As I was thinking about the topic of counsel for new counselors, I asked myself what was the one most important piece of advice I could give to a believer just beginning to counsel others. The immediate answer that came to mind was:
“Point them toward Christ and His Word that they may point their counselees toward Christ and His Word!”
Christ came not just to redeem us, but to show us how to live. He gave us His Word that we might hear directly from our Creator who we are and for what purpose we were created and left on this earth for a period of time. Unless we who desire to be biblical in our counseling learn to point those who are hurting and struggling to the source of both eternal and temporal help, we are no different from secular counselors who can offer only temporal meaning to life’s struggles, or from those who offer pie in the sky but no temporal hope of change and freedom while here on earth. The Bible offers both.
Modeling after our Lord, this must be done in love rather than judgment (John 3:16-17), compassionately guiding others to the cross and to the Word for comfort, guidance, change, and maturity. This involves teaching them how to put off the old man in the deeds of his flesh and to put on the new man in the likeness of Christ Jesus (Ephesians 4). We must help them to model their life and emotions after what motivated our Lord, His Father’s glory, and to adapt to their culture with a Biblical worldview as the foundation.
Why Point People to the Word?
The essence of our counseling is just opinion apart from the Living Word revealed in the written Word. Without the Word we would have only natural revelation (Psalm 19:1-6) vs. special revelation (Psalm 19:7-14; 119). The written Word points us to Christ as redeemer, savior, and Lord. Romans 8:28-29 tells us that all things in our life as believers come through Him to either do a work in us (conforming us to the image of Christ) or through us (using us to accomplish His purposes in His world, bringing others to the cross).
How does the Word accomplish its purposes in us? Paul answers that question in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. God’s divinely inspired Word is powerful and alive to mold and change us (Hebrews 4:12), and it accomplishes this through four means.
- Doctrine or Teaching: This is how the Holy Spirit uses the Word to comfort and guide us, teaching us what we need to know to live a godly life (2 Peter 1:3-10).
- Reproof or Conviction: This is how the Word shapes our moral compass, showing us what we need to put out of our life and renounce as sinful thoughts, words, attitudes, and behaviors (Romans 1:18 -2:16; 1Timothy1:5, 19; 4:1-2, 15-16).
- Correction: This shows us how to correct the thing of which we are convicted by putting on godly thoughts and behaviors in place of the old habits so we can permanently change (Romans 12:1-2; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Colossians 3:5-16).
- Instruction in Righteousness: This is a coaching term that promises our 24/7 “personal trainer” in the person of the Holy Spirit who lives within us, continually teaching, convicting, and correcting us that we may become more like Christ (John 14:16-17, 26; Romans 8:26).
The biggest comfort to me and to my counselees is that He never gives up on us! We can walk in confidence that once He has begun to work in us, He will never quit (Philippians 1:6). I recently had a counselee who had failed once again in the area of her struggle and came in ready to quit counseling, convinced she had disappointed the Lord and me as her counselor and that she was no longer worthy of wasting our time. I took her to these passages and she cried with joy that the Lord would never kick her out of His love and counsel and neither would I. She is growing in learning of His grace and mercy, of which she understood very little.
Romans 8:38-39 is a passage she can cling to as she progressively makes steps toward Christlikeness, especially in the whole context of Romans 8. She gained hope through Romans 5:1-8 that her trials were maturing her in God’s love and grace. It was the truth of God’s Word that moved her from hopeless despair to hope for victory through Christ (Romans 8:37).
How Do We Give People Hope for Change?
Most of our new counselees really don’t understand that sanctification is a gradual, lengthy process of growth, with the goal of holiness even as our Lord is holy. They know they should be holy, and often express shame that they are not, but have little idea about how to change1 and mature in Christlikeness. In 2 Peter 1:3-10, Peter explains the process for sanctification, and promises success and fruitfulness to the degree we following biblical wisdom principles (if we do “these things”). Our counselees must be taught these wisdom principles to mature and have victory over their struggle with sin.
Since I am a visual learner, I use charts and diagrams often to explain truths to those I counsel. I’ve diagramed 2 Peter 1:5-7 under three categories: Foundation, Hard Work, and Payoff. When we lay the right foundation (building upon faith, virtue, and knowledge) and consistently do the hard work (growing in self-control and perseverance), the payoff (godliness, brotherly kindness and love) will come. We will look more and more like Christ in our mind, character and lifestyle, enjoying the fruit of the Spirit that increasingly characterizes our lives! (For a fuller description of how to use this chart, see the links below under Resources.)
The goal of biblical counseling is to help our counselees reflect Christ is all they think, say and do, and the Word directs and empowers each of us in this continued growth in very practical ways. I’ve been vocationally counseling from the Word for almost twenty years now, and I’ve seen hundreds of counselees change from sinful patterns and begin to reflect Christ in a whole new way in marriage, in parenting, in the work place, and in their very private and personal lives. I’m convinced that biblical counseling works as we point others to Christ, and I’m always excited to share the power of God’s Word to change lives with those just beginning to counsel.
Join the Conversation
What counsel would you give beginning biblical counselors?