It is pretty basic, if you think about it—but all ministry should be Christ-centered. Preaching, ministry to children, students, and adults. Men’s ministry, women’s ministry. It doesn’t matter what aspect of church life we are considering, the defining characteristic of all we do should be that we know and love and serve Jesus Christ. Every sermon, every lesson, and every song should exalt the Savior. After all, we are New Covenant believers. We are Christians.
All of this is true as well when it comes to counseling. When ministering to another believer in the context of counseling, the goal is not mere behavior modification. Neither is the goal some sort of superficial emotional change. In counseling we seek to help someone change and grow to be more like Christ. To state it another way: we do not just present biblical principles to obey—we present a Person to follow.
At the moment of regeneration (the “birth from above” described by Jesus in John chapter 3), we become new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). The “old man is crucified” (Rom. 6:6). We have a new nature that loves the things of God—a new heart of flesh instead of stone (Ezek. 36:26-27). This new nature must, no doubt, battle the flesh—that principle of indwelling sin (Rom. 7:15-20) that remains with us until glorification. But as we mature, we are able to understand more and more of God’s Word, and we are able to grow in our ability to draw upon our spiritual resources that enable us to live our lives to the glory of God.
This progressive growth is sanctification, and it is a growth in Christ-likeness. We are growing in our ability to express who we really are—those who have been justified by faith in Christ, those who have been united to Christ, those who live their lives centered on Christ.
When the trials of life come, it is easy to forget all of this. It is easy to become derailed for a moment or a season due to the extraordinary burdens that are part of living in a fallen world. There are times when a fellow believer may need to be admonished. There are times when a brother or sister in Christ may need to be encouraged. There are times when another Christian may be in need of help (1 Thess. 5:14). The spiritually-minded counselor is there to fulfill these very roles, depending on the need, so that the individual who is struggling or who has strayed once again is expressing by his choices in life who he really is—a follower of Christ.
That means a counselor must help their counselees grow in their understanding of these five concepts:
- Our identity—we “have been raised up with Christ;” we have “died and (our) life is hidden with Christ;” Christ “is our life;” we are “those who have been chosen, holy and beloved” (Col. 3:1, 3, 4, 12).
- Our goal—we are to please Christ in all that we think, say, or do (2 Cor. 5:9), demonstrating to the world our new identity.
- Our motivation—we have been graciously saved by the substitutionary death of Christ (2 Cor. 5:14-15). He has done all that is necessary for us to have peace with God (Rom. 5:1), and now we are free to serve with the assurance that in Christ we are totally accepted by God and secure in our new relationship with Him (Eph. 1:3-14; Rom. 8:28-39).
- Our resources—we have all we need for “life and godliness” because we have Christ (2 Pet. 1:3-4; Col. 2:3; 9-10).
- Our end—we are living our lives in the light of the return of Christ (Phil. 3:20-21). The reality of the Second Coming gives us hope knowing that all things will someday be summed up in Christ (Eph. 1:10).
The point is this: the sum total of counseling is helping Christians to live their lives in light of the Gospel. At the moment of temptation to sin, or the moment of discouragement or anxiety or fear, it is the Gospel that must be brought to bear on their choices. As more than one has articulated, the Gospel is not just the ABC’s of the Christian life—it is the A to Z of the Christian. Therefore, the cry of the Reformation—sola Christus—is a cry that must be pondered, believed, and applied daily. What a joy to help fellow followers of Christ live out their roles in this world in the reality that “to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21).
Cary Hardy is Senior Pastor of Twin City Baptist Church in Winston Salem, NC and Adjunct Professor of Biblical Counseling at Shepherds Seminary (also in Winston Salem, NC). He holds a B.S. from the Univ. of Houston and an M.Div. from the The Master’s Seminary (Sun Valley, CA). Over the years he has served as a pharmacologist, Christian school principal, minister of music, and executive pastor.