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A Biblical Foundation for Counseling
Article by John MacArthur
We are about to embark on the most exciting part of this book. It isn’t enough merely to condemn integrated counseling systems; hurting people need to know that there is a more powerful alternative—a counseling philosophy based on the eternal Word of God. For in the Bible God has in fact provided for our every need. Joy, freedom, and recovery from damaged lives are all available to us! Christians don’t have to go through years of intensive therapy to experience genuine inner peace. Breathe deeply, relax in the Lord, and take time to read this article to confirm in your heart and mind that God has provided everything—yes, everything!—we need for our physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being.
All philosophies start with presuppositions. Science itself rests upon presuppositions which cannot be tested empirically. Materialistic theories postulate the eternal existence of energy and matter, but cannot prove it. Evolutionary theory believes by faith that the cosmos organized itself without divine intervention, but cannot prove it. Psychology is a humanistic religion which assumes that man is essentially good and that he contains the power to heal himself, but cannot prove it. Freudian psychological theory presupposes the existence of unconscious drives that produce conflicts between the id, ego, and superego, but cannot prove it. Behavioral psychology presupposes that humans are merely highly developed animal forms whose behavior can be modified by external stimuli, but cannot prove it. Integrationist psychology presupposes the general validity of secular psychological theory and believes that when it is added to biblical concepts, the result is a superior therapy, but cannot prove it.
It is therefore not irrational or unfair for biblical counseling to be based on presuppositions about God, man, salvation, and the sufficiency of the Scriptures.
The Existence of God
The Christian worldview begins by assuming the existence of God (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1; Hebrews 11:6), and continues with the belief that God can and has revealed Himself to man through the general revelation of creation (Romans 1:20), conscience (Romans 2:15), the special revelation of His written Word, the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16, 17; 2 Peter 1:21), and the personal and final revelation of His Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1–3). These presuppositions are not based on blind faith alone, however. There is a vast amount of empirical evidence—in geology (the study of the physical structure of the earth), paleontology (the study of fossils), astronomy, biology, genetics, and the other scientific disciplines—to support the concept of a Creator who designed, formed, and sustains the cosmos.
Christian acceptance of the authority of the Scriptures rests upon the presupposition of biblical inerrancy and infallibility. In contrast to the continually changing findings of psychology, the Word of God claims absolute dependability. Psalm 111:7 says, “All [God’s] precepts are trustworthy.” The statements and principles of the Scriptures endure the test of time, while psychological theories change from day to day. The psalmist writes, “Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89).
Though the assumptions of biblical dependability receive support from archaeological, historical, and scientific evidences, such confirmations do not constitute “scientific proof,” for they are not repeatable, as scientific method demands. The same is true, however, for evolutionary theories. Apologetics (defense of the Scriptures) provides rational assurance which can satisfy man’s intellect, but there still remains the choice of faith which each person must apply to his ultimate source of authoritative truth.
Christian counseling moves beyond the existence of God to the presupposition of God’s benevolent and righteous character. It is essential to understand this balance between God’s compassion and His absolute holiness. He is loving and just. Merciful and stern. Tender, yet demanding. To describe Him only in terms of compassion and love mistakenly depicts God as a cosmic Santa Claus—a benign and slightly senile grandfather figure. On the other hand, to picture God only in terms of righteousness and judgment wrongly portrays Him as a vengeful Thor who furiously casts lightning bolts of wrath upon a helpless creation.
A comprehensive biblical theology is essential, therefore, for successful Christian counseling. If we want to understand ourselves, we must first learn about God. He must be accurately portrayed and perceived in His fullness. He must be seen as omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (everywhere), and omnipotent (all-powerful). His omniscience guarantees that He understands our deepest sufferings and needs. His omnipresence assures us that God is not a distant deity who does not care, but is ever present to aid His children. His omnipotence guarantees that God can deliver on His promises of healing, peace, and joy.
To ignore any facet of God distorts one’s worldview. It assures a faulty interpretation of reality that will lead to an inaccurate diagnosis of a counselee’s problem and cure. That is precisely why a biblical counselor needs a solid theological foundation rather than psychological indoctrination. What a tragedy it is that more and more seminary students are enrolling in psychologically driven counseling programs rather than traditional biblical and theological curricula! How sad it is that pastors often have more confidence in the writings of modern-day psychologists than the prophets who penned the holy Word of God!
God’s Person—The Trinity
A crucial assumption of biblical counseling is the reality of the Trinity. For some people the biblical teaching about the Trinity seems esoteric and abstractly theological, but it provides some vital and practical implications for counseling. It is a revealed truth, not a psychological insight or finding. Though the word trinity does not appear in the Bible, the teaching that the one eternal God exists in three eternal Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is clearly presented (Matthew 28:19; John 14:26; 15:26; 2 Corinthians 13:14; 1 Peter 1:2). Each Person of the triune God has the full attributes of deity; they are eternally equal, and though their functions within the Godhead overlap, there appear to be distinctions in their respective roles.
The Role of the Father in Counseling
The titles used to describe the Persons of the Godhead are helpful in understanding their functions, especially as they relate to man’s needs. Let’s look first at some of the names of the Father. He is described as “Almighty” in Genesis 17:1. It is this attribute of omnipotence that guarantees God’s ability to intervene and to heal, in the counseling sense. He provides solutions to the deepest psychological problems that humans experience.
In Deuteronomy 33:27 He is called the “Eternal God.” God has always existed. Since He has seen and understands every condition that man is subject to, He is never at a loss for the perfect solution. It is in direct contrast to God’s divine nature that the psalmist wrote about our human beginnings: “Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16).
Perhaps we need to be reminded that “[God] knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Psalm 103:14–16). Man is subject to aging, suffering and death. Through Christ, however, God has promised His children immortality: “For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we wi ll be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’ ” (1 Corinthians 15:52–54). These truths have tremendous implications for counseling the depressed, the ill, and the grieving.
God the Father is described by James as the “Father of lights.” This title indicates God’s perfect knowledge and wisdom. He understands and reveals truth, and His truth does not change with every new fad. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). God’s light is explained throughout the Scripture. The applications to counseling are obvious. Look at the following verses and see how God’s wisdom applies to our deepest needs.
• Psalm 27:1—“The Lord is my light and my salvation —whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” Our knowledge of God has a practical benefit for believers. We get our ultimate truth, or light, from God, and as a result of this intimate knowledge we do not have to fear. A proper understanding of the Father can help overcome irrational worries.
A man came to me one Sunday after the morning service and said, “Pastor, God has done such a work in my life! When I began attending church here, I was being treated for anxiety disorder. I was having panic attacks and the doctors were giving me Valium and other drugs. Now that I’m learning about God, I am completely drug-free. My heart rate is normal.” His face glowed with joy and peace because of the truths of God’s Word.
• Psalm 36:9—“For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” The light of God gives the believer an understanding of life itself. That is what so many counselees are seeking—meaning and purpose for their very existence.
• Isaiah 60:20—“Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.” This promise to Israel certainly applies individually to every believer as well, for as we learn to walk in God’s light, He removes our sorrow and replaces it with joy.
• 1 John 1:5—“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” God fully understands man. His Word shines a bright spotlight into the darkest regions of our hearts to reveal sin and to point the way to the Savior and to genuine inner healing.
• 2 Samuel 22:2—God is described as our Fortress, Deliverer, Rock, Shield, Horn of Salvation, Stronghold, Refuge, and Savior. These titles reflect the protection and security which God offers to His people. What blessed truths these are when counseling a person who is full of fear and desperately in need of comfort!
• Matthew 6:26—God is called our “heavenly Father.” Carefully studying His character can help a person to understand what an earthly father ought to be. This is especially important if a counselee had an abusive childhood or if he did not have a good father model to imitate. Paul picks up this image in Ephesians 5:1, where he implores us to “be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children.”
Other titles of God the Father are equally helpful in developing a biblical counseling system. He is called the “Holy One of Israel” in Psalm 71:22; the self-existent “I Am” in Exodus 3:14; the “Judge” in Genesis 18:25; the “living God” in Joshua 3:10; and “my strength” in Exodus 15:2. These few examples can be developed by a counselor or counselee to gain a more complete understanding of the nature and character of God the Father.
The Role of the Son
It is just as important to develop an accurate Christology in biblical counseling, for we are told in Hebrews 1:2 that “in these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.” If we want to more fully understand the Father, we must study the Son.
Nothing could be more practical in the arena of personal counseling than the coming of God the Son to earth. His coming fulfilled the promises God made through the ages that He would provide a remedy for sin and separation from the Father. The Son is the best explanation of the Father, for “the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3).
He is our merciful and faithful High Priest, who makes atonement for our sins (Hebrews 2:17). What a glorious comfort it is to know that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15)! This is an important truth for hurting people because “such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26). This truth is meant to have an impact upon our mind and emotions: “Therefore,” the writer of Hebrews says, “…fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess” (Hebrews 3:1).
In one way or another, sin is the ultimate cause of mental and emotional problems. The incarnation—the coming of Christ to earth in human form—is God’s ultimate solution. God the Son “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26). His purpose in coming was to minister to the needs of mankind: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
How did Jesus’ coming actually affect human dysfunctions? The apostle John explained, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). This is not just a theological overcoming of evil, for it has a practical bearing on the believer’s day-to-day lifestyle. Jesus, having experienced the human condition, knows our desperate need to be delivered from the clutches of evil and the fear that sin produces. As Hebrews puts it, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). It is literally through Christ’s death on the cross that Satan is overcome and the believer can experience deliverance. How does Christ do this? By giving us a new worldview, a new perspective on life’s meaning, and by assuring us that our 70 or 80 years on earth are just the beginning. As a result, Christ is able to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15).
Furthermore, Christ’s coming has given us an example of real mental and emotional well-being. He encourages us to examine His life and “learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls [psuché]” (Matthew 11:29). In this context, it is interesting to note that the Lord offers us rest for our psyche. He is the ultimate psychologist. We are told that “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). For the suffering Christian who is seeking peace of heart and mind, no other study is more significant than the life, character, and teachings of Jesus Christ.
The Role of the
Holy Spirit in Counseling
The third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is equally critical for true healing of the heart and mind. He is described by several names that help us see His role in counseling. Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “the Counselor” in John 14:16 and then tells us that the Holy Spirit is always available (He abides forever), that He will help us to remember Christ’s teachings (John 14:26), that He will testify about Christ (John 15:26), that He will convict mankind of sin (John 16:7, 8), and that He will guide us into all truth (John 16:13).
The Holy Spirit is the One who actually applies the truths of God’s Word to the believer’s life. He makes theology come alive. He does this in several ways.
One, as He dwells within believers, He motivates us toward compliance with God’s will. God describes this process in Ezekiel 36:27: “I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
Two, we are told that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can actually change our very nature, for “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Though Paul confesses the struggle between the old nature and the new (Romans 7), he assures us that “you, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you” (Romans 8:9). This is a life-changing and liberating truth that must be emphasized in biblical counseling. We are no longer slaves to the past. We are not what we once were. We are changed. We are new in Christ!
And three, the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is continuous and complete: “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you” (1 John 2:27). This does not mean that we never need instruction, but that there is no new teaching apart from the Word that is essential for the believer’s sanctification. John emphasizes this point in the next phrase: “his anointing teaches you about all things.” John even anticipates the secular skepticism that questions the reality of the Holy Spirit’s work by saying that the “anointing is real, not counterfeit”; therefore, he pleads with believers to “remain in him” (1 John 2:27).
When we seek psychic healing from the secular precepts of worldly counseling, we are, in effect, denying the sufficiency of God. I am convinced that this is not the intention of my integrationist colleagues. I believe that many of them love the Lord Jesus deeply and want to serve Him faithfully. But I think they are convinced that the Bible does not deal with many, if not most, of the problems of modern living, and that we must therefore seek solutions in scientific research and psychological findings. They do not seem to understand that to insist the Bible lacks essential truths necessary for man’s inner health is to deny the sufficiency of the Scriptures.
God’s Provision for Counseling
A necessary presupposition of biblical counseling is that God has indeed provided every essential truth the believer needs for a happy, fulfilling life in Christ Jesus. It is the belief that God has not left us lacking in any sense. The apostle Peter states it emphatically in his second epistle: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3).
Note the word everything. God has provided absolutely everything man needs for physical and spiritual life. This is a primary consideration. If Peter is correct, then God has given us all the information we need to function successfully in this life. Every essential truth, every essential principle, every essential technique for solving human problems has been delivered in God’s Word. Peter underlines this fact when he writes, “[God] has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:4).
This is to be the goal of biblical counseling—escaping the corruption of the world. We are not told merely to cope or to survive as victims. We are not told just to do the best we can; we are told we can escape the corruption of the world through obedience to the truths of God’s Word.
Some reply, “Yes, but God could provide for our inner healing through psychological means, couldn’t He?”
Of course He could, but there is no biblical evidence that He does. Instead, the Scriptures demand that we accept personal responsibility for our inner health. Peter insists that we “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love” (2 Peter 1:5–7). Note that we must “make every effort.” God does not produce sanctification in His children as we sit passively waiting. We are to cooperate fully with the Holy Spirit as He develops His fruit within us.
Paul refers to this cooperative submission in Galatians 5:16: “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” He amplifies it further: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (verses 24, 25). These are active choices that Paul commands us to make.
The result, according to Peter, is that “if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8). Life does not have to be empty, pointless, and confusing for God’s children.
“But,” Peter warns, “if anyone does not have [these qualities], he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins” (2 Peter 1:9). I am saddened when I see a believer dragged back into the putrid muck of former years by a counselor who is convinced that a person can only be healed in the present by returning to his past. The counselee is made to forget “that he has been cleansed from his past sins,” and the pain and depth of guilt he feels is even greater than before he knew Christ.
Peter condemns teachers who “secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves” (2 Peter 2:1). Now I repeat that I do not believe most integrationists intentionally deny the Lord, but when they destroy believers’ confidence in the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross, that is the net effect.
They claim that their innovative therapies will solve inner problems, and people respond because it seems so sophisticated to accept psychological findings and so simplistic to follow the Word of God. Peter says that teachers who deny the Scriptures “mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error” (2 Peter 2:18).
He describes the devastating results:
They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud” (2 Peter 2:19–22).
Once again, I must pause to emphasize that I am not accusing my integrationist brethren of intentionally enslaving their counselees. I truly believe that they are sincerely trying to help the hurting. I love them and respect them. But I grieve that they dispense psychological remedies that are doomed to failure rather than the truths of God’s Word—truths tha t are the “power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). It is God’s power that transforms the human heart.
Man’s Fallen Condition
Biblical counseling accepts the unpleasant doctrine of the depravity of man. The Bible paints a bleak picture of the condition of man’s heart:
Genesis 6:5—The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.
1 Kings 8:46—There is no one who does not sin.
Psalm 14:3—All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.
Proverbs 20:9—Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin”?
Ecclesiastes 7:20—There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.
Isaiah 53:6—We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Isaiah 64:6—All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
Romans 3:23—For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Galatians 3:22—But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin.
1 John 1:8—If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
1 John 5:19—The whole world is under the control of the evil one.
In direct contradiction of Scripture, a foundational precept of psychology is the inherent goodness of the human heart. It is sometimes described as “the innocent child within.” Man is seen as a victim, not a sinner, and as long as he perceives himself as an innocent casualty rather than a willful rebel, he will remain in his sins. Yet man’s only hope for change is to acknowledge his fallen condition and helplessness before God and to cry out in faith for God’s transforming power to be applied.
One result of the fall of man into sin is confusion. On his own, man is unable to discern how desperate his condition actually is. That is why counselees are so frequently in “denial.” The alcoholic says, “I don’t really have a problem. I can stop drinking anytime I want.” The man who is inflamed with lust says, “It isn’t wrong to read Playboy. Erotic stimulation is perfectly normal and I should not feel guilty.” The couple who have tired of each other reason in their minds, “God wouldn’t want us to remain unhappy all our lives. Surely He would approve of our divorce.”
Jeremiah explains why humans are so confused: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure [or “desperately wicked”]. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). By nature, we are so deceitful it seems we can’t even tell ourselves the truth. We lie to ourselves and say “I’m not really bad” or “It isn’t my fault” or “I’m justified in how I feel or what I did.”
Not only are we unable to fully understand our own hearts without the light of God’s Word, but other humans are also unable to analyze our inner motivations. Even the psychological experts are at a loss to accurately explain why a person does what he does. That is why psychiatrists fail so miserably in predicting whether a felon will repeat his crime upon release from prison.
God asks, “Who can understand man’s heart?” Then He answers the question: “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve” (Jeremiah 17:9, 10). God alone is capable of discerning a person’s true inner condition, and He reveals that condition through His Word: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
No psychological text can do that. No temperament analysis test can reveal a person’s real nature or problem. Depending on such unreliable tools only increases the confusion which a troubled person suffers.
The root of original sin was selfism, and the essence was rebellion. Satan rebelled against God with the intent of setting himself up as the Most High. Rebellion always affects one’s judgment, and Satan must have believed he could actually pull off the first palace coup. Since that initial act of anarchy, Satan has led mankind into a perpetual series of rebellions and the result has been chaos, destruction, and misery.
God warns us that rebellion is not a harmless and natural part of growing up, but that it is desperately wicked. In fact, He says that “rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry” (1 Samuel 15:23). Divination (consulting evil spirits) and idolatry are two of the most serious offenses against God, for they reflect man’s “in-your-face” attitude toward God.
There are terrifying consequences for rebellion. Samuel warned Israel, “If you do not obey the Lord, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your fathers” (1 Samuel 12:15). Perhaps the most frightening consequence of rebellion is that God allows us to destroy ourselves: “Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted” (Isaiah 1:5).
Rebellion is the desire to control one’s own life rather than to submit to God. It is described in Psalm 2:1–3: “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One. ‘Let us break their chains,’ they say, ‘and throw off their fetters.’ ”
What was true of ancient man is still true today. We are all rebels at heart. We don’t want to listen to God. We have “rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the Most High” (Psalm 107:11).
Why do we choose to rebel? Because it is part of our very nature to do so. Paul writes, “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7). Since people have dismissed the concept of God, “ ‘there is no fear of God before their eyes’ ” (Romans 3:18). Spiritual things are simply ridiculous to the natural man: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Modern man has dismissed the concept of God as an archaic relic of our superstitious past. As a result, he has decided to rely upon his own experience, reason, and feelings to guide his beliefs, attitudes, and behavior. Fallen, confused, and rebellious, man is dysfunctional in every sense of the word. He is left in a state of darkness, groping for meaning and direction. Jesus described it this way: “If your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:23).
Another assumption of biblical counseling is that, left to himself and without God’s help, man is hopeless and powerless to change his true inner nature and his ultimate destiny. Biblical counselors recognize the fact that individuals are able to alter their thinking patterns, attitudes, and behavior to a limited extent, and that the results of those changes can provide a temporary measure of psychological relief. The assumption of man’s hopelessness is not an argument or justification for fatalism—the passive acceptance of one’s lot in life—but a recognition of reality.
T hink this presupposition through carefully. It is based upon the biblical doctrine of man’s desperate need for God. Unregenerate man is “separate from Christ…without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Unless he has been redeemed through Christ, a person’s ultimate destiny is eternal separation from God, and his fear of death is natural and rational. As life draws toward its end, a person may feel like Job: “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and they come to an end without hope” (Job 7:6). In contrast, Paul says that when believers in Jesus Christ come face to face with death, they do not have “to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
A primary goal, therefore, in biblical counseling is sharing the “blessed hope,” Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). What a contrast this is to integrated counseling systems that try to provide hope for clients through innovative techniques of psychotherapies! While psychology points abuse victims to their past, biblical counseling points them to present and future victory in Christ. In contrast to “inner child” theories, biblical counseling seeks to move counselees toward maturity in Christ. Instead of leading people through 12 steps of recovery, biblical counseling teaches how to follow in Christ’s steps. The central truth, the primary focus, the philosophical foundation, the reality of hope, the power for change, and the goals of biblical counseling are all found in Jesus Christ.
The Sufficiency of Christ
It all boils down to this: No matter how it is worded, regardless of how cleverly it is packaged, whether or not the motive is sincere, counseling that is merged with psychological theory does not believe that Christ is sufficient to heal the troubled heart.
Some would reply, “We are not questioning the sufficiency of Christ. We are merely saying that the Bible does not address many of the problems facing contemporary human beings and that we need the valid findings and insights available from psychology to help hurting souls.”
That’s exactly my point! When you say the Scriptures are not enough, you are in fact saying that Christ is not enough, for the Bible is about Christ from cover to cover. Its purpose is to reveal His coming, His life, His mission, His teachings, His death, His resurrection victory, His return to heaven, His current advocacy, His preparation of our heavenly dwelling places, His imminent return, His future reign, and the eternity He has planned for all believers.
Every spiritual/mental/emotional human need is met in Christ. Jesus claimed as much when He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). In Him we can find meaning and direction—the Way. We discover the answer to the deepest of all philosophical questions, “What is truth?” In Him we encounter life at its deepest, fullest, and richest. He removes the mystery of origins and destinies. When we walk close beside Him, He removes all fear, and He heals the wounded heart.
Paul writes, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8, emphasis added). He amplifies this promise in Philippians: “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19, emphasis added). Sounds all-inclusive, doesn’t it? All of these things He does with and through the written Word as the Holy Spirit applies it to our hearts.
The solution to our deepest problems of living is not psychotherapy, but Christotherapy. Rather than analyzing our painful dysfunctions, “let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
The Sufficiency of God’s Word
To claim the belief that Christ is sufficient while saying that the Bible is deficient simply will not work, for the two are inseparable foundations: It is through the written Word of God that we come to understand the living Word of God.
Jesus is called the Word of God (John 1:1, 14; 1 John 1:1; Revelation 19:13), and the Scriptures are also called the Word of God (Psalm 119; Ephesians 6:17) because they both are supernatural revelations about God.
Peter explained the connection this way:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires (2 Peter 1:2–4).
God’s provision for our needs—His grace—and the peace we so desperately seek are available, Peter says, through “the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” Furthermore, God’s power has already given us “everything we need for life and godliness” (emphasis added). That is all-inclusive. No essential need has been left unattended by our gracious God. How did He provide for every need? “Through our knowledge of him.” And how do we obtain knowledge about Christ? Through the written Word.
As earnestly as I know how, I plead with you to understand this vital truth: God has provided answers in His Scriptures for every possible spiritual/mental/emotional problem that mankind has ever and could ever experience. There are no truly unique problems that modern man experiences. Sexual, verbal, and physical abuse have been with us since the days of Cain. Marriage problems, poor self-esteem, addictions of every sort, Attention Deficit Disorder, jealousy, violent rage, depression, and virtually every other psychological dysfunction are recorded in biblical case histories.
It is astonishing that Christian psychologists are claiming that psychology has something to offer that the Bible does not provide. Pastor John MacArthur, whose church was sued for biblically counseling a young man who went on to commit suicide (although he was also under psychiatric care), writes about the trial:
Most surprising to me were the so-called Christian psychologists and psychiatrists who testified that the Bible alone does not contain sufficient help to meet people’s deepest personal and emotional needs. These men were actually arguing before a secular court that God’s Word is not an adequate resource for counseling people about their spiritual problems! What is truly appalling is the number of evangelicals who are willing to take such “professionals’ ” word for it.1
This debate is not as complex as many would have us believe. Either the Bible is adequate or it isn’t. It’s that simple.
1 John MacArthur, Jr., Our Sufficiency in Christ (Waco, TX: Word, Inc., 1991), p. 57.
© 2010, Matt. All rights reserved.
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