Before we get too far in this process we need to say a bit about the larger world of theology and the Bible. Many people shudder when they encounter theological terminology and viewpoints they aren’t used to. In this talk I would like to take you through some of the major passages of Scripture that talk about various phases and parts of Biblical Counseling. I will do it from the standpoint of theological constructs and try to help demystify theology and theological terminology for you.
It is important to remember that the goal of theological study is to find out what God is telling us through his word. As with most things, however, there are ditches on both sides of the road. On one side are those who love to study theology, but not the primary reason for the theology. They have left God and are simply studying the Bible, or worse, not even the Bible, but simply theology. These people tend to be very smart, ridged, pale, narrow minded, and prune faced. They love debating, quoting other really smart people, and being right. The only friends they have are others like them. The ditch on the other side is filled with people who love Jesus, but have abandoned his word in the hopes of finding him within themselves. They hate theology and everything related to theology and run like scared rabbits whenever anyone tries to take a conversation down a larger than proof texting road. They know their bible very sparingly and only in dribs and drabs. They have no idea what context is and don’t really care. They are usually fun to be with for short periods. Because their theology is so shallow, they also sin easily. They often have lots of friends, but no close friends.
Biblical, Historical, Systematic, and Practical Theology
There are four main areas of theological study: Biblical, Historical, Systematic, and Practical. In the simplest terms Biblical Theology is the study of the bible in its particular contexts. A Biblical theologian might ask, “What is Paul trying to get at in Ephesians?” This theologian might spend years studying every aspect of Ephesians to try to know as deeply as possible what Paul was trying to say. His focus will be primarily on Ephesians and only go to other places in the Bible or history as it touches on the letter to the Ephesians.
A Historical theologian will study various topics alluded to in the Bible as it has been studied by other theologians down through history. He may read something written by a biblical theologian about Ephesians and marriage might catch his eye. His job will be to study what other scholars and people have written about marriage through all of church history.
A Systematic theologian takes the work of both these other two disciplines and puts them together in a systematic way. He might take every instance of the topic of marriage in the Bible and referred to in history and write a systematic theology book on marriage. His job is to systematically arrange all the information on the various topics in a way that is helpful for Christians to study their Bibles with particular topics in mind.
The Practical theologian deals with putting the theology of these other folks into practical use. Theology that is only studied, but never put into practice is what produces the wonks of the world. As I said before, they get sidetracked by the glitz of the study and forget that it is all about living in front of the living God. There are four areas of practical theology: Homiletics, apologetics, evangelism, and counseling. Obviously, we are immediately concerned with the last three. But at the same time we must not neglect the other areas of theology because they inform us and help give us guidelines or boundaries within which we operate.
The following story was presented to me to begin a discussion about God’s sovereignty: Once upon a time in an old Western town, little Suzy was skipping down the street singing happy songs. Sheriff John was sitting on the sidewalk outside his office with his feet up on the hitching rack, dozing in his chair, half aware of little Suzy coming toward him. All of a sudden from across the street, Bad Bart came stumbling out of the saloon, sees little Suzy, runs across the street and begins hitting her with his horse whip. Sheriff John sits there watching what is going on, but not doing anything.
My friend asked, What was going on? Was the Sheriff unable to help Suzy—impotent? Was he in it with Bad Bart—evil? Could have stopped it, but didn’t want to—again evil? Something else? Was the sheriff surprised and thus too confused to help? Did he care for Suzy?
This is really a parable. God is the Sheriff, Bad Bart is any evil man, Suzy is any innocent person against whom sin is carried out. Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?
Here’s my answer: 1) God is not a man. He is the creator of men and everything else, including time (Num. 23:19; Rom. 1:25; Col. 1:17). 2) God is not inside our story. He is writing our story, not a character in our story (Gen. 1:1; Jn 1:1). 3) We are characters in his story. He is writing the story from outside of it (Acts. 17: 28). 4) God is good and cannot do evil, nor does he tempt anyone to do evil (Gen. 1:12; Ez. 8:22; Psa. 109:21; Jas. 1:13). 5) Because he is God and thus outside our story, he does things we don’t understand and he doesn’t need to explain himself to us (Deut. 29:29; Pro. 25:2). 6) He does not allowthings to happen, he causes things to happen. And he does all for his own glory (Gen. 50:20; Acts 4:27-28).
The overall answer is I don’t know why God wrote the story the way he did. I know that God loves all the characters in the story. I know that God will judge all the characters in the story. I know that apart from Christ the end of all the characters is the same. I know that if Bad Bart repents and submits to Christ, he will go to heaven and if cute Suzy doesn’t she will end up in Hell. God wrote the overall story, and he wrote the individual stories. God is God and we are not.
How does this work out with human free will? The idea of Free Will and Determinism assume a world that does not exist. We are Biblical Christians and this means that we need to interpret what we find around us in terms and concepts the Bible presents. This is because Jesus is Lord, not Cant, Hegel, Hume, or Sartre. The Bible says that God does what he does, and we do what we do. Both freely choose at the same time. Both interact with one another in real life in real time, and in real experience. God writes the story, we interact with one another and with the story we’ve been written into. We pray, God answers prayer, even though he’s already written it from before the foundations of the world (Eph. 1:4; 1 Tim. 1:9).
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (Jn. 17:17)
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Rom 8:28-30)
Sanctify means to “make holy” or to “set apart.” The angels proclaim that God is holy (Rev. 4:8). This means that God is wholly other than his creation. He is set apart from us; he is not one of us. When God made a relationship with us—called covenant—in order for us to be close to him, he needed to make us holy as well. This holiness comes to us through the sacrifice of another on our behalf. In the old Covenant it was the bulls and goats, in the New it is the death of Jesus. When the Bible calls us holy, or sanctified, it is primarily talking about our position in Christ. We have been set apart, apart from the world, made holy, because we are in Christ, in Christ’s family, members of God’s people (1 Cor. 6:11). In another sense, we are being set apart, being made holy, as we learn to more consistently walk with God and one another (Heb. 10:14). We are also going to be set apart, or made holy at the last day (1 Jn. 3:2; 1 Thess. 5:23; Phil. 3:12; Rom. 8:30; Heb. 12:22-23).
Progressive Sanctification simply means that sanctification, or changing into Christ’s likeness is a process. This change takes you from where you are now to where you will be. God knows what or where we will be. At the same time, knows our frame and knows what we’ve been through and thus he takes us from where we are and won’t let us go. He makes crooked lines straight. He takes dirty brains and makes them clean.
Spiritual growth only happens as we act on our 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). 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.
Confession of Sin
We’ll say much more about this in a subsequent lecture, but suffice it to say that confession means to say the same thing. In the context of, say, 1 John 1:9 it means to say the same thing about the thought, motive, behavior, emotion, etc. that God says about it. When you say to your wife, I’m sorry for being such a lunk-head.” You have not confessed sin. In order to receive full forgiveness, you need to actually say what it was about your life that made others think you were a lunk-head. “I sinned against you by being insensitive, by becoming angry, by yelling at you and kicking the dog. I sinned. I’ll never do it again. Please forgive me.”
The word we translate “repent” from is the word in Greek which literally means “to change your mind.” The Biblical use of the word means to change your mind from doing wrong, unhelpful, sinful things, do doing things that bring honor and glory to God. But as with everything else we can’t isolate the mind from the rest of our being. The greatest commandment, for example tells us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mk 12:30). This does not mean that we can love God with only one of these at a time. It means that we cannot distinguish between them and that our whole being is involved in loving God.
You’ll notice that the verse used the word heart. The heart is the center of our being. It is the source for where our thoughts, emotions, words, and behavior comes from. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Mt. 12:34). This means that if we are going to repent, if we are going to turn away from sin entirely, we need to get to the heart of the matter. Sin is not simply the things we think, do and say, they come from somewhere else and this somewhere needs to be purged, mortified, killed, if we are to truly be changed—sanctified (Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4, Rom. 2:29). Biblical Counseling spends a lot of time and effort working with people to understand all the sin they are involved in in their lives. This discussion talks about habit, sin, idolatry, slavery, bondage, and selfishness. It involves fear, worship, love, goals, and allegiance.
Repentance is not only about turning away from sin. That is only half the problem of counseling. The other half is that when you are turning away from something, you are also turning to or toward something else. In the Christian life, this turning is from sin to Christ, or Christ likeness. It is similar to paddling in a fast moving stream headed toward a waterfall. To stop paddling is not the only thing needed, you also need to paddle in a new direction. Repentance is completed when a person turns from their sin and to Christ—developing habits and actions, thoughts and emotions that are submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.