“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Lk 6:43-45)
When we talk about counseling, we’re talking about change. Sometimes it involves change of mind, sometimes it involves change of behavior, and sometimes it involves both at the same time. But change is only good if you know what you are changing from and what you are changing to.
Created for Glory
The Bible is clear that God does what he does for his glory. It is all about him. If he were a person, this would be the most arrogant thing a person could say. But God is not a man, he is God. Everything that happens, creation, animals, plants, men, life, death, and anything else you can think of exists and continues to exist for God’s glory. The Bible tells us that even sin happens for God’s glory (Rom. 9:8-24). What this means is that we also were created for God’s glory.
What brings God glory? One definition I’ve heard that has always helped in my understanding is that glory means fame. When we make God famous he is glorified. We bring him glory by making him famous. We make him famous by living according to his word, talking about him, walking with him, becoming like him, and by pleasing him in all that we do, think, feel, and say. Everything brings God glory.
Our goal, therefore, is to get on board with God’s program and do everything in our power to bring him glory. To do this we need to constantly re-think every thought, action, emotion, and impulse we have ever had and bring it under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, we glorify God and enjoy him forever.
First Things First
With this in mind we need to take a moment to discuss what we mean by spiritual. Usually we contrast spiritual with worldly and what we mean by that is ethereal versus material. Sometimes we mean other world versus what we can see feel and smell around us. We separate God and the things of God from ourselves and the things related to humanity. This is a very vertical distinction. I would like to consider another way. Spiritualshould be contrasted with worldly or natural (1 Cor. 2:12-14), but what we should mean by this is that obedient as opposed to rebellious. In other words, the Bible says that we live and move and have our being in Jesus Christ (Acts 17:28). It also says that in him all things hold together (Col. 1:17). This means that the distinction between spiritual and worldly is a horizontal difference, not a vertical one. We are being spiritual if we are bringing honor and glory to God. We are being worldly if we are being rebellious against God and his son.
Understanding spiritual in these terms changes whatever we thought spiritual growth was all about. If we thought it meant more spiritual, or more in touch with the other world, more ethereal or something sort of spacy and distant, we had it wrong. If we mean more in tune with the Spirit’s leading, in other words more obedient and in touch with the things of God and the ways of God and the thoughts of God and those ramifications for life and the kingdom, then we are on the right track.
Spiritual growth only happens as we act on our Biblical beliefs. If we submit ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus we grow in grace and the knowledge of the Son of God (2 Pet. 3:18). The Spirit of God works in us to change us into the likeness of Christ. If we are in rebellion against him, we are not growing spiritually at all. Spiritual growth means we are becoming more like Jesus. It does not mean we are more spiritual in the sense the pagans mean it.
As This Relates to Counseling
What this means for Biblical Counselors is that our goal, to make every man mature in Christ, is real spiritual work. We are coming along side others to help them learn to walk with God more consistently, more effectively, more like Jesus, and to bring others along with them. God gave ministers to the church to train the people to do the works of service (Eph. 4:10). He commanded all of us to make disciples of every nation (Mt. 28:19). A disciple is someone who follows Jesus and learns to be like him. Our goal as Biblical Counselors is to help others become disciples of Jesus and to help disciples be more like Jesus. In the process God will be working in them to change their hearts and minds to be more like Christ. And thus bring glory to God.
Two Directions at Once
Biblical change happens as we recognize those areas of our lives that are not being offered up to Jesus Christ as something that brings him glory. We want glory for ourselves and so we clutch and grab. We steal, envy, lust, grumble, complain, and are angry because we can’t have what God has not given us, or because we cannot capitalize on what God has given us. This is sin. But sin has a blinding effect on us. It causes us to not be able to see what it is we are doing. God has an answer, however. God sends the Holy Spirit to us to reveal our hearts to us and he sends fellow Christians to us to help us see our shortcomings, failures and rebellion. He points out our sin to us. This is the first task of the Biblical Counselor; to help the counselee see and understand his heart the way God sees and understands his heart.
Once a person realizes that the problems he is having in life are directly related to the fact that he has erected idols in his heart to distract him from submitting to God, and he realizes that he wants to get rid of those idols, he needs to confess his rebellion and let God forgive and cleanse him from his sin. Remember, we began this lecture with glory, but idols steal God’s glory. So, he hates them with a holy passion and so should we.
But wait, there’s more. In addition to confessing his sin, the counselee needs to endeavor to replace living the wrong way with living the right way. We call this change, repentance, a changing of the mind (of heart) from doing it wrong to doing it right.
This is the other half of Biblical counseling; to help people learn to live the right way with God and fellow men. Christians are constantly repenting; turning away from sin and to God. Christians turn from doing it our way, to doing it God’s way. We are going two directions at once, away and toward.
On one hand this talk has been all about glory and change. On the other hand, in a very sneaky way, what I’ve been talking about has been what theologians call progressive sanctification. Sanctification means to be made holy. The Bible tells us that in Christ, God has made us holy (Heb 10:10). We are holy because of what Jesus did for us on the Cross. Another way of saying holy is to say, “sanctified,” “set apart,” “elect,” “sacred,” or even “special.” In this sense, we have been made holy. We are already holy. But the Bible tells us that while we are already holy, we are also being made holy (Heb 10:14). We are living out our holiness. In a sense we are proving, by our lives, what God has already declared (Jn 14:15).
What this looks like is us doing things; obeying, loving, acting, etc. It might, at times look like we are trying to earn our holiness, but if we are trying to earn it, we’ve got it all wrong. Christians live out what God has declared because God declared it and it is true. But as we live out what God has given to us, God works in us to make us like Christ (Eph 4:11-16). And so, we have not only been declared to be holy, we are also becoming holy. We call this process progressive sanctification.