Jesus Christ now dwells invisibly in His church in the person of the Holy Spirit. Before leaving His disciples, Jesus assured them that the Father would send them “another Counselor … the Spirit of truth.”1 The Greek word that is translated “another” is a specific term meaning literally “another of the same kind.” For three and one-half years, in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prediction that He would be called a “Counselor” Jesus guided, instructed, rebuked, encouraged, and taught His disciples.2 He was truly their Counselor. During His ministry, of course, Jesus counseled many other individuals as well.3
Now, as Jesus was about to leave His disciples, He graciously clamed their fears by informing them that He would send “another” Counselor like Himself to be with them to teach and guide as He had previously.4 The rendering “comforter” goes back to Wycliffe. But there is good reason, however, to translate parakletos in its occurrences in John by “advocate” or a synonym, such as “counselor,” or “helper,” or “intercessor.”5 He identified this Counselor as the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth (i.e., who is the Source of truth and who leads into truth).
His Work is Holiness
The Holy Spirit is called holy not only because He is to be distinguished from all other spirits, and in particular from unclean spirits, but also because He is the Source of all holiness.6 This point is specifically emphasized in Romans 1:4 where, in an unusual construction, He is called “the Spirit of holiness.” The holiness of God’s people that results from their sanctification by the Holy Spirit must be attributed entirely to Him as He works through His Word.7 The “fruit” of the Spirit is just that: it is the result of His work. If the counseling is in essence one aspect of the work of sanctification (as I have argued elsewhere” 8 ), then the Holy Spirit, whose principal work in the regenerated man is to sanctify him (cf. also Ezekiel 36:25–27), must be considered the most important Person in the counseling context. Indeed, He must be viewed as the Counselor. Ignoring the Holy Spirit or avoiding the use of the Scriptures in counseling is tantamount to an act of autonomous rebellion. Christians may not counsel apart from the Holy Spirit and His Word without grievously sinning against Him and the counselee. Any counseling context that disassociates itself from these elements is decidedly a non-Christian context, even though it may be called Christian or may be structured by a counselor who is himself a Christian but who has (wrongly) attempted to divorce his Christian faith from his counseling principles and techniques.
At the time that he announced the coming of the Spirit, Jesus also told His disciples that they would be sent to do a “greater work” than He had done.9 This work could be accomplished, He said, only if He left them and sent the Holy Spirit to take His place. The Spirit would be a counselor to them in performing these tasks in a way in which He could not be. His continued visible bodily presence with them would have meant that the work, if it were to be guided by His counsel, would be confined to a few in but one area. But in going to the Father and in sending the invisible Spirit to be with them wherever they went throughout the world, they and all other Christians could benefit from the same counsel at once wherever they were. By the Spirit, He promised to continue to be with them until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). In this work they were going to be in great need of counsel (cf. Luke 12:11, 12; 21:14, 15). Thus, Christ’s leaving and the Spirit’s coming were for their benefit (John 16:7).10
All Christians Benefit from His Counsel
It is true that the Holy Spirit counseled the apostles uniquely, enabling them infallibly to remember the words and works of Jesus and helping them to reproduce the same in the form of an inerrant revelation. This unique sort of counsel ceased with the close of the New Testament canon, once its purpose had been achieved. Yet the more general counseling work of the Holy Spirit continued after the death of the apostles. Indeed, through His use of this written revelation preached, read, explained, and applied among the members of the Church of Christ, the Holy Spirit today carries on His work of counseling. It is He who regenerates and gives faith to the elect (1 Corinthians 12:3), and it is He who enables the believer to understand (1 Corinthians 2:9–16) and live according to God’s will revealed in the Scriptures. These two purposes (salvation and sanctification) are declared to be the ends or “uses” of the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:15, 16), just as the two conjoint purposes of the worldwide mission comprise the works of evangelism and edification (Matthew 28:19, 20). All true believers receive the baptism (or “anointing”) of the Holy Spirit at regeneration and, therefore, receive the benefit of His counsel (1 John 2:20, 27). But that counsel has been deposited in the writings of the apostles, and it is by enabling His church to “hear” them in these writings (1 John 4:6) that the Spirit has chosen to counsel His church today.
1 John 14:16, 17.
2 Isaiah 9:6. Cf. also Isaiah 11:2; Zechariah 6:13 (NASB).
3 For a biblical picture of the work of counseling, it is important to study the work of Jesus Christ. I should suggest that He is particularly set forth in the Gospel of John as “counselor,” and that encounters such as those recorded in John 2, 3, 4, 9 , etc., are specifically examples of Christ’s work of counseling. It is instructive to note, although cannot discuss the matter fully here, that John seems to have built his Gospel around the titles attributed to Christ in Isaiah 9:6. It is John who pictures Him as “the Unique One” “Wonderful” pele Isaiah 9:6 and “only begotten” monogenes, which means “the only-one-of-its-kind” rather than “only begotten,” John 1:14, 18; 3:16, etc., both seem to speak of His uniqueness], as “Counselor,” John 14, 16, 1 John 2:1, as “the Mighty God,” John 1:1,18, etc., “the Everlasting (John 1:1; 8:58) Father,”John 10:30–33; 14:8, and the “Prince of Peace,” John 14:27; 16:33. Only by understanding the matter in this way can we explain the (otherwise) astounding fact that the New Testament writers entirely by-passed this plainly messianic prediction. It is my hope that of the more than one hundred men who so far have been trained in nouthetic counseling, some one or more of them would undertake the important biblical study of Jesus Christ as Counselor. He was Counselor to men in general and Counselor to His disciples in an even more intimate way.
4 The guiding and teaching function of the biblical counselor is seen clearly in John 14:26; 16:13. His methods as Counselor are described in John 16:7–15. The Spirit as Counselor is so concerned with counseling by teaching and leading into truth that He is specifically designated “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17).
5 Walter W. Wessel in Baker’s Dictionary of Practical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1960), p. 30. The words noutheteo and nouthesia occur only in Paul. John seems to prefer parakletos, putting the emphasis upon the Person who counsels.
6 “Holy” means “set apart from and to; i.e., “special” or “unique”
7 Cf. John 15:3, where Christ notes that it is by the Word that He prunes (clean) the branches. Moreover, in His prayer for the church He prays “make them holy by the truth; your Word is truth” (John 7:17). See footnote no.6, above. For a discussion of the Spirit’s use of the Word, see also Competent to Counsel, pp. 23–25. Here let me add simply this: the Spirit ordinarily works through means. The Christian does not order the Spirit, or mechanically “turn on” the Spirit by the use of biblical truth. While He gave the truth, brought the Bible into being, and has chosen to work through it, the Spirit is neither a force nor a machine. He has put the Bible, not Himself, at our disposal. He is a Person who works when and where and how He pleases. To us has been given the Bible. We ask God to be pleased to make our use of it effective by His Spirit and then move out in obedience to its truth. The results and whole outcome belong to God.
8 Competent to Counsel, pp. 20, 21, 73–77. As the Spirit of sanctification, He is the Spirit of change. Wherever the Spirit is at work, change is inevitable.
9 John 14:12. Obviously not in kind; their work would be greater in extent.
10 If they should attempt to evangelize the world without the ever-present counsel and power of the Holy Spirit, they would fail, for it was He who would “teach” them and help them to “remember” (John 14:26), and “guide them into all truth” (John 16:13). These, and other similar functions attributed to the Holy Spirit, indicate that the biblical role of the counselor is essentially directive. The counseling work of Jesus by the Spirit is normative for all Christian counseling. As counselor, the Spirit is directive in approach.
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