Psycho-spiritual Dissonance

“If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
Galatians 5:25, KJV.

I have coined this term “psycho-spiritual dissonance” to point up a major issue in discipling believers. The word “psycho” comes from the Greek word for “soul”; “spiritual” refers to God’s Spirit residing in the believer’s new spirit (Rom. 8:16). “Dissonance” is defined as a “lack of agreement; especially: inconsistency between the beliefs one holds or between one’s actions and one’s beliefs.”[1] So psycho-spiritual dissonance is the inner tension between the new life in the believer’s spirit and the independent functioning of one’s mind and will (soul). As a biblical counselor, I am convinced that much of our time is spent on peripheral matters and issues while the core issue often goes begging!

The thrust of much discipleship involves disciplines, while the function of the flesh may be passed over. While discipling and counseling usually admonishes changes in thinking and behaving, the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit has tended to be overlooked.

Since the Church has dealt more with the output of the flesh (sins) than its source, the Sin Principle (Romans 7:17), the application of the Cross (Rom. 6:6-14) in preaching and discipleship has been all but missing.

We need illumination about the nature of the conflict faced by all believers and turn to the focus of personal ministry to root causes. The following diagram depicts the conflict in graphic format, with the specifics of dealing with it detailed in Handbook to Happiness and subsequent books.[2]

Diagram of soul/spirit conflict

The believer in Jesus Christ inherits a conflict by virtue of his new birth, having received a new nature (“new man” – Col. 3:9, 10). That conflict is defined in Galatians 5:17 as being between the flesh and the Spirit; it is a lifetime battle for supremacy:

“For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.”

Therefore, such dissonance is a function of the flesh.

For most Christians, it is a negotiated peace without appropriating the way of victory through faith. When there is a psychological conflict within the soul, the dissonance is heightened and may require outside help, most of which should be rendered by the Church in biblical counseling (which we call clinical discipleship).

When the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the regenerated spirit of the believer, He intends to take control (Eph. 1:13;4:30). If the believer does not yield control through ignorance or obstinacy, it becomes a battle royal for control. However, yielding control results in a walk in the Spirit:

“This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).

Unless there is organic impairment, such conflict may be resolved by “losing” the natural life (based on self in control – Luke 9:24), and being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). Such surrender and faith exchanges the self-life for the Christ-life (Gal. 2:20). As the Spirit is in the ascendancy, the conflict is eliminated; and major psychological conflict may be resolved without formal psychological intervention. As the “works of the flesh” are replaced by the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22, 23), major life transformation is accomplished by the Holy Spirit.

With the shallow state of Christianity in our day, it is usual to deal with such dissonance as a purely psychological issue, thus sentencing such a believer to prolonged intervention by therapists and/or the medical profession. When there is an underlying medical condition which is worsened by the “dissonance,” there is usually no observable difference made between the two phenomena: psychiatric and psycho-spiritual. If and when the dissonance is factored out (resolved in Christ), the remainder of the complaint may be properly treated, whether the ailment is psychological or physiological in nature.

Many of the maladies which are given psychological diagnoses (DSM labels) would be thus be resolved along with the dissonance issue.[3] However, it is usual today that the spiritual aspect of such difficulties is rarely considered.

Ministries such as ours (using a Christ-centered approach) witness the Holy Spirit transforming lives regularly. The psycho-spiritual dissonance can be resolved through identification with Christ in His death and resurrection (Col. 3:1-4). We know that much of that presently treated in psychotherapy–including major psychological issues such as clinical depression.– could better be served by dealing with this psycho-spiritual dissonance.

This rationale points to the need for the Church not only to provide soul care, but soul cure–through strategic Christ-centered counsel. In recent decades (with the rise of Christian psychotherapy) referrals are usually made for care without radical cure. But, it also means that the Church must play catch up and emphasize the spiritual maturity process and equip dedicated believers for such discipleship/spiritual formation/counseling. The time is short, and the need is great!


[2] Charles R. Solomon, Handbook to Happiness, (Tyndale House, 1971, 1999).

___________________, The Ins and Out of Rejection (Solomon Publications 1975, 1991).
__________________, Handbook for Soldiers of the Cross (Grace Fellowship International, 2002).

All available at

[3] Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the most widely used psychiatric reference

For further study about the biblical view of human design, see Man as Spirit, Soul, and Body: A Study of Biblical Psychology (by John Woodward), available at

Biblical quotations from the KJV

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