If you’re struggling with a besetting sin that seems to keep on defeating you, where can you turn for strength to overcome? If you’re trying to help a friend who is in despair, heal a broken marriage, or aid a believer who struggles with anorexia or pornography, what source of power can you point to that can surely change them? As I interact with various people about spiritual growth issues (e.g. depression, anger, spiritual disciplines, worry, God’s will, marriage, parenting, etc.), I have found that there is power in biblical counseling. I hope to encourage believers who crave for true, biblical change by identifying what I have been taught from the Scripture and godly men as the power behind biblical counseling.
I’m pretty stubborn when it comes to biblical counseling and the rejection of psychology as man’s hope for power over sin. As I repent and seek the mortification of sin in my own life and then seek to help others, I believe that inevitably with many issues I am dealing with an issue of progressive sanctification—how a believer “closes the gospel gap” between his/her position in Christ and their practice in Christ (to borrow from Paul Tripp and Tim Lane’s language in How People Change). With an aim to encourage everyone out there counseling people who are hurting and defeated by sin, here is the four-part grid through which I seek to evaluate and counsel others. I have been taught this over the years by professors and godly pastors, and I would like to share it with you.
Biblical Counseling is to be Text-Driven
Both the Old and the New Testaments are maxed out with explicit affirmations of Scripture’s absolute sufficiency to address any spiritual need in any man in any generation (Psalm 19:7-9; 119). The confidence of the Psalm writer in 119:128 (“I esteem right all Your precepts concerning everything, I hate every false way.”) clearly contrasts the hopelessness of the only alternative (“The way of the wicked is like darkness; They do not know over what they stumble.”—Prov 4:19; cf. Ps 1:1-6). Any counsel concerning any spiritual issue (including reacting to outward circumstances as well as to health issues) will find a sufficient guide in the pages of special revelation. It provides not only wisdom leading to salvation but also any necessary instruction for progressive sanctification and ministry (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
Our counseling will be lifeless and worthless if we see the Bible as an academic text-book. But if we view and use the Bible as the story–the gospel-centered drama–of the battle to win our hearts, then our biblical counseling ministry comes alive. Merely opening a Bible and reaching for topical treatments of counseling themes does not alone constitute “Biblical” counseling. Such an approach may even produce a legalistic mindset. In other words, we don’t want people to make demands of God’s Word like the following: “I have read and understood what the Bible says about my problem, so God must change everything now.” For every genuine child of God, all spiritual changes are directly tied to the Gospel (Romans 6-8, Ephesians 4, Colossians 3). In other words, once a person has experienced regeneration, any spiritual issue he will ever face will have its solution anchored in his positional status and resources in Christ (2 Peter 1:2-4). The indicatives of the gospel pave the way to the imperatives of the gospel. To give answers, even “biblical” answers, that are not direct extensions of redemptive truth is to be inconsistent with the gospel.
Biblical Counseling is to be Christ-Exalting
Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of every local church (Colossians 1:18, Ephesians1:22). He is the One who redeemed it (Acts 20:28, Col 1:14), equipped it (1Cor 12, Eph 4:7-12), is building it (Matt 16:18), is purifying it (Matt 18:15-20; Eph 5:26-27) and will receive it to Himself at His return (Col 3:4, 1Jn 3:2). Consequently, it is He alone who receives all the glory in the transformation of the members of His Church into His image (2Cor 3:18). All discipleship answers to spiritual issues must demonstrate the Christ-centrality of the Scriptures.
Biblical Counseling is to be Local Church-Centered
In light of the aforementioned three convictions, I believe it to be central to my convictions that the body of Christ is the most suitable and equipped locale for giving spiritual answers to man’s problems (Ephesians 4:7-16, 1 Corinthians 12). The Church is the “pillar and support of the truth” (1Timothy 3:15), the ordained center for spiritual accountability (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 5) and the bank from which people can be equipped for disciple making (Matthew 28:19-20, Ephesians 4:12-16).
While no person or organization is perfect in how they counsel in every situation, I do hope that this grid by which I have been taught will come to aid you as you seek to shepherd and help the body of Christ around you (Acts 20:28, Hebrews 13:17).
So yes, while I am stubborn in how I view counseling and while I may be completely inflexible, I am content to make these four things my primary focus. I hope that you will join me if you have not already.