Emotionally Healthy vs. Spiritually Healthy

These two concepts are so important in how we relate to God and how we relate to others because they were so central to Jesus’ heart. In Matthew 22:36-40 the disciples asked Jesus what is the greatest commandment. He answered, “Love God with all your heart and with all your SOUL (how can we love God with our soul if we don’t even understand our souls?) and with all your mind. The second is to Love your neighbor as yourself. (How can we do that if we don’t know how to relate?) but that’s for another day! Today, let’s look at Emotional Health Vs. Spiritual Health.

We are body, soul and spirit.

Our Bodies house our soul and spirit.

Our Spirit is how we connect with God who is spirit.

Our Soul engages our emotions and our will.

Body-Soul-Spirit Diagram

It is very possible to be spiritually healthy but emotionally unhealthy and to actually use spirituality to hide your unhealthy emotional tendencies. You might think…’How can that be? When I became a Christian, Jesus saved all of me.’ You are right, He paid for it all, all your healing, body, soul and spirit; but there is still work on our behalf as we co-labor with Him to live in all He paid for. Just like we can be spiritually healthy and be physically unhealthy we can be spiritually healthy and emotionally unhealthy.

I don’t know about you, but I know many people who can cast out spirits, perform miracles and preach the word of God with power, but who can’t be in a healthy relationship with their family or others if it’s not their way, (don’t look at your neighbor!). I know many spiritually powerful people who don’t process emotions and can’t be honest with their own struggles or pain. If you look at the life of Jesus, He was the perfect picture of emotional and spiritual health. He laughed, cried (even tears of blood), got angry at injustices and loved deeply. But for whatever reason, emotions have gotten a bad rap.  They are not bad. God created emotions as ways to process what is happening inside of us. They are actually what makes us human and alive. Have you ever seen an emotionally dead person? It is heartbreaking.

Emotions become a problem if they are out of alignment with the spirit. We should be led by the spirit of God in our lives, and our soul and body should come under the Holy Spirit’s authority.

If our emotions or soul is in charge, there are problems…we become what we feel, which is very dangerous.

If our body is in charge, we become what we crave and that is a problem.

The only way to live in freedom is when our spirit is in charge under the direction of the Holy Spirit that lives in us as believers. When our spirit is in control and our soul and body come into alignment with that, we have a picture of spiritual and emotional health.

The bible teaches in 3 John 1:2 that it is good that ALL THESE areas prosper. John writes, “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.”

In order for us to be Emotionally healthy, we need to take an honest look at our lives. It has been said that only those who can communicate honestly with themselves can communicate honestly with others. We call that ‘congruence’ in psychology.  What is happening on the inside of me is the same as what I am presenting on the outside of me.

So, here is a list of some symptoms of emotional unhealth that can be masked in spirituality…again, don’t look at your neighbor!


(From ‘Emotionally Healthy Christianity’, by Peter Scazzero)

1–Using God to run from God- We are so busy doing good things…to the detriment of our families, our boundaries, our resources…that we miss the God things.

Some symptoms include:

  • When I demonstrate “Christian” behaviors so others will think well of me
  • When I use God’s truth to judge and devalue others
  • When I exaggerate my accomplishments for God to subtly compete with others
  • When I use scripture to justify the sinful parts of my family, culture, and nation instead of evaluating them under his Lordship
  • When I hide behind God talk, deflecting any spotlight on my inner cracks and become defensive about my failures
  • When I apply Biblical truths selectively when it suits my purposes but avoid situations that would require me to make significant life changes.

2–Ignoring the emotions of anger, sadness, and fear- They are viewed as sins to be avoided, indicating that something is wrong with our spiritual life. This comes back to the issue that emotions should be avoided because you don’t want to be controlled by your emotions. It is more common, however, to encounter Christians who do not believe they have permission to admit their feelings or express them openly. Yet how can I listen to what God is saying to me and evaluate what is going on inside of me when I am so imprisoned? To feel is to be human…To minimize or deny what we feel is a distortion of how we were created. To the degree that we are unable to express our emotions, we remain impaired in our ability to love God, others and ourselves well. Remember the 2 greatest commandments? How can we love others as ourselves if we don’t love ourselves or allow ourselves to be honest?

3–Dying to the wrong things- “The Glory of God is man fully alive”

Jesus did say, “if anyone comes after me, he must deny himself, pick up his cross and follow me.” But we have misapplied this text in many ways. The way I was taught was, the more miserable you are, the more you suffer, the more you are serving God. Disregard your unique personhood…It has no place in the kingdom. But this verse is talking about dying to the sinful parts of ourselves: defensiveness, detachment from others, arrogance stubbornness, hypocrisy, lack of vulnerability, judgment and lack of love, etc. But we are not to deny the things that bring our soul to life…joy, art, friendship, music, latte, laughter. God wants to know our dreams and wants to dream with us.

4–Denying the past’s impact on the present-HUGE ONE!- Sometimes the verses relating to being born again and becoming new creations are misunderstood. Yes, our sins are washed away and we are given a new name and new identity…we are declared righteous before Christ. The good news! But that does not mean that our pasts won’t continue to influence us in different ways. As a therapist, I make all my clients talk about their childhoods and what they learned in childhood…because we do what we know until we know better! And it is impossible to change something–a pattern, behavior, ideology, etc.–unless you are aware of it, and many of those patterns stem from family of origin. The work of growing in Christ does not mean we don’t go back to the past as we press ahead for what God has for us. It actually demands we go back, in order to break free from unhealthy and destructive patterns…AWARENESS!!

5–Dividing our lives into “secular” and “spiritual”-   everything we do is spiritual. Examples of this include: Sunday is for God…Monday through Friday is for work…Crying during worship but blaming everyone and everything for difficulties in life.

6–Doing for God instead of being with God- God wants to be with us, not watch us as we DO for Him. We need to save all the people going to hell…no time to just be with God. Some examples: Doing lots of work for God is a sign of your spiritual maturity… God can’t work unless we pray… You are responsible to share Christ to those around you at all times.

7–Spiritualizing away conflict- Most of us have no idea how to do conflict well… we will talk about that shortly, but it is everywhere. Very few of us come from families where conflict is resolved in a healthy way. Either sweep it under the rug…or be the loudest and scariest to get your way.

8–Let your yes be yes and your no be no and stop lying! Here are some examples of this: Say one thing to people’s faces and then another thing behind their backs; make promises with no intentions of keeping them; blame, attack; give people the silent treatment; become sarcastic; give in because you are afraid of not being liked; tell only half truths to not hurt someone’s feelings; say yes when you mean no; avoid, withdraw, or cut off.

9–Covering over brokenness, weakness, and failure: Not being transparent which cuts off intimacy.

10–Living without limits: Doing things out of guilt instead of out of conviction. Ask yourself, “What do I need…what do I want?’ Self-care is never a selfish act…it is good stewardship of the only gift you have…the gift of your true self. How can you have wells of living water springing up in you as Jesus says if you are sucked dry?

11–Judging other people’s spiritual journey

As we take a real and honest look at our lives and start to be honest with the good, bad and ugly in all of us, we will find freedom. Freedom to not have to be perfect, but freedom from guilt and shame to live authentically and honestly.

A wonderful book on this subject is called “Emotionally Healthy Christianity” by Peter Scazzero. I would highly recommend this book if you would like to learn more on this subject.