. They have been trained in college and have degrees in excuse making, so they can do it scientifically. They are paid extravagant fees. So when they offer an excuse, people are more likely to believe it!

Psychology offers a false and perverted freedom: freedom from God, freedom from righteousness, and freedom from eternal life. True freedom is freedom from sin and is found only in Jesus Christ.

[Matthew 11:28-30; 1 Peter 2:16; 2 Peter 1:4; Acts 8:22,23]

VI. Psychology Often Says Sin Should Not be Condemned or Rebuked.

A. The Teachings of Psychology

Psychologists often say sinful practices should be handled in a "non-directive, non-judgmental" way.

We are told to listen sympathetically, but never tell people their conduct was wrong or sinful, never rebuke them, never tell them they must repent, never even give them advice. Instead we should just let them express themselves figure things out themselves.

Stanley Anderson is quoted as saying: "The counselor should listen, show no authority, give no advice, not argue, talk only to aid or relieve or praise or guide the client and to clarify the problem" (Adams, p. 78).

Julian Hart is quoted as saying:

"The good pastor in this office is not judgmental, he is not directive ... he is not moralistic. So when someone puts this kind of question to him, 'What ought I to do?' he knows that he must not answer it, whatever else he does or does not do. He is permitted to ask, 'Well, what do you think you ought to do?'" (Adams. p. 78).

Rollo May, in his book, The Art of Counseling is quoted as saying:

"This is a crucial point. The counselee asks for advice. If the counselor succumbs to the temptation ... and gives advice or even specific instructions, he short-circuits the process and thwarts the real personality readjustment of the counselee ...; true counseling and the giving of advice are distinctly different functions ... Advice-giving is not an adequate counseling function because it violates the autonomy of personality. It has been agreed that personality must be free and autonomous; how, then, can one person justifiably pass ready-made decisions down to another. Ethically one cannot do it; and practically one cannot - for advice from above can never effect any real change in the other's personality" (Adams, p. 79,80).

So religious teachers cannot give "advice from above" nor even "specific instructions," even if someone asks for them. To do so won't work and is unethical, because people must be left "free" and independent (autonomous). Here is a practical application of the freedom and liberty psychology advocates.

Rollo May is quoted further as follows:

"This brings us to the matter of moral judgments in counseling. It is clear, first from a Christian point of view, that no one has a right to judge another human being; the command, judge not, is an incontrovertible, particularly since it was given a dynamic by Jesus' own life. And psychotherapeutically in the second place, judging is unpermissible; 'and above all,' as Adler says, 'let us never allow ourselves to make any moral judgments, judgments concerning the moral worth of a human being'" (Adams, p. 87,85).

So psychologists claim that Jesus practiced what they preach, though in fact His life totally contradicted their views. They don't know beans about His life and can't tell Genesis from Revelation, but they know somewhere He once said, "Judge not"!

We earlier quoted the Mental Health Institute chaplain who advised preachers not to rebuke patients in mental hospitals but to just listen sympathetically to their problems.

Carroll Wise is quoted: "We can say frankly that we see no place in pastoral care for the passing of judgment in terms of condemnation or name calling, or of moralistic preachments" (Adams, p. 85).

And remember that these approaches are used for such conduct as homosexuality, adultery, abortion, stealing, etc.

So Adams describes a typical counseling session:

"The client begins the interview: 'I'm really upset.' The counselor focuses upon that word and reflects it back in different words: 'I see that you're torn two ways.' 'That's right,' says the client, 'I'm very distressed.' 'I see,' the counselor replies, 'that you are quite troubled.' 'My difficulty is that I don't know what to do about a certain problem,' says the client. 'You are trying to find a solution,' says the counselor. 'Yes, that's right. I've had problems with homosexuality. Do you think homosexuality is wrong?' asks the client. And his counselor replies, 'I see you are asking me whether homosexuality is ethically or religiously proper'" (Adams, p. 91,92).

You may as well talk to a tape recorder!

So the psychologists forcefully advise us never to give people advice! They tell us we are wrong, if we ever tell other people they are wrong! They rebuke us saying we should never rebuke or condemn sin!

Apparently the only act that is really wrong is the act of telling someone they did wrong! The only act that may be rebuked is the act of rebuking sin! The only advice we can give is to advise people not to give advice!

In short, psychologists do not practice what they preach. What they really mean is we must never rebuke people who do evil. But apparently it is fine to rebuke the good people who are trying to get the sinners to straighten up! And again the psychologists are found protecting evil and taking the side of sin against righteousness and morality.

B. The Teaching of the Bible

The Bible requires us to rebuke sin.

The Biblical approach to sinful conduct is just the opposite of what psychologists advocate. Instead of excusing sin, God holds people accountable for sin. Instead of withholding rebuke and instruction, the Bible repeatedly teaches that sinners must be rebuked and instructed to correct their lives.

Proverbs 19:20 - Listen to counsel and receive instruction, that you may be wise in your latter days. Whereas psychologists say we should not give people advice, God says the opposite. It is often through the counsel of others that we learn what we most need to hear.

Proverbs 28:4 - Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but such as keep the law contend with them. If we excuse and justify sinful conduct, like many psychologists do, we forsake God's law. But those who keep God's law will speak out against sin.

Luke 17:3 - If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. Forgiveness is a fundamental Bible teaching. We must not hold grudges or seek vengeance. But the same Bible clearly teaches that people who sin should be told they are wrong.

Acts 8:22 - By inspiration the apostle Peter told an erring Christian to repent of his wickedness and pray for forgiveness. We must imitate such examples (Phil. 3:17; 4:9). The essence of the gospel is a call to repentance. If we fail to convey that message to those who disobey God, we are false teachers!

2 Timothy 4:2-4 - Preach the word, reproving and rebuking sin. Faithful preaching requires us to rebuke error. Furthermore, the reason we must rebuke sin is that many people will turn from the truth but will want preachers to justify their sin. This is exactly what most psychologists do. They are the kind of false teachers who tickle people's ears, telling them what they want to hear, instead of rebuking their sins.

Passages like this not only tell us we should rebuke sin, but they also tell us to be on guard against who refuse to rebuke sin but excuse and rationalize it, just like many psychologists do!

[Ephesians 5:11]

Jesus' life repeatedly demonstrated the need for rebuking sin.

John 7:7 - Jesus said: "The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil." The idea that Jesus practiced the non-judgmental, non-directive approach of psychology is nonsense. When people suggest such an idea, you can be sure they know nothing of the real life Jesus lived.

John 7:24 - Jesus further said: "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment." About the only thing some people know about the Bible is that somewhere it says, "Judge not." Here Jesus explains about judging. But rather than forbidding all judging, He commanded us to judge!

The judgment that is forbidden is judging by human standards simply because people do something we don't like or because we think but cannot prove they may have done wrong. The Bible nowhere encourages selfish, hateful arguing and bickering. But when people are clearly wrong according to the Word of God, if we love them, we must tell them they are wrong so they can repent and be forgiven.

Revelation 3:19 - Jesus said: "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent." Note that the reason for rebuking sin is so guilty people can repent and be saved.

Jesus' life was really the opposite of what psychologists claim. No one was more directive, more authoritative, or more outspoken against sin. Bible accounts of His life are filled with examples in which He told people they were wrong and needed to repent. Read the Bible and see for yourself!


Once again, we recognize that not all psychologists hold all the views we have discussed. Nevertheless, these views are commonly held and advocated in modern psychology and psychiatry.

Most psychologists stand in direct conflict with Bible teaching about how to deal with sin. As a result they must be numbered among the false teachers who comfort and encourage people in sin, instead of leading them out of it.

As a result psychologists hide from people the only way they can really correct their lives. The only real hope for sinners is to learn they have sinned and then to turn to Jesus for forgiveness. People who really love sinners, like Jesus did, will speak in love to show them their error so they can turn from it, be forgiven, and receive true hope for the future.

For more information about forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, we urge the reader to see the links at the end of this study.


Competent to Counsel, Jay Adams; Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., 1978.

Psychological Seduction, William Kirk Kilpatrick; Thomas Nelson Pub., 1983.

�Psychology and the Bible,� Warren E. Berkley; Gospel Anchor, Dec., 1986-Feb., 1987.

Psychology As Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship, Paul C. Vitz; William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1977.

�Some Things Can�t Be Done,� Warren E. Berkley; Gospel Anchor, ?/?.

(C) Copyright 2005,David E. Pratte;
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Topics for further Bible study

How to Change Yourself (Self-improvement)
Steps to Spiritual Maturity
Solving Conflict in Marriage Relationships
Why Do We Need Forgiveness of Sins?
Individual Responsibility in Salvation
How Can You Be Sure of Forgiveness?
Importance of Repentance
Evidences for God, Jesus, & the Bible
Humanism, Atheism, & Materialism
Why So Much Religious Confusion and Disagreement?
The Importance of Bible Knowledge

In addition, articles on many specific moral issues may be found at our Bible Instruction web site.

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