We are rational people, and we have a rational gospel.
As Americans, for the most part, we have a love of knowledge. As evangelicals we readily identify with the verses that call us to knowledge. We spend much of our “faith time” in Bible studies learning more, and we love when a new perspective is brought to our attention. Even if it only adds information to a passage with which we are very familiar. We even have justification for perpetual Bible studies: 2 Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth,” and 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
The gospel explains the way of salvation by knowing the truth. Our tendency as the body of Christ over the generations has been to explain the truth by forming doctrinal statements of belief by which we compare our beliefs with other denominations. The human soul identifies with a chosen doctrine and pride attaches to it, and we can defend and argue our point of view as the best interpretation of theology. This practice, unfortunately, can shift us from loving one another to criticizing one another.
When we fix our eyes on doctrine and theological perspective, we run the risk of being seduced by a religious spirit — the same religious spirit that blinded the Pharisees from seeing Jesus for who He really was, the Messiah. John 5:39-40 states, “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life” (NLT).
So we must be careful that we guard our hearts from this temptation so that worldly and soulful influences don’t hinder us from knowing the truth. This is where we shift from the rational gospel to the relational gospel. Please don’t misunderstand that we are choosing one over the other. Rather, we are shifting to a higher gear of faith by knowing the Father and understanding who we are in Him.
To illustrate this point, I’ll share about Pamela (not her real name). She was active in faith, involved in ministry, led Bible studies, and helped women to receive Christ. Yet her prayer life was stunted, and her emotions did not reflect the joy that she talked about. In her heart, she felt that God was ignoring her or perhaps had abandoned her. Pamela worked harder hoping that her service would make God happy enough to meet her deep inner longing. She read passages of God’s love, but she did not feel it.
Lifting Shame’s Burden
When Pamela came to me for prayer ministry, I was not surprised to learn that she had grown up in an abusive home. Her case was one of the more extreme ones and, unfortunately, not that uncommon. Her alcoholic father physically beat his wife and two daughters. Pamela, being the oldest, often took the worst beating and sexual abuse. To protect her little sister, she would go with her father. By the age of 10, it got so bad that that she would hide under the stairs with her sister holding a pistol to make sure the abuse didn’t happen again.
No wonder she struggled to feel love from her heavenly Father. I asked if she could speak forgiveness of her dad, but she couldn’t. The anger, rejection and injustice had formed deeply rooted strongholds in her soul. I asked if the childhood experiences had led her to youthful rebelliousness and promiscuity. She admitted yes, and it carried into her early adulthood and an abusive first marriage. When she accepted Christ, things began to turn around, but then her faith grew dry and ineffective for a victorious walk. Her second marriage was an improvement by sharing it with a man who also followed God in service.
I led Pamela to cut the soul ties of her previous sexual immorality. Even though she was functionally repentant by being faithful to her husband and not interested in any former partner, the Accuser was still using the past sexual sin to bind her in shame and guilt. Once she confessed the sin and brought it to the feet of Jesus, she realized that she had taken power away from the Enemy and felt the burden of shame lift off her. Then she was able to honestly forgive her father for his evil behavior and emotional detachment.
Following this experience of demolishing strongholds, Pamela felt a spiritual vibrancy and connection to God that she had never before realized. She came to know the truth by trusting the biblical teaching of sanctification, to strip off entangling sin so you can fix your eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1–2). She could now engage in personal worship and sense the Lord’s presence and hear His voice. Scripture became a treasure of hope rather than a labor of learning. Her knowledge of God became knowing Him personally when she believed and experienced freedom in Christ.
Released From Lust
Being blocked by feelings or thoughts of guilt or shame are indicators of agreement with lies. Martin (not his real name) loyally attended church with his family and served in various capacities. By all outward appearances, he was a good Christian. When he came to me, I asked about his prayer life. He admitted that he was too busy, but he thought about God and played Christian music throughout the day. Martin didn’t like to pray out loud in groups and deferred to his wife to pray at home. As I pressed in, he finally confessed that he felt ashamed and unworthy to talk to God. The roots of shame began when he was introduced to pornography and self-gratification as a young teen. As a high school athlete, he desired to be popular so began drinking and indulging in party sex. This continued until he renewed his faith in Christ and got married. He was unable to fully give up his porn habit and chose to live “religiously” to hide his secrets.
As Martin was confessing his strongholds and declaring repentance, he suddenly stopped short. He began breathing heavily and looked up with bloodshot eyes that squinted into a hateful piercing gaze. Then with his voice, but not his own words, he said, “He’s not going to release me. He wants me here.”
This lust demon had enough stronghold dominion to manifest in Martin’s will and body. When I bound the demon to silence and asked Martin if he was aware of what happened, he said yes. He also felt disgusted and was eager to repent and renounce his devotion to the idol of lust. I challenged the demon, who then seemed like a withered old man. Martin did another step of cutting soul ties and asking forgiveness for the first day he loved the feelings porn gave him. The demon was cast out and Martin felt clean for the first time in his life. Over the next couple of years, the struggles of lust would return, but he had learned to resist the devil and fight the good fight of renewing his mind in Christ. Forming new thought patterns is essential to victorious living.
Strongholds vs. the Spirit
An important aspect to understand about strongholds or entanglements is that they hinder the impact of the Holy Spirit in our soul, mind, will, emotions and identity. The Spirit is at work through inspiration, conviction and guidance to form His fruit in our souls. Strongholds impede that process by causing us to doubt, fear or be trapped by ungodly beliefs and perpetual negativity.
There are four primary ways in which strongholds are formed: unconfessed sin, unforgiveness, generational sin or curses, and invitation. Going back to Pamela’s example we see that she harbored unforgiveness toward her father for decades. She believed and identified with lies that she was not worthy of intimacy with God. The dysfunctional and abusive relationship with her father was repeated in her first marriage (generational). She invited more strongholds and soul ties through sexual sin before and outside of marriage. And finally, she was insufficiently taught about the importance of confession and repentance leading her to remain bound by sin even though she had put her faith in Christ. She learned to walk in freedom and trust her Father.
Another key principle of spiritual growth and deeper trust is the renewing of your thought patterns. Coming into agreement and acting on negative thoughts or self-defeating attitudes trap you in aggravating cycles of disappointment and guilt. Our well-known verse is Romans 12:2, and I use the Amplified version for added emphasis: “And do not be conformed to this world [any longer with its superficial values and customs], but be transformed and progressively changed [as you mature spiritually] by the renewing of your mind [focusing on godly values and ethical attitudes], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His plan and purpose for you].”
Renewing your mind requires the power of truth. We must be engaged in biblical revelation for the most impactful process of shifting thought patterns to godliness. In Ephesians 1:17–18, we find the direction we need, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.” Bible study should include listening time, not just reading another commentary.
To receive wisdom and revelation requires cooperation with the Holy Spirit who will turn biblical truth into renewed thoughts, attitudes, conduct and empowerment. True transformation is identified by love, joy, peace, self-control, increased faith and giftedness. This is how we continually explore God’s heart and discover our real identity and effectively love others. (Read Psalm 51:1–13 and Ephesians 3:16–19.)
Rob Reimer, in his book “Soul Care,” offers a solid description: “Your identity in Christ is the foundation of a healthy soul. Who you are determines how you behave. What you believe about yourself influences your level of maturity, peace, and soul health.”
Our witness and walk of faith will only reflect the love of God as we increasingly know Him as Father. As we depart from our slavery to darkness, we are growing into our kingdom inheritance as sons and daughters. Each step toward greater freedom through the healing of wounded emotions, recognizing and uprooting sources of fear and doubt, or declaring a fresh commitment draws out our Christ-likeness. This holy transition is only effective when our beliefs lead us to deeper and deeper discovery of the Father’s embrace.
In his book, “Prophetic Wisdom,” Graham Cooke writes, “If our study has not led us to practical encounter, then our head will always overrule our heart in matters of faith.” He goes on to explain that, “Theology without experience can never be Truth. It can be right. It can be accurate. However, if it does not release people into personal freedom and transformation, it is not the Truth. It is merely true. The Truth sets us free. … Scripture is true because Jesus is the Truth.”
In our Wesleyan tradition, experiencing sanctification and transformation are high values. The experience of corporate worship must be a time of encountering the Holy Spirit, not just hearing about Him. Our personal worship should fill us daily with His presence and sharable love for others.
In the Amplified version, 2 Peter 1:2-3 illustrates this point: “Grace and peace [that special sense of spiritual well-being] be multiplied to you in the [true, intimate] knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. For His divine power has bestowed on us [absolutely] everything necessary for [a dynamic spiritual] life and godliness, through true and personal knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.”
Ours is a faith based on the Truth. Let us live the rational gospel of truth that always leads us to the relational knowing of the Father.
Mike Henry, D.Min., is the pastor of Freedom Ministries at Sage Hills Church in Wenatchee, Washington. He has been a missionary and pastor for more than 30 years and has led more than 2,000 individuals in steps of inner healing and deliverance.3