WHAT MAKES COUNSELING BIBLICAL?
Most people agree with the statement found in Job 5:7 which says, “For man is born for trouble as the sparks fly upward.” For centuries, mankind has been searching for explanations and solutions to the complex problems of living in a fallen world.
Man’s search for ways to explain and to “cope” with his problems has produced many interesting and often conflicting theories such as: man is basically good and is able to live up to this potential; man has been victimized by his conscience, leaving him insecure and in need of resocialization; man is just a high-level animal who has been conditioned by his environment and needs to be reprogrammed; man’s basic problem is a lack of self-esteem and an inability to love himself.
These are only a few of the most popular theories currently being used in the counseling field. All of these theories are predictably contrary to God’s Word, since they have been devised by man operating outside the divine revelation of God (I Corinthians 2:14).
DEPENDING ON THE BIBLE
Is it necessary to turn to these worldly counseling theories and techniques to solve problems of living? Isn’t it possible that understanding and overcoming life’s problems can be accomplished by applying biblical truths?
The Bible itself states that the truths contained within it are entirely sufficient to enable a person to live a life pleasing to God (II Peter 1:3-4). It provides all the needed principles and guidance for understanding our in-material being (mental processes, analyzing our emotional responses, and exercising control over our behavior). The laws, testimonies, precepts, commandments, judgments, and principles in the Old and New Testaments provide the only authoritative guide for man’s thoughts, words, and actions (Psalm 19:7-14; Hebrews 4:12).
The promises and authority of God contained in His Word offer the basis for a vital and abundant life. The Scripture contains the solutions to every problem of attitude, relationship, communication, conduct, and behavior (II Timothy 3:16-17).
DEVELOPING BIBLICAL HABITS
In counseling that is true to God’s Word, a biblical counselor will collect enough information to enable him to recognize and understand the problem in order to formulate the biblical solution. Counselees are encouraged to confront the failures and shortcomings of their personal lives from a biblical point of view (Matthew 7:1-5). In doing this, they should begin to see the necessity of turning their focus away from their own desires (II Corinthians 5:14-15; Galatians 5:17, 19-21; James 4:1-3) and should determine to live in a manner pleasing to God (II Corinthians 5:9; Ephesians 4:1-3; Colossians 1:10-12).
In order for biblical counseling to be effective, both the counselor and the counselee must be deeply committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of God’s Word. They must be continually committed to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10). This commitment will change a person’s focus from loving self to a focus on loving God and loving others in response to God’s gracious love demonstrated in Jesus Christ (Matthew 18:21-35; Romans 5:8; Ephesians 4:32; I John 4:11).
CONSTANT APPLICATION OF BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES
As the biblical counselor continually focuses the counselee’s attention on the authority and sufficiency of Scripture and explores the counselee’s problems from a biblical standpoint, the necessity for a wholehearted commitment to Christ will be repeatedly presented.
As the counselee begins to view his problems from a biblical standpoint, he will begin to understand that the peace and joy promised by God do not depend on his financial situation, his work environment, the behavior of his spouse, or on any other external circumstance. A discouraged or despondent counselee can gain great hope as he learns from Scripture that God’s peace and joy can be his as he depends solely on his relationship with God through Jesus Christ (John 14:27, 16:33).
PRESUPPOSITIONS OF BIBLICAL COUNSELING
In His Word, God has given us everything we need to live in a manner that pleases Him (II Peter 1:3-4). We must not integrate man’s theories with biblical truth in order to solve our problems and live a victorious life. As a matter of fact, Scripture promises us that when we seek to place God’s Word on a level with man’s thinking, serious consequences occur (Proverbs 1:22-32, 14:12, 30:5-6; Isaiah 5:20-21; Romans 8:6-8; I Corinthians 3:19-20).
Biblical counseling is based upon the biblical teaching that we will each give an account of ourselves to God (Romans 14:12; II Corinthians 5:10). Even though believers in Christ will not be condemned by their sins in eternity (Romans 8:1; Hebrews 9:27-28, 10:10-18) as will non-believers (Revelation 20:15), there are consequences for sins (Ezekiel 18:20; Colossians 3:25). Counselees are shown that they are responsible before God solely for their own thoughts, words, and actions and that they are not responsible for changing anyone else’s life.
In learning to assume responsibility for one’s own behavior, a counselee needs to understand the conflict between his old self and his new nature in Christ (Romans chapter 6; II Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 5:16). A counselee must determine, by an act of his will, to lay aside his old way of life with its lusts and deception and to begin to act in a way that reflects the new Christlike nature God has given him (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:5-17). A counselee must develop godly thought patterns (II Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 4:8) if he is to have a renewed mind and be successful in living a life that corresponds to the new nature which is created by God in holiness of the truth (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23-24).
Any changes that a counselee makes must be done in order to please God and not to gratify himself or please his parents, his spouse, or anyone else (II Corinthians 5:9, 15; Colossians 1:10; I Thessalonians 2:4, 6). This requires a commitment to obey God’s Word and not to depend on or be ruled by feelings, regardless of how strong or persuasive they may be (II Corinthians 5:14-15; Galatians 5:16-17).
Biblical counseling is based upon these basic presuppositions which have been verified by years of application, observation, and testimony. These principles are not only verifiable, but they are also effective in every part of the world, in every culture, with all age groups, and in all levels of society. Biblical principles are based on the inerrant Word of God which transcends all man-made distinctions between people.
ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF BIBLICAL COUNSELING
In every biblical counseling session, four elements are emphasized:
1. UNDERSTANDING THE PROBLEM. Gaining God’s perspective on any difficulty is important for those involved in solving problems biblically (Proverbs 3:5-6; Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 5:3-5, 8:28-29; James 1:2-4). You must begin to look honestly at yourself in light of God’s Word (Matthew 7:1-5; Luke 6:42-49; I Corinthians 11:31). Understanding a problem requires that biblical inquiry be made (Proverbs 18:13, 17; II Timothy 3:16-17; James 1:19) and truthful answers be given (Ephesians 4:15, 25), in order for the total spectrum of the problem to be revealed (Mark 7:20-23; James 1:22-25, 4:17) (see next section: BIBLICAL ANALYSIS OF A PROBLEM).
2. HOPE. In His Word, God has promised that He will not let you be tried or tempted, suffer “stress” or anxiety, or face any problem beyond your endurance. Instead He will provide ample help and direction in every situation as you deal with the problem His way (I Corinthians 10:13; Hebrews 4:15-16).
3. CHANGE. You must learn how to lay aside (or “put off”) the old self-centered habits and destructive thoughts (such as anxiety, bitterness, and resentment). Instead, you are to “put on” biblical patterns of thought, words, and action (Romans 6:6-7, 12-13; Ephesians 4:22-32; Philippians 4:6-9; Colossians 3:5-17).
4. PRACTICE. You must take action to put God’s solutions into practice in your everyday activities. If you hear the Word and do not put it into practice, you deceive yourself and your problems become worse. But if you become a doer of the Word, God has promised that you will be blessed and will experience His peace and joy in spite of any turmoil around you (Psalm 85:8-10; Isaiah 32:17; John 15:10-12, 16:33; Hebrews 5:14; James 1:22-25, 3:14-18; I Peter 3:8-12).
BIBLICAL ANALYSIS OF A PROBLEM
In analyzing problems from a scriptural perspective, biblical counselors recognize three levels of every problem.
1. THE FEELING OR PERCEPTION LEVEL. A person will often seek counseling when there is a disruption or discomfort of feelings, most notably a lack of peace and joy. Following a scriptural pattern, biblical counselors carefully explore the feeling level of a problem in order to define the nature of the problem being presented (the what, when, where, and how of the problem as depicted in Genesis 3:8-13, 4:6; I Kings 19:9-14; Proverbs 18:13, 17; Luke 24:13-35; John 20:11-18).
2. THE DOING LEVEL. Biblical counselors attempt to help the counselee identify specific thoughts, words, and actions which violate biblical injunctions. A person focused on self tends to allow his feelings to dictate his behavior, regardless of what effect this may have on others. Living by one’s feelings inevitably leads to doing the wrong things, which leads to more problems and further violations of biblical principles. For our instruction (Romans 15:4), numerous examples of this self-centered pattern of behavior are given in Scripture (Genesis 3:6-13, 4:5-8, 37:11-33; II Samuel 11:1-27, 13:1-33; II Chronicles 26:16-21). However, God’s Word says that all of one’s thoughts, words, and actions should result from a commitment to please God by obeying Him (John 14:15; II Corinthians 5:9-15; Colossians 1:10). When a counselee begins to obey God, regardless of his feelings (Romans 6:12-13; II Corinthians 5:15; Galatians 5:17), then God’s promised blessings are available to him (Genesis 4:7; James 1:25). Foremost among these blessings are lasting peace, joy, and righteousness (Romans 14:17).
3. THE HEART LEVEL. Scripture tells us that out of the heart come anger, bitterness, resentment, and all other evils that are defiling (Matthew 15:18-20). The way a person responds to his problems reflects the condition of his heart (Mark 7:21-23). No human being (including a biblical counselor) can fully understand the heart of any other person (Jeremiah 17:9), but God examines each heart thoroughly (I Samuel 16:7; Jeremiah 17:10). In biblical counseling, the counselor presents the counselee with the truths found in the Word of God, knowing it is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict the counselee of his sin and teach him the way to live a life pleasing to God (John 16:8-13; Galatians 5:16-17; Hebrews 4:12-13). A biblical counselor discourages the counselee from looking to human counselors as the authority. The counselor teaches that the authority is the Word of God (II Timothy 3:16-17), and the true Counselor is the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 2:10-13).
In the biblical counseling process, the counselor will help the counselee examine himself (Matthew 7:5; I Corinthians 11:31; II Corinthians 13:5) so that he will have a pure heart before the Lord (I Samuel 16:7; Psalm 51:10, 17; 139:23-24; I Thessalonians 2:3-4; Hebrews 10:19-22), that it might be well with him (Deuteronomy 5:29) and that he may be blessed (Matthew 5:8).
PROBLEMS CAN BE OVERCOME
While trials and tribulations are a part of life, God has a purpose for all of them (Romans 5:3-5, 8:28; James 1:2-4). No matter what difficulties arise, God has promised that a believer in Christ can be an overcomer in every situation (Romans 8:35-37; I Corinthians 10:13; I John 5:4-5) as he responds in obedience to God’s Word (James 1:25). Even though obedience to God may not be easy (Romans 7:18-19), it can be done as a response of love for what Jesus Christ has accomplished for a believer (John 14:15; Romans chapter 6; I John 5:3; II John 1:6). Following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, a child of God is to remain obedient even during times of suffering (Hebrews 5:8; I Peter 2:20-21), looking beyond present circumstances to the glory that will be revealed (Romans 8:18; II Corinthians 4:16-18).