Month: July 2015

Biblical Counseling and the Sufficiency of Scripture

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Jesus said, “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away (Matt. 24:35).” This is a powerful and clear statement that the word of God is “sufficient and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness so that the individual may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16).”

What exactly does it mean that God’s Word is sufficient? It means that God has revealed everything we need to know about salvation and obeying Him through His holy Word. For the Scriptures are active, sharper than any double-edged sword (Heb. 4:12), and it alone has the power to change lives. If we seek guidance through any other resource, even if it’s the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit, it must be grounded and aligned with Scriptural support and not in our feelings.

Does the sufficiency of Scripture mean that God can only be known through the Bible? No. The knowledge of God’s existence, character, and moral laws are written on the hearts of all people[1]; for everyone is created in the image of God. However, Scripture nowhere specifies that people can know the gospel, or way of salvation, without hearing the testimony of Scripture. For the Apostle Paul said to the church in Rome, “How then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them (Rom. 10:14).” This special revelation through Scripture is the only sufficient guide for understanding repentance, forgiveness, and grace through Christ.

The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is relevant to biblical counseling. Jay Adams said it well: “The resources for counseling are not in the outside expert, the resources are not in the counselee, nor are they in ourselves; the resources are in God through His Word.”[2] When we counsel others, the Bible tells us all that we need to know about interpersonal relations with others because He is the author and expert of humanity. The Bible may not be sufficient for telling us how to build a boat or fly a kite, but it is sufficient for teaching us how to live appropriately.[3]

In secular counseling, Psychologists study mind and behavior. They explore concepts such as perception, emotion, brain functioning, personality, interpersonal relationships, and intelligence to get an overall view of anthropology. Christian Psychologists, also known as integrationists, will mix the truth of revelation found in Scripture and secular views of pschiatry, to accommodate, in their opinion, the most holistic approach to counseling.

What I find most troubling about this view is that Christian Psychologists will admit the Bible is sufficient for understanding human depravity and grace but not the biological basis for depression, emotional abuse, and conflict issues.[4] First, I understand that psychological issues can be a result of biological phenomenon. In that case, the counselee should be consulting with a Physician who has a medical degree. However, in my opinion, a Psychologist is not a Physician, and only evaluates and diagnoses the mental processes that are going on in an individual’s life, and a biblical counselor has the same ability to do so as the Psychologist.

For example, let’s say an individual is suffering from depression because they cheated on their spouse. The Psychologist may say their depression is a result of not being fulfilled in the first marriage. Maybe they advise to ignore the false guilt and find a new spouse. The biblical counselor might argue that the individual has sinned and their depression is a result of true guilt. Instead of advising the individual to find a new spouse, the counselor may tell them to seek reconciliation with the spouse by repenting and asking for forgiveness.

Which one is correct? In my opinion, the biblical counselor. The biblical worldview teaches us that sin can cause depression. Psalm 31:10 states, “I am dying from grief; my years are shortened by sadness. Sin has drained my strength; I am wasting away from within.” Therefore, as Christian counselors, we should heed advice from physicians who are experts in Physiology, but God has given us the sufficiency of Scripture to take care of the psyche, or soul, of humankind. Christians should have confidence that God’s Word is the best tool to use when counseling others about how to live their life according to God’s plan.

[1] Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 122

[2] Jay Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual (Zondervan, 1986), p. 97

[3] Ibid., p. 18-19

[4] Eric Johnson, ed., Psychology & Christianity: Four Views, 1st ed. (IVP, 2000), p. 110

The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian Life

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The role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life is multifaceted: to give life, power, purification, revelation, and guidance to believers.[1] In this essay, I will explain each of these characteristics and how they are important in the counseling process.

God gives life to all creatures. The psalmist said, “When you send forth your Spirit, they are created (Ps. 104:30).” It’s vital to understand that if God ceased to exist, every sentient being in this universe would perish (Job. 34:14-15). All of creation relies on God to enjoy life. A Christian, however, enjoys the gift of new life in regeneration that unbelievers don’t possess. When speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus said, “Unless you are born again, you can’t see the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3).” In counseling, it’s important to remind the counselee that the only way to change effectively is to be given new life through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit gives power to the Christian. When Jesus was speaking to His disciples, he promised them: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you (Acts 1:8).” This power helps us utilize our spiritual gifts, overcome sin, and discern spiritual warfare. Effective counseling cannot be done without the power of the Holy Spirit. As Jay Adams said, “Anyone who fails to submit to this power will not be able to change their personality in a positive manner.”[2]

Purification is an essential ingredient to the role of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says the Spirit “convicts the world of sin and of unrighteousness (Jn. 16:8-11). It is only when the Christian admits their guilt and confesses to their Heavenly Father that the work of the Spirit can begin. Paul says to the Corinthians, after they repented, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:11). Additionally, after the Holy Spirit purifies us from our sins, He transforms our hearts and mind to conform to the image of God through the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).” While we meet with our counselees, it’s important to emphasize that the Christian life is not only about putting “off” the old man, but putting “on” the new man in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17).

Scripture makes it clear that another role of the Holy Spirit is to reveal God’s truth, which is found in the written word. God’s word came about because “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21).” Consequently, all Scripture is God-breathed, which means the Spirit teaches, rebukes, and corrects us on how to properly understand the revelation of God’s ultimate plan (2 Tim. 3:16). In counseling, it’s vitally important to realize the Spirit’s counseling work is ordinarily performed through the ministry of God’s word.[3]

Finally, the role of the Spirit of God is to guide and direct His people. Throughout the Old Testament, the spirit came upon prophets. For instance, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon Ezekiel, specifically telling him to rebuke the Israelites for killing many people in the city and filling its street with the dead (Ezek. 11:5-6).” In the New Testament, after Jesus was baptized, the Spirit led him out into the wilderness (Mk. 1:12). In the epistles, Paul writes that Christians ought to walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal 5:16). It’s clear that God desires counselees to listen for the guidance of the Spirit through prayer, Scripture, like-minded believers, and any convictions from the inner self that aligns with the Bible.

[1] Grudem, Systematic Theology, p.634-656. These five characteristics of the Holy Spirit: life, power, purification, revelation, and guidance are found in Chapter 30: The Work of the Holy Spirit.

[2] Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel (Zondervan, 1986), p.20.

[3] Ibid., 23.

WHAT IS THE IMAGE OF GOD IN MAN?

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There are three biblical categories concerning the image of God in man. They are termed the substantive, relational, and functional views. In this essay, I will explain both the strengths and weaknesses of each view, how my understanding of the image of God has been shaped by them, and why these perspectives can help us better understand our true humanity.

The substantive view believes the image of God is found in the psychological or spiritual nature of humans, especially reason. They often quote Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness” to validate their position.  Thomas Aquinas was a strong advocate of this view because he thought the cognitive, cerebral aspect of humanity is most like God than any of the lower animals of creation.[1]

Irenaeus and Origen, two early church Fathers, also suggested that the substantive view clarify the difference between image and likeness. Image was something bestowed at the creation of humankind, while likeness was only a potential of what humans were to become. When Adam fell into sin, he lost the likeness yet continues to retain the image of God today.[2] Therefore, all advocates of the substantive view believe that the best way to know God is to look within ourselves since it is a definite characteristic within the makeup of the human.

The relational view argues that being created in the image of God is not merely found in the structural qualities of human nature. Instead, humans display the likeness of God when they are in relationship with both God and people. When we turn to God and reflect His nature, it’s similar to standing in front of a dim mirror, only seeing partially, but once we grow in our relationship, the image of God gets clearer over time. The apostle Paul clarifies this idea in his letter to the church at Corinth: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known (1 Cor. 13:12).”

Moreover, the relational view contends that the Triune God, composed of three distinct persons, yet one in essence, fulfills the I-Thou relationship. Renowned Theologian Karl Barth argued that both within God and the human, an ‘I” and “Thou” confront each other, not as solitary individuals, but as two or more persons confronting each other. Thus, the image of God does not exist in what we are but rather what we do—creating relationships with both our male and female counterparts and the Creator of the universe.[3]

The last biblical category of the image of God in man is called the functional view. It claims that the image is not some innate quality within the human or the relational experience with God and others. Instead, it is a human function—something one does. In Genesis 1:27-28, immediately after the “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness,” the text declares: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” This is a functional commandment that God gives to both Adam and Eve. Just as God is the Lord over all creation, humans ought to reflect His Lordship by exercising dominion over the rest of creation.[4]

Two words are used in Genesis 1:28 to describe this relationship of man to nature: subdue and have dominion. These verbs tells us that man is to explore the resources of the Earth, cultivate its land, take care of the animals, and also develop science, technology, and art for the glory of God. Advocates of the functional view call this the cultural mandate: “the command to develop a God-glorifying culture.”[5]

I believe that all three views have a valid argument for what it means to be created in the image of God. The relational outlook helps illustrate the theological importance of the Trinity. The substantive view makes it clear that all humans are created in the image and likeness of God because of our innate will, ability to love, and rationality. Lastly, the functional perspective demonstrates our ability to utilize the natural resources given to us by our Creator. All of these viewpoints put together give us a holistic assessment on the image of God in man.

[1] Millard Erickson, Systematic Theology, p. 521

[2] Ibid., p.522

[3] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics (Edinburgh: T&T. Clark, 1958), vol. 3, part 1, pp. 197-98.

[4] G. C. Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962) p. 70.

[5] Anthony Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), p.79.

Six Characteristics of God that Help in Counseling

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There are at least six attributes that describe God. They are: wrath, mercy, holiness, omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. These attributes are theologically important and ought to be applied practically for life and counseling. I will briefly explain each one and how they are pertinent to our conversations with counselees.

The first attribute, God’s wrath, is His hatred towards sin and anything that contradicts His holy nature. For example, when the Israelites disobeyed by serving false gods, the Lord was very angry with Israel (Judg. 2:20-21). In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul said that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness (Rom. 1:18; Col. 3:6; 1 Thess. 1:10, Heb. 3:11, Rev. 6:16-17).” In our counseling sessions, people need to be told both God’s hatred towards sin and His willingness to forgive through the act of repentance.

The second attribute, God’s mercy, is defined as “God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress”.[1] Oftentimes, mercy, grace, and patience are mentioned together, but the main difference concerning mercy is its specific relationship to individuals in difficult circumstances (2 Sam. 24:14; Ps. 86:5; Tit. 3:5; Heb. 4:16). Jesus was the prime example for showing mercy towards the poor, blind, and lame people of His day. Mercy is an attribute we should extend to our counselees since they are at a low point in their lives.

The third attribute, holiness, is his uniqueness. God is the only being in the universe that is wholly independent and self-sustaining. He is necessary whereas everything else in the cosmos is contingent. The Bible states in Ex. 15:11: “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you—majestic in holiness awesome in glory, working wonders?” Theologian Louis Berkhof calls His uniqueness the “majesty-holiness” of God.[2]

When a counselee understands the absolute purity or goodness of God, it should bring both fear and joy. Fear because God is pure and we are impure, but joyful because our purity is a result of knowing Christ rather than attempting to become pure ourselves. The holiness of God should always remind our counselees to swallow their pride and trust in the righteousness of Christ, which is given freely to all who believe in His name.

The fourth attribute, omnipotence, is the idea that God is all-powerful. The term is not found in the Bible, but the term refers to two biblical ideas: God can do anything He pleases and nothing is too hard for Him.[3] Job 23:13 states: “But he stands alone, and who can oppose him? He does whatever He pleases (Ps. 115:3; 135:6; Isa. 14:24-27; Dan. 4:35).” The Bible also makes it clear in the gospels that nothing is impossible with God (Lk. 1:37).

When speaking truth to a counselee, we should encourage them that they can do all things through Christ who gives them strength (Phil. 4:13). That means overcoming addiction, reconciling a marriage, becoming debt-free, etc. God can help us achieve the impossible.

The fifth attribute of God, omniscience, is the notion that God knows all things. There is nothing hidden from Him. The author John writes in his epistle: “for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything (1 Jn. 3:20).” When interacting with our counselees, it’s important to emphasize that God knows all our burdens, anxieties, and fears. This should give counselees confidence to be transparent with God.

The sixth and final attribute, omnipresence, means that God is everywhere present, both in time and in space. The psalmist states: “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there (Ps. 139:8).” This characteristic of God should remind both the counselor and counselee that they can communicate to God at any time, whether in a car on the way to work, in the kitchen, or jogging on the road. God desires to hear from His children all the time.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand rapids: Intervarsity Press, 1994), 200.

[2] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), p.73.

[3] John Frame, The Doctrine of God: A Theology of Lordship (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2002), p. 515.