Biblical Approach to Bad Behavior

A counselee I was seeing for depression and anger issues, once had this response when I asked her how her week went:

“I really messed up this time. I yelled at my kids, and they didn’t even deserve it! I was so irritated with their behavior that I just snapped and started screaming. I realized almost as soon as the first sentence came out of my mouth that I was blowing it, but I couldn’t stop. I was just so mad.”

She continued to describe the incident, sharing with me about what happened when her husband came home:

“Well, I had told the kids I was sorry, but I felt really bad about my slip-up. When my husband got home, I was irritable and snappy with him, because I was just so mad at myself. I had to apologize to him too, but that didn’t help either. I went to bed depressed, and cried myself to sleep. Sometimes I think I’ll never get this temper under control!”

The Language of Truth

As I listened to my counselee, I was making notes about the words she had chosen to describe her actions. Many times, the language our counselees use to describe their problems can give us a clue as to why they are not finding victory. I’ll explain what I mean by sharing with you the questions I asked my counselee about her word choices, using the quotes above as an example.

“I really messed up this time.”

Questions: What does that mean? What is the biblical word for ‘messed up?’  

Did my counselee make a mistake when she yelled at her kids? If I ‘mess up,’ that might mean I forgot to carry a number in my check book, or I bumped the curb when I turned the corner. Yelling and screaming at your kids is not messing up. Yelling and screaming at your kids (or anyone else) is an uncontrolled outburst of wrath, and it is sin.

“I was so irritated with their behavior that I just snapped and started screaming.”

Questions: What kind of behavior were you expecting? What entitles you to have what you expect? What is the reason that the behavior was not brought under discipline before it got to that point? Was everything calm and cool before you “just snapped,” or were there warning signs that you were becoming angry, which you chose to ignore?

When someone tells me they are irritated with something, it’s a sure sign that they believed they were entitled to something else. Any sense of entitlement is an attitude of pride. Also, at least in parenting, behavior that reaches the point where Mom wants to scream is usually a behavior that should have been addressed much sooner. This is often the result of distraction or just plain laziness on mom’s part.

With very rare exceptions, no one “just snaps.” There are always thoughts and warning signs leading up to a sinful outburst of anger. Mom may choose to ignore or stuff them, but they are there, and it is a decision she makes to either address or ignore them.

“I realized almost as soon as the first sentence came out of my mouth that I was blowing it, but I couldn’t stop. I was just so mad.”

Question: Was there an unseen force that took over your body and made you keep yelling and screaming?

This may sound facetious, but it gets the point across quickly. Obviously, this part of her report is a lie, whether or not she sees it. Of course, she had a choice to stop screaming, even in the midst of her angry outburst. Her decision to continue led to her sin.

“Well, I had told the kids I was sorry, but I felt really bad about my slip-up.”

Questions: How does the Bible teach us to express sorrow when we have hurt someone? Where in the Bible do people say they are sorry? What is the biblical word for ‘slip-up’?

Apologizing for a slip-up is not the path to reconciliation. Asking for forgiveness for sin is. My counselee “felt really bad” because she had not repented and received forgiveness from God and her children for her sin.

“When my husband got home, I was irritable and snappy with him, because I was just so mad at myself. I had to apologize to him too, but that didn’t help either.”

Questions: What do you think is the reason your apologies didn’t help your mood?

This is where we will begin to discuss the difference between messing up and sinning, between apologizing and repenting. She went to bed depressed (sorrowful without hope), and rightly so! There is no hope in apologizing for a mess-up. There is, however, great hope in repenting of sin and receiving forgiveness!

The point of dissecting these few sentences is to show you the importance of using biblical language when you are trying to address counseling issues. Most counselees aren’t even aware that the language they use to describe their sin makes a difference in whether or not they will overcome it. Let’s rephrase my  counselee’s report, to see if it makes a different impact:

“I really sinned this time. I yelled at my kids, and they didn’t even deserve it! I was so entitled and prideful about their behavior that I just ignored the warning signs that I was becoming sinfully angry, and made a decision to start screaming. I realized almost as soon as the first sentence came out of my mouth that I was grieving the Lord, but I held fast to my decision and exercised my will to continue. I was just so sinfully angry!”

And about her interaction with her husband…

“Well, I had told the kids I was sorry, but I felt extreme guilt about my sin. When my husband got home, I was prideful and sinfully angry with him, because I had not received forgiveness for my sin. I had to apologize to him too, but that didn’t help either. I went to bed sorrowing without hope, and indulged in self-pity. Sometimes, I think I’ll never get this sinful anger under control!”

Biblical Language Pierces the Heart

Do you see how using biblical language shines a very bright light on sin, and makes it crystal clear what needs to happen to bring about change? My counselee certainly did! As she learned to use biblical language to describe her temptations and sins, her heart was more readily pierced, and she began to hate even the idea of knowingly sinning in these ways. One thing she said in this quote was probably true: Thinking and speaking the way she was about it, she likely would never have overcome it.

There is no hope in “feeling guilty.” When we have sinned, the only way to freedom is repentance. If I don’t know or acknowledge that what I have done is sin, how can I be forgiven? How can I be restored to a right relationship with Christ and with the person against whom I have sinned? I will continue to sin, apologize, and feel bad forever if I don’t understand and apply the truth of Scripture to my behavior.

Are there areas of your life, or perhaps your counselees’, where you think using more consistently biblical language could help in overcoming a pattern of sinful response? Reply in the comments, and let’s talk about it!

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