Jesus, the True Psychologist

C. Mervyn Maxwell

Enhance your mental health set up an appointment with Jesus.

Prior to his death, Dr. Maxwell gave this sermon at the Fairplain Michigan SDA Church, on May 25, 1996. Much of the flavor of preaching has been deliberately left in.


Without using your Bible, please recite with me Matthew 11:28-30. I’ll help you!

"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

Do any of you know the Greek word underlying the word translated "souls"? Our student pastors probably know. It is psyche. Jesus is saying, "Come unto me, take my yoke upon you and learn of me, and ye shall find rest for your psyches." Psyche is the Greek word from which we get the English word psychology. If Jesus knows how to give rest to our psyches, He is a true psychologist.

Are we playing word games? I don’t think so. Let me show you. Without looking it up, can you remember Isaiah 9:6? "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." "Wonderful Counselor."

Yesterday I checked "Counselor" in my Young’s Concordance and confirmed that, yes, it does come from an everyday Hebrew word meaning someone who gives good advice. Jesus the Psychologist is a wonderful Counselor. You have talked with people who were visiting a psychologist or psychiatrist. You have asked, "Is he or she any good?" You have heard the reply, "It’s too early to tell," or "I think so; I hope so." People who have been clients of Jesus say that He is a wonderful counselor! "Who knows better than God how to comfort the bereaved? Who has a better solution for chronic depression than the Lord, who changes the very heart rather than dulling the pain with drugs?"1

Incidentally, in case any of you have forgotten, the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist is that a psychiatrist is a psychologist who is also a physician. I suppose we could say that Jesus, the Great Physician who, according to Psalm 103, "heals all our diseases," is a psychiatrist, but remember that psychiatrists are psychologists too.

Now please turn to 2 Peter 1. So far I’ve asked you to depend on your memory of familiar Bible verses, but most of us will probably need to read our next passage. Begin with verse 2: "Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord." The desire for peace is the reason most people go to a counselor. They hope to find peace through the knowledge and skills of a trained psychologist. Where does this passage say we can find peace? "Through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord."

Now verse 3: "According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue." How many things that pertain unto life and godliness? "All things." Remember that!

Now 2 Peter 1:4: "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." What means, according to this verse, has God given us by which we can partake of the divine nature and escape earth’s corruption? Yes, that’s right, "exceeding great and precious promises."

Jesus is a Wonderful Counselor. How does He go about giving rest to our souls, to our psyches? By having us yoke up with Him and learn from Him. What does He want us to learn? He wants us to increase in our knowledge of God the Father and of Himself, and to take advantage of His exceeding great and precious promises.

Continuing. 2 Peter 1 verse 8: "For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Finally verse 9: "He that lacketh these things is blind."



"He that lacketh these things is blind." Do you know that a great many counselors avoid religion because they think that religion causes anxiety? Do you know that a great many Christian counselors also believe that praying with their clients will increase their anxiety and sense of guilt? Do you know that even in some seminaries—I’m not saying our seminary—future pastors are instructed not to pray with their counselees? The Bible says that "he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins." 2 Peter 1:9

My attention was called some months ago to a book entitled Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology. It was written by a minister who earned a Ph.D. in psychology only to discover how barren and harmful ordinary psychology often is and how very helpful Biblical counseling is. The book was called to my attention by a former Seventh-day Adventist minister, now in mid-life. The wife of this former minister, back when he was an active minister, entrusted herself to a Christian counselor who persuaded her that when she was a child she was abused by her father. The Christian counselor persuaded her to believe this foul thing about her own father, even though she couldn’t remember a thing about it. (I should add here that many secular psychologists are themselves attacking the idea that children forget such traumatic experiences. And I understand that there have been huge lawsuits lodged against some psychologists who persist in persuading their clients that they have been thus abused.) Anyway, having been persuaded to remember something that never happened, the wife, in typical fashion, decided to have nothing to do with her father and her husband; and it is because his home has thus been broken up, that my former minister friend was dropped from the ministry. He is the one who told me about this book. He shared with me several other books as well. I am not a psychologist and make no pretense to being one. But when our pastor asked me to preach for him today, I thought it would be useful to our congregation to devote a few minutes to what I have learned about the differences between much that is called psychology today and the true psychology offered by Jesus.

One thing I have found significant is the observation that there is by no means unanimity among psychologists as to how they should go about their work. There are many, many conflicting ideas out there as to how best to help people. In fact, two researchers have counted up some 250 different theories or branches of psychology in America alone! You may have heard of some of them. Here’s a partial list:

Freud–and his Psychoanalysis

Adler–and his Individual Psychology

Jung–and his Analytic Psychology

Reich–and his Vegetotherapy

Rank–and his Will Therapy

Horney–and his Cultural Therapy

Sullivan–and his Interpersonal Relations

Rogers–and his Client-Centered Therapy

Lowen–and his Bioenergetic Therapy

Janov–and his Primal Therapy

Ellis–and his Rational-Emotive Therapy

And Existential Analysis, Transactional Analysis, Gestalt Therapy, Family Therapy, Child Therapy, Group Therapy, Encounter Groups, Hypnotherapy, Behavior Modification Therapy, Orthomolecular psychiatry, and, evidently, many, many more.2

If any one of them really worked, some sort of consensus might develop. The fact appears to be, however, that psychological counseling usually doesn’t work, or not for long. A prominent psychologist is quoted in the book as saying, "Many benefits can come from therapy, in spite of its weaknesses. According to one review of the research, therapy can help people feel better."3 To which the book replies, "Of course therapy can make people feel better–temporarily. But does it truly change them? Does it help them solve their problems? Do they become more like Christ? Are they led into Christian maturity? Are their thought and behavior patterns brought into conformity to God’s Word? Those should be the tests of effectiveness for Christian counseling."

Some years ago I was asked to preach morning and afternoon in the Seventh-day Adventist church in Napa, California. After the morning sermon I was invited to the home of some friends; also invited were some mutual friends. One of these mutual friends was a psychologist. Now, I had just read in a news magazine that some study had concluded that 70% or so of people with problems get over their problems on their own, with no professional counseling at all. I asked him about this. His response was cheerful and open. He said that probably everyone would be better off without professional counseling. So I asked him why he offers counseling, and he said, "Because people want someone to talk to."

A little while ago I spoke with someone who is paid by the government to counsel prisoners. Does he think that, without being able to bring Christ into his counseling, he is able to do any good? He didn’t think he was doing any good, though he allowed that there might be a very rare prisoner he could help. So why does he stay in the job? "It pays well," he said.

As I look back over my life I think of different people I have known who have visited ordinary, secular psychologists frequently. At the time, I thought they were doing the right thing. But now as I have had time to observe the results, I am certain that the people I am thinking of were badly damaged by the psychologists. Oh, I think that some psychologists are indeed helping people. There are some whom I would be glad to send someone. They are counselors who are experienced at bringing Bible principles and promises to bear directly on people’s problems. There is a new life in the Word! Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. But this, unfortunately, is not true of all counselors.

The book Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology closes each chapter with a story or case history that illustrates what the chapter is about. One of the case histories will make the point for us. It was given as a testimony in front of a church congregation. The speaker is Ellen, the wife of Walt. Ellen’s Personal Testimony "Most of you know Walt and me. You know that we have had some serious problems in our marriage this last year. I want to tell you why and to warn you to avoid the pit I fell into.

"I was abused by my father when I was a teenager. As a result, I felt dirty and worthless for much of my life. Walt and I were not believers when we got married, and we both drank a lot and got caught up in the drug scene. Then Pastor Cliff introduced us to Jesus, and our lives were changed overnight. Some of you remember the change.

"Then, last year, my sister called me and said she had found the solution to our wounded hearts in a seminar being taught by a psychologist headquartered here in Denver. I remember telling her, ‘I’ve already found healing for my heart, Carol. I’ve accepted Jesus as my Savior. He has washed me white as snow.’

"Carol’s response was, ‘You’re repressing your memories, Ellen. Hidden underneath the cheerful veneer is a heartbroken little girl crying for comfort. You owe it to her to go back into the past with a psychologist so you can deal with all the unresolved issues of what Dad did to us.’

"I said to her, ‘But, Carol, I’ve forgiven Dad. He didn’t know the Lord. I still love him in spite of what he did to us. I want him to know Jesus, too.’

"Carol said, ‘You’re just not in touch with your true feelings, Ellen. You’ve got to learn to hate Dad and make him pay for what he did before you can really forgive him.’

"I had never heard Carol sound so bitter. But I promised I would read the book on the wounded heart, so I bought it at the Christian bookstore. As I read it, I began to sense an uneasiness growing in my heart. My old anger and hurts returned, only worse than before. It began to affect my feelings toward Walt, and I withdrew from him. I went out to attend a seminar on sexual abuse with my sister, and came back convinced that only a psychologist could really understand my problems and how to deal with them.

"My anger and bitterness continued to grow until I couldn’t separate my anger at my father from my bitterness toward Walt. Soon I forgot all about the person who actually abused me and directed all my venom at my husband.

"I began regular therapy with a psychologist at $90 an hour, and it was causing us deep financial stress. On top of that, I spent hours on the phone with my sister. If Walt dared to complain about the expenses, I just got even more angry. He couldn’t win. I was angry if he tried to talk to me about my attitudes, and angry if he kept quiet.

"I began to realize that I wasn’t getting better, but now my pride kicked in. I was too embarrassed to admit that therapy was only making matters worse. Walt kept begging me to go to a biblical counselor with him, and I finally agreed....

"I still had enough faith in God to believe that the Scriptures are true, so when the counselor began sharing verses with me, I found that my heart responded. I began to remember what it was like when I first accepted Christ–how free, how clean, I felt. I remembered the joy Walt and I had shared, and I wanted that again…

"The counselor had me read 2 Peter chapter 1 out loud. I understood the deception I had bought into. It was almost like Saul’s experience in the Bible. It seemed like scales fell from my spiritual eyes, and I could see the love of God clearly again. Hallelujah!"4 ( very slightly adapted).


 Let me reassure you that my purpose is not to knock all counselors. Quite the contrary. I think there are some very effective counselors doing good work. I am just bearing my personal testimony that I believe the success of a counselor is measurable by the degree to which he or she is able to put the client in touch with Jesus, rather than in touch with past hurt feelings. From the testimony I just read to you, I would like to select three items for comparison between ordinary psychology and the Bible 1. Conversion. The first is conversion. Remember what Ellen said about it. While I reread what she said, would you please be turning to 2 Corinthians 5:17. Ellen said: "Then Pastor Cliff introduced us to Jesus, and our lives were changed overnight. Some of you remember the change. I began to remember what it was like when I first accepted Christ–how free, how clean, I felt. I remembered the joy Walt and I had shared, and I wanted that again."

Conversion! As I reflect on the people I have known who have gone to ordinary psychologists, my heart cries out, Oh, if only they had gone to Jesus and given their hearts to Him instead. Their homes, their lives, would have known instant happiness.

Now read 2 Corinthians 5:17: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." Folks, how long does it need to take to be converted? Does it take an hour a week for months at $90.00 an hour, or can conversion be free and instantaneous? And what is the new birth? Isn’t it the Holy Spirit—God, the Holy Spirit—coming into you and giving you a whole new outlook, a whole new attitude? All at once you desire to be loving and holy and kind. The way you have been living up to this moment seems all of a sudden dirty and ugly. Say 2 Cor. 5:17 again with me: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."

Ordinary psychologists know nothing about conversion. True Biblical psychologists do, and so does Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor. He says in Ezekiel 36:27: "I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them."

The second comparison I’d like to make between ordinary psychology and the Bible is the direction in which they look.2. Looking backward or looking forward. In typical psychological jargon, Ellen’s sister told her: "You’re repressing your memories, Ellen. Hidden underneath the cheerful veneer is a heartbroken little girl crying for comfort. You owe it to her to go back into the past with a psychologist so you can deal with all the unresolved issues of what Dad did to us."

What does the Bible say? Hear the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:13 and 14. Paul had been abused far more than most people, beaten by the Jews five times, beaten by the Romans three times, stoned once, and plotted against and lied about many times. Did he dwell on the past? Well, he referred to such matters now and then, but to glorify God, not to blame anybody. Now are you ready for Philippians 3:13 and 14? "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

What did Paul do about the cruelties people had inflicted on him in the past? Far from dwelling on them, he let himself forget them so he could think about the wonderful things Jesus has planned for our future. True Bible counseling stresses conversion rather than endless therapy, looking toward Christ’s bright future rather than backward to our bitter past. Dead indeed unto sin but alive unto our Lord Jesus Christ. Forgiving not hating, being kind not angry. Please be turning to Ephesians 4:26 while I pick out another segment of Ellen’s testimony: "But, Carol, I’ve forgiven Dad. He didn’t know the Lord. I still love him in spite of what he did to us. I want him to know Jesus, too." To which Carol said, "You’re just not in touch with your true feelings, Ellen. You’ve got to learn to hate Dad and make him pay for what he did before you can really forgive him.""I love Dad." "You’ve got to hate him." What a contrast!

Do you know what I read in one rather learned book? That some psychologists not only encourage their clients to be angry with their husbands or their fathers or whomever, but actually give them soft baseball bats and assign them to pretend that something in the house is the hateful person and beat it unmercifully, all the time shouting out their anger. They assign them to carry on like this day after day and tell them that in this way they are to get in touch with their real feelings. And what does the Bible say? What does the Wonderful Counselor say? Ephesians 4:26: "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath."

I have had people tell me that in this verse the Bible says we are supposed to get angry. Well, but don’t forget, First, it is to be an anger that is without sin. Second, the anger is to be completed before night fall. And third, this isn’t all the Bible says about anger. Just look down to verse 31 and read that one with me.

Ephesians 4:31: "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice." Especially notice verse 32: "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you."

How much anger and bitterness are we to put away from ourselves? All of it. All of it. Please read the verses with me again beginning with 4:31: "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you."

Now here’s another one, Matthew 5:44, right out of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. As we read it, some of you will notice that part of the verse is missing. Have you got it now?

Matthew 5:44: "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Those of you with versions other than the King James may notice that your Bibles don’t have the clauses about blessing and doing good, for there is some question whether they are present in the underlying Greek in this verse. (There is no question that they are in Luke 6:27, 28.) Everyone should have the first part of Matthew 5:44, "Love your enemies," and the last part, about praying for those who are mean to you. Love your enemies and pray for them. What a contrast to the psychological theory that says you have to hate your enemies before you can forgive them.

Notice that Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor, doesn’t tell us merely not to be angry with our enemies. He counsels us to be proactive, to do something for them. According to the counsel in Ephesians 4, we are to be kind to our enemies and treat them tenderheartedly. According to His counsel here in the Sermon on the Mount, we are to love them and pray for them. This is interactive therapy with participation. Don’t just sit there trying to forget someone. Do something for the person.

Now let us look at Matthew 18:32-35: "Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses."

And consider Paul’s advice in Romans 12:18 to 21: "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved," Paul continues, "avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore," Paul concludes, "if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head." He sums up his counsel in 12:21: "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good."

Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor, taught us to pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." Then in Matthew 6:14 and 15 he said, "If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses"

With such good counsel available to us in the Bible, there is no need for us to spend time and money on ordinary psycologists and psychiatrists!



1. Ed Bulkley, Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology, (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1993), p. 43.

2. Ibid. p. 76, 77.

3. Ibid. p. 71.

4. Ibid. p. 328, 329.