Good and Bad News: Biblical concept of personality development

We get used to the idea that positive changes in a person can happen only as minor modifications, with defects remaining anyway. There are many concepts of personality development (on becoming a person). Almost nobody strives with psychological measures to modify a human being toward being completely good, perfect. However, the Bible suggests this as a valid possibility.

The Holy Scripture sees the process of development, of becoming a person as a restoration (reconstruction, recreation) of perfect human nature, which was lost after the Fall1 or the process of sanctification. For simplicity let us illustrate this process with the means, which Jesus Christ used a lot, a story. This is a theological allegory, “Good and bad news”.

Tom was a terrible criminal. He was proud of not having any conscience, that he had committed every possible crime. Eventually he was caught. He was in prison and was worrying about what would happen next. He was thinking about escaping, even about suicide. But both were impossible. He was too well guarded. He was rehearsing different speeches denying his evil deeds, but none of them sounded persuasive enough. His future seemed absolutely dark. He was aware that he had gotten himself into a desperate situation.

Whom does the Bible consider a law-breaker, a sinner? “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Romans 3:25. It means this message applies to every one of us.

The only thing that prevents reaching perfection and sanctification is sin. What is sin?

“Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness”.-or- “Sin is the transgression of the law”. (KJ) 1 John 3:4, or breaking the Law of God.

What is God’s Law? It is the 10 Commandments, written in the book of Exodus, chapter 20, and verses 2-17:

 1) “I am the LORD your God, You shall have no other gods before Me.

 2) You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them;

 3) You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God,

 4) Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.

 5) Honor your father and your mother.

        6) You shall not murder.

7) You shall not commit adultery.

        8 ) You shall not steal.

        9) You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

        10) You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your       neighbor’s wife, … or anything that belongs to your neighbor”.

 

Who is subjected to trial? “For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat”. Romans14:10.

Once a prison guard came to Tom’s cell and said, “Tom, we have two pieces of news for you, good and bad”. The prisoner was keeping silence gloomily. Nevertheless, at the bottom of his heart he was longing for any changes.  He was ready for the worst though. The guard continued, “The good news is this: a lawyer took your case. And he is the best attorney in the world”.

Who is the defense attorney (advocate) at the universal trial? “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense– Jesus Christ, the Righteous One”. “And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous”. KJV 1 John 2:1.

Tom kept silence. He knew that there was a trap. The guard continued, “The bad news is your case has the best in the world prosecutor”.

Who is the prosecutor? “He great dragon was hurled down– that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray… For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down”. Revelation 12:9-10.

The guard continued, “This is sheer madness to defend you. But anyway the lawyer will come to you tomorrow”. Next day a pleasant man knocked at the door. The prisoner gave a start, maliciously laughed and bitterly asked: “Why are you knocking? You have the key!” “I come in only if I am invited”, the guest replied.

Does Christ intrude in a human’s life without invitation, without knocking? “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me”. Revelation 3:20. The Lord is knocking at the door of our hearts patiently waiting for an invitation. It depends only on us to decide to open this door for Him and to let Him come into our lives and to become our Lord and Savior.

“Well, in this case come in”, Tom said. The guest entered and had a seat. “Who are you?” Tom asked.  “I am a defense attorney. As far as I know you are looking for a lawyer”. “Yes, I am. Tell me about your qualifications. I heard you are very good. But if you are this good, maybe I won’t be able to pay your fee”, said Tom. “I have good and bad news for you. The first good news is that I have not lost a single case. I can guarantee success at your trial if you give yourself into my hands”.

Is it true that justification of a sinner is guaranteed if Christ takes our case? We “are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus”. Romans 3:24. “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life”. 1 John 5:12,13. “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also the sins of the whole world”. 1 John 2:2.

“And the bad news is your fee, isn’t it? Do not hide anything from me. How much is it?”  The prisoner asked. “This is free”. “Sorry, I don’t understand”. “This is free”, the attorney repeated. “Hey, I am not rich, but I don’t need your alms”, stiffly snapped out Tom, “if I only manage to get out of here I will get the money”. The lawyer smiled tenderly: “No, Tom. In order for me to render this help for you need to accept it as a gift. You cannot pay even for a part of this help. It is priceless and that is why it is completely free. It is one of the conditions under which I take your case”.

 

Do we need to pay for salvation, to earn it with good deeds, or is it given for free as a gift? “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast”. Ephesians 2:8.

Is it possible for us to be saved from our sins by ourselves, without Christ? Many people consider themselves good enough and mistakenly believe that they do not have to come to God for salvation, because they will be saved by their own goodness.

A person, who does not know God, unconverted is selfish by his own nature. We were initially born on enemy’s territory, on Satan’s turf. A person, who does not know God is selfish in his nature. True disinterested altruism is missing in us. When we sacrifice something (manifests altruism” in common sense), we are expecting to get something in return. If we do not receive this or we get evil back we feel deceived and hostile to our beneficiary. Without God we cannot love our enemies. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. (Romans 5:7-8)

Without Christ we are eager to “take”, not to “give”. Larry Crabb wrote: “Non-Christians are committed to using resources under their control to make life work for them and to experience whatever satisfying quality of life they can arrange. They do not have the life of Christ as an available energy. Their energy consist of anti-God independence, self-reliance, a “get what you need for yourself then worry about someone else” attitude. That energy can never be improved into something good, but it can be replaced by something good”2.

The transformation of an egoist into an altruist, a sinner into a righteous person can be done only by God, because it requires a replacement of our selfish minds with “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) to think as God thinks. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved”. Acts 4:12. If salvation could be possible for a human due to his/ her own efforts then there would be no need for Christ to die and to redeem sinners with His death.

For a number of minutes the prisoner kept silence, and then asked, “What are the rest of conditions of receiving Your assistance?” “I have some more good and bad news for you. The good news is next: if you want to cooperate with me, all you need is merely ask me for help. And I will immediately deal with your case”.

Is it necessary to ask God for help or for salvation? Some people believe that God is All-powerful and All knowing, thus, He Himself should know everything and do for us what He considers to be necessary. But to know something and to intervene are different things. “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened”. Luke 11:9,10.

And if we don’t ask will we get from God what we want? “You do not have, because you do not ask God”. James 4:2b.

“The bad news is that if I take your case, you will have to confess your guilt”. Tom opened his mouth in astonishment. “But aren’t you guilty?” the lawyer asked. “Oh, yes, I am. But if I confess I won’t have any chance for acquittal. How then can you help me?”

Is it really necessary to accept that we are guilty/sinners? “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy”. Proverbs 28:13. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”. 1 John 1:9.

The way to development (restoration) of a person in Christianity begins with acceptance of one’s sinful fallen state. We need to become aware of our sinfulness, the fact that we lost our perfect state, which humans had in Eden. Because of it emerges the need in a Savior. While a human considers himself to be OK, he doesn’t need any Redeemer.

“I have more bad and good news for you,” the lawyer continued. “The bad news is that: if you plead guilty you will be certainly convicted. And if you won’t accept your guilt the prosecutor has enough evidence to prove it, so one way or another you will receive a guilty verdict. And the death penalty is inescapable”.

What is the verdict for unrepented sin? In any law, there is a punishment for breaking it. It is in the God’s Law also. ”For the wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23. Humans are mortal because we are sinful.

Which criterion will God use in His trial? “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it”. James 2:12,10.

Which Law is mentioned? “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it– he will be blessed in what he does. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder”. If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker”. James 1:25; 2:11.

Sounds pretty harsh. A human being aware that by himself he can’t meet all the requirements of the broken God’s Law might despair.

“Why have a trial if I will get the death penalty anyway?” – desperately cried Tom. “You forget that I have good news also”, the lawyer said. “I will readily take your punishment upon myself and you will be released”. “No, this is impossible!” Tom shouted, “It was not you who led a reprobate life, but me. I did not do any good and I deserve nothing but death. I couldn’t allow you to pay such a high price for my crimes!” The attorney spoke gently, “But, Tom, I have already paid the price. All you need to do it just accept my substitution. It is yours, if you accept it and it is complete. It will entirely pay for all your crimes”.

Indeed, by our own efforts, without God it is impossible to fulfill His Law. But God provides for people this opportunity”. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, {flesh} God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. {Or man, for sin} And so He condemned sin in sinful man, {Or in the flesh} in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature (flesh) but according to the Spirit. For if you live according to the sinful nature (flesh), you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.” Romans 8:3,4,13,10.

Did Jesus truly take our punishment upon Himself? “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God”. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed”. 1 Pet 3:18, 2:24. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life”. John 3:16. “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29. “The blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin”. 1 John 1:7.

After a long silence Tom asked quietly, “Is there anything else that I should know before the trial begins?” The attorney nodded. “Yes, I have some more good and bad news. The next good news is this: you will be forgiven and obtain mercy. You can stand before God and people as if you never sinned. But one piece of news could seem bad for you”. “Which one?” “You will be a criminal no more”. “What do you mean?” “You will become a new person, you will walk along a new way. My job is not only to pay for your crimes. I have something more to fulfill in your life. While waiting for trial, you will no more lie, steal, and kill. You will become a new person, a pure one”.

Is it possible indeed to stop being a sinner if a human accepts Christ? “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians5:17. “You are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins”. Matthew 1:21. “No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him”. 1 John 3:6a.

Is it possible for a forgiven sinner to bury his past sins and to get rid of them so completely that they won’t influence his future life? “You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea”. Micah 7:19. “You have put all my sins behind Your back”. Isa 38:17”.For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more”. Jeremiah 31:34b. 

How can we determine whether a person has truly accepted Christ and abides in Him? “The man who says, “I know Him,” but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys His word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in Him: Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did”. 1 John 2:4-6. “No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him”. 1 John 3:6b. The word “know” in biblical language relates to the process of getting to know through establishing the closest intimate relationships. The same word is used in the book of Genesis 4:1, where the Scripture says about marriage intimacy.

“You will cooperate with me, we will become good friends. Dealing with me day by day you will hate the things you loved and you will love the things you use to hate. You will be an entirely new human”.

If you want to be changed, to become a better human, if you feel discontent with what you are now the Bible has this wonderful news for you about the way of growing in Christ towards perfection and purity. It is really possible. My own life in the Lord convinces me about it. Moreover the state of perfection itself is possible. In the Beatitudes Christ urged His listeners: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. Matthew 5:48. He could not lie to them and to us, calling people to something non-existent.

How does this transformation (sanctification) happen? The Scripture mentions a number of conditions of becoming a complete person. We will name five of them.

1) The central Mediator, Incarnation of human’s essence in Christian culture3 and the Major Example and Ideal for a Christian is Jesus Christ. “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you”. John 13:15. His influence takes place due to scientifically known psychological mechanism of identification: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”. 2 Corinthians3:18. A believer in any life circumstance put him/herself at the place of Christ and imagines what would Christ say or do in such situation. Where can we get reliable information about the character and behavior of Christ?

2) You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about Me”. John 5:39. “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth”. John 5:39. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth”. John 17:17. Sanctification is happening through knowing the Word of God. When we constantly diligently study the Bible, we become acquainted with God’s holiness and God’s will. By being absorbed with the world of the Holy Word of God a human transforms and becomes better. The Bible and the Law of God is called a spiritual mirror. “Anyone who listens to the word… is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror”. Jam 1:23.

Beyond psychological mechanisms, the Biblical way of becoming a person and growing in Christ has special supernatural mechanisms.

3) It is the Holy Spirit’s influence through faith and prayer: And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God”. 1 Corinthians6:11. “From the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth”. 2 Thess 2:13b.

It is necessary to stay with God in a permanent close relationship, to communicate with Him, as with a friend. Jesus said to His followers: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you”. John 15:15. It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God– that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption”. 1 Corinthians1:30. This communication is going on through the Holy Spirit, by means of prayer and faith. “Because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth”. Thess 2:13.b

4) The important condition of sanctification and salvation from sin is faith.For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”. Eph 2:8.

What is biblical faith? “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. NKJ Heb 11:1.

How one can get faith?  “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ”. Romans10:17.

5) Confession of our faith, witnessing for people about the Lord, accepting Christ as our Lord and Savior before the people, is one more requirement of sanctification. “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved”. Romans10:9-10. “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony”. Revelation12:11.

Is sanctification instantaneous act or a long process? “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”. Philippians 1:6. “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day”. Proverbs 4:18.

In Christianity there are several stages on becoming a person: faith, repentance, conversion (=new birth) and, at last dedication.

First step = believe God. Is it enough merely to believe in God’s existence and to go on living according to our own understanding? “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that– and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?” or “dead” (NKJ) Jam 2:19-20.

Real faith should be alive and lead us to victory over sin. “For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God”. 1 John 5:4-5.

Second step = repentance, i.e. feeling sorry for sin, sadness and contrition because of committed sin. “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord”. Acts 3:19.

How is it possible to repent? “God exalted Him to His own right hand as Prince and Savior that He might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel”. Acts 5:31. God gives us repentance. In order to get it we just ask Him to do it. “God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” Romans2:4b.

What is a manifestation of this kindness? God is love”. 1 John 4:8b. When we learn about God’s love and mercy we feel sorry for our sins. The Lord does not state merely in words that He loves us. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Romans5:8. That’s why the Gospel (good news) about crucified Savior is a core (heart) of Christianity. “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified”. 1 Corinthians1:13.

Third stage is conversion and a new birth. “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out”. (NKJ) Acts 3:19. Conversion is complete U-turn of one’s life course, movement in the opposite direction. It means one turns away from sin and leaves it. Almost simultaneously with it new birth happens. Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.  …I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit”. John 3:3,5.

How does this new birth happen?  “Therefore say: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh”. Ezek. 11:17,19. This work depends not on human, but on God. A human only asks God to perform this work in him/her and to fulfill His promise.

A crucial step is following Jesus and dedication of oneself to serve the Lord and our neighbors. “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps”. 1 Pet 2:21.  “Whoever serves me must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves Me”. John 12:26.

Tom, having heard about the perspective of entire transformation, became agitated. “Your perspective of pardon seems attractive to me. But, what if I want to go my own way? Can’t we make a deal so that I only get discharged from punishment? Is it really necessary for me to stop being a criminal?” The lawyer answered, “Forgiveness is valid only for those who want Me to give them a new life”.

Do we need to obey God, to follow His will? “Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” If you want to enter life, obey the commandments. “Which ones?” the man inquired. Jesus replied, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.'” Matthew 19:16-19. Here Christ quotes The Ten Commandments. “And, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him”. Hebrews 5:9. Christ does not leave any place for speculations about the possibility to break God’s law being under God’s grace.

Tom fixed his eyes on the floor for a long time. The attorney was patiently waiting for his decision. Finally, Tom lifted up his head. “I plead guilty. I really don’t want to be a criminal any more. I accept your help”. The lawyer got up and held out His hand. Tom shook it heartily and their deal came into force. “Maybe there is something else I should know before you leave?” “Yes, there is one more last thing. One more piece of good and bad news for you”. Tom smiled: “Tell me the bad one first. I see now that all your bad news are not really so bad!” The attorney smiled back: “The bad news is that we will set the date for your trial”. “Well, come on, is that bad news?” – Tom exclaimed, “With a lawyer like you, why would I want to stay at this place without trial?”

When God’s judgment takes place? “Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come”. Revelation 14:7.

This statement includes a number of important truths for our discussion. First: does fear of God mean to be afraid of Him? “Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning”. Ex 20:20. Obviously God doesn’t want us to be afraid of Him. Fear of God means to revere Him.

Second: what does it mean to give glory to God? Some people believe it means to attend church and to fulfill religious rituals. Is it true? Jeremiah 9:24: “Let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the LORD” NKJ. Don’t misunderstand me. I won’t talk you out of attending church. But this is not enough. Jesus states, that halfhearted Christianity is worse, than unbelief (Revelation 3:15-16).

Third: Apostle John, who was writing the book of Revelation in the late 1st century, stated that the hour of the judgment “has come” already. In the last verses of Revelation, Christ said: “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done”. Revelation22:12. It is obvious that the trial takes place before His second coming. All signs of the times show the Second Coming of Christ is near, “right at the door” (Matt 24:33). He can come any moment now. This time for repentance make us greatly responsible and is calling us to step forward on the way of sanctification.

Tom wondered, “What is the good news?” The attorney looked in his eyes. “When you come in court, I will be not only your defense attorney; I will also be your judge”.

Who is the Judge at God’s trial? “The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son”. John 5:22.

Summary. Here is presented the Biblical view of becoming a person as being the re-creation of perfect human nature that was lost at the Fall of man. For its accomplishment we have to admit we are sinners, who need a Savior. To become perfect and holy we need to invite Christ to come into our hearts. We must ask Him to be our Lord and personal Savior and to help us to overcome sin. Salvation is provided by God as a free gift through the death sacrifice of our Lord by grace through faith. Having confessed before God our specific sins, we receive God’s forgiveness. Four conditions put sanctification into effect. They are: identification with Christ, a personal relationship with Him of living faith, studying God’s Word and confession of faith. The stages of personality development (sanctification) are: living faith, repentance, conversion and devotion. Sanctification is very urgent because we are living during God’s judgment hour.

 

© Copyright 2006 Tatyana Noel-Tsygulska, Ph.D

 

Unless otherwise noted all the biblical references are taken from NIV (New International Version) of the Bible.

Оригинал на русском языке – Хорошая и плохая новость: библейская концепция становления личности

References:

 

 

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  1. Yancey Ph. Disappointment with God. Three Questions No One Asks Aloud. Harper Collins Publishers, 1988, 319 p. [-]
  2. Crabb L. Connecting: Healing of Ourselves and Our Relationships. A Radical New Vision. World Publishing, 1997, p.36 [-]
  3. Братусь БС. Образ человека в гуманитарной, нравственной и христианской психологии // Психология с человеческим лицом.: — М.: Смысл, 1997. — С. 67—91. [-]