The topic of the Holy Spirit is one that we tend to approach incorrectly. A dear friend of mine who is a pastor has always likened this misstep to the drunken uncle in the room at a family reunion. He is strange and awkward to deal with, so we feel better off just not interacting with him. The problem with this error is the fact that the Holy Spirit is a member of the Godhead.
Throughout Scripture we see the Holy Spirit’s active presence. Jesus declared that he had to leave so that the Helper could come; therefore, it should be of the upmost importance in our counseling and pastoral ministry to approach and deal well with the Holy Spirit.
Two Extreme Errors
There are two extreme directions people go in dealing with the Holy Spirit that lead to error. The first is thinking of the Holy Spirit only in light of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit. Paul spoke of this in his first letter to the Corinthians to correct their thinking. This extreme has many dangers, but for our purposes in counseling and pastoral ministry, this error can lead to thinking the Holy Spirit’s main purpose is to satisfy self-serving desires.
The other extreme is minimizing our need for the Holy Spirit to the point where He is not even treated like a member of the Godhead. There are just as many errors in this extreme. Jesus makes clear in John 14 and 16 that the Helper will lead us in life and Truth. To relegate the Holy Spirit to a place of “I will call you if I need you” is to treat God the Spirit like a bellboy. In other words, we call on him if we need him, but other than that, we don’t want him to bother us. This leads to a self-sufficiency that does not submit to the Lord’s leading.
The Power and Presence of the Holy Spirit
In John 14:15-26, Jesus brings clarity to the presence of the Holy Spirit and how he will direct us. In verse 16 Jesus introduces the role of the Holy Spirit as our Helper. You could say the Spirit is the big ‘C’ Counselor. He provides assistance, support, relief, advocacy, and guidance. He is the great Paraclete who offers the very things so many people vainly seek in therapy.
In John 14:17 Jesus describes the presence and power of the Spirit as being twofold. The Holy Spirit is with us but also dwells in us. The Spirit’s indwelling leads us toward life, worship, and conviction. He propels our sanctification and draws our affections towards Christ.
The power of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling is further explored in John 16:5-15. First, we see Jesus taking the opportunity to shepherd the disciples’ hearts. They were becoming painfully aware that Jesus would be leaving. He takes the opportunity to teach them how the Helper will lead them.
The Spirit would come and usher in a power they had not seen (16:7). Throughout the Old Testament we see the Spirit in different ways. But, the coming of the Spirit that Jesus references here will be to their great advantage beyond any frame of reference they have known up to this point.
John Piper compares this to a hydroelectric dam being built on a major river. As the dam is being constructed the water will continue to collect in a reservoir with a few tributaries flowing from the reservoir. The benefits of the river can still be experienced from the tributaries (fishing, irrigation, etc.). Once the dam begins to function as it was engineered to, then the power that comes from the river will be used to open up a new range of possibilities that had never been experienced from the river up to that point.
The Spirit would continue what Jesus had done (16:9). In so doing the Holy Spirit’s role would be testifying to Jesus (16:13-15). This is why gospel-centered counseling is so important. The Holy Spirit’s coming unleashed an indwelling power that convicts of sin, leads to life and worship, and draws hearts to Christ. To counsel apart His power is to quench the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s role is to lead us in these ways. We must be in step with this work.
Our Great Advantage – The Holy Spirit and Counseling
There are many advantages of the Holy Spirit coming (John 16:7). Good biblical counselors submit to the Holy Spirit’s leading so that these advantages are maximized:
- The Holy Spirit is the only one who can change hearts. The Holy Spirit brings about regeneration and with it come the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 3:1-3; 5:22-23).
- The Spirit brings conviction. Spirit-wrought conviction brings a good fear of the Lord that leads to repentance. The Spirit’s conviction can sting, but ultimately it is sweet to the soul and brings life.
- The Spirit helps us discern and understand Truth (John 14:26). Praying for the Spirit’s illumination of Truth should be a regular part of biblical counseling preparation and practice. To lead others apart from his leading is to rely on one’s own wisdom.
Growing in Submission and Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit
There is so much more that can be said regarding the Holy Spirit’s role in counseling and discipleship ministry. Let me close with a couple questions to consider as part of being faithfully used by the Holy Spirit.
- Have you relegated the Holy Spirit to some sort of bellboy, only calling on him when you need something? We are tools of the Holy Spirit—not the other way around. Have you tried to take the role of capital ‘C’ counselor?
- Consider the doctrine of mankind and the doctrine of God. An elevated view of man by default leads to a lower view of God. It is the same with the Holy Spirit. A less than biblical view of the Spirit leads to increased self-reliance when counseling others. Is your ministry marked more by the Spirit’s leading or something else?
- Being adept in biblical counseling is important. Continued skill development produces more proficiency for the Spirit to use in us. But, as you develop skill proficiency, you simultaneously run the risk of becoming more self-reliant rather than Spirit-reliant. In counseling we must be open to the Spirit’s leading.
- Overall, who is leading in the care and counsel you provide? Is it completely Spirit-driven or sustained by your efforts?