Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Gal 6:1)
Gathering information about a person is great stuff, but what do we do with it? If we have gone through the first six questions and have used effective events in the person’s life, they should be very ready to hear what God has to say through you and their subsequent homework—which comes in the next lecture.
It is easy when you see a brother or sister in sin to want to “fix” them. And when I was younger, that’s exactly what I sought to do. But it usually backfired because the people I was trying to help often saw me as more full of my own sin than they did theirs. I was unspiritual. I was often trying to play the spiritual one, the one who could fix everyone else’s problems, but I hadn’t taken myself into consideration first. The major difference between someone spiritual trying to help, and someone not spiritual trying to help; is the attitude you bring to the conversation.
You Who Are Spiritual
A spiritual person comes with no dog in the fight. He doesn’t care about himself in the discussion. He is only there because he loves the person and he wants to help that person come to Christ. The counselor is secure in his relationship with God and is only there because he wants the best for the counselee. With this in mind, the counselor will be less inclined to succumb to the various temptations a counselee might present. Sometimes counseling is a lot like trying to touch someone’s eyeball. Because we are dealing with hearts, things can get very personal very quickly. Sometimes, counselees come for one thing and the counselor starts getting close to other things that weren’t on the table to discuss. The counselee can become angry, hurt, frustrated, or impatient. This in turn presents the counselor with the temptation to react in kind. But a spiritual friend will maintain his walk with God and will not fall to that temptation.
Application of the Gospel
It must remembered that the goal of counseling is to bring people to the throne of God in order to help them mature in Christ. Christian maturity causes the counselee to look more and more like Christ. She will begin to talk like Christ, walk like Christ, live like Christ, think like Christ. She will become more and more like Jesus walking around. Sometimes, in the thick of life’s struggles, it is easy to forget this goal and to begin treating symptoms and not causes. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Mt. 12:34) and so it is important to always remember that the heart is the goal, not a simple change of mind or external change of behavior.
A major part of this is to remember that all is of Grace. It is all about the Gospel and the provision made by Christ’s death and the power given in his resurrection. We are totally dependent on Christ and the Holy Spirit to give us the new mind, new motivations, new power, new wisdom etc.
The Gospel Itself
It is important at this point to remember what the Gospel is. In a nutshell it is that God created men to make him famous (give glory). We rebelled against our creation purpose, thus earning God’s wrath. God, because he still loved us, sent Jesus to take our punishment, which he did by dying on the cross. And God, also because he loved us, raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at the right hand of the Father where he rules today. This is the Gospel. Nothing more, nothing less. You can go into great detail about what it all means, but at its core, this is the Good News of our salvation.
Love—How much does God love us? There are a couple of ways you can approach the answer to this question. First, God is love (1 Jn 4:16). If God is love, then his thoughts, feelings, actions toward us must be motivated by infinite love. Second, God sent his only son to suffer and die so that we might be saved. Would you send your son or daughter to die for someone who hated you and did everything they could to insult you and denigrate you?
Hate—sometimes it is important to point out that while God loves us, he also hates us. God hates sinners. “The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence” (Psa 11:5); “There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers” (Pro 6:16-19); “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man” (Psa 5:4-6), are just a few of the passages that explain what God thinks of sinful men and women. This is why God also says the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).
Covenant—Our great salvation came to be because of what the Bible calls covenant. A covenant is a relationship that God establishes with and within different groups of people. He created a covenantal relationship with Adam when he created him and gave him things to do and not do in the garden (Gen. 2). He created a covenantal relationship with Noah after the flood (Gen 9). He established the covenant with the people of Israel in the dessert through Moses (Ex. 14). He did it again with David (Psa 89:3) and finally with Jesus. We call this last one the New Covenant.
There are a few important things to point out for our purposes: First, God has not created several covenants, he has one covenant and has re-established it over and over again throughout history. Second, this is important to know because God has not changed and the covenant is with mankind, not with individuals only. In the same way that an omelet is a collection of eggs, but made up of individual eggs, so the covenant is with mankind and is made up of individual people. Third, this is important because what happens to one part of the covenant, especially the leader, happens to everyone in the relationship. The omelet is still a good example of this. If you have one rotten egg, you have an icky omelet. This is why when Abraham was circumcised, his whole household was circumcised (Gen 17) and when Abraham was blessed his whole family line was also blessed (Gen. 12). It also explains why when Achan took the sacred things in battle, but was not supposed to, he and his whole household were killed (Josh 7) and when Adam sinned we all sinned in him (1 Co. 15:22). Fourth, here is the reason it is all so important. Jesus died and took our punishment because he was our covenant leader or head. The Bible says when he died we died and when he rose from the dead we rose from the dead (Rom. 6:4; Eph. 4:2-6; Col. 2:12). This happened and was possible because of the covenantal union we have with Christ as our head.
In Christ—This covenant relationship explains all the passages in the Bible that talk about our being “in Christ,” “in him,” etc. Our relationship to Christ, because of the covenantal nature of humanity with God, means that when God sees us, he sees us through Jesus (Jn 3:17; Eph. 2:13-17). This is how we can be saved. When Jesus, who did not sin, became sin on our behalf, God recognized our sin in Jesus and killed him, pouring out his judgment and wrath on Jesus. Jesus took our punishment and he took God’s wrath (1Jn. 2:2). But we also died when he died (Lk. 9:23), because we were “in him” when he died. We also were raised from the dead, when he was raised because we were “in him” when he was raised. Because he lives, lives a new life, we too live new lives “in him.” This is why this is all good news.
By Faith—The way we receive all this is by faith. The Bible tells us that faith is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8). It also commands us to believe (Acts 17:30; Jn 14:1; Acts 16:31). So faith is a gift and it is something we choose to do. But what is faith? It is important in the counseling process to know that, depending on the context, the same Greek word—pistos—is translated into three different English words; faith, belief, and trust. If you believe something, you have faith that that thing is true. If you believe something you trust that what it is claiming is true. How do you go from not believing something to believing something? You change your mind. The Bible tells us that our minds and hearts are blind to spiritual things (Jn. 9:39; Lk. 6:39) so unless and until God reveals the truth to us we can’t believe. What does this mean? It means we present the Gospel to people, ask God to open their eyes, and tell them to open their eyes. “I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Act 26:17-18). When a person hears the gospel and believes it, they have been saved.
The Spirit and New Life—The result of having believed is that the person is ushered out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. The old is gone, the new has come. He is a new creature. He is a Christian. But this is not simply a statement of blank, but empty fact. God is at work in all of this. The Holy Spirit has opened their eyes; they can understand things they could never understand before. More than that the Holy Spirit of God takes up residence inside the new believer and begins a transformation process in him that will make him more like Jesus. In addition, he has a real personal relationship with God which means that when he prays God listens and answers. Because he is in the presence of God in a new way, his personality changes, he begins to talk differently; he begins to love people; to have peace with himself, others, and the world in new and exciting ways; he starts thinking differently about everything. And this is the task of counseling—to help people move along this relational path with the living God so that God can change him and make him more mature in Christ.
The Task of the Counselor
The task of the counselor is often to help the counselee see and understand these things on his own, without telling, preaching, teaching it to him. Sometimes people need to discover their need on their own. The following questions are a means to do that:
- What was going on in this particular event?
- What were you thinking of feeling as this event was unfolding?
- What did you do as a result? Or perhaps what did you not do?
- What were you seeking to accomplish when you finally did what you did? What were you trying to have happen as a result of what you did? What were your goals? Why that and not something else?
- What happened as a result? Did you get what you were trying for? Or something else?
- What would God have asked you to do if you were ever in that situation again?
- What might we do to prepare for the “next time”?