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Biblical Counseling Coalition: Grace & Truth

A Christian Psychology of and Response to Homosexuality, Part 1

A Christian Psychology of and Response to Homosexuality--Part 1

BCC Staff Note: You’re reading the first of a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series by Dr. Sam Williams on A Christian Psychology of and Response to Homosexuality. You can watch a video presentation of this material here. You can read the entire series in PDF format here.

Author Note: In this four-part blog series, the term “Christian psychology” is being used to convey a biblically-developed Christian worldview, perspective, and way of thinking about the soul and the spiritual dynamics of homosexuality. The term “Christian psychology” is not being used as a technical term for a model or approach to counseling.

Not a Moral Abstraction

Homosexuality has not been a biblical abstraction in my life. That doesn’t mean I am coming out of the closet here. The skeletons in my closet don’t look quite like that; they are probably worse, and they are not the topic of this lecture, thank God.

What it means is Dale: my best friend in college coming over to announce that he was gay and therefore intended to kill himself on his 23rd birthday—and then me spending the next year talking him out of suicide.

What it means is Roger: my roommate while in grad school, who died of AIDS before medicine learned how to keep people with HIV alive. Our last conversation on the phone a few hours before he died was one-way because he could no longer speak. It was just me sharing the gospel with him, trying to point him to Jesus again, knowing that was the day he would meet the Maker.

Dale and Roger, both dear friends, responded to same-sex attraction (SSA) by “coming out of the closet” and adopting a gay identity, a much less popular step to take in the ’70s than today.

But of course things have changed, to the point that such a step now may earn popularity points.

In a Gallup poll in 2010, for the first time a majority of Americans, 52%, called homosexuality morally acceptable, while only 43% said it is immoral.

For younger evangelicals, homosexuality is not a moral abstraction for them either. For them it brings familiar and friendly faces to mind immediately. For me now, as an elder in my church and a counseling professor in a Baptist seminary, I think of Terry and Karl and Dave (and I could go on) committed Christian men who came for counseling because no matter how much they tried, their sexual compass pointed more to men than women.

Relevant Questions…

These men have had to grapple with the meaning of same-sexual desires.

  • Does this mean I am Gay?
  • Was I born this way?
  • Did God make me this way?
  • I surely wouldn’t set my own compass in this direction. If God’s design is for heterosexuality, what happened to me?
  • I don’t think I chose this, so can I choose my way out of it? Can my sexual compass be reset, redirected through prayer or some array of spiritual practices or through counseling or therapy?
  • If I didn’t choose to point my sexual compass in this direction, is it sinful?
  • Do I repent of SSA…or is it merely a temptation and that I need to resist it as one would any temptation?

So that is the topic of this lecture: A Christian Psychology of and Biblical Response to Homosexuality.

How to think about the homosexuality of my friends was one of the first major cultural challenges I faced when I became a believer in my late twenties. The condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible didn’t make sense to me. As a psychologist and an aspiring empiricist, I could see that homosexuality was atypical and in a sense abnormal, but does it really have to be wrong?  Maybe it’s just different, like left-handedness, or perhaps it’s some type of disorder some people are unwillingly afflicted with—but this is a form of neurosis that requires treatment, and not a moral or spiritual issue.

Eventually however, regardless of my own attitudes toward homosexuality, it seemed clear, and beyond any hermeneutically sensible doubt that Scripture forbids and condemns both homosexual practice and passions, and does so using hard-nosed terms such as “shameful, unnatural, and dishonorable” in Romans 1, “unrighteous” in 1 Corinthians 6.9 and 1 Timothy 1.9-10, and “detestable” or “an abomination” in Leviticus 18.22 and 20.13.

Surely, homosexuality is a watershed issue with respect to the interpretation, authority, and relevance of Scripture. But that is not the torch I am bearing here. My intent in this lecture is not to provide a biblical theology or ethical analysis of homosexuality. (See Robert Gagnon’s book The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 2001.)

I am going to presume the majority opinion, a conservative biblical hermeneutic and sexual ethic that views every aspect of homosexuality as a product of the fall and of sin—that it’s not the way it’s supposed to be. And, I shall avoid the political squabbles so ever-present in media world.

Even though political issues are not unimportant, I do believe that following Jesus at this point in God’s plan is more rescue mission than culture war.

Someday when He is ready, Jesus will win the culture war, overwhelmingly—after His rescue mission is complete. And that mission is our mission for the time at hand, and also it is the mission of this paper.

I want in particular to note my debt to Mark Yarhouse and Ed Welch, both Christian psychologists whose thinking and writing in this area have in my estimation been seminal.

How will the church understand persons who struggle with SSA, and what should the hope and help that we offer look like?

What Should You Say?

What should you say to your friend or your son or your daughter if they come to you and say, “I think I’m gay”? How did their sexual compass get so offset?

Can they change, and if so, what type of change can be expected, even hoped for?

How will you counsel and minister to them?

Effective ministry, according to David Powlison, requires of us a triple exegesis: of Scripture, of people, and of this beautiful and crazy world in which we live.

The movement from Scripture to real lives in this world requires careful and clear-eyed understanding of all three. So, what I have tried to do is listen first to the Bible and then to the social sciences—at least those parts of them that from my perspective deserve a hearing.

The Rest of the Story

In Part Two we address important matters such as definitions of key terms such as same-sex attraction, homosexual orientation, and a gay identity.

Join the Conversation

What should you say to your friend or your son or your daughter if they come to you and say, “I think I’m gay”?

Can they change, and if so, what type of change can be expected, even hoped for?

How will you counsel and minister to them?

Topics: Homosexuality, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Psychology and Christianity, Theology | Tags: , , ,

The BCC Weekend Interview Series: Chaplain (Captain) Mark Worrell and Military Chaplaincy

Ministry Interview Series--Generic

BCC Staff: As part of our BCC vision, we want to point you to the best of the best in robust, relational, biblical counseling. Periodically we’re posting (and then making available as an ongoing resource) interviews with churches, para-church groups, educational institutions, and individuals committed to biblical counseling. You can find links to all of our interviews here.

Today we’re pleased to connect with Chaplain (Captain) Mark Worrell who is an army chaplain.

BCC: “Chaplain Worrell, please introduce our readers to your ministry.”

MW: “The mission of the United States Army is to fight and win our Nations’ wars. The Army commissions certain people to assure that we are best prepared to do just that. So, to whittle it down to what a Chaplain does: our mission is to bring God to Soldiers and Soldiers to God as well as to assist with the spiritual resilience of our Soldiers (resilience has become an often-used term lately within the Army to mean the ability to ‘bounce back’ after small or large challenges in our lives. This is a key way that biblical counseling can help). Each Chaplain is Seminary or graduate school trained, ordained in their faith tradition, and endorsed by a faith body. I am a Baptist Pastor who happens to be a Chaplain. While I make sure that Soldiers can all worship the way that they choose, I am expected to preach the Gospel and stay true to my faith tradition.”

BCC: “What are the primary services/ministries that you offer?”

MW: “I currently have about 300 Soldiers in my battalion and also serve in a chapel on Fort Bragg, NC. I am a Pastor to those 300 as well as their families and help to ensure that the ministry at chapel is prepared for worship and the associated ministries we conduct throughout the week there. The official answer is that Army Chaplains advise the command on matters pertaining to religion, ethics, morals, and morale. We have the privilege of doing a large variety of ministry services and are blessed to see God work in lives—sometimes building bridges to ministry (See Church of Irresistible Influence by Robert Lewis and Rob Wilkins) with events such as Retreats for families or single Soldiers where we teach things to help in their everyday lives (these can, and often do, include some faith elements). A lot of us put an optional worship service or devotional in the retreat in order for Soldiers and their spouses to ‘lift up the hood’ and see real answers from the Word of God. We also have opportunities to preach, counsel, check on Soldiers, deploy, and be an officer whose goal is to help Soldiers and their families handle the multiple pressures of what they face as an Army family.”

BCC: “What is the history of your ministry/organization? Tell us your story.”

MW: “June 14, 1775 is the Army Birthday. I like to tell people that General Washington watched his new Army for 45 days and said, ‘We need Chaplains!’ The Army Chaplain Corps is the second oldest ‘job’ in the Army and was formed on July 29, 1775, ‘when the Continental Congress authorized one Chaplain for each regiment of the Continental Army, with pay equaling that of a captain. In addition to Chaplains serving in Continental regiments, many militia regiments counted Chaplains among their ranks.’”[i]

BCC: “What is your succinct definition of biblical counseling?”

MW: “Let me first make sure it is understood that Chaplains are just like pastors or missionaries. Some believe in biblical counseling. Some do not. My definition is:

“Using the Word of God to show the hope and help provided in Jesus Christ. Changing the vision from getting through the daily mission to glorifying God that starts now for eternity and affects our daily life.’

BCC: “Share a little bit about your staff—who works with you and in what roles?”

MW: “Each chaplain typically has a Chaplain Assistant that makes up the other half of the Unit Ministry Team. By the Geneva Convention, Chaplains are non-combatants so  we are given that enlisted service member whose primary function is to provide force protection (shoot) so that the UMT can go and provide worship services to Soldiers everywhere they might be stationed or on patrol. When not in combat, Chaplain Assistants help with administrative tasks, coordinate events, and check in on Soldiers to see where the Chaplain can serve best. Sometimes the Chaplain Assistant is the Chaplain’s closest ‘neighbor’ (Luke 10:29) as they are not often from the same faith background as the Chaplain, and at times are not believers at all.”

BCC: “What are the types of resources (books, pamphlets, audio/video, book reviews, articles, journals, blogs) that people can find at your site/through your ministry?”

MW: “Most of my counseling is on marriage so I use What Did You Expect, The Exemplary Husband, and The Excellent Wife. I have also used a lot of the mini books designed for military life or for common felt needs that Soldiers and their families have. I enjoy reading the BCC blog to stay the course of bringing God’s Word to hurting Soldiers and families.”

BCC: “What upcoming conferences, seminars, classes, and other training opportunities do you have in the next year? Which ones do you repeat each year as annual events (share permanent links)?”

MW: “As a Chaplain, I am in many ways a Soldier first and expected to remain a leader in the unit, so I work to maintain two different lines of Army training and ministry. This fall, I plan to attend jumpmaster school (as an Airborne Soldier, this is in many ways the next step—a way to take care of those that are airborne, check their equipment and put them out of a plane in flight safely as well). Shelly and I work to stay up to date by attending our denominational conference as well as attending the Biblical Counseling Training Conference at Faith Church in Lafayette, IN (we are members and missionaries of Faith as well, providing essential accountability and an opportunity to report on what God is doing in our lives and ministry) and others when they work with the Army schedule. I also get opportunities to check in on Soldiers that are deployed.”

BCC: “How can people be praying for you and your ministry?”

MW: “I am looking for ways to connect Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen with local churches and with biblical counselors close to the location where they are stationed. I have many opportunities to share the gospel and build relationships. Please pray that Shelly and I continue to bear fruit in our walk with them. Please also pray for our daughter Scharleen. There are a lot of Chaplains that are passionate about the Word of God. Please pray that we continue to stay strong in our walk and demonstrate the reality of God’s Word.”

BCC: “How can people contact you?”

MW: “People can reach me via:

Chaplain (Captain) Mark Worrell
6 Hercules Dr.
Ft. Bragg, NC 28307

BCC: “Chaplain Worrell, thank you so much for this fascinating and informative glimpse into your ministry as a biblical counselor in the military chaplaincy.”


Topics: Interview, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , ,

Friday’s 5 to Live By

Friday's 5 To Live By

Each Friday our BCC staff links you to the top five biblical counseling and Christian living blog posts of the week—posts that provide robust, rich, and relevant insights for living.

The Emotional Life of Jesus

Bob Kellemen notes that Christians seem to get especially nervous about the emotional life of Jesus. Dr. Kellemen engages, and encourages us to engage, two recent posts: one at the BCC by Pat Quinn that you can find here, and one by Donn Arms that you can find here. You can read Bob’s post at The Emotional Life of Jesus: Let’s Be Bereans Out There!

How to Minister to a Couple Who Just Experienced a Miscarriage

Pastor Brian Croft at Practical Shepherding asks and addresses the important question, How Does a Pastor Minister to a Couple Who Just Experienced a Miscarriage?

Pain That Threatens Our Pleasure

At Desiring God, Jonathan Parnell ponders the purposes of pain but also the problem of pain. Read his thoughts in When the Prospect of Pain Threatens Our Pleasure.

4 Marks of Biblical Discipleship

Trevin Wax explores 4 Marks of Biblical Discipleship.

Buttermilk Biscuits and Romans 8:28

Paul Tautges writes that, “For the believer, the God—who alone has the wisdom to mix together all things in our lives to fulfill His good purposes—can be trusted.” Read the rest of Paul’s thoughts in Buttermilk Biscuits and Romans 8:28.

Join the Conversation

Which post impacted you the most? Why? What blog posts have you enjoyed this week that you want to share with others?

Topics: Five To Live By, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , , , , ,

An Amazing Conversation, Part 2

An Amazing Conversation - Part Two

BCC Staff Note: You’re reading the second of a two-part blog by John Henderson. You can read Part One here. John Henderson first posted this article at the Association of Biblical Counselors site. The BCC is re-posting it with permission of John and the ABC. You can also read the original post here.

The Location and Nature of Our Problem

What’s actually wrong with us? Where may our deepest trouble be found? The story of God and Cain starts to develop an answer to these two questions. In the midst of their conversation the Lord begins to locate our deepest problem.

Namely, our primary danger begins with our hearts, not our behavior. The main problem comes out of us, not out of our environment. Suffering can come from many places, but suffering never ruined anyone’s soul. The crops Cain brought to the Lord weren’t the source of the problem. Abel wasn’t the location of the problem. Cain’s parents weren’t the key issue. The standards of God weren’t the problem either. The source of the trouble was Cain’s soul. The conversation between God and Cain makes this clear.

The basic nature of our problem also becomes clearer. It’s firstly a worship problem, not a psychological or emotional problem. God responded to Cain on these grounds. Cain did not approach God with a heart of humble worship. Abel did. The psychological and emotional troubles came as a result of, not a cause of, Cain’s worship problem. I think Cain’s response to God’s counsel brings this to light. His “countenance fell.” In other words, Cain became angry and dejected. Psychological and emotional troubles are clearly present, but as symptoms, not causes.

God counseled Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:6-7) God isn’t pointing to external circumstances or problems, but to the affections, desires, and attitudes of Cain’s heart and their effect on his countenance and behavior.

The Progression of Sin and Sin’s Consequences

We can also learn something about the nature of human sin from the story, and how it changes over time when there’s no repentance or sincere cries for help. The progressive nature of sin comes into full view.

After all, Cain isn’t eating forbidden fruit, but murdering his brother, in cold blood, without remorse. He goes further into sin than ever before. After disobeying God, Adam and Eve experienced shame and guilt. The experience of shame and guilt isn’t even mentioned with Cain. He seems calloused in his heart and hardened to what he has done. He expresses great grief over consequences, but no grief over his sin, or the death of his brother, or the offense to God.

The depth and complexity of sin’s consequences develops. A man was physically murdered. Cain’s conscience seems to deaden and resist truth. Cain’s relationship to God completely dissolves, “then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” (Genesis 4:16) Fellowship with his parents, we must assume, shatters. With every selfish attitude and action, Cain’s life becomes more complicated, confused, and dark.

The Patience and Wisdom of God in Action

Like many of the interactions between God and mankind in the Scripture, the story of Cain puts the will and work of God on display.

The patience of God shines brightly with Cain. The care and compassion with which he handles Cain is breathtaking. Once more, I think we should be amazed at the conversation. God doesn’t just smite Cain and bury his body. God talks to him. God listens to him. God reasons with him. God provides a way for Cain to address the trouble, face the consequences, and receive grace.

The wisdom of God drives and shapes a restorative conversation. At no point in the narrative do we see God speaking recklessly or acting punitively. When things start to fall apart, He enters the scene and draws near to people. He asks carefully crafted questions. He confronts dishonesty and transgression directly and gently. He “speaks truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15) His words and efforts are full of mercy, yet unwavering and righteous. All His activities display His holy, gracious nature as He moves toward Cain in gestures of reconciliation. Of course, we never see Cain soften and reconcile to God. The Lord’s words provided an opportunity for restoration, but we never see it happen.

What Now?

When I slow down and take the story of God and Cain to heart, a few areas of conviction and encouragement come to mind:

  1. I am humbled by the grace, mercy, and care of God with this man, especially when I consider my impatience and lack of care with people, even people far less stubborn than Cain.
  2. I am struck by how poignantly and drastically my greatest problem (sin, pride, selfishness, and faithlessness in my heart) harms and complicates everything else in my life with God and others. I am my central danger. The grace of God in Jesus Christ stands alone as my central need.
  3. I am encouraged and bewildered by the fruitlessness of God’s counsel with Cain, especially when I consider how I measure the wisdom and goodness of counsel by its positive effects, rather than by its God-exalting, people-loving substance. The Lord’s counsel was perfect, but rejected—the results of our counsel will always be in His hands. May the Lord have mercy!
Topics: People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Sin, Theology, Worship | Tags: , ,

An Amazing Conversation, Part 1

An Amazing Conversation - Part One

BCC Staff Note: You’re reading the first of a two-part blog by John Henderson. John Henderson first posted this article at the Association of Biblical Counselors site.  The BCC is re-posting it with permission of John and the ABC. You can also read the original post here.

The Life of Cain

“Then the Lord said to Cain…” (Genesis 4:6a).

The Scriptures provides a wide range of case material packed with truth and meaning for counseling ministry. The story of Cain offers a prime example (Genesis 4:1-16).

While we don’t have access to the details of Cain’s childhood, we can probably learn a few things from what Scripture teaches. It’s probably safe to assume his home life was a mix of good, bad, and difficult. His parents were both sinners. They were dependent on the grace of God. Marriage started off well for Adam and Eve, but it took a rough turn in the Garden of Eden. Life with God started beautifully. Then it went wrong. Sin twisted, fractured, and broke everything. Cain’s parents probably wrestled with guilt, regret, frustration, exhaustion, fears about death, and a host of other troubles.

After sin entered the world, day-to-day work filled with toil. There was value and meaning in his work, but Adam had to agonize for it. Bearing children was painful for Eve, but also a delight. They battled fatigue. They battled sickness. Their marriage suffered from tensions and conflict, just as God said it would (Genesis 3:16).

God promised help. The Lord had provided atonement and covering through sacrifice (Genesis 3:21). He promised a Seed to come who would crush the Serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). Even though pain and toil could be found in their home, there was also hope. There was sin and repentance—moments of alienation followed by periods of reconciliation. Cain and his brother Abel grew up in this environment, an environment basically familiar to each of us.

At some point Cain focused on working the land. His brother focused on working the animals. One vocation was no better than the other. Both men chose good and honest labor. God strengthened their hands and blessed their work. Somewhere along the way Cain and his brother learned how to bring sacrifice before the Lord in order to worship and enjoy Him.

The Scripture tells of a day when these brothers brought their sacrifices to the Lord (Genesis 4:3-5). God regarded the sacrifice of Abel, but God did not regard the sacrifice of Cain. In other words, the manner in which Cain brought his sacrifice was unacceptable to God—he approached without faith or humility or thanksgiving in the Lord. The faith and humility by which his little brother drew near was acceptable to God. “So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell” (Genesis 3:5).

I think Cain felt a bit humiliated—outplayed, in his mind, by his “favored” little brother. He probably stewed in anger and bitterness. Rather than ask God for help, he likely thought about ways to even the score. The Lord invited Cain into conversation and offered him counsel. The Lord provided a way of restoration and warned Cain of sin’s danger. Cain didn’t care. Cain didn’t heed. In fact, Cain lured his brother into the field and murdered him.

A Conversation with God

Once more God drew near to Cain and started a conversation. He invited Cain to confess and seek help. Rather than face the situation, Cain lied. Rather than repent of his sin, Cain tried to conceal it. Of course, the Lord confronted his hostility and lack of care. After all, God wasn’t asking questions to which He didn’t already know the answers.

The consequences came. “Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.” (Genesis 4:11) When Adam sinned, the ground was cursed. In Cain’s case, he was cursed from the ground. Even with toil and effort, Cain’s farming would no longer yield fruit. This meant he would wander and find food in the wild. Like a cow grazing from pasture to pasture, Cain would need to keep moving to find food.

The consequences upset Cain. “My punishment is too great to bear!” he cried out. He didn’t say, “My sin is too great to bear.” Nor did he say, “Father, please forgive me, I have offended you and treated my brother with evil!” At no point in the conversation will Cain grieve his iniquity and seek forgiveness. No, he’s much more concerned with preserving his physical life. “Whoever finds me will kill me.” (Genesis 4:14) The worry seems especially ironic and inappropriate since he just murdered his brother.

Incredibly, God shows mercy. Rather than turn Cain into a pile of ashes, He actually hears his concern. God placed a sign on Cain for his protection. Anyone who found Cain would know not to harm him. The story draws to a close with Cain leaving the presence of the Lord in order to settle toward the east.

The story of Cain provides a clear, beautiful, and tragic example of counsel being graciously offered by the Lord God, and stubbornly refused by a man. We can see God graciously pursuing a hardened sinner. We get to listen over their shoulders and learn from their interaction. I think we should be amazed by the conversation.

The Rest of the Story

We invite you to return tomorrow as we explore The Location and Nature of Our Problem.

Topics: People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Sin, Theology | Tags: , ,

Gospel Terminus

Gospel Terminus

BCC Staff Note: John Henderson first posted this article at the Association of Biblical Counselors site. The BCC is re-posting it with permission of John and the ABC. You can also read the original post here.

Our Final Destination

In 1 Timothy 1:15-17, the apostle Paul writes:

“It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Not too long ago I was traveling by train in a foreign country and disembarked several stops too soon. Not my first time. The doors opened, people started getting off, and I followed without giving a second thought. Took me a little while to notice. I wandered down a couple of avenues before realizing I had jumped off prematurely. Brutal! My mind had gone adrift into a wilderness of worries and projects. I had forgotten where I was supposed to be going. Just going with the flow, and lost. You may be able to relate.

Sometime in the seconds after the train or subway doors close behind you, present reality snaps back into focus. The surroundings make it clear you have not found your final destination. Besides the irritation of lost time, you have to face that little twinge of humiliation when you turn around in front of all those onlookers in order to wait for the next transport to arrive and carry you along the same course you just abandoned.

Of course, that’s assuming you notice. What if you don’t even realize you got off too soon? Now it gets really confusing and difficult. Who knows how long you could wander through a maze of roadways and alleyways before realizing something had gone awry!

I think we can do this with the gospel. The gospel tries to guide us somewhere in life with God and one another. There is a particular posture of the soul God has in mind for us—a certain end point to which He uses the gospel to lead. Sometimes we can stop short of this terminus. We might board the gospel train, ride it a while and enjoy a few of its stations, only to stop short of the destination to which His grace zealously drives us. Paul doesn’t want this to happen. Not in his life, not in ours. Nor does he want it to happen in the lives of those we counsel.

Station 1: Our Salvation

In the passage above we can see how the reality of his salvation carried Paul into a certain attitude and posture of life. It brought him to an important conclusion: genuine, heartfelt worship and enjoyment of God. He didn’t stop short of it. We could say there were three particular “stations” he traveled through until he reached this destination. Each junction assumes an important place in the journey, but none of them are intended to be a final resting place.

Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Here is Station 1. Christ did not come into the world to condemn people, but to bring life to already condemned people (John 3:16-17, 36). It was not His aim to help people feel better about themselves, but rather to help them see the desperation of their estate and their vast need for Him (Matthew 9:10-13). It was not His mission to simply give people better skills for obeying the law of God, but to fulfill God’s law on their behalf and provide righteousness for them. His death atoned for sins. In His death Jesus absorbed the wrath of God in our place. So we have been justified, forgiven, and granted eternal life in Him. This is entry point gospel truth. All of us need to know and believe this. Christ came as a Redeemer to sinners.

Station 2: Sin

Yet Paul didn’t stop there. He made it even more personal. After all, he was one of those sinners Christ came to save. In fact, he was the worst sinner Christ came to save. This is the 2nd Station. No sin disturbed and grieved him more than his own. No sinner, he thought, needed God’s grace to greater degree. The gospel teaches each of us to think this way about ourselves. There is simply no sinner more wretched and desperate than the sinner we each see in the mirror.

Now, it could be extremely tempting to get off the train at this point. If Paul wants to view himself this way then fine, but why should I? I know I’m a transgressor, but surely not the worst of all. The world is full of murderers, adulterers, and thieves—all sinners worse than I, right? My spouse is the main cause for concern in my marriage. My children bring the biggest troubles to my household. The workplace I have been given, the physical body I live in, and the parents who raised me (or failed to raise me) are the real problems of my life. These explanations roll so easily from my mind and off my tongue. I find it very tempting to think and talk this way.

Of course, God doesn’t let me think or talk this way about my condition in relation to everybody else. Circumstances and other people can provide pain and hardship in my life, but everything that comes out of me is always, well, me (Proverbs 4:23; Luke 6:43-45; Galatians 5:16-23).

What comes out of me expresses who and what rules me. I may not be the author of all my troubles, but I am the author of my deepest and most serious troubles. How could I say otherwise with a straight face?

Apart from grace my heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9). The Lord wants me to realize that I am the greatest problem in my own life. There should be no one else’s sin I am more acquainted with than my own. Fully celebrating the incredible benefits of my salvation depends upon staying aboard at this point. If I want to spend my days in deep worship and enjoyment of God, then I must learn to embrace just how dark, deceptive, and ugly my sinfulness actually looks in His presence (Isaiah 6:1-5).

Station 3: Grace and Worship

Praise God the train keeps moving. Paul kept going, so should we. There was a reason the foremost sinner of all received God’s grace: to display the magnitude of Christ’s perfect patience. Paul’s salvation was not primarily or centrally about Paul, but God. It was not simply for Paul to enjoy, but for all “those who would believe in Him for eternal life” to enjoy (verse 16). The gospel doesn’t let Paul stay stuck in his sinfulness. It drives him to see God and His steadfast love more vividly by displaying God’s mercy toward him, the foremost sinner.

I think this is remarkable. We have been loved, adopted, and forgiven by God in order to be living, dramatic testimonies of the depth of His grace. If we spend our days at Station 2, confessing the woefulness of our sinful condition before God and others, then we are failing to see and understand what the gospel tries to help us see and understand. We have been redeemed. Our sins have been paid for and washed away. The gospel beckons us to look at Him, and view ourselves in Him. This is Station 3. The good news of Jesus Christ helps us behold the riches of God’s kindness toward all who believe (Romans 11:22).

Beholding and believing this, by irresistible impulse, should compel genuine worship and awe toward God. Just as Paul was caught up in a fit of God-centered praise, so should we. “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17) This is the gospel terminus: deep, lasting delight and praise in God our Savior. A strong pull to joyful worship is one way we know our souls comprehend the good news of our redemption. The same may be said for those we counsel. A growing grasp of the gospel proves itself through a growing desire to worship Jesus Christ.

As believers, it is not enough to simply say Christ came into the world to save sinners. And we are still not home once we acknowledge our woeful estate as sinful creatures. Finishing the story of the gospel in any given moment or day means a healthy expression of worship toward our always near, benevolent, and patient Father in heaven who has provided for us so great a salvation to us through His Son Jesus Christ.

Join the Conversation

In your own life, does the gospel lead you to its chosen destination? Or do you often get diverted?

In your counsel to others, do you tend to lead them off the train too early, exhausting yourself by wandering the streets of personal sin? Do you get on the train at all? Are you trying to get people to enjoy life and love God without them first knowing the gospel, and comprehending the depth of their sin, and seeing the depth of God’s patience in their salvation?

Does your life and counsel include a regular and healthy dose of genuine worship and celebration of your merciful God?

Topics: Gospel-Centered Ministry, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Sanctification, Sin, Worship | Tags: , , , ,

What Is Biblical Counseling?

BCC Staff Note: The following interview of David Powlison by Steve Midgley was first posted by Oak Hill College. The BCC is re-posting this interview with the permission of Oak Hill, Steve Midgley, CCEF, and David Powlison. You can also view the original interview here.

Steve Midgley, the Vicar of Christ Church, Cambridge, who facilitates Oak Hill College’s Certificate in Biblical Counselling, sits down to talk with David Powlison about the meaning and approach of biblical counselling. David Powlison is Director of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF), and was at Oak Hill to give a lecture entitled “Being Heard: What Are People Thinking When You Talk with Them?”

Topics: Biblical Counseling, Methodology, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Video | Tags: , ,

The BCC Weekend Interview Series: Anne Dryburgh and Biblical Counseling in Belgium

Ministry Interview Series--Generic

BCC Staff: As part of our BCC vision, we want to point you to the best of the best in robust, relational, biblical counseling. Periodically we’re posting (and then making available as an ongoing resource) interviews with churches, para-church groups, educational institutions, and individuals committed to biblical counseling. You can find links to all of our interviews here.

Today we’re pleased to connect with Anne Dryburgh who is a biblical counselor in Belgium, serving under the Open Brethren missionary agency out of the United Kingdom.

BCC: “Anne, please introduce our readers to your ministry.”

AD: “For over 20 years I have been a missionary in Dutch-speaking Belgium. The purpose of the ministry I am involved in is to evangelize the lost and to disciple believers. Biblical counseling is intense discipleship in areas where people are suffering in some way in their lives. I use biblical counseling every day as I meet with women and help them deal with things such as depression, abusive relationships (physical, sexual, and emotional) and addictions.”

BCC: “What are the primary ministries that you offer?”

AD: “The primary ministry I am involved in is in helping women grow in Christ. Most of the women I meet with have suffered from abuse in their childhood, are currently in abusive relationships, or suffer from depression. Recently I have started teaching a biblical counseling course to other people who believe that the Lord has answers for the problems of life.”

BCC: “What is the history of your ministry/organization? Tell us your story.”

AD: “I am working in Belgium as part of an Open Brethren missionary service agencies from the United Kingdom. Missionaries have gone out to serve the Lord to all parts of the world through these agencies for over a hundred years. The spiritual need of the country of Belgium can be seen in the fact that there are only about 0.3% evangelicals and people were only given permission to read the Bible in the 1960s. Before that, the religious authorities taught that it was sinful for an untrained person to read the Bible. This lack of the gospel and Bible teaching negatively affects how people live their lives. The result is that there is a lack of knowledge about how to think, desire, relate and behave biblically. This affects all areas of life and all relationships.”

BCC: “Anne, what is your succinct definition of biblical counseling?”

AD: “I like Tim Lane’s definition: ‘Biblical counseling involves walking patiently with someone, while wisely connecting them to Christ through the grace-centered message of the Bible. This one-on-one ministry is done in the community of the church where both the normal and complex problems of daily life can be addressed.’”

BCC: “Anne, how can we be praying for you and your ministry?”

AD: “Since there are so few believers in this country, it can be difficult to live the Christian life. To live biblically makes a person unusual here and usually results in a lot of pressure to conform to the norm. Please pray for all of us to be living in the sufficiency of Christ each and every day.”

BCC: Thank you, Anne, for your ministry of biblical counseling in Belgium and for sharing with our readers.”

Topics: Interview, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , , ,

Friday’s 5 to Live By

Friday's 5 To Live By

Each Friday our BCC staff links you to the top five biblical counseling and Christian living blog posts of the week—posts that provide robust, rich, and relevant insights for living.

Making the Case: Abortion

How can Christians convince others that abortion is wrong? Tim Challies shares how we can make the pro-life case against abortion in Making the Case: Abortion.

Live to Die

In This May Push You Over the Edge, Jon Bloom introduces and links to a powerful message by John Piper on Colossians 1:24 entitled Live to Die.

12 Ways to Reassure Your Wife

What is a husband to do when his wife becomes aware of his porn addiction? Luke Gilkerson addresses this vital question in 12 Ways to Reassure Your Wife.

Surrendering to God’s Wisdom

Randy Alcorn writes:

“When I need a point-of-view adjustment, I read the last five chapters of Job. That’s where the focus shifts from Job’s questions about his suffering—and his friends’ proposed answers—to God’s majesty.”

Read the rest of his thoughts on Surrendering to God’s Wisdom.

Reading the Bible Narcissistically

At the Association of Biblical Counselors site, Pastor Tullian Tchividjian notes that:

“As Luke 24 shows, it’s possible to read the Bible, study the Bible, memorize large portions of the Bible–even listen to ‘expository’ preachers who are committed to preaching ‘verse by verse, line by line, precept by precept’—while missing the whole point of the Bible. It’s entirely possible, in other words, to read the stories and miss the Story.”

Read the rest of Tullian’s development of this idea at Reading the Bible Narcissistically.

Join the Conversation

Which post impacted you the most? Why? What blog posts have you enjoyed this week that you want to share with others?

Topics: Five To Live By, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , , , , ,

9 Differences Between Legal Obedience and Gospel Obedience

9 Differences Between Legal Obedience and Gospel Obedience

One of the things that can be most perplexing in our spiritual journey and our counseling is how to handle the issue of duty. What are we supposed to do as Christians because we are Christians?

Grace and Duty CAN Work Together

Duty is in the mix of any truly biblical counseling. We encounter people who claim to love Jesus but whose lifestyles and choices seem inconsistent with what is required of Christians in the Bible. In other cases sincere folks carry burdens of guilt and despair for how much they fall short of what they feel they need to do to please God. Anger with God erupts for how He has not rewarded a good Christian life with equally good fortune. Churches are caught up in controversy over the thorny debate regarding what is legalism and what is license. These are just some the ways the issue of Christian duty can find its way into our counseling and ministry.

As counselors, one of our fundamental tasks is to help the Gospel make sense and work itself out in the lives of the people we’re seeking to help. We know good counseling ties essential truth to meaningful application over time. On the one hand, we can’t be so caught up with the practical problems that we put people on change programs they will try to fulfill in their own strength. But we can’t be so caught up in theologizing their problems that we leave them with insight but no practical ways to change. What we hope to see happen in our counselees is the discovery of Psalm 40:8: “I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”

Help from an Old Book

I’m always wrestling with this issue of our duty as Christians in my counseling. Recently I was reading a book by the Puritan Samuel Bolton entitled The True Bounds of Christian Freedom. I came across a section on how to discern tendencies to perform the Christian life through external actions and how to live out the Christian life by grace. For my own benefit, and hopefully for yours, I’ve summarized what Bolton calls, “nine differences between legal obedience and evangelical obedience.”

  1. Legalistic obedience acts to either get something from God or avoid something from God. Gracious obedience sees duties as an aspect of relationship with God—like a child living in the ways of a family.
  1. Legalistic obedience feels duty as duty. We are very conscious that what we are doing is part of our religious obligation. Gracious obedience sees duty as lifestyle; it’s the practical implications of living for what we want most.
  1. Legalistic obedience is driven by a sense of right and wrong. Life feels like a constant stream of moral choices. Gracious obedience cares deeply about moral issues, but is guided by a deeper desire to please God in all things.
  1. Legalistic obedience tries to find satisfaction the duty performed. Gracious obedience finds satisfaction in Christ, and therefore acts on duty.
  1. Legalistic obedience performs duty to quiet the unrest of conscience. Gracious obedience sees in duty an opportunity to engage God in the adventure of faith.
  1. Legalistic obedience sees duty as a means to the goal of pleasing God. Gracious obedience sees duty as the overflow of our union with Christ, with whom the Father is well pleased (Matthew 3:17).
  1. Legalistic obedience can be accompanied by great fluctuations of spiritual desire—strong passions for holiness at some times, indifference at others. Gracious obedience tends to be accompanied by desires that are steady, deep and lasting.
  1. Legalistic obedience is significantly affected by external pressures or calls. We can be “radical” because there is something in our life experience that seems to demand radical from us. Gracious obedience isn’t as motivated by the call to be radical as much as by the desire for holiness that makes radical seem reasonable to us.
  1. Legalistic obedience sees duty as a medicine to be taken to cure or inoculate us from unhealthy things. Gracious obedience sees duty as food for the strengthening of our souls.

Join the Conversation

Think about your current counseling and ministry relationships. Does this list help you discern tendencies toward legalistic obedience in the people you are helping? How can this help you engage someone who might be resistant to practical obedience in fear of being “legalistic”?

How does this help you navigate the ‘legalism/license’ quandary in your own life?

Topics: Grace, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Sanctification, Theology | 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.