What if medication is a tool that helps us resist sin?

IMG_0905In the fifth installment of our Winter 2015 blog series, Sin, Mental Illness and the Church, we examine one perspective Christians might ponder in considering medication or psychotherapy as treatments for mental health conditions that increase our propensity to engage in sinful behavior…

From the Apostle Paul…

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

Romans 7:15-25 (ESV)

What if some of us have “broken brains” as a consequence of the Fall? What if our spiritual self seeks to do right and to avoid sin, but we experience a mental health condition that increases our predisposition to some specific sin? Could we argue that medication (or other treatment) that enhances our ability to avoid sin or to do good might be a useful tool for the individual Christian? Further, could we argue that the decision to take medication under such circumstances is God-honoring?

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Matthew 5:22 (ESV)

We know that people with ADHD often struggle to self-regulate their emotions and are prone to impulsive speech and behavior. If medication helps a Christian with ADHD to avoid injuring others through their words or actions, would that be desirable?

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6:18-20 (ESV)

We know that impulsive sexual behavior is often associated with manic episodes seen in persons with Bipolar disorder and is a frequent complication of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Is it desirable for Christians to take medication to prevent the recurrence of manic episodes that impair one’s ability to self-regulate inappropriate sexual behavior or to engage in evidence-based treatments including Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to reduce impulsive sexual behavior associated with BPD?

What if due to our anxiety or obsessiveness we become prone to hoarding our possessions, struggle with generosity when we’re directed to give or become so preoccupied with past wrongs that we’re unable to forgive? Would making use of medication or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) be the right thing for a Christian to do?

“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

Matthew 18:7-9 (ESV)

I’m not in any way suggesting that we forego spiritual approaches for dealing with these challenges. We have time-tested spiritual disciplines to help with all of the issues described above. But given the seriousness of Jesus’ words pertaining to sin, why would we not want to consider the use of any God-given means necessary to avoid sinning as an adjunct to spiritual disciplines if we’re convicted of such sin in mind and soul, aware of a mental condition that increases our propensity to sin and able to access medical or psychotherapeutic treatments that may help us to avoid sin?

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GA-Social-Media-StephenGrcevich-1Consider joining us this winter for Key Ministry’s online group study that will accompany our blog series…Sin, Mental Illness and the Church. This study will be a combination of Bible reading/study and supplemental readings/material to enlighten participants as we examine the following questions…

  • How has the understanding of mental illness evolved in the evangelical movement in America over the past half-century?
  • How do past and current attitudes in the church influence outreach efforts to families of children and teens impacted by mental illness?
  • What can we learn from Scripture of God’s purposes in the lives of those impacted by mental illness?
  • How can we help more kids and families impacted by mental illness to experience the love of Christ through involvement in a local church?

Anyone can join us, but a Facebook account is required. Click here to register!

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, www.church4everychild.org was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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4 Responses to What if medication is a tool that helps us resist sin?

  1. Heidi Viars says:

    Would those who are not taking meds be sinning, if they knew it helped them? Not sure if I can follow you on that train … praying for the Lord to show me. Thank you though, for your boldness and raising the questions.

    Like

  2. Zoe says:

    This is assuming medication fully controlled these “sinful” impulses. Which is often not the case. I’m medicated now but I am still prone to recklessness. So is the medication helping me from not sinning? No. My faith is what helps me, if anything. Which isn’t to say it’s true for everyone — and that’s precisely why we have to view these things as individual cases.

    For many people with mental health issues medications aren’t a “cure.” Our medications aren’t like those for high blood pressure — it doesn’t “control” things that well.

    It’s also important to understand not every defined symptom is an issue for everyone. I have bipolar disorder and I was celibate even without medication. Sexual impulses have never been an issue for me. We’re not all the same.

    Thanks for sharing this unique viewpoint though — it gives a lot to think about. I just hope churches don’t fall into guilt-tripping people into medication when even “normal” non-mentally ill people can be just as prone to “sinful” behavior — often as bad or recklessly — and we’re not pushing the concept of drugs on them to ‘control’ their impulses.

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    • drgrcevich says:

      Zoe,

      Thanks for your comments. Unfortunately 100% of us are guilty of sinful behavior, and there is no medication or treatment outside of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. You’re also correct that our medications don’t control our symptoms as well as we would like. I threw this out because there are many who still believe than sin is the cause of much or most of what we characterize as mental illness.

      Liked by 1 person

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