Circumstantial Spirituality

By W.P. “Ab” Abercrombie, Ph.D.Intense man dark

Recently I have noticed a trend in my counseling ministry I refer to as; “circumstantial spirituality.” In other words, many counselees become very spiritual at the time their sins are uncovered, only to return to the secular life when the crisis has passed. These are individuals who seek support because of exposure rather than conviction of conscience.

The challenge for the biblical counselor comes in helping this briefly spiritual person, stay in the light long enough for the true heart condition to be revealed. But such counselees are often intolerant of the glare of this heavenly illumination. Jesus spoke of this reality stating:

“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (Jn 3:19-20).

According to our Lord, the darkness is preferred. A person in this condition has a committed desire to continue without exposure and as a result, avoids the Light (Jesus). There is not grief for his/her offense before God, only for the inconvenience and earthly suffering of their circumstance.

The counselee in this state may be an unbeliever, rejecting the Person of Christ and the grace He extends. Or the counselee may be a believer engulfed in a sin or lifestyle that has become so dominant, that he/she rejects the curative touch of Christ, extended to a repentant heart. Paul wrote:

For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death (2 Cor 7:10).

Without godly sorrow (according to the will of God) a counselee lacks the capacity to repent. Godly sorrow is a deep and abiding awareness of one’s crime before a Holy God. Worldly sorrow, however, is a sorrow for self and a grief for circumstance that does not transform and does not heal.

The person racked with “circumstantial spirituality” will provide a semblance of godly contrition, but fails to change direction because he/she is still avoiding the complete cleansing work of God. A true follower of Christ cannot live life in the shadows. A love for darkness is antithetical to salvation. It is impossible to be in Christ part-time. John wrote:

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn 1:5-7).

As Biblicists, we are accountable for confronting the incongruent nature of light and darkness evident in a counselee’s life. We must be cautious not to accept the superficial confession of sin, by applying Scripture to discern the fullness of the “thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). Confession of sin is common, but repentance is rare.

When John the Baptist saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, as an outward demonstration of repentance (Matt 3:7), he confronted their motivations with the following rebuke:

Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance…(Matt 3:8).

The counselee with wrong motivation will not demonstrate godly fruit. The fruit of repentance is outlined as follows:

For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter (2 Cor 7:11).

Irregular and inconsistent “earnestness” is not evidence of a fruitful repentance. Being diligent and disciplines only when required does not convey a changed heart. A committed follower who lives within a climate of repentance, quickly dealing with him/herself with self-confrontation and submission to the Word demonstrates:

  • Indignation—Strong emotion in opposition to injustice and disobedience.
  • Fear—Reverence before God rather than fear of man.
  • Longing—A desire to pursue God and strive for obedience.
  • Zeal—Great energy and enthusiasm for God and His standards.
  • Innocence—“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Rom 3:23). One can only be innocent through the blood of Christ at salvation and in His sustaining grace granted continually to the repentant, transforming heart.

Paul instructed the Christians at Ephesus in the importance of a godly walk that imitates our Lord and Savior (Eph 5:1-2)

…for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth ), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord (Eph 5:8-10).

The expression “walk as” implies a continual, uninterrupted, movement. It is not a walk of starts and stops, but a consistent, steady, progression that does not veer off course. This is the goal of biblical care and true discipleship that helps the counselee become a source of increasing “goodness, righteousness, and truth.”

Always remember we are tending to character not situations. We are agents of transformation and not relief. As counselors we should use the crisis as an opportunity to forge a deeper understanding and an uninhibited surrender to the indwelling Light.


5 thoughts on “Circumstantial Spirituality”

  1. Thank you for such a thought provoking, clarifying article. I have often noticed this trend myself when one spouse comes for counselling, professing repentance, yet in the same breath finds it still very easy to lay the total blame at the feet of the other spouse. It is most evident when one has counselled on the higher priority to change being for God’s glory and the next minute the counselee is justifying and thinking ahead to how God is going to use their sinful situation to aid them in ministering to others. Often their is also a desperation noted to seek help with the primary purpose of holding the family together or fear of being disconnected from their children.

    • Brian
      Thanks for visiting our website and for your comments. By interacting this way, you help us enhance our offerings for our readers. Our call is to equip the Body with the fullness of God’s Word and its sufficiency for ALL counseling matters. I am grateful for your feedback. God bless.
      Dr. Ab

  2. Dr. Ab
    The article on Circumstantial Spirituality truly speaks to the heart of the issue we are dealing with in our ministry. This is the best article I have read as it relates to the clients we work with.

    • E.J.
      Thanks for visiting our website at BCI, and for your comments on the article “Circumstantial Spirituality.” We are always seeking feedback and comments that help us equip the Body. I am grateful you took time to interact with us. Please do so again. God bless.
      Dr. Ab

  3. It is refreshing, and convicting, to have you back in good health and sharing your teachings. ” Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, do not be frightened. But in your heart set apart 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. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience…. Thank you for your teaching Ab.


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