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In Gospel Hall assemblies I think we have a pretty solid grasp on soul winning. The word “Gospel” is right on most of our buildings and we generally are pretty keen on seeing souls saved.

But what happens after you win the soul? Well, we often fall flat when it comes to soul healing, despite the fact that this too is one of the provisions of the cross-work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Soul Winning vs. Soul Healing

A good part of that discrepancy between winning and healing may be due to how we see human nature: I believe our theology of human nature is Biblical, but perhaps Biblically incomplete.

I do not need to make a case for sin and sins. We know that we are born in sin and that we commit sins because we are sinners.

We know that in Christ, our old man is crucified but we still have the flesh. We attribute our ongoing acts of sin to the flesh.

We hope to sin less and less frequently over the course of our lives through the work of sanctification: that transforming that comes through the renewing of our minds by the work of the Holy Spirit.

This is all good theology and I would not change any of it.

Where Are the Wounded?

But if you look around our assemblies: we do not have very many addicts (or at least, we do not think we do). We do not have very many people living with severe mental health issues. We do not have a lot of people from highly dysfunctional homes and families. I am not saying we do not have any dysfunction — we have plenty, but very very few very dysfunctional families.

I believe these people are not present because our theology is not comprehensive enough to embrace them. We don’t know how to love them, so God cannot bring them to us. And those of us who may fit into these criteria do not feel safe enough to speak openly of our own brokenness and dysfunction.

So we are very good soul winners. But we tend to lose people who get saved from more broken kinds of backgrounds simply because we are not competent soul healers. These folks may come for a little while, but they soon figure out we do not have what they need: in our love for others, or in our teaching or in our shepherding.

Sadly, at some level I think we are OK with this — and we may even admit we like it better this way if we are really honest with ourselves.

But the problem is it is both un-Christlike and unbiblical. Allow me to explain.

How is it un-Christlike? Think, for example, of the number of sexually broken women the Lord ministered to: 

  • The woman at the well in John 4;
  • The woman caught in adultery in John 8;
  • The harlot in the house of Simon the Pharisee, crying and caressing his feet as she cleans them with her tears and perfume — if I was there, I would have been very uncomfortable.
  • Even consider the mention of Tamar and Rahab into the lineage of our Saviour.
  • Some tradition indicates Mary Magdalene, a close supporter of the Lord, was perhaps an ex-sex trade worker.

I don’t mean to imply any impropriety by the Lord Jesus Christ — rather, these women actually felt safe with him and that’s why they were there, and finding salvation, and finding healing in him.

Coming to our times: consider the amount of sexual brokenness in our world today — compare the percentage out there to the percentage in here. Why are they not the same? Where are these women in our assemblies? Where are the men?

I believe we miss out on a whole segment of the population because we have failed to observe and embrace the biblical concept of brokenness or brokenheartedness. This is a demographic that is ripe for the gospel.

But when sin is our only explanation for things that go wrong, we may fail to notice, understand, and know how to respond appropriately to very broken people.

Further, our ignorance of brokenness means we also really fail to understand our own personal needs and as a result, never really find our own healing in Christ.

Is Brokenness a Biblical Concept?

Is this just psychobabble?

I asked myself the same question some time ago: is brokenness a Biblical concept? Or have I let my psychology training clutter my understanding of soteriology and hamartiology?

So I searched the Scriptures for the word, “broken”. Here is what I found:

  • Job 17:1 (& v.11) “My spirit is broken, my days are extinguished, the grave is ready for me.”
  • Psalm 31:12 “I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; I am like a broken vessel”
  • Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit”
  • Psalm 38:8 “I am feeble and severely broken; I groan because of the turmoil of my heart.”
  • Psalm 51:17 “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, you will not despise”
  • Psalm 69:20 “reproach has broken my heart…”
  • Psalm 147:3 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds”
  • Proverbs 15:13 “A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken”
  • Prov 17:22 “A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.”
  • Prov. 18:14 “The spirit of a man will sustain him in sickness, but who can bear a broken spirit?”
  • Isaiah 61:1 “…He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted”
  • Luke 4:18 quotes Isaiah 61:1

I take it from these Scriptures that there is a very significant aspect of human ruin that runs parallel to our own sin. Deep wounds that come often from the sin of others or ourselves, or come as a result of living in a sin-broken world. Sometimes I call this human brokenness. Sometimes brokenheartedness, sometimes just being broken. I believe these are all Biblical terms. They are theological terms and they are relevant to our world and we need to become conversant with them.

In assemblies we make no pact with sin. We do not accommodate sin. Nor am I asking us to. But the refusal to accommodate sin and the accompanying lack of understanding of brokenness means that we have no idea what to do with people who experience addiction, self-harm, eating disorders, severe depression and anxiety, PTSD. We don’t really know how to help women who repeatedly find themselves in destructive relationships, or young people who fall into sin again and again, or even a brother who is a fine Christian but just cannot quite kick that cigarette habit. We cannot help them because we don’t understand brokenness.

Take addiction: the acting out behaviour is sin. We love the testimonies that seem to show victory over addiction: the night I got saved I went to the liquor cabinet and poured every last bottle down the drain. Four years later the person is a bright shining testimony in the gospel: they’ve gained 60 pounds (that’s a food addiction) and preach the gospel a lot (they have an approval addiction) and they have a manic interest in gospel work and a busy career (that’s a work addiction). And we think this is great. It is. Kind of. But we’ve really only helped the person switch to a socially acceptable set of addictions. And we then continue to enable those addictions rather than confront them in a way that moves them towards soul healing while helping them discover how to do the work of God from a place of wholeness in Christ.

Christ as Healer

When our Lord proclaimed in the synagogue at Nazareth that he had come to heal the brokenhearted he was saying that he not only came to deal with the problem of sin, but to actually minister to the wounds of sin as well. Now do we start to see why Isaiah said he shall be called “Wonderful Counsellor”? It is true, as the Psalmist wrote so beautifully: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (147:3).

Christ came not just to provide salvation from sin, but to provide healing from the wounds of sin for His followers.

The question is: how does He provide this healing today?

Consider the words of Isaiah 53: “Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” — those verses very clearly indicate that part of the work of Christ was not only to cleanse us from sin, but to bear the consequences of that sin as well. He carried our griefs and our sorrows and in verse 5 the last phrase says “With his stripes we are healed”. 

You don’t heal sin. Sin is cleansed or it is forgiven. Healing is for wounds: for brokenness. 

More Than Judicial

May God touch our hearts that the cross was not only a judicial process but it was also — can I say it? Therapeutic. Maybe that’s too uncomfortable. Let’s go for medicinal — he provided not only cleansing but also healing. Think of the story of Naaman as he dips in the muddy river seven times — not only is the leprosy itself cured and healed, but it says that his flesh was restored as the flesh of a little child. Not just elimination of sin, but of the wounds of sin as well.

Consider the exhortation of James 5:16 “Confess your faults to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” Not “forgiven”, but “healed.”

Now I am not asking you all to become therapists today in order to start helping each other heal. You already have access to the most profound healing agent on planet earth: divine love. You can see this in 1 John 4:18 “perfect love casts out fear” — adoptive parents here today will know about attachment theory. My colleagues think attachment theory (the science of love) was first studied and articulated in the 40’s — here is evidence of attachment theory from the first century. 

It All Comes Down to Love

Do you know what the single most important factor in effective psychotherapy is? Regardless of technique, regardless of what school of thought you were educated with, regardless of whether you have a masters or a Ph.D….the most important factor in effective psychotherapy is what we call therapeutic alliance with the client. Therapeutic alliance is all about the relationship that we have with the people who come to us for help: they need to know we are in their corner, we are not going to abandon them, and we are not going to judge them. Sounds…Christ-like. You can do this too.

I think this is why in 1 John 4:20 and v.21 the apostle is so blunt: if you are a believer, love your brother. When you do that, your brother will experience Christ and your relationship — just by virtue of that high quality love — will become a place where the wounds of sin begin to heal. 

Many believers can provide this context for healing. But I believe shepherds are gifted especially for this work: we feed souls so they can grow but we also we nurture them so that Christ can heal them.

The bottom line in my exhortation to you today is not to underestimate the reach and redemptive of a loving shepherd. Be that the Chief Shepherd, or one of His under-shepherds.

Your love and care, delivered in a consistent, safe, respectful, humble way will act as a healing agent in the lives of believers who God brings into your care.

Let’s keep on soul-winning, but let’s also strengthen ourselves as channels of healing so that the work of Christ is not just about rebirth, but about growth and maturity as well. 

About the author

Caleb Simonyi-Gindele

An overseer himself, Caleb's mission is to help other elders lead their local assembly through some of the unique challenges of the 21st century: both doctrinal and shepherding. More about Caleb.