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Counseling is about helping people to change. The change biblical counselors seek is unique and unbiblical approaches to change will impede spiritual growth. This session explores how change begins by understanding and applying the Gospel. Understanding our union with Christ is the key to growth in holiness.
Counseling is about helping people to change.
In this session, we’re gonna talk about sanctification. And sanctification is change, it’s transformation into holiness. And the outline in the syllabus, on which you can follow along is entitled How People Change. We all do want to change, not just wanting to change other people, but we, ourselves. Each of us has an area or more in his own life, we would desire more fruit, more discipline, maybe eating less, exercising more, some of you it may be to complete NANC exams you’ve been putting off, more time in the word, doing family devotion, more control of your tongue, or your anger. And then, of course, counseling itself is about helping people to change, to be sanctified. There are actually a stack of books I could bring out that have the word change in them, How You Can Change, You Can Change, How People Change. And the people who come in, they come in wanting to change, and sometimes very frustrated. The young man who is really addicted to pornography, he keeps trying, but he goes a few days and he fails again, he’s very discouraged. The middle-aged woman who periodically binges on alcohol, the single woman living in fear, they’ve diagnosed her OCD, she’s afraid to leave her house, lest she catch a disease in a bathroom, or a mother who can’t sleep because she’s worried about her kids, the empty nester, her kids are gone, she’s home alone, and she spends the day on the Internet shopping and buying stuff, thinking that’s gonna make her happy, her house is full of unopened boxes. She is a hoarder ready for the TV program. Or parents who see the fruit of their own inconsistency and impatience, and anger, they say their children are disobedient and disrespectful, the person who is obese who wants to lose weight, but can’t, or the brother sister embarrassed that when they come to church people can smell the tobacco, smell the smoke on them, they’ve tried to quit and they can’t. Or the couple, and there’s no abuse, there’s no hatred, but their marriage is just mediocre, they’re just kinda cooperating, but there’s no friendship, no love. Or the man who periodically has outbursts of anger, which destroys relationships. And so many people come and they’ve tried to change. Sometimes when they come to us and they will put in their form, intake forms, that, “I’ve tried everything, I’ve gone here, I’ve done this, I’ve done that, you’re my last hope.” Well, what can we do for them?
The change we as biblical counselors seek is unique. Col. 1:28; 1 Tim. 1:5
The change we, as Biblical counselors, seek to make in the lives of people is unique. It’s not a man-centered change where somebody says, “Well, I wanna be happy, I wanna be comfortable, I wanna think better of myself as slim, handsome, popular.” It’s not about man, it’s a God-centered change. As Paul writes, “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart. We desire to present every man complete in Christ.” And so we wanna help people to live lives for the glory of God, but that will involve changing things in their lives as well.
Unbiblical approaches to change (sanctification) will impede your spiritual growth.
There are many un-Biblical methods of change, of sanctification, that’ll actually impede the spiritual growth, either of your own spiritual growth, or of your counselee. Some are mystics, and they hope for change listening for the voice of God, waiting for a feeling, waiting for God to deduce something. Sometimes it’s a person who’s struggling, saying, “I’m just waiting for God to kinda zap me with diligence or purity.” Oftentimes folks are looking for some kind of second blessing, some grand experience. Someone in, actually many of these un-Biblical methods have this in common, some quick and easy path to spirituality, some prophet to come into town, and I’ve seen cases in churches, where some visitor comes in and he claims to have the answer, and he lays hands on people, and now they think their problems are gonna be solved. Well, when you look at what the Bible says about living well and living wisely, for example, the book of Proverbs, God doesn’t just zap you with a quick fix that wisdom is obtained through discipline, through a lifelong pursuit.
Others look to deliverance ministries. When I was in Nigeria not long ago, and talking about counseling and the sufficiency of scripture. The problem in that culture wasn’t psychology or psychiatry to which people were turning, but and even the churches there, every problem anybody had was boiled down to some kind of demon, a demon of lust, a demon of fear, a demon of alcoholism, or some demon from the past that’s– Family demon, or something cursed from the past. And the answer would be to identify the demon and cast it out. And there are also, in North America, people who try to identify demons and cast out demons, writing whole books about it. The Bible does not teach this is the answer. When you read the New Testament about how to overcome sin, and how to live a righteous life, what these people are saying is not the methodology described in the Bible. Now, you say, “Well, how do you know if there is a demon?” Typically, when I’ve run into cases and I’ve wondered whether there might be something demonic, but I don’t need to know. With the sufficiency of scripture, if I needed a detailed manual for identifying, naming and casting out demons, it would be in the Bible. All I need to do is tell the counselee, “Whatever your problem is, call upon God, seek after Him in Christ and the word of God, and God will help you.” And, again, the problem with the deliverance ministry methodology, it actually prevents the person from taking responsibility for their sin. There was a comedian in the 60s and 70s who had a routine, and it would be that always, “The devil made me do.” And so, well, if the devil made you do it, then it’s not your fault. Somebody needs to talk to the devil, not you. And, again, expecting instant easy change.
Another methodology, an un-Biblical methodology of sanctification, which many people turn, are various self-improvement formulas, to find within yourself the resources to change, and to make yourself a better person. “I’m gonna quit smoking, I’m gonna lose weight, I’m gonna read the book by the latest guy I saw on TV, and he’s gonna teach me how I have within myself the power to be a better person.” Well, that is a me focus, not a God focus.
And then another, related to that, is pure moralism, and that is rule-keeping. We all actually are kinda born natural Pharisees, by nature, that we want to find a standard we can keep so that we can feel good about ourselves. So, you know, what are the rules I need to follow? What do I need to do to succeed. And some people are very good at working programs and they can jump through the hoops and work the program, but as soon as the program is over, they fall into sin again. Paul says to the Romans, “What the law could not do, weak as it was to the flesh, God did in sending His own son, to the likeness of sinful flesh, as an offering for sin.” That the law couldn’t set us free, and the law, by itself, will not produce holiness. Other things which people turn, some do turn to psychology, or especially psychiatry, and my problem with fear or worry isn’t that I’m not trusting God, but is the easy way to take a pill, it’s all going to be fine? That’s not what the Bible teaches as a solution for those problems.
Other people reacting kind of against the moralism, and then the law and the working, are more passive. They say, “Well, look, God is the one who’s gonna change me, and I just have to wait for Him to change me.” I’ve had husbands basically say that, “Well, it’s God work to sanctify me, and I’m not gonna be a very good husband until He does. I’m just kinda waiting for God to do something.” That’s also a very un-Biblical approach. And then the recovery movement kinda combines several of these. There’s an element of mysticism. It’s obviously a self-improvement formula, and typically it’s also moralistic where you work the program as well. My understanding is the Bible itself sets forth a true, Biblical, wonderful perspective on how change works in us, how God works change in us. And, as I describe it, first the change begins with the gospel, but also that we have responsibility as believers.