Let me begin this post by confessing that I’m not an expert at anything (which you hopefully already know). But one of the things I’ve seen, particularly pastoring teens, is that there is so much ambiguity around the idea of biblical counseling. And typically, when we hear the words “Biblical Counselor,” our antenna shoots up, as if there’s some major issue that the “regular” community is not equipped to address. In that moment, we can tend to tune out, turn off, and just think “I’ll let the experts do their job.”
And praise God for the experts. In our small town, I’ve heard of several great professionals who counsel from a biblical perspective. My office sits in between two of the best biblical counselors I’ve ever met! So, I’m certainly not downplaying the need for skilled, knowledgeable, godly men and women who are able to use God’s word to skillfully point people to their ultimate need.
But, Christians, let’s be honest. We know we’re all supposed to be biblical counselors. Let me give you a few simple commands from Scripture that’ll catch all of us.
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:13 ESV)
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:15-16 ESV)
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope…
…Therefore encourage one another with these words.
(1 Thessalonians 4:13, 18 ESV)
OK, so now that we’re all under the umbrella of these “one another” commands, let’s dispel some of the false notions about biblical counseling.
What it’s not
1. Biblical counseling is not merely an academic discipline. Hear me, while men and women study and train in this arena (and praise God for that), those who go into the field know that biblical counseling is intensely personal, emotional, and relational. How can you counsel some one you don’t know? How can you exhort some one as a brother or sister if there’s no relationship there? It’s nearly impossible. The best biblical counselors are those who take time to simply get to know people.
2. Biblical counseling is not “therapy,” at least in the common sense of the word. When you hear some one say, “I’m going to see my therapist,” what kinds of images flood your mind? Are they taking crazy pills? Are they getting hypnotized? Are they dependent on this person to help them get through the week? Once again, I do not seek to demean the profession itself, but rather to expose the common misconceptions. You see, the underlying principle for biblical counseling is the radical notion that only God is in control. We become totally dependent on Him, not on our counselor (as any good biblical counselor will point out).
3. Finally, biblical counseling is not only what happens for an hour after church in the pastor’s office (though this pastoral function is so vital for the church). That begs us to look at what biblical counseling actually is.
What it is
1. First and foremost, biblical counseling is biblical. In Colossians 3, Paul tells the church how it’s supposed to function. He tells them that the Word of God is supposed to dwell in you richly. This isn’t some perfunctory knowledge of the Word which is attained by a 5 minute “Quiet Time” each morning. This is a deep, heart-level, knowledge of and passion for God’s Word. It is an understanding of the overarching story line of the Bible, the gospel. It is a faithful approach to biblical interpretation and a Spirit-wrought understanding of its application to all of life.
And this kind of passion for the Scriptures should be a consistent pursuit for all Christians. We’re all over the spectrum with regard to how deeply we’ve probed the waters of God’s inexhaustible riches found in the Scripture. But there’s one commonality for those whose hearts have been captured by Christ: we’re all swimming in his Word.
2. Next, biblical counseling is gospel-centered. As mentioned above, the Christian should have a knowledge of, and a love for, the great story line of the Bible. Creation. Fall. Redemption. Consummation. These are the four big acts. They make sense of the stories within the story. They make sense of all of our stories.
Matt Chandler, in The Explicit Gospel, calls the approach above “the gospel in the air.” But biblical counseling must also consider what he calls “the gospel on the ground.” This is the up-close-and-personal approach to understanding the gospel. Every man is sinful, and this sin causes separation from a holy God. Jesus entered into our reality in order to bring reconciliation. He imputes to us his righteousness, and he took on God’s wrath toward our sin. And because of his glorious resurrection, we are assured that he’ll one day raise and renew our bodies to be like his resurrected body. This gospel-centered approach to counseling is so vital, as the gospel is the only cure for the great sickness of man.
3. Finally, and so often missed, biblical counseling is a community project. As mentioned above, it is not merely what happens in the pastor’s office or on the time clock of a professional. Though both of these professions are necessary, Christians cannot be satisfied with just referring our brothers and sisters to a professional without first entering into their struggles, as Christ entered into ours.
I’m not saying you have to be fully equipped to deal with some of the deepest hurts of the human heart, but I’m also saying that the Bible says you should be somewhat equipped.
Who are the people you live closely with? Do they come to you for advice? If so, you have already been a biblical counselor (whether a good one or a bad one). Unless you’re just too young, you’ve probably already had the opportunity to comfort some one in the face of death, loss, illness, and more. Hear me…what you say (or even don’t say) in those moments is actually biblical counseling.
So, to wrap up, let me give you a few thoughts to hide away for those critical moments.
1. Paul told the Corinthians that something unique happens when you become a part of a church. You become a part of a body. And when one part of your body hurts, your whole body hurts.
If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
(1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV)
So, when your brothers and sisters come to you in confidence with their deepest hurts, you should hurt with them. I’m not saying you feel their hurt as deeply. What I’m saying is that their hurt should hurt you. This only happens in relationship. If you think you can skate through the Christian life without close, intimate relationships with your brothers and sisters, you are missing out on one of the best gifts of God.
Sometimes, in those most profound moments, the best thing you can do is mourn with some one. That’s biblical.
2. Gospel-centered is really not just a catch-phrase. Every single time you have a chance to counsel or advise some one, ask yourself, “How does the gospel bear weight on this situation?”
Let me give you an example. If you are counseling some one who is dealing with anger at a past abuse, holding a grudge, or feeling like they’ve been unjustly wronged, consider Romans 5.
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:7-11 ESV)
You see, God is the ultimate example of being unjustly wronged. He is holy, blameless, and perfect. He is the Creator. And yet we, the creation, have blatantly disregarded him. If Christ died for us when we were hostile to him, how much more should we live our lives with a posture of forgiveness toward those who have wronged us?
Clearly, this is just one example, but the point is to think critically about how the gospel applies to every situation.
3. Finally, when counseling some one facing death, or the loss of a loved-one, consider the eschatological implications. I’m not talking about whether you’re pre-mil, a-mil, post-mil, or any-other-mil. What I’m saying is that death is the separation of the body from the spirit. That’s not how God created things to be, and that’s why death is such a formidable enemy.
But, we have this promise in Scripture.
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20-21 ESV)
This means that, though creation is now subject to things like cancer, decay, and death, there will be a day in which death will be totally destroyed. And those who believe in Christ will be raised anew, with glorified bodies that are totally sinless and totally able to enjoy fellowship with God, needing nothing else for all eternity. This is all because of the life, death, and glorious resurrection of Christ.
And I could write so much more about how the grand story of the gospel applies to counseling. But the point is to get you thinking. Who are those people in your life who need to hear you speak these truths? Before you shrug and refer them to a professional, what biblical truths can you convey that will point to the problem (sin) and then to the cure (Christ)?
After all, biblical counseling is a community project.
Soli Deo Gloria.