Counsel from the Cross: Connecting Broken People to the Love of Christ by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Dennis E. Johnson
Facing Life Face-to-Face with Christ
As a pastor and counselor, I am always looking for help connecting the precious promises of the Gospel to the details of human life and experience. Often I think to myself, “I know the Gospel applies to this, but how?” Conflict in my relationships, pains I have suffered, sins I carry and commit, as well as countless anxieties of life seem to hit from all directions. How am I to face them according to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Counsel from the Cross was written to address this very question, and much more.
In the first few sentences of their Introduction, authors Fitzpatrick and Johnson tell us exactly what they want to accomplish through Counsel from the Cross. “We have collaborated to bring you a book that will take the truth of our acceptance before God by Christ’s righteousness alone and make it practical as you live your everyday life” (p. 19). Their audience and intent seems clear. They are writing to their fellow believers in Jesus Christ. They do not want the Gospel to become “white noise” in the earthly life of a Christian (p. 23).
The authors do not want their readers ever to assume they have come to fully grasp the Gospel. Nor do they want their readers to assume they live it out in fullest measure—not on this side of the grave at least. “Even the most Gospel-loving believer you know never lives consistently in light of these truths” (p. 82). They want their readers to keep digging and longing for more. They want the Gospel to keep penetrating human life in practical ways. And they think it will take the rest of our lives to see this happen.
Counsel from the Cross is saturated with Scripture. Fitzpatrick's and Johnson's exegesis appears careful and lively. Case studies are used to apply and illustrate the never-ending implications of the gospel. Bringing the Scripture to bear on the day-to-day experiences of people seems to be a determined goal in their writing. Several consistent themes running through their work, I believe, help them accomplish what they intend.
The Steadfast Love of God Should Fill the Atmosphere of Christian Life
If there is a consistent tune to this book, it is the steadfast love of God for His children. In several chapters this tune provides the melody. At other times it softens to a supporting harmony. Yet the steadfast love of God is always present in the song. It sets the mood for the whole book.
In their opening chapter, Fitzpatrick and Johnson explain what it means to be a beloved child of God. The pages to follow, in one form or another, attempt to help readers understand how this identity should shape their daily lives. Chapter 3 talks about the immeasurable love of God in Jesus Christ, how important it is for all people to behold this love, and the impact the love of God should have on the way people live today. In this way the authors remain true to their subtitle, Connecting Broken People to the Love of Christ.
Grace, Not Law, Should Motivate Christian Life
Fitzpatrick and Johnson propose that seeing and soaking in the glory of God’s redeeming love for us compels true obedience. Will-power and hard work, on the other hand, do not. Grasping our eternal security before the Father because of the Son’s sacrifice and obedience on our behalf, they make clear, frees us to love and worship our God. Trying to earn security before the Father through keeping the Law stifles love and suffocates worship.
In chapter 4, “Happy moralism” and “Sad moralism” are set alongside and distinguished from the true Gospel. Moralism, the authors contend, stands as a great danger to every believer’s spiritual life. Trying to earn the love of God through moral performance will produce arrogance and despair over time. Seeking to appease the wrath of God by good works will produce condemnation and death, not forgiveness and life.
Fitzpatrick and Johnson are careful to develop the relationship between Law and Grace from the Scripture. In chapter 5, they discuss how the imperatives and obligations of God’s Word should relate to the indicatives and declarations of God’s Word. Who we are in Christ, they tell us, gives birth to our heartfelt obedience. Understanding who we are in Christ and the power we are given through His Spirit stands out as an essential precursor to loving and obeying His commandments.
According to Fitzpatrick and Johnson, every area of our lives should be grounded in grace. The way we counsel (chapter 5), grow spiritually (chapter 6), experience life (chapter 7), express our hearts (chapter 7), and relate to others (chapter 8) should be radically shaped by grace, not law. A great deal of their energy and time is spent explaining why this should be and how this should look in a Christian’s life.
Beholding and Loving Christ Provides the Means of Transformation
Careful readers should walk away from this book more deeply convinced they will never improve themselves by looking more often at themselves. Real change, Fitzpatrick and Johnson argue, happens when we see and worship Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit of God conforms us to the image of Jesus Christ when we fix our eyes upon Him through the Word of God. The authors use 2 Corinthians 3:18 to develop this framework. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
A good friend of mine said this about Counsel from the Cross. “I read the book last year and came away with a greater appreciation of how change really takes place in the heart of a person. The glory of Christ made visible through the Gospel is the compelling beauty for genuine obedience and change.” I couldn’t agree more.
The Gospel Is Not a One-Time Drink, But a Constant River to Serve Our Constant Need
Fitzpatrick and Johnson have encountered scores of professing Christians who seized the Gospel in the beginning of their Christian life, but then forgot to carry it with them along the journey. They want their readers to avoid this common temptation. “The Gospel is as necessary to our sanctification as it was to our initial justification” (p. 116). The Gospel is more than a boost to get us started. It strengthens and transforms us throughout the race. It delivers the energy and direction needed to finish.
This book can be comprehended and appreciated by every follower of Jesus Christ. It speaks to daily life in practical ways. If you counsel other people, then I believe this book could provide you with a helpful framework to what the authors call “Gospel-centered counseling” (p. 91).