Biblical Theology and Counseling*

Bill Baldwin

Counseling is about sanctification. And sanctification is a mystery. Let us be clear on that at the outset. It will guard us from many errors. Counseling is about sanctification. And sanctification is a mystery. That is to say, counseling is about growth in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. You may plant or water, but only God can cause the growth. Counseling is about the Spirit who blows wherever he will.

At the beginning, then, all appeals to the flesh are eliminated. The flesh is not the power behind sanctification. No good will come of setting before the counselee steps that he is able to follow, lists of things he is able to do which will somehow result in this mystery of the Spirit of Christ taking place. If he asks, "What must I do that I may work the works of God?" we will reply as our Lord replied: "This is the work of God, to believe in the one whom he has sent."

Counseling is not the primary means by which the sheep of Christ are enabled to grow in grace and the knowledge of him. Counseling is not the primary means of sanctification. The preaching of Christ is. Counseling must take a subordinate role to that preaching of Christ, and indeed to the other means of grace as well, that is to the sacraments and prayer.

Counseling must not contradict the preaching or take a different approach. Counseling must not say something different from the sacraments and prayer.

And what do they say? The cry of prayer is "I have nothing but Christ! And apart from him I can do nothing." The sacrament of baptism says only washing by Christ can make you clean. The sacrament of the Lord's Supper says earthly food avails nothing, for it feeds only your own strength that is passing away. But here is heavenly food. Here is Christ. Feed on him and you shall never perish.

Our preaching must say these things as well. And if our preaching must, so must our counseling. Whatever we say about preaching, we must say about counseling. Whatever we require of preaching, we require of counseling. Whatever we prohibit to preaching, we prohibit to counseling. Counseling is not a different approach to sanctification; it is not an approach that we take when the preaching of Christ and him crucified fails.

If the preaching of Christ and him crucified fails, we have no backup plan, no fail-safe, no other hope. If the preaching of Christ and him crucified fails, we have no other sign save this stumbling block, no other wisdom save this foolishness. If the preaching of Christ and him crucified fails, it is not as though the word of God has failed and left us to other devices. We will preach him all the more, and he shall have the victory.

Counseling is nothing other than the private preaching of the word to those whose need is so great or whose thirst so unquenchable that they need more of the same. More of Christ. We shall not be embarrassed to give them more, for we shall never run out. He is inexhaustible, a continuous rain of manna from heaven, feeding five thousands upon five thousands.

Counseling is our response to the exhortation: "Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season." So we shall and so we must be ready to preach the word not only on the Lord's Day but in every circumstance as God grants us opportunity and breath.

I have spoken so far of the counseling that will be done by the minister of the gospel. And this is proper. Counseling is, above all, a ministry of the word of Christ. It is in a special way the province of the minister of that word.

But I realize there are others present who wish to understand how they may stimulate one another to love and good deeds. This presentation is for you as well. You also must learn to speak to one another of the sufficiency of Christ. You also must learn to recognize the indicative—the things that are true because of Christ—in one another. You also must know how to encourage one another to set all your hope on the grace that is coming when Christ is revealed.

In all this, you must understand something. I speak of counseling those who are members of the church. For how can you say to a non-member, "You are a saint. You are in Christ. You are dead to sin and alive to God."? Let the non-member come before the elders and profess faith. Let the heavens be opened as the elders declare, "That is a like precious faith with our own," binding on earth what has already been bound in heaven. Let them know that the Chief Shepherd has given them an undershepherd who will feed them upon the bread which comes down out of heaven. Let them know that the privilege of ecclesiastical discipline will be theirs, should their Savior need to speak to them with such tender sternness. Only in such a context will counseling make sense.

Let us look at the Scriptures, then, to see how godliness is to be produced.

The Mystery of Godliness (1 Timothy 3:16 - 4:11)

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:
God was manifested in the flesh,
Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory.

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed. But reject profane and old wives' fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. These things command and teach.

Paul begins this section by instructing Timothy that the doctrine of Christ is the mystery of godliness. "Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness," he writes, so that Timothy may know how to conduct himself in the church. Yet what follows is not a series of pithy sayings, a grab bag of tips and tricks for Timothy to master so he can control his temper, smile sincerely, listen patiently, and give every appearance of loving the sheep. This is how the world would pursue advising a pastor.

Paul doesn't waste his time; he knows a more excellent way. If Timothy is to be godly, he must immerse himself in the doctrine of Christ. This seems a strange way to go about it. Why not just tell Timothy what to do and let him do it? Because there is no power in Timothy's flesh, as though he can simply hear what he is supposed to do and go out and do it. His power must come from Christ, so to Christ Paul sends him. Godliness, Paul says, is a mystery and that mystery is hidden in Christ.

How does Paul sum up godliness?

He who was revealed in the flesh
was vindicated in the Spirit
beheld by angels
proclaimed among the Gentiles
Believed on in the world
Taken up in glory

It is not a set of do's and don'ts but the mystery of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the power of godliness to Timothy and to those who will hear him.

Paul writes this knowing that another way of godliness is being offered. He warns Timothy against it. He says: "The Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron."

What are these men doing? They are forbidding to marry. They are commanding to abstain from certain foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. That is to say, they are trying to be sanctified by the discipline of their flesh, by the imposition of an arbitrary code of behavior. Paul says in another place to the Colossians, "Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence" (Col. 2:20-23).

Stay away from it, Timothy! Be warned! There are no tricks to godliness. There is not a set of behaviors which, if followed, will result in godliness. You are not under a covenant of works. You could not bear it if you were. You are under a covenant of grace in which godliness comes graciously from Christ as you immerse yourself in him.

You cannot force yourself by any trick to become godly. Godliness comes from Christ and Christ is known through his gospel. If you are to be godly, you must know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering, having been conformed to his death in order that, if possible, you may attain to the resurrection of the dead.

So, Paul says to Timothy, do you want godliness? Nourish yourself on Christ. Feed upon him. Teach your congregation the mystery of Christ which is the mystery of godliness and you yourself will be nourished on it.

Do you see the language? He's not saying to Timothy you need to have your doctrine down pat so that you have your facts straight when people ask so that you can win arguments. He's saying you need to know the doctrine of Christ because this is your food and this is your drink. If you hunger and thirst after righteousness, you will be satisfied in him and him alone.

Paul says you will be nourished. As food feeds your body and so it becomes strong, so this mystery of godliness feeds your inner man and he is renewed day by day. You must come to Christ as to a feast and devour the knowledge of him and be strengthened by it.

I used to think the highest compliment I could receive for a sermon is that it was "convicting." And indeed your sermons and mine should convict the congregation of sin and bring them to repentance. But woe to you and me if we leave them there with no sense that they have been washed, sanctified, purified by the Spirit of Christ. If we leave them at "convicted" we leave them to their own devices to turn from their sin and to walk in righteousness.

But they have no devices! Nothing good dwells in their flesh! And so they must despair or become proud of their own filthy righteousness. Teach them to hate their own righteousness and boast in the Lord. Now, of all the compliments I have received for my preaching, the dearest is this: a woman once said to me: "I want to thank you for helping me love my Savior more." There's practical for you!

So nourish yourself on Christ. Teach your congregation the mystery of Christ and you will yourself be nourished on that mystery, Paul says. Look at the language!

The crucifixion and resurrection are not simply facts that one must assent to. They are facts in which you must find yourself hidden. You have died with Christ in his crucifixion and your life is hidden with him in God. Sin shall not be your master. You have been raised with him to a new life. Believe these things and you will walk in these ways. This is the mystery of godliness—that it springs from the knowledge of Christ.

Paul says train yourself for that godliness by rejecting those doctrines of demons, this sanctification which comes through the discipline of the flesh.

Train yourself for godliness by immersing yourself in the consuming doctrine of Christ.

The unprofitable bodily discipline of which Paul speaks is not aerobic exercise. It is the fleshly exercises just mentioned by which men attempt to force themselves to do what is right. And by diligent application, they may produce an outward righteousness of pharisaic proportions. But in the day they die, their righteousness perishes with them, for it is a human righteousness. With Paul, you count all such righteousness dung if only you may gain Christ.

Godliness profits forever, because true godliness is walking in this righteousness of Christ, being fed and nourished by him, that he may receive all the glory. You've set your hope on an eternal God; therefore seek the godliness that lasts forever.

Bodily discipline profits not at all. The discipline of the flesh is nothing. But godliness holds promise both for this life and the life that is to come. Therefore, Timothy, he says, command and teach these things. Command and teach the mystery of godliness which is the knowledge of Christ. Do not fail to immerse your congregation in the knowledge of Christ that they too may be impelled to love and good deeds. In doing this, Paul ends the chapter, you will save yourself and those who hear you.

You will save yourself and those who hear you! For Paul, salvation is not simply your justification. Salvation is your justification followed by your perseverance and your growth in grace terminating in your glorification at the last day. And he says the instrument by which that happens is the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Counseling then is a matter of setting Christ continually before the counselee. How do we do this? Let's get practical! But as Scripture is practical. Let's make some application! But as Scripture makes application. How do we set Christ before our counselees so that they lay hold of him, so that they feed upon him, so that he becomes the inner spring which is the source of their sanctification?

I will offer several observations from Scripture in that regard.

Set Before Them Their Union With Christ

To become proper counselors, we must learn to reason with the counselee as Paul reasons with the Romans. In Romans, Paul does not attempt to produce obedience through a guilt trip. Far from it. He tells them their guilt is gone. It has been carried away in the body of Christ. He has been raised for their justification. They are righteous.

Everything that they need to stand before God on judgment day has been accomplished in Christ. Their very judgment day has been accomplished in his resurrection and it is over and they have been declared righteous in him. There is nothing more they need to do. To the world, this is foolishness. Why should the Romans change their behavior? Why should they do what is right if the blessings of obedience have already been given to them fully in Christ? If we take away guilt and the fear of punishment, what motivation does anyone have to do right? Why not sin that grace may abound?

And this is exactly the question Paul asks. "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" (Rom 6:1).

Paul is not afraid of this question. He brings it up himself. Let us not be afraid to provoke that question either by the full disclosure of the glory of justification in Christ Jesus. Let us tell the counselee how completely justified he is. He stands utterly righteous before God. Acquitted. Pleasing in God's sight. Then and only then is he in a position to understand the call to obedience.

Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?

Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? "Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:3, 4).

Paul's answer is surprising. Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! Just because you're justified doesn't mean God won't punish you if you sin. Bad things will happen if you do bad things. Be careful! Paul says nothing of the sort. That would contradict his earlier thesis that all blessings are theirs already in Christ Jesus. That would contradict his later thesis that there is no condemnation for them in Christ Jesus.

Paul does not appeal to the Romans's fear, and he doesn't appeal to their guilt. For they have no guilt before God, and they need fear nothing. And even if they did, these things are not sufficient motivators. For guilt and fear motivate only the flesh which is corrupt and can do no good thing.

Paul's answer is surprising; it's not what most people would expect. Face it. It's not what we expect a lot of times. Why shouldn't I sin? Because I'm united to Christ who is dead to sin and raised to new life! For Paul, it's the most natural answer in the world because he has disciplined himself in the doctrine of Christ. So the first thing that occurs to him in any such question is, what does this have to do with what Christ has done for me and in me, and will do through me? What does this have to do with who I am in Christ? The doctrine of Christ is the mystery of godliness. Paul is constantly on the lookout for ways to bring this doctrine home and to call his hearers to faith in it.

And so Paul's surprising answer to "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" is, of course not; you've been baptized! And then he preaches their baptism to them. Of course not, he says; that's not who you are. You're dead to all that and alive to God in Christ Jesus. You've been united with Christ in his death to sin on the cross. And if that's true, you've been raised with him to newness of life as well, to a new life that has nothing to do with sin. Therefore why sin? What could possibly motivate you? What could possibly attract you?

This is what we must say to the counselee. We must call him to faith in what his baptism preaches to him. We must call him to faith in his union with Christ. He sins because he does not believe himself dead to sin and alive to God. Therefore he does not act that way, and the biggest mistake we can make is to believe those actions. To say, well you've sinned; that must mean you're not dead to sin. It must mean you're not alive to God. No! At that very moment when he struggles with sin is the moment when he needs us to tell him, it is not true! Your actions are a lie! Let God be true though every man is a liar. You are dead to sin. Believe it, brother. And you will walk in these ways.

We must reason as Paul reasons. Do you understand what God said of you when you were baptized? If you understood it, you would not sin. Let me tell it to you again that you may believe it and that you may walk in this faith. Only in this context can the call to obedience make sense.

So Paul makes that call: "For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him" (Rom. 6:5-9).

(What does that have to do with me? It's certainly good for Christ . . . . Keep listening.)

"For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God" (v. 10)

And this, Paul says, is your power of new obedience—to find yourself in Christ, empowered by his new life. Therefore he says, "Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (v. 11).

There's the call to faith. There's the call to believe the indicative—the truth of what he has just preached. Reckon yourselves dead to sin. I tell you that it is true! I swear it to you. I take my oath before God. Is the death of Christ a sham? Is his resurrection nothing? If not, then you are dead to sin. Then you are alive to God. Believe it!

"Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts" (v. 12).

Don't let sin reign in your mortal body as though it is still your master. I tell you that it is not.

"And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace" (vv. 13, 14).

Do you hear how Paul reasons with the Romans? So we must reason with the counselee. Sin is not your master. Christ has defeated sin. Christ is alive. You are alive in him. Therefore sin no more.

Do you see how all this is front-loaded? Before we get to the exhortation to behavior, we have this long explanation of the doctrine of Christ and what it means to be united with him. And then the simple exhortation to behavior—therefore, do not sin.

Followed by what? A series of tips on how to change your behavior so that you do not sin? A list of do's and don'ts, of things that lead to sin and things that don't? No. Paul says elsewhere, "the deeds of the flesh are obvious"! And if you believe these things, you will not do the deeds of the flesh.

Therefore, we set before them their union with Christ, and we call them to faith in it.

Set Before Them Their Horror of Uniting Christ With Sin

Your counselee has a problem with fornication. It seems to master him and, like a sheep to the slaughter, he turns and follows after this sin. What do you do to turn him from it? Do you make for him a long list of do's and don'ts, places to avoid, things not to read? Do you attempt to change his behavior on the theory that a change of heart will follow? Worse, do you imply by your condemning attitude that by this sin he has fallen out of favor with God? God forbid! This one stands justified in Christ before the court of Almighty God; shall he stand condemned before the court of you? God forbid!

Observe what Paul does with those notorious fornicators, the Corinthians: "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, "The two shall be one flesh." But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him" (1 Cor. 6:15-17).

Do you see how Paul reasons with those who fornicate, how he pleads with them? He sets before them the indicative, the facts: their bodies are members of Christ. And then he plays on their fears. Yes, you heard right; he plays on their fears.

Not . . . NOT . . . that he plays on their fear of punishment. There is no condemnation for them in Christ Jesus. Rather, he plays on their fear of uniting Christ with a prostitute. When you do these things, he says, you are raping Jesus. You are taking your Beloved and dragging him through the mud. You are involving him in this most despicable act.

By this Paul seeks to awaken a horror of fornication in the Corinthians. Not because of the consequences to them—which could not turn them away—but because of the consequences to Christ. Their beloved. The one who laid down his life for them. They had not thought through the implications. They didn't remember who they were, members of the body of Christ. Convince them of that and fornication will become impossible.

Set Before Them The Mind Of Christ

Paul writes to the Philippians, knowing that there is division in the church. Two women of importance, Euodia and Syntyche, have become the heads of factions and those factions have become more important to them than the unity of the body of Christ.

What they want in a counselor is someone to tell them who's right and who's wrong. Which faction is correct? Paul doesn't even address that question. Paul does not give the Philippians step by step instructions on how to resolve their differences. Rather, he addresses their pride, and sets before them the mind of Christ.

Let the same mind be in you that was in
Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

If there is division in the church, then clearly these two sisters don't understand what their Savior has done. He who was the highest of the high became the lowest of the low. He who was life submitted to death. He who deserved all glory submitted to the shame of death on a cross.

And did he lose anything by this reckless abandonment of his own rights? No. God highly exalted him and glorified him with the glory that he had with the Father before the world began.

Paul sets this mind of Christ before them, not as a dead example that they must follow if they can. The example of Christ is vivifying; it is life-giving. To understand this mind of Christ—to truly understand it—is to have the power to walk in it. So Paul counts it as of first importance that he should preach this example into them. That they should hear it and believe it.

And then their pesky little differences will subside. They will know what steps to take, what hoops to jump through in order to resolve their differences. Because they will have the mind of Christ toward one another.

Paul does not drone on and on about how important it is to obey whether we like it or not. He wants them to like obedience. He wants them to love obedience with the love with which they love Christ. So only setting Christ before them will provoke the obedience he desires.

Set Before Them Their Participation in The Example of Christ

Paul does this with husbands and wives, telling them that by marriage they participate in the mystery of Christ and his church.

Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself (Eph. 5:22-28).

What husband, truly understanding this—that his marriage preaches the mystery of Christ—would be selfish and domineering? It would break his heart to be so. For then, by his life, he would be preaching that Christ his Savior is selfish and domineering.

What good is it to take the husband and give him a laundry list of do's and don'ts, things that have the appearance of godliness, but deny the power? (For the power, remember, is the knowledge of Christ.) What good to give him a set of artificial boundaries—this far you may dominate your wife, but no farther. Is that how Christ loved the church? This much, at least, you must do for your wife. Christ gave himself for the church. Let the husband understand that and do the same. What good to give the husband a set of artificial duties: Buy her flowers once a month. Set up a date night. Offer to watch the kids every so often. Away with such nonsense! Find me the place in Scripture where the Lord deals with his children in this way. Persuade him of the love of Christ for him and his love for her will know no bounds.

What wife, truly understanding this, would decline to submit to her husband? Though her husband may be unreasonable or selfish, yet her Lord is never so. And if Christ calls her to submit to this or that odd command or strange decision, did he not himself submit to things too terrible to describe on her behalf? Reason with her heart in this way and she will not ask, "Just how much of this do I have to put up with?" But she will glory in her submission, though it may be hard at times, as a submission to Christ.

Then, together, the husband and the wife will preach by their lives the mystery of Christ and his church. The Scriptures aim at nothing less than that.

Set Before Them Their Identity In Christ

Your counselee sins because he forgets who he is. He forgets who Christ has made him to be. Therefore, he must be reminded constantly. Paul slips it in again and again when he writes to the Ephesians: "But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints" (Eph 5:3). How horrible it would be if Paul denied the Ephesians their identity here! What if he said or even implied, "You're not acting like a saint. You must not be a saint. If you want me to call you one, start acting like one." Then they would have no motivation to shun fornication or impurity or greed.

But they are saints. They are holy to God. Holy in Christ. And that is their motivation—that it is proper for saints, holy to God, holy in Christ, to live in accordance with that understanding. Paul reminds them of who they are and makes that the basis of what they do. The imperative only makes sense in light of the indicative.

Paul goes on, "Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God" (Eph 5:5). What is Paul saying here? Is he telling the Ephesians, if you do these things you will lose your inheritance in Christ? Is he motivating them by the fear that their salvation, purchased by Christ and sealed by the Spirit, might yet slip through their fingers? God forbid!

His presupposition is that they do have an inheritance in the kingdom of God. He's told them as much in chapter 1. Then what is his reasoning? He says: "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them. For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light" (Eph. 5:6-8).

Do you see the beauty of it? Don't do those things! he cries. That's what people who won't inherit the kingdom do. That's not who you are. Why, by your actions, would you associate yourself with people who are doomed to hell? Don't let them deceive you. There's no value in sin; there's no percentage in disobedience. What fellowship do you have with them? You are headed for the eternal city, the new Jerusalem. You are light in the Lord. Therefore walk as children of light. The fact that God condemns impurity, fornication, idolatry, becomes their motivation not because they fear that God will therefore condemn them but because God has not condemned them. And therefore why be impure, why fornicate, why commit idolatry? Why have any fellowship with those whom God has condemned who have no inheritance with the saints in light?

Set Before Them Their Victory In Christ

She stands before you inconsolable. Her life is too hard to bear. Her choices have not been the wisest or the most foresightful. While they weren't actually sinful, they certainly could have been better. It is easy to see how she might have spent her money more carefully, and then she wouldn't be in this position. It is easy to see how she shouldn't have moved into that apartment or given up a job she disliked in the hope of finding a better one. It is easy to see how she should have clarified things with her friend a little sooner and then her friend would not be angry with her.

Therefore . . . what?

Say it! Voice that dirty little thought. Admit what the Pharisee inside all of us thinks. Therefore . . . she . . . deserves . . . it. If she made wise choices, God would bless her. And we put the counselee back under a covenant of works. Do what is wise and God will bless you. Do what is foolish and God stands ready to curse.

We forget that God has already blessed her as much as she can possibly be blessed in Christ Jesus. He has given her his Son and in him all things. And if we forget that, how will she remember?

A word here especially to ministers of the word. It is easy to become sidetracked in our counseling. They come to us with problems at school, problems with finances, problems at work. So we become school counselors, money managers, and job consultants. The temptation is fierce, especially when we see that such consultation might be helpful.

But we have better help to offer than the organization of their earthly affairs. Are there not ruling elders and deacons and lay people who can speak to them of such things? Let us resolve to know nothing but what is most important, Christ and him crucified.

Let us set before them their victory in Christ in spite of the defeats of this life. Hear how Paul does this:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is the one who condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:31-36).

Set that truth before them and they will be able to bear whatever it is that Christ calls them to bear.

Set Before Them Their Eschatology In Christ

Peter writes to the pilgrims in Asia Minor, to Christians who are outcasts. Socially they are outcasts. Politically they have no clout. They are slaves of unbelieving masters, wives of unbelieving husbands, subjects of unbelieving rulers. In the eyes of the world they have nothing; they are powerless.

Peter writes to them and they wait to hear him say, it will not always be this way. They wait to hear him say someday you will rise up and gain power. Someday you will not be social outcasts. Someday you will have political influence. Someday there will be a golden age for the church when the church will not suffer with Christ.

They want that counsel from him. But he can't give it because it's not true. He gives them better. He says, "Set all your hope on the grace that is coming when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Peter 1:13). Don't waste a drop of hope on things in this life getting better. As surely as Christ suffered and entered into glory, so surely will you suffer with him and enter into his glory.

You must set before the counselee the coming glory in a way that makes everything in this world seem of no importance. All sin, all worry, all doubt, stem from a love of the things of this life which betray you and which pass away. If we loved only the things of the life to come, we should be content always; for we have those things already in abundance in Christ.

You must constantly be on the lookout for ways to direct their eyes to that last day when Christ appears and sorrow and mourning flee away. How tempting it is to stop short of that! How tempting to say what they think they want to hear.

The counselee is going through a hard time in life, and what do we say? "Don't worry. Things will get easier in a year or two." You don't know that. "Don't worry. I'm sure the doctors will figure out what is wrong." You don't know that. You don't know anything of what will happen in this life for them, whether of good or ill. Whether they will live long lives or die tomorrow. You cannot promise earthly life or earthly health or earthly comfort. You dare not promise these things.

But this . . . THIS . . . you can promise them:

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." And He said to me, "Write, for these words are true and faithful." And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts (Rev. 21:1-6).

Promise that to them! Be as extravagant as you wish. You will not promise them more than God has promised.


I hope I have shown in this something of my conviction that we do not need a lot of man-made schemes to counsel. The Scriptures teach us how to speak. Let us speak as they speak—the word of Christ and him crucified, resurrected, ascended. Let us constantly ask the question, how does the knowledge of Christ affect this situation? Let us speak as Christ speaks in his word, adding nothing to it, taking nothing away.

Vista, California


* Presented at The Kerux Conference, June 22, 1999