Promoting PErsonal Change, Centered on the PErson of Christ through the PErsonal Ministry of the Word
Biblical Counseling Coalition: Grace & Truth

The Gospel for Extremists


“Where have you been? I haven’t seen you for two weeks,” you ask a counselee over the phone.

She responds, “I blew it two weeks ago, and I just couldn’t face you. I won’t be back for counseling.”

Has this ever happened to you? Have you had counselees who have blown it? By blown it I mean that after a period of success in battling her particular sin (e.g., anger, depression, sexual sin, an addictive pleasure) your counselee has a moment of weakness where she willfully chooses to love her sin more than her Savior. That choice then leads her further than she thought she would go, and she becomes more engaged in the sinful behavior. She gets immersed in guilt and shame, which results in feeling estranged from both you and God. It is a dark and lonely path. In my biblical counseling experience, counselees who have blown it often respond in one of two extremes. Thankfully, the gospel offers true hope for both extreme responses.

Extreme #1: Making Too Little of Sin

Sometimes the response is not a strong enough hatred of the heart issues that led to the sin. Rarely do I focus solely upon sinful behavior because that is not the root problem. The heart motives driving the behavior are the problem, because those “thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 NASB) will continue until God transforms them into new ones. That may happen immediately, but I find that more often new desires develop after a season of practicing righteous thinking. My strategy in counseling people who do not hate their sinful desires is to begin with heart-probing questions. These help to reveal motives. I may already suspect certain heart motives based on data gathered in past interactions, but I want counselees to figure it out as well. This is for the purpose of leading them to repentance and reconciliation with Christ. If counselees make too little of their sin, I can share with them the magnitude of what Christ was required to do at Calvary.

Proverbs 28:13 reminds us of a simple truth: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Sometimes counselees desire to conceal their transgressions because they do not want to deal with it at the heart level. Hiding it, minimizing it, relabeling it, and shifting blame for it are some of the ways counselees might conceal sin without a hatred of it, often wanting to continue on in their sin.

In some cases, the sinful choice is the “best friend” of the counselee. For example, the self-injurer does not want to stop cutting, because it is her most effective way to deal with anger and disappointment. The alcoholic’s drink is his best tool to battle the hurt of a painful divorce. Letting go of that tool being used to escape pain is going to be difficult. Only the Word of God and the convicting power of the Holy Spirit as ministered by a committed, biblical friend in the local Body of Christ will offer real hope and practical help for counselees who make too little of their sin.

Extreme #2: Making Too Much of Sin

Sometimes the response is in the opposite direction. Counselees who believe Christ cannot or will not forgive them again and again for sin breeds hopelessness. Failing to see the everlasting grace and mercy of the forgiveness of Christ is not only a huge hurdle for counselees to overcome, but also is an offense to the living God. When the Lord passed before Moses in Exodus 34:6-7, He described Himself in the following manner:

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Moses responded as the representative of a sinful people in this moment with worship as he cried out for mercy and grace according to verses 8-9:

And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

Moses knew the sin of his people was severe (worship of a false god) and that he was begging for mercy to the One True God who describes Himself as “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Moses’ response to God was right and true: He knew they were undeserving of God’s mercy, but He pled for mercy anyway. A paraphrase could be “Because of Your character, Lord, please forgive us by not giving us what we deserve (mercy) and go with us, enabling us to do what You have called us to do (grace).”

Again, the gospel demonstrates the mercy and grace of a just and holy God who loves us and forgives the repentant heart of counselees who makes too much of their sin.


It is our task as biblical counselors to identify either of these extremes for counselees who have blown it and to lead them in examining their motives and inaccurate beliefs about God, His character, and the gospel. Our duty is to compassionately address our counselees by speaking the truth in love. Proverbs 27:5-6 reminds us: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” In speaking the truth in love, our goal is to emphasize the importance of knowing Jesus Christ intimately as the starting point of eternal life: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Either extreme can be overcome through an accurate depiction of the gospel and a skillful handling of the Scriptures that balances truth and grace (John 1:14). In either case of extreme thinking, presenting the gospel and opening the Scriptures will give the counselee an opportunity to know Christ accurately according to His Word. As you rely upon the Holy Spirit to do His work in the hearts of your counselees, may He be ever gracious and merciful to you as His ambassador. Remember that you are simply “one beggar showing another beggar where the bread is,” recognizing your need for Christ as you instruct and counsel a sin-stuck person. What a privilege to be a messenger of God’s mercy, grace, and truth!

Join the Conversation

  • How can you tell when a counselee is making too little or too much of his or her sin? What are some of the statements a counselee makes in either/both extremes?
  • How important is humility for the counselor and for the counselee experiencing either extreme?
Topics: BCC Exclusive, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , ,

Taking Every Thought Captive


“I’m stuck, and I feel like God’s nowhere to be found.”

“I can’t get over how they treated me—like I’m something less than human.”

“There’s no hope for me. I’m sorry I’ve wasted your time.”

“This is just God’s will for me. There’s no use in praying.”

I frequently hear these types of emotionally charged sentiments from counselees who are experiencing a season of depression. On occasion, I’ve been persuaded that the roots were at least partly physiological, but more often, there’s been an identifiable circumstance that gave rise to the person’s change in mood (job loss, illness, death of a loved one or spouse, divorce, etc.).

In many cases I’ve advised counselees to seek a medical checkup and to follow their doctors’ orders to care for their bodies, while we enter the counseling process to shepherd their souls. In all cases I’ve secured the counselees’ commitment not to hide any thinking that could be described as “suicidal,” but instead to bring into the light what usually prefers to remain hidden (cf. Eph. 5:13).

These and other “front matter” issues have not usually proven to be the most difficult to address. Fortunately, medical issues and suicidal thinking have not been common. What has been more common and difficult for counselees to overcome is the ongoing heart-level dialogue they have within themselves. On this point Paul Tripp has written, “No one is more influential in your life than you are, because no one talks to you more than you do.”[1]

Depression, it seems, grows into an unruly preacher of a false “gospel” that robs counselees of hope as it progressively dominates their thinking and potentially influences their behavior. Embedded in this harmful pattern is a distorted view of who God is and a lingering doubt concerning the trustworthiness of His promises. In such cases, helping counselees learn how to take back ownership of that “inner-voice” and saturate their depression with the truths of Scripture becomes a key to the change process.

While taking care not to minimize the reality of a counselee’s suffering, we must recall that depression, like anxiety, often over-estimates the weight of the problem, while it under-estimates the abundance of hope available in Christ. In the midst of depression, counselees may fall into this pattern of thinking where every disappointment serves only to reinforce unbiblical expectations. Ed Welch has written, “Depression can accumulate lots of inaccurate interpretations about ourselves, other people, and God himself. Scripture comes and corrects those misinterpretations and false beliefs.”[2] The biblical counselor must specialize in helping counselees overcome the lies of depression with the truths of Scripture.

Taking Every Thought Captive

The apostle Paul wrote that as Christians, we are to take “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). As understandable as a counselee’s depressive thoughts and sadness may be in a given scenario, the nature of depression’s message is often in opposition to the gospel.

If depression is like a preacher of a false gospel, the depressed person is like a congregation that gathers regularly to hear its voice and receive its instruction. In time, the roots of depression dig into the deepest recesses of the heart. This helps to explain why it so often plagues otherwise healthy people. But it also gives us clues as to how we may best help the depressed counselee.

While we may all benefit from an encouraging word from time to time, those who struggle with deep-seated spiritual depression need something more than religious platitudes, clichés, or the all-too-common “I’ll be praying for you!” Landscapers do not remove fully grown palm trees with plastic spoons. Likewise, biblical counselors does not attack spiritual problems with weak schemes and methodologies that deny the existence of the soul and the truth of Christ. Instead, they equip counselees with spiritual weapons that Paul said have “divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4).

We Fight for Change

Welch reminds us that the fight for gospel-driven change against depression is just that—a battle. He wrote, “These changes come only through a battle, and key to the battle is that we humble ourselves before the Lord and believe what He says.”[3]

This issue of belief is crucial. It is not a half-hearted belief, but a confidence in God’s Word in the face of difficult circumstances. Will counselees trust in the lies or half-truths of depression or in the promises of God? Understanding how and why they arrive at their conclusions is often helpful for leading them in a hope-giving conversation.

When working with counselees who are choosing to believe in the false gospel of depression, one strategy that may be helpful is to ask them to make a list of the negative statements they hear being preached by their “inner-voice” (i.e., their depression). Either on their own or perhaps in counseling, search out key Scripture references that speak truth in response to the depressive statements.

Finally, lead the counselees in a conversation that examines the statements by way of contrast and comparison. The goal is to arrive at points of practical application and renewed hope in the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the end, preaching the gospel to ourselves is powerful in the fight against spiritual depression. Troubled emotions are not silent. They are always preaching to the heart and demanding to be heard. As biblical counselors we must teach our depressed counselees not to allow their enemy to get the last word.

[1] Paul Tripp, “You Talk to Yourself,” Paul Tripp Ministries, Inc., February 26, 2014, accessed October 23, 2015,

[2] Edward T. Welch, Depression: Looking up from the Stubborn Darkness (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2011), 225.

[3] Ibid., 225.

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Biblical Counseling, Depression, Doubt, Fear/Worry, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Suffering | Tags: , ,

“Thanksgiving” –Radical Surgery!


Sherry came into my office quietly, sat down next to my desk, and stared at the floor. I knew enough to keep my mouth shut—sometimes when I do some of my best counseling! After what seemed to be a long time, she said, almost inaudibly, “I’ve been used.”

I waited silently. After another quiet time, still staring at the floor, her story began to spill out. Four years ago, in 8th grade, she had been raped by her cousin at a family summer pool party while she was getting into her swim suit.

Sherry had been a student of mine in a couple of classes over the years. Now as a senior she was in a course in which we were talking about marriage and future relationships. She said she knew from the class that she had to get some things cleared up because of the way they were affecting her now and would affect her later relationships.

She was an attractive and popular high school senior who had never accepted an invitation from a guy to go out—even in group activities. She was terrified of boys. She had not slept one night without waking up to nightmares since that 8th grade horror at her cousin’s house.

Thanksgiving and Hope

Sherry was looking for hope and much more. Hope was what I thought the Great Physician and Wonderful Counselor would want as a starting point. So, after she opened her heart and fears to me, I asked her to turn to Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” She read it and said, “I’ve done this for four years! I’ve asked the Lord to take this away from me every day, but he hasn’t!”

I asked her if she knew that I cared for her. She said she did; that’s why she had come to me. She had never told any of this to anyone else.

I said, “I’m going to ask you to think about something in this verse that could sound really insensitive, but trust me, ok? I do care for you greatly, and there is something here for you. There is something else in this verse besides prayer. Read it again.” She read it again.

“Thanksgiving?” she asked.

“Yes, but not thanksgiving for your cousin’s evil. There is no excuse for that. It was wicked and evil. Instead, the thanksgiving is for the fact that you have a Father who takes even the wickedness of people and uses it for good. He’s in charge of the evil plans of people, and He always uses them for the good of His children.” She knew Romans 8:28, but its comfort had eluded her.

“Remember how God used the evil plans of people to bring about the crucifixion of Jesus? Remember how He used that wicked act for the salvation of all His people? Their evil was followed up by the resurrection and the gospel of life for the world.

“Your cousin meant it for evil—but God meant it for good. (She remembered the story of Joseph in Genesis 50.) He who is good will use it for good in your life now and in the future. He makes resurrection real for you now—as he did in Jesus’ life and (figuratively speaking) in Joseph’s life.”

Not a Mantra

Philippians is speaking of being grateful for the fact that God is greater than any wickedness against us, any threat toward us, or any uncertainty about our future. He provides for this grateful attitude through the cross (Romans 8:32) for all His people, for all time, for every circumstance. Thanksgiving is not a formula or mantra with magical powers. It is humble submission to His good, wise purpose. In Psalm 50, God rebuked His people for being focused on ritual obedience and yet missing the heart of worship and obedience. Then He said, “Offer to God [i.e. to Elohim, the sovereign, powerful One-in-charge] a sacrifice of thanksgiving and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (vv. 14, 15). He’s the One who puts a life together; He is the One who fixes a life when it breaks, and so He is the One who we seek with thanksgiving.

Sherry needed to “call upon” Him with a spirit of thanksgiving so that the “rest” that Jesus offers to “troubled” people who come to Him would be hers (Mt. 11:28, 29). Thanksgiving was a beginning place for her to “come” to Him. It was a starting place for her to look for help, because it oriented her toward a loving, caring, controlling, purposeful, and good Father.

Philippians 4:6 isn’t a band-aid simply to cover a deep hurt. Sometimes it is treated like a formula or “easy” solution to deeply troubling anxiety. However, Paul’s counsel is radical surgery when the character of God is brought to the forefront and when submission to His wise and good decree is where one’s hurt takes him or her. Then the “peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard [their] hearts and [their] minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). There is great assurance here for troubled people who crave “rest.”

I Could Give God a Great Big Hug

I urged Sherry to go home, kneel by her bed, and read Philippians 4:6-7. Then, if she thought they applied in the way we discussed, I urged her to thank God for His goodness, His purpose in her life, and His “bigness” over all the evil her cousin had done to her.

The next morning she was standing at my door when I got to school, bubbly and almost jumping up and down with excitement. “Dr. Horne, I did what you said, and I slept last night all the way through, for the first time in four years.”

We continued to talk regularly over the next month to unravel other features of this evil influence in her life. In the spring she accepted an invitation from a guy to go to a senior event—her first date.

On the Monday morning after the outing, I found a folded note under my door when I got to my office. “The time on Friday night was great. I could go up and give God a great big hug. He has taken something from me that I never thought would leave.”

Thanksgiving is for Thanksgiving—The Radical Kind

This short story is not intended to be a model for counseling; nor is it a picture of all that is needed for counseling people with such trauma in their past. But it does illustrate how thanksgiving is a powerful tool in God’s arsenal of weapons for our fight against the sin that comes out of us and that comes at us.

Thanksgiving is radical surgery—heart surgery as God intends it. It opens the door for our wonderful Father to deliver someone “in the day of trouble.” It opens the door for a “peace that surpasses” this world’s so called “common sense.” This kind of thanksgiving is an antidote for anxiety, fear, uncertainty, trauma, hate, and betrayal. God is good! May our Father use this Thanksgiving season to unpack His goodness and increase our “peace” with this radical surgery!

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Biblical Counseling, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Sin | Tags: , , ,

Gratitude Builds Hope


1 Peter 3:15b: “Always be prepared to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

Gratitude Builds Hope

Before we can engage in potentially life-changing relationships with those who do not know Christ or in healthy one-another relationships with other believers, our hearts must be transformed by the hope-giving power of the gospel. Salvation is the beginning of our transformation in the ongoing process of sanctification.

As I counsel and mentor women and teens, I am often struck by the lack of hope that both believers and non-believers express. I am even more struck by how often I can deny the hope that I say I believe is true.

It is easy to understand why a non-believer expresses hopelessness, but harder to understand why a believer expresses hopelessness. As I have engaged with these believers, and as I think about my own unbelief, I have noticed one overriding theme within our inability to acknowledge the hope that we possess in Christ. It is this: A lack of gratitude. Without gratitude, we will feel hopeless because hope and gratitude are closely connected. You can’t have one without the other. Gratitude builds hope.

Picture a conversation with a friend who is grumpy, negative, and pessimistic. The glass is always half-empty. Think of the gloomy character from Winnie-the-Pooh, Eeyore. Is this the type of person who exhibits hopefulness? No, because this person’s behaviors and attitude are the result of an ungrateful heart. They remind us of the important lesson of Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

People who rarely express gratitude reveal what is in their hearts. Believers can easily fall into this ungrateful attitude if they focus more on circumstances and self than on the gospel. Only the gospel can transform an ungrateful heart into a truly grateful one. The gospel is the reason for our hope. A foundation of gratitude is needed in order to have hope and before we can share hope with others.

Peter tells us to “always be prepared.” Part of that preparation is being grateful for all of God’s good gifts, starting with the amazing gift of the gospel – Jesus.

Giving thanks is not just a good idea, it is much more than that. It is God’s will for us: “…give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). When gratitude does not come to mind automatically, we must still choose it. Note that Paul says “in ALL circumstances.” What does ALL mean? It means ALL! You might be tempted to say, “But wait, what about my illness or my broken relationship? Am I to be thankful for those things?” Read the verse again: “…give thanks IN all circumstances…” That is different from thanking God for sickness, although I believe that you can thank Him for that, too. Perhaps you have read The Hiding Place with Corrie ten Boom’s account of the flea infested barracks that she and her sister, Betsy, lived in at the Nazi concentration camp. They had been able to smuggle in a Bible. As they read it, Betsy became convicted about thanking God for everything, even the fleas. Corrie wasn’t certain at first, but soon they were thanking God even for the fleas. Why? Because of those fleas, the guards left them alone and the women were able to study God’s Word right there in the middle of that camp. Many women came to Christ as a result.

There is much to learn from that profound account of the fleas. If we encourage others to be grateful for the fleas in their lives (financial problems, marriage struggles, depression, anxiety, loneliness, all of life’s struggles), we will be building hope in that relationship because gratitude builds hope.

Hope Builds Relationships

Without gratitude, what else do you have but grumpy, cynical pessimistic Eeyore? Where is the hope in that attitude? Why would anyone want to spend time with you? Being ungrateful will hinder your ability to build relationships. It will prevent you from convincing people that you believe the gospel is true or that it applies to their sin and suffering. Gratitude displays the gospel to others, while being ungrateful is a denial of the gospel.

God offers us real and lasting hope, a hope that not only points us to our eternal life but also gets us through the difficult struggles in life right now. We are promised a future filled with hope (cf. Jeremiah 29:11), because hope is a part of God’s plan for us (Romans 15:13). When we exhibit this hope to others, it is winsome and encouraging. Those around us will want to know the reason for the hope that we have.

Relationships Build the Kingdom

In order to cultivate gratitude in your own heart, there are some practical things you can do:

  1. Read and meditate on God’s Word regularly, by yourself and in the your local church. Learn doctrine and theology so that you are prepared to engage in gratitude-based discussions with those who do not know Christ and with believers who need to revisit the hope that they have in Christ.
  1. Engage in a rich and regular prayer life. If you are not acknowledging God, you will not be grateful.
  1. Be in fellowship with other Christians who exude gratitude. Those who exude gratitude also exude hopefulness. The more you are encouraged to be grateful, the more grateful you will become.
  1. This may sound like a cliche, but it is actually a profound and worthwhile exercise: Keep a gratitude journal. Write down three things every morning and three things every night for which you are thankful. This discipline will force you to focus on the many things you should be grateful for on a daily basis. It will also give you something to look back on and recall what God has done in your heart and life. I assign this as counseling homework, and I purpose to do this myself as well.

Hope in our relationships reflects the gospel to a world that needs to know Christ. To share the reason for the hope that we have means that we must cultivate gratitude in our own hearts and then build it into our relationships. As a result, God’s kingdom grows.

Gratitude builds hope, hope builds relationships, and relationships build God’s kingdom!

Join the Conversation

How are you building hope in your relationships?

Are you prepared to share the reason for the hope that you have?

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Biblical Counseling, Hope, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , ,

Tell Your Story and Partner with Us Today!


Have you been encouraged by the BCC? We would love to hear your story and add it to the ones below. I want to share a few things we have heard about the impact of the BCC in the last 12 months based on some of our annual goals.

1. We wanted to have more of a global impact … 

“Thank you all at the BCC for your willingness to invest in the lives of others across the globe. Your ministry efforts really are making an impact over here. So we thank the Lord for you.” (Pastor Kyle Johnston, MABC, South Africa)

2. We wanted to produce multi-author volumes that would be standard resources for those who want to be equipped to counsel from God’s Word …

“The books that the Biblical Counseling Coalition has written are more than textbooks; they are sanctification books–showing the way of change and giving clarity to the way of a Christ-like life.” (Dr. Thomas Zempel, Professor of Biblical Counseling, Shepherds Seminary)

“We recently revised our syllabi in our D.Min. program and have included all three books as we see them as vital to the equipping of the next generation of biblical counselors.” (Dr. Howard Eyrich, Director of the D.Min. Program in Biblical Counseling at Birmingham Theological Seminary)

3. We wanted our website to be a trustworthy place where people could find the best resources and BC ministries in the world …

“As the pastor of a church in a small town, the BCC blogs and resources have been of great help and encouragement!” (Pastor Jeremy Church, Wolcott Christian Church, Wolcott, Indiana)

4. We wanted our annual BCC Leadership Retreat to be among the personal and professional high-water marks for our Council Board members each year (in 2015 our retreat is on Mental Illness and BC) …

“The 2014 leadership retreat was absolutely a gift from God to my soul and life. So grateful to be part of this organization.” (Dr. Dwayne Bond, Senior Pastor, Wellspring Church, Charlotte, North Carolina)

* * * * * * *

We have similar goals for 2016. In addition, we are planning the following for the upcoming year:

(1) Hosting a Global Leadership Summit to highlight leader care

(2) Updating and launching a mobile friendly website

(3) Placing a greater emphasis on developing a broad international network

It is hard to measure the importance of unity and synergy among partnering organizations or the value of providing access to trusted resources. Some of you have been around BC for a long time and you can see the changes. Others are just glad for where we are as a movement and are reaping the benefits. Either way, would you consider supporting the BCC with a 2015 year-end gift? Like most para-church ministries, we have had a tough financial year. Your gift of any amount will help us to advance biblical counseling globally at a time when there is a desperate need for the private and personal ministry of God’s Word.

How can you give? We have made giving pretty easy: Donate Today. Select a monthly amount, or give a one-time gift to help us end this year strongly. Since we are not a membership organization or a certifying agency and we typically do not hold a big conference every year, your financial partnership plays an essential role in sustaining the ministry of BCC. Once again, I ask you to reflect on the ways you may have benefited directly from our blogs or books or more indirectly from seeing the movement become more unified and effective. Maybe you have in mind a leader from our Council Board or Board of Directors who has been helpful to you, and you are just happy to give to an organization that is encouraging them. Perhaps you are like me and are excited to see the next generation of biblical counselors being equipped by multiple biblical counseling organizations whose impact has been strengthened by their partnership with one another through the BCC.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I am truly thankful for the way the BCC represents the Lord’s heart for unity, for its encouragement of leaders, and for its role as a megaphone to promote those who make up the best that biblical counseling has to offer. Please pray for us and consider how you can partner financially with us. We invite you to leave a comment on how the BCC has blessed you. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Dr. Garrett Higbee
BCC Executive Director

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Biblical Counseling, Christian Living, Cross-Cultural Ministry, Gospel-Centered Ministry, Local Church Ministry, Multi-Ethnic Ministry, Pastoral Resources, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , , , ,

Equipping for Church-Wide Ministry Skills


I posed this question to our adult Sunday School class: “What are the personal ministry skills that every single Christ-follower should have?” After a lengthy and involved discussion, we agreed upon four overarching answers:

1. Be Able to Pray with and for Someone

Prayer was the first skill that our class identified. “If you are going to minister to someone, you have to be willing to pray for them!” Praying for someone is hard work; it takes dedication and demonstrates real love.

As their teacher, I agreed with the class about the priority of prayer, but I wanted to stress that each Christ-follower should be able to pray with someone, not just for someone. Many of my classmates agreed with me, but a number of them grew silent. Praying out-loud with someone else is a different skill than just praying on your own. There are a few occasions in the Bible where prayer is silent and offered internally (e.g., Neh. 1:4), but most of the prayers in the Bible are publicly offered (see the Psalms).

For the last decade at our church we have been encouraging each other to offer what we call “The 10 Second Prayers” (10SP). These are “catch-as-catch-can” prayers, offered over the back of a pew or in the foyer—one last thing you do before you say goodbye to someone. Ten Second Prayers are not limited to ten seconds, but the idea is to simply and briefly connect two people with their Lord. Perhaps you’ve been talking about a health issue, a relational problem, or even just the weather. Why not top it off by asking if you can quickly pray for that person before leaving?

How many times have you said, “I’ll pray for you,” and then not done it? The 10SP is doing it right now. In our growing experience, it means a lot to people to be prayed for like this. This genuine prayer can be powerful and effective (cf. James 5:16). If each Christ-follower in your church practiced the 10SP, a lot of personal ministry would be done, as it should be, by the joints and ligaments of the church (Ephesians 4:16).

2. Be Able to Get Truth from Your Bible and Apply It to Life

Our adult Sunday School class knows that the answers are in the Bible. So, if Christ-followers are going to minister to others, they have to develop the skills to find answers to their questions and others’ questions.

Over the last several years, we have offered intensive one-week classes on personal Bible study during our Family Bible Week event in the summer. I have been teaching a basic OIA (Observation, Interpretation, Application) process, with an emphasis each year on a different genre. So far, we have covered gospels, parables, epistles, psalms, proverbs, narratives, and prophetic books. As we talked about ministry skills in this adult class, lights began to come on for people. They were beginning to see why I have stressed personal OIA Bible study with an emphasis on “A”: not just applying the Bible to their own lives, but seeing how it applies to someone else to whom they are ministering. For example, Psalm 88 might express how we feel when we are at the “lowest of the low.” Hopefully, we don’t need that one very often, but it is there for us when we do. What if you are walking with someone through a deep depression or a valley of relational sorrow? Could you offer Psalm 88?

My class wanted to stress that if you’re going to help someone else, you need to have experienced help yourself. It’s important to understand the change process as it is found in Scripture. Not only do we find a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” in the Bible, but we find a grand story of redemption that we became a part of as the Spirit ministers in our lives. We need to train each other to understand and to make the redemption story their own.

3. Be Able to Ask Loving Questions and Listen with Discernment

Listening was a skill that came up several times in our discussion. It is the most basic of relational skills–everyone can do it, though not everyone is good at it. Listening is the first step to involvement in someone else’s life. We can all tell when someone is not listening!

Listening is active, not passive. Listening builds trust. It requires humility. It involves self-discipline (it’s much easier to talk!). When done well, listening builds a relationship.

Part of listening well is asking clarifying questions. Our class decided that some questions were better than others. Questions motivated by love are the best. Sometimes those questions will be harder to ask, because they may be confrontational or feel intrusive to the other person. But a loving person will ask them anyway.

The flipside of loving questions is loving openness. My class was adamant that being authentic and real, open about your own faults, was required. I agreed and stressed that we should become personally skilled at confession and forgiveness. Saying “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” are basic building blocks of Christian relationships, but this is a lost art that the church needs to recover.

One key listening skill that I’ve learned from counselors is to reflect back what I hear someone saying and to make sure to include the emotion that I hear in the person’s voice. For example, don’t just parrot back, “You had a bad day. Your boss was unreasonable.” Include the emotion: “Sounds like a rough day. I’ll bet you were feeling trampled upon!” You normally get immediate feedback that the person feels heard.

We also need to learn to listen with discernment, open to the possibility of having been told a lie. If so, the person needs to be challenged in a loving manner.

4. Be Able to Be Patient in the Right Ways at the Right Times

This may not be a skill as much as an attitude, but our class was agreed that it is essential. We must develop patience–it is the first descriptor of love in action in 1 Corinthians 13:4! Change normally takes time. God has been patient with us, so we need to pass it on.

And yet, we can’t just be content to let people wallow in their sin. Writing about Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, Paul Miller says, “Jesus loves her just the way she is, yet he refused to leave her the way she is” (Love Walked Among Us, p. 188). Being “patient” with someone who is hurting themselves or others is not helpful.

Frankly, I don’t know how to equip my people to be patient in the right ways and at the right times. I try to model it. I talk about it. I confess when I fail at it. But, like most avenues of wisdom, it’s easier to recognize than it is to teach. May the Spirit work it into us!

Join the Conversation.

What would you add to our class’s list? What do you think are the personal ministry skills that every single Christ-follower should have?

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Biblical Counseling, Christian Living, Equipping, Gospel-Centered Ministry, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Marrying with Children


The engagement season is just around the corner. More people get engaged at Christmas and Valentine’s Day than at any other times of the year. Shortly thereafter, the calls begin to come in from those looking for premarital counseling. Engagement should be a serious time of planning and preparation for married life. What we often find is once he slips that beautiful engagement ring on her finger, wedding planning takes over and very quickly “THE WEDDING” becomes a fast moving train the couple cannot slow down.

A reality of our generation is that 40% of married couples with children in the US are step-couples. At least one partner had a child from a previous relationship before marriage; this includes full and part-time residential stepfamilies and those with children under or over the age of 18.[1] When children will be blended into the new marriage, our caution is to discourage haste, set aside planning a huge or elaborate wedding affair, and instead take the time that is necessary to determine if this marriage is a good idea in the first place.

I cannot emphasize strongly enough that premarital counseling is absolutely critical for all those desiring to marry, and especially so when children are involved. In fact, when children will be a part of the new marriage, I recommend the couple consider pre-engagement counseling. This will help the new family begin with a solid foundation. Many couples with blended families who arrive in our counseling office wish they would have taken the time to get premarital counseling.

There are multiple issues to be addressed when those with children decide to marry and join their families together. You won’t be able to address every problem or situation, but you will certainly see the glaring ones.

Blended families are unique in many ways and bear little to no resemblance to the Brady Bunch. It takes on average 2-3 years before this new union operates or feels like a family. Topics covered in premarital counseling will help keep expectations reasonable between the children and the new spouse. Both adults learn how to support each other in parenting and discipline so the children are not able to drive a wedge between them.

The expectations the happy couple has going into the new marriage are usually dashed pretty quickly and replaced with some uncomfortable and even unhappy realities. The premarital counseling process will help the couple to understand and accept that while they are very happy, remarriage is generally a loss for children. Remarriage ends the child’s dream of parental reconciliation. Many children secretly cling to the hope that mom and dad will get back together.

When a single parent marries, the child can experience a sense of loss because the parent now must be shared with someone else, and in some cases, shared with many other people! If the new parent comes with his or her own children, this can add layers of loss from the child’s perspective.

In premarital counseling, the couple will learn how to minister to the children and how to help them understand that the pending marriage is the beginning of another relationship for them, an additional relationship for them. It is critical that children are aware that even though they won’t ever have their original family unit, the Lord has allowed them to have more people to love, support, and care for them.

It is also a good idea to bring children into the counseling process for the couple to hear what they are experiencing and to learn how to address biblically any losses their children are experiencing. For example, a discussion of Hebrews 4:14-16 may aid a child in understanding that Jesus understands her sorrow and her trials. You can remind her that Jesus was part of a blended family!

Wise parents and step-parents will affirm the role the non-custodial parent has in the child’s life (when possible). Premarital counseling will help assure the child there is no intention of obstructing that relationship with the biological parent (when possible).

To children who are fearful this new marriage and family won’t last, premarital family counseling will teach them about marriage and family from a covenantal perspective. Children might need reminders that parent and step-parent desire to honor and glorify God in their marriage, which means they will work on it, even when it is hard. This many give the children assurances that the parents are not going to give up on making it all work.

You should remind everyone that new relationships will develop over time. Help them develop habits of praying for the new marriage, praying for the children, and involving the children in prayer as together they form a new family unit.

A blended family can be a great family, but it takes a lot of work and dedication. It takes a lot of grace and understanding, because this is a journey for everyone.

[1]From: (accessed 11/4/15).

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Biblical Counseling, Marriage & Family, Parenting, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Premarital, Remarriage | Tags: , , , ,

A Preview of Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk?


Note from the BCC staff: In this blog, Brad Hambrick writes about his forthcoming book on homosexuality, Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk (Minneapolis, MN: Cruciform Press), due to be released in January, 2016.

Part 1: Why Did I Write Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk

It might be more helpful, at least at first, to explain why I didn’t write Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk. I didn’t write this book because I believe homosexuality is the most important or pressing issue of our day. Actually, to the contrary, I wrote this book because it was my perception (accurate or inaccurate) that part of what complicates the subject is that only people who are very passionate about the subject have the courage/boldness/audacity to speak or write on the subject.

It was my belief that someone who didn’t feel like history hinges on homosexuality needed to be part of the conversation. This is why in the opening chapter I try to help readers have an accurate feel for how I weigh the importance of this subject.

I do not consider homosexuality my “hill to die on” issue. I don’t believe the probability of experiencing the Third Great Awakening or the superpower status of America hinges on the moral or political issues surrounding homosexuality. Neither do I believe that gay rights are the logical extension of women’s suffrage or racial equality efforts.

If your position on homosexuality is approximated in the paragraph above, you might be uncomfortable with this book. When the subject is framed in either of these ways, the answer becomes so immediately “obvious” that it is hard to conceive how someone could disagree with you. Even if this is where you are, I hope you’ll keep reading.

There is a second reason I wrote this book – I was asked to, both directly and indirectly. This book was not on my radar until a friend came to me and said, “Would you be willing to write a book on how conservative Christians can have gay friends without compromising their convictions? I think that kind of book is missing and it’s not something we do well. I think you have a tone in dealing with sensitive subjects that could navigate the topic well.”

My initial answer was, “No. Thank you for the encouragement, but I don’t think I’m passionate enough about the subject to write a book on it.” But the request was “sticky,” and I began to listen a bit more closely to the debates in the Christian blogosphere. That is when I began to realize my non-passion for the subject might be an asset instead of a liability.

As I listened to the debate, I had two conclusions. (1) “Conservatives” came across as if they had never cried with a friend who experienced same-sex attraction. They were even wondering what “same-sex attraction” meant. (2) “Liberals” came across as if the only way to be authentic was to embrace a gay identity as if sexual attraction trumps every other aspect of personhood. Yet, I couldn’t imagine experiencing same-sex attraction or having to choose between these two polarized positions if I wanted someone to help me think through my experience of same-sex attraction.

Then I began to reflect on the number of pastoral counseling conversations I’ve had with individuals who experienced unwanted same-sex attraction. I thought about one of the primary sticking points in these conversations: the absence of authentic friendships in which these individuals could be fully known (honest about their struggle) and fully loved (without placing a strain on their Christian friendships) without embracing a gay identity and joining the gay community.

Counseling might provide some relief, but only an understanding community can offer hope. As I say in chapter two of Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk, “Counseling without friendship is like being stranded in the ocean and given a raft for one hour a week but asked to swim the other 167 hours.” A counselor who counsels without a church that understands creates an impasse; there is hope (“God doesn’t hate me because I experience same-sex attraction”) without direction (“I am still incredibly alone and the church doesn’t seem willing to help alleviate this significant part of my struggle”).

So I said yes and began the process of writing Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk. My enthusiasm for the value of the project has grown. But, honestly, I don’t look forward to the controversy it may bring. Who can write 100 pages on homosexuality and not upset some people? That grieves me. Not because I am thin-skinned and anxious about people not liking me, but because “debating the topic” usually means “missing the person” who is struggling.

My greatest prayer for this book would be that God would use this book to equip the church to build bridges of friendship to care for Christians who experience unwanted same-sex attraction and for non-believers who did not find the fulfillment they had hoped for in a gay identity. When those conversations occur in living rooms and coffee shops, maybe that is the beginning of a change in the tone of conversations on social platforms and debate panels.

Regardless of whether that latter, lofty objective is achieved, I will be elated if Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk results in same-sex attraction no longer feeling like a sentence of “solitary confinement” for individuals looking for hope and direction from Christian friends in the midst of their experience of same-sex attraction.

Part 2: What Will You Learn in Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk

In this section I want to introduce you to the kind of questions that are addressed in the six chapters of Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk. I hope to equip the church to be a place where situations like the ones below become increasingly frequent.

  • An individual who embraces a gay identity could say, “I have friends who are Christians and disagree with my chosen lifestyle but love me well. I believe they would gladly help me if I had a need.”
  • A teenager who is beginning to experience same-sex attraction could say, “I have Christian friends who understand what I’m facing and care enough to help me think through this confusing experience.”
  • Parents of a child who is experimenting with homosexual behaviors could say, “Our small group cared for us well and helped us think through how to love our son. It was surprising how safe we felt to wrestle with the questions we were facing.”
  • An individual who was considering leaving the gay lifestyle could say, “The Christians that I knew while I was openly gay are a big part of the reason I may pursue what I now believe to be God’s design for sexuality.”

If these statements represent the way you think conversations about homosexuality should be like in the church, I believe you’ll find Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk to be a helpful resource.

Chapter One: “Language, Stigma, and Expectations”

What is the difference between the experience of same-sex attraction, the engagement in homosexual behavior, and the embracing of a gay identity? How do these categories help Christians speak from a conservative sexual ethic without shutting down conversation? What are the terms and forms of logic that immediately designate us “unsafe” for those who experience same-sex attraction? What are healthy, realistic expectations in a voluntary conversation when two people have a vested interest in conflicting value systems? How can the church be a safe place for these conversations, so that “coming out” after 10+ years of silence is not the only way to let people know about a same-sex attraction?

Chapter Two: “Being Comfortable Being Uncomfortable”

Talking about sex is awkward enough. If we believe that Romans 1 is the only road to homosexuality (i.e., progressive sexual depravity), then we will respond to individuals who experience same-sex attraction as if they were the equivalent of sex addicts and pedophiles. Our ignorance of same-sex attraction heightens the awkwardness of these conversations and increases the likelihood we will be inadvertently offensive. This chapter examines the common internal obstacles to being a mature, informed participant in conversations with friends or family members who experience same-sex attraction.

Chapter Three: “Getting to Know the Experience of SSA[1]

What is it like to realize that your experience of romantic attraction is different from most people? What are the common markers in the journey of individuals who experience same-sex attraction? What is it like to “know” that your attractions cannot be talked about “at church,” but other people’s can? How would that dynamic influence your experience of Christianity and culture in general? An appreciation for these questions (but not necessarily agreement with your friend’s conclusions) is vital to being a good friend.

Chapter Four: “Getting to Know the Person Experiencing SSA”

An appreciation for chapter three does not constitute the knowledge of any given individual. Knowledge about a subject without knowledge of a person is debate-prep more than relationship; it aims at winning an argument more than influencing a person. This chapter provides good questions to ask based upon the content of chapter three and gives guidance on how not to reduce an individual’s existence to sexual attraction when the subject comes to the forefront of conversation. 

Chapter Five: “Winning an Argument vs. Influencing a Friend”

“Gotcha” lines never transformed anyone’s sexuality. They get applause from those who agree and disdain from those who don’t; they polarize. What should be our tone and emphasis when discussing biblical passages on homosexuality? How early in a relationship do I need to bring up these passages in order to be a faithful Christian? Is it profitable to discuss things like research biases in genetic findings related to homosexuality? If so, how, when, and for what purpose? At what point does protecting a friendship for the sake of influence become moral compromise?

Chapter Six: “Navigating Difficult Conversations”

Would you go to my wedding? Should my parents allow me and my partner to come over for Christmas? Am I not supposed to be hurt by Christians who say things in attacking and demeaning ways? If I do not experience any, or very limited, opposite-sex attraction do I have to remain celibate my entire life to be a Christian? These and other subjects are addressed in an annotated dialogue that helps the reader think through what it would be like to have conversations with someone who experiences same-sex attraction.

[1] SSA = same-sex attraction.

Topics: Biblical Counseling, Christian Living, Homosexuality, Megaphone Post, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Sin | Tags: , , , ,

I Messed Up: Confessing Sin to Your Boyfriend or Girlfriend Before You Get Engaged


Note from the BCC Staff: Today, we decided to bring one of our popular posts from the archive. We hope it is a blessing to you.

Jonathan wanted to get engaged to Julie. They had been dating for about a year, and things seemed to be going really well. They had grown very fond of one another. They were encouraged by each other’s faith. They had lots of family and friends investing in them as individuals and as a couple. They had met the parents. With each passing day, they were getting closer and closer to engagement. What was left?

Just a few days ago, Jonathan sat on my couch and with a look of dread written all over his face, he told me, “I don’t want to tell her about my past. I scared she won’t forgive me for the stupid things I did prior to meeting her.”

There is a strong temptation at moments like these to not say anything. Why? Because hiding is fundamental to the way sin works. Sinners cower in the darkness and hate to be exposed to light. Picture Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after eating the forbidden fruit. They covered themselves with fig leaves and hid behind a tree. Because of their guilt and shame, they didn’t want to expose themselves. As the old adage goes, “What they don’t know can’t hurt them, right?”

If you are dating someone right now, are you scared to tell him or her about your sinful past? Whether you’ve struggled with difficult sins from the past, or you are still struggling with significant sins right now, it’s important to talk to your future spouse about these things.

Why should you say something to your boyfriend or girlfriend before getting engaged? Because it is important that the other person actually knows who he or she is marrying. No secrets. Don’t hide your sin. Mold grows in the darkness, not in the light. Honesty and bringing things out into the light is usually the more redemptive way to handle any relationship (Ephesians 5:1-14). How much more so should you do this in a dating relationship, especially when you are considering making it a permanent relationship by getting married?

Too many couples hide sin in the midst of marriage, and that decision sadly inhibits their ability to build genuine intimacy. Your goal in marriage is to become one flesh (Genesis 2:24)—to be unified—and you can’t do that if you let sin get in the way. Hiding sin in your dating relationship or engagement is a poor precedent for a potential marriage.

There are two types of sin that might need to be confessed in a dating relationship (or in engagement) prior to marriage—current foolishness or past foolishness.

Current Foolishness

Foolishness that is current and on-going needs to be discussed between a boyfriend and girlfriend in some detail, because it has huge implications for the immediate relationship. Wisdom is needed as to how much detail to discuss, so it is good to seek counsel from an older, wiser married person before you to talk to your boyfriend or girlfriend.

The boyfriend or girlfriend needs to hear enough to know: (1) how to be an ally with you against your on-going sin and (2) if he or she wants to marry into this problem. Every husband and wife has problems (because everyone is a sinner!), but one of the choices you make in picking a spouse is which set of problems you choose to get married to.

To deal with current foolishness in a dating relationship, consider the parable of the wicked servant in Matthew 18. Notice how God’s forgiveness of our enormous debt of sin should motivate us to forgive the much smaller relational “debts” that have come between us and another person. Compare the difference between the wicked servant’s debt in verse 24 and the fellow servant’s debt in verse 28. Notice how much greater the debt is between the wicked servant and the king; and consequently, how foolish the wicked servant is because he is unwilling to forgive the much smaller debt of the other person.   The principle is simple: Those who have been forgiven much will more keenly see the mercy of God; so it is no surprise that they will in turn be willing to forgive others. The fact that God has first forgiven us (Eph. 4:32) overflows into our forgiving of others.

Past Foolishness

Past foolishness describes sins from a previous season of your life. As you take this big step of getting engaged, you want your future spouse to feel confident about the person he or she is marrying. Sharing past sins is an important part of revealing who you are and what you’ve struggled with.

Sexual sins are the most common sins people need to share from their past, but a wide variety of other sins could also fit in this category (bad financial debt, drug or alcohol addiction, eating disorders, etc.). However, most folks are scared to share because they fear rejection. But if they are honest, and if God has already forgiven them, they can reasonably expect that eventually (or hopefully immediately) the future spouse will accept that the sins are covered by God’s grace.

When you share with your boyfriend or girlfriend, a general rule of thumb is to be more general, rather than specific, about your past sin. There is no need to go into detail about it (with one exception, addressed below). If your boyfriend or girlfriend demands more detail, be careful about how much more you say because: (1) He or she might have a false notion that more knowledge will somehow give more control over your problems, and that is just not true. (2) Your sin has already been paid for once by Christ, and you have received God’s forgiveness for that sin. You don’t need to re-crucify your sin through your future spouse’s cross-examination. Give him or her enough detail to understand the nature of the sin—what it was and when it happened in your life.  After that, seek to move on with your life together.

In regards to sexual sin from the past, we break it down into three categories:

(1) Pornography – “hard” porn (magazines), or more commonly, “soft” porn (internet)

(2) Premarital sex

(3) Scandalous sins – sleeping with prostitutes, going to strip clubs or massage parlors, etc.

For pornography and premarital sex, be more general about your past sins. For the more scandalous sexual sins, you need to give the other person more details and let him or her ask any questions that come to mind. But just because your sins were scandalous doesn’t mean the other person gets to be highly critical of you. Once you have revealed your sins and talked about them, the same Christian response is required as of other sins—forgiveness in Christ (Ephesians 4:32).

Being this vulnerable with your darkest sins is a very hard thing to do. Please realize, your future spouse would much more prefer honesty over lying. Hiding your past is basically lying to the other person. When you get married, you have an expectation that you know your spouse. Many boyfriends or girlfriends will be very willing to walk alongside of you and help you battle your sin, but would be very angry and disappointed if they found out you’ve been hiding things about your past.

Being vulnerable about past sins sets a good pattern for openness and honesty in the relationship.  It also serves to protect your future marriage. If your past struggles return, a spouse equipped with knowledge about your past problems can more readily help you fight them. A spouse ignorant of the problem can’t do much to help.

If you are considering dating a person, look for whether or not the person acknowledges and is quick to admit his or her own faults. Confession and honesty are good for the soul (Proverbs 28:13-14), and they build endurance in the marriage.

As your boyfriend or girlfriend confesses past sins, one question to consider is: Does this person live now in a way that realistically takes into account those past sins and faults? For example, consider a young man who struggled with pornography in his past, but doesn’t have any protective software on his computer or accountability with friends. Does he show himself to be foolish and ignorant about the power of sin? His girlfriend should be troubled by his superficial treatment of sin and his downplaying of past problems. She shouldn’t stay in the relationship if his disposition towards his own sin doesn’t change.

A Hard Conversation

Back to my friend Jonathan. He went ahead and had the difficult conversation with Julie. I wish I could say that Julie was quick to forgive. She wasn’t. Initially she took the news very hard. She prayed, searched the Scriptures, and (with Jonathan’s permission) talked with a pastor, her parents, and close friends. After a few days, she came back to him and said she wanted to move forward. Because God had forgiven him, she wanted to forgive him also. Now that she knew about Jonathan’s difficult past, she planned to leave it behind (1 Corinthians 13:6) as they built a future together.

What if Julie decided to break it off? Jonathan could give in to the lie that he was foolish for being honest. Even if Julie had decided not to move forward, as hard as that would have been, that would not have made God any less faithful. For Christians, living in the light—a life of honesty, vulnerability, and transparency—is the higher calling that we are called to live as we follow in the ways of our Savior.

Join the Conversation

What is your biblical counsel for dating/engaged couples regarding confessing current and/or past sins?

Topics: Adultery, BCC Exclusive, Biblical Counseling, Conflict, Dating, Forgiveness, Hope, Intimacy, Men/Husbands, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Pornography, Relationships, Repentance, Women/Wives | Tags: , , , ,

Resources for Coping or Freedom from Slavery? Part Two


Last time I referred to a psychology book that stated that religion can offer resources to help people cope better with their problems. I contrasted this statement with Paul’s manifesto in Galatians 5: 1, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” My point was that biblical counseling is not helping people use religious resources to learn to cope better with problems; biblical counseling is explaining and applying God’s decisive–and progressive–liberation from all forms of destructive slavery. I then surveyed Galatians 1-3 for gospel truths that lead to freedom and life. Let’s continue the survey with Galatians 4-5.

  1. Galatians 4:3-5—“In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Here Paul expressly identifies the gospel with redemption (or freedom) from slavery and with adoption as sons. Paul explains that apart from Christ we are all enslaved to “elementary principles of the world.” We can understand these principles (or “spirits”—see verse 8) as any and all forms of law-keeping or self-salvation that Satan uses to bring us into bondage. Tim Keller explains that self-salvation can be religious (“Do this and you will be accepted by God.”) or non-religious (“Perform or achieve and you will be secure and happy.”). Both are common among counselees. Either approach amounts to self-imposed slavery, not God-given freedom. Either approach ultimately leads to twisted thinking, dysphoric emotions, idolatrous pursuits, and death. Jesus came to “redeem those who were under the law so we might receive adoption as sons”—to exchange, as John Wesley said, “the faith of a servant” for “the faith of a son.” This week a counselee testified to the liberating power of Jesus to lift the impossible burden of self-sufficiency he had been carrying. The resulting freedom and peace decreased his depression and increased his energy and affection. It is a joy to see God work deeply like this.
  2. Galatians 4:12-20—“Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong…but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus….Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth…my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” There are numerous truths here for us as biblical counselors. First, Paul points us to the principle of identification: we have become like our counselees—as weak and needy people who need Jesus and as humble and compassionate friends–so that we can encourage them to become like us—as increasingly free and full of joy in Christ through faith. Second, Paul reminds us that our counselees may initially receive us as they would Christ himself, but later they might treat us as “enemies” because we are trying to help them see hard truths they don’t want to see. This leads to the third point: we must and can be willing, in Christ, to suffer “the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed” in those we counsel. Our concern is not that we be accepted or successful but that Christ both dwell in our counselees and that he be formed in them. This desire motivates both patient counseling and fervent prayer.
  3. Galatians 5:1-26—This chapter is the heart and soul of Galatians and overflows with counseling power. For the sake of brevity I will simply refer to verses and personalize them as if I were speaking to a counselee.
  4. 5:1:Christ has given you true freedom in the gospel and delivered you from two counterfeits: seeking salvation through law-keeping (legalism) and through law breaking (license). These counterfeits are deadly. Rejoice in your freedom and don’t fall back into either form of slavery again.
  5. 5:2-6: “Paul has God’s authoritative saving message for you—don’t try to add religious performance to faith in Jesus Christ. Christ’s grace only works alone, not in partnership with anything else. As the Spirit empowers your faith now, you can look forward to perfect righteousness in heaven. Remember, as a believer united to Christ, neither being good enough nor failing to be good enough makes any difference to your acceptance with God. The only thing that matters is trusting, treasuring, and following Jesus in love.”
  6. 5:7-12: “As you walk in the freedom Christ has won for you, various people will try to get you off course, falling back into the slavery of performance. I’m confident you won’t listen to them and will stay the course. Those who twist the gospel of grace infuriate me and God will eventually punish them.”
  7. 5:13-15: “Rejoice in your freedom, my dear friend, but don’t abuse it by indulging in selfish pleasures. Show your joy in Christ by serving others in love. Amazingly, as you give up trying to save yourself by law-keeping and simply love others in Jesus’ name, you actually fulfill the law of love! O happy paradox!”
  8. 5: 16-26: “Jesus has purchased your freedom and given you his Spirit to indwell you. Follow the Spirit’s lead, and he will keep you from sinful desires. You see, there is a war between the desires of your sinful nature and the desires of the Spirit within you. If you depend on and follow the Spirit, you are free from the law which stirs up sin and leads to death. Our sinful desires lead to various sinful attitudes and actions, but the power of the indwelling Spirit produces beautiful Christ-like character. Because you belong to Jesus, your sinful nature has already been put to death. Keep depending on the Spirit and following his lead. Don’t fall back into trying to prove your worth by being competitive or jealous. You have everything you could ever need or desire in Christ right now.”

Galatians does not offer religious reform but divine rescue through the grace of the gospel. Here are some words I wrote many years ago on a day the Lord poured grace into my thirsty soul:

A prisoner of sin, now I’m starting to see
Jesus alone can set prisoners free.
The shackles of sin are broken by grace;
I’m released by the power of the Savior’s embrace.

Join the Conversation: What kind of freedom are your counselees typically looking for? Do you more often see evidences of legalism or license? How will you win them to true freedom?

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Biblical Counseling, Faith, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Sanctification | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

About the BCC

The BCC exists to strengthen churches, para-church organizations, and educational institutions by promoting excellence and unity in biblical counseling as a means to accomplish compassionate outreach and effective discipleship.