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12. The Ministry Of Counseling, Part 4 – Three Fundamentals Of Christian Counseling (Psalms 119:24, 97-104; Proverbs 1:1-7; Hebrews 4:12-23)

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January 27, 1980


I spent the summer after my first year of seminary teaching history and psychology in a state penitentiary. It is not one of the warmest memories of my past, but I learned many helpful lessons about people. Perhaps the most striking impressions of that experience were the sense of despair and pessimism that prevailed among my colleagues. This was especially true of those who were the most humanistic in their thinking. The basic goodness of man just didn’t square with what we observed day after day. Surprisingly, the humanists, the “do-gooders,” who were despised by the prisoners, usually didn’t stay around long.

The fact of the matter is that the secular approach to human problems must be rejected. It often doesn’t square with the Scriptures, but it also simply does not work. As I understand this subject of Christian counseling, three fundamentals must be present if men are to receive enduring help.

The Sinfulness of Man

It is interesting to me that a few years ago a secular psychiatrist wrote a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin?2 Traditionally, here is the dividing line between Christian and secular counseling. By and large, secular psychiatry and psychology deny the existence of sin. Worse yet, they actually blame the evangelical for putting such ideas as sin and biblical standards of morality into people’s minds.

In some ways, unbelieving counselors and therapists are only giving their clients what they are willing to pay for. As one psychiatrist observed, the patient usually comes not in order to be better, but to feel better.3 I recently read the story (I hope it was not true!) of a man who went to a psychiatrist. When the doctor asked this young man what the problem was, he replied, “Doctor, I’ve been living the way I should, and my conscience has been bothering me a lot.” “And you want me to help you change your behavior?” the doctor questioned. “Well,” the man responded, “actually, I was hoping you could do something about my conscience.”

The result has been that the blame has had to be shifted from the client to some other source.4 Sociobiology teaches that human behavior is genetically based.5 Carried to an illogical extreme, this approach could conclude, “I am not to blame for my conduct; my genes are.” Freudian psychiatry conducts expeditions into the client’s past in order to find someone else to put the blame on.6 Others would tell us that it is our sick society and our evil institutions that cause men to go astray.

How different is the diagnosis of God:

There is a kind who is pure in his own eyes, yet is not washed from his filthiness (Proverbs 30:12).

Who can say, “I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin”? (Proverbs 20:9)

Fools mock at sin (literally, guilt), but among the upright there is good will (literally, the favor of God) (Proverbs 14:9).

He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion (Proverbs 28:13).

The foolishness of man subverts his way, and his heart rages against the Lord (Proverbs 19:3).

I do not mean to imply that every problem faced by man is the direct result of sin. Some problems are to find their origin in purely physical conditions. For example, a brain tumor or a hormonal imbalance may produce abnormal behavior. But even in cases where there is a physical malfunction at the root of our problems, we may still respond in a sinful fashion. I am simply trying to say that sin is related to many emotional and psychological difficulties. Any approach which ignores or denies man’s sinfulness is destined for many failures.

The doctrine of man’s total depravity is fundamental to counseling which will contribute to Christian growth and maturity. Contrary to popular misconception, total depravity does not mean that man is 100% evil, and that he is incapable of acts of kindness and good deeds. It does mean that all of man, his intellect, his emotions, and his will, have been disabled and distorted by the fall of Adam and by his own acts of sin. As a result, man is incapable of achieving any righteousness and favor in the sight of God.

God’s standard for man is perfection, perfect obedience. To fail in one part is to fail entirely (James 2:10). Let me attempt to illustrate it in this way. When I work on our car, I always get grease on my hands. Whatever I touch is left with the marks of the grease on my hands. The doctrine of total depravity teaches that the grease of sin is on everything that I touch. Thus, nothing I present to God is free of grease stains. And God does not, and cannot, accept imperfection.

The application of the doctrine of total depravity is essential to good counseling. Man is not only sinful, but sinful in every aspect of his being, intellect, emotions, and will (cf. Romans 3:10–18; Jeremiah 17:9). Christian counseling must be consistent with this reality.

Christian and secular counselors alike have sometimes supposed that emotional problems can be solved intellectually. Re-education, whether spiritual or not, is not sufficient. The major fallacy is that man’s intellect, as well as his emotions and will, is darkened by the fall and by sin. Isn’t it interesting that Solomon’s wisdom did not keep him from doing what was wrong? His problem was not in his head, but in his heart
(cf. 1 Kings 4:29–34; 10:1–8).

I know that it is very popular today to quote the passage,

For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he . . . (Proverbs 23:7).

But it is most doubtful that, in its context, this statement can be understood as it is commonly applied. Far more likely is the rendering of the New International Version:

Do not eat the food of a stingy man, do not crave his delicacies; for he is the kind of man who is always thinking about the cost. “Eat and drink,” he says to you, but his heart is not with you (Proverbs 23: 6–7).7

Ideally, our theology should determine our morality. To put it in more biblical terms, our practice should conform to our position (Ephesians 4:1ff.; Colossians 2:6ff., etc.). But as Paul put it, he knew what was right, but he practiced what was wrong (Romans 7:15ff.). Paul’s problem was not knowledge, but inadequate power. Often, when we submit to our passions and let them overrule principle, we find that our morality begins to dictate our theology.

He who walks in his uprightness fears the Lord, but he who is crooked in his ways despises Him (Proverbs 14:2).

Fools mock at sin, but among the upright there is good will (Proverbs 14:9).

Eventually, we find ingenious and convincing ways of persuading ourselves and others that sin isn’t really sin at all.

This is the way of an adulterous woman: She eats and wipes her mouth, and says, I have done no wrong (Proverbs 30:20).

All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives (Proverbs 16:2).

The counselor who grasps the doctrine of total depravity understands that man’s whole being is distorted by sin and that his whole being must be restored, or in biblical terms, transformed. While this must include the mind (Romans 12:2), it must not neglect the emotions and the will.

In the final analysis, men and women suffer, not for lack of counsel, but for its rejection.

And you say, How I have hated instruction! And my heart spurned reproof! And I have not listened to the voice of my teachers, nor inclined my ear to my instructors! (Proverbs 5:12–13)

Because they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord. They would not accept my counsel, they spurned all my reproof (Proverbs 1:29–30).

This is why we can expect some to reject biblical counsel for that which is more appealing:

An evildoer listens to wicked lips, a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue (Proverbs 17:4).

In the words of a recent writer, Happiness Is A Choice.8 So also in the words of Scripture:

All the days of the afflicted are bad, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast (Proverbs 15:15).

If you and I are to be conformed to the image of Christ, it must be by the transformation of our fallen intellects, emotions and wills. If we are to help others in this process, we must minister to them on every level of need.

The Sufficiency of God

The picture of man apart from God is one of hopelessness and despair.

There is no creed, no way of life left in the world at all, which really meets the need of the time…. There is no reason whatever to believe that the order of nature has any greater bias in favor of man than it had in the favor of the ichthyosaur or the pterodactyl. In spite of all my desperation to a brave looking optimism, I perceive that now the universe is bored with him, is turning a hard face to him, and I see him being carried less and less intelligently and more and more rapidly, suffering, as every ill-adapted creature must suffer in gross and detail, along the stream of fate, to degradation, suffering and death.9

While we must begin at the point of man’s sin, Christian counseling presses on to the sufficiency of God to meet the needs of men. The good news of the gospel is that there is a God Who is sufficient for man’s every need. Christian counseling should stress the following truths:

1. There is a God Who is in control.

The chaos which we see is the result of sin, but even in this chaos, there is reason and purpose.

Man’s steps are ordained by the Lord, how then can man understand his way? (Proverbs 20:24)

The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord (Proverbs 16:1).

The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil
(Proverbs 16:4).

The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps (Proverbs 16:9).

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord (Proverbs 16:33).

2. God is able to help men, no matter what the need.

The Scriptures assure us of the omnipotence of God—He is all–powerful.

But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases (Psalms 115:3).

Ah Lord God! Behold, Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by Thy great power and by Thine outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for Thee, (Jeremiah 32:17).

And looking upon them Jesus said to them, With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26; Cf. Job 9:4–12; Luke 1:37; Romans 1:20; Ephesians 1:19).

This limitless power was demonstrated in the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. Virtually every kind of human need was met by our Lord, from the feeding of the 5,000 to the stilling of the storm, from the raising of Lazarus to the casting out of demons.

3. God is willing to help.

It is not enough to know that God exists and that He is able to help. Men must also be told that God is willing to help.

The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works (Psalms 145:8–9).

Thou dost open Thy hand, and dost satisfy the desire of every living thing (Psalms 145:16).

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? (Matthew 6:25).

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, (Ephesians 2:4).

Casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).

To my knowledge, there is not one instance in the Gospels where someone who earnestly sought help from our Lord was ever denied it. God is both willing and able to help.

4. God has already provided help.

The Bible does not speak of the mere possibility of help, but of that which has already been accomplished, that which needs only to be appropriated.

Foremost is the help which has come in the person of Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, Who died on the cross in the place of the sinner.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6).

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17–21).

The fundamental problem of man -- sin -- has been dealt with by the Lord Jesus Christ. He has taken the place of the sinner. He has borne the penalty for sin. He has broken the power of sin.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts (Romans 6:12).

While available to all men, the work of Christ is effective only for those who believe on Him and who trust only in Him for salvation.

And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast (Ephesians 2:8–9).

. . . if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved (Romans10:9).

It is important to stress that God’s help is what might be called a package provision. The core and cause of God’s help is the sacrificial death of Christ for sinners. Many today want God’s help in marriage or in their business, but not in their soul’s salvation. In the words of the song writer, “You can’t have one without the other.”

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32).

Many today want the fringe benefits of the work of Christ without bowing the knee to Him in faith and obedience in the matter of salvation. Anyone who follows biblical principles will reap the benefits of living according to divine guidelines. This is why some non–Christians have “better” marriages and families than some Christians. But the fullest blessing can only come when we live according to God’s Word by the power of His Spirit working in us.

God has provided the Christian with access to Himself in prayer through His Son.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14–16).

Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God … (Hebrews 10:19–21).

In the tests and trials of life we can ask for wisdom and know that it will be given without reproach.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him (James 1:5).

God has made provision for the inadequacy of the flesh by giving true believers His Spirit.

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death (Romans 8:2).

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you (Romans 8:11).

Finally, God has given us His Word, which is sufficient for every spiritual need.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

Thy testimonies also are my delight; they are my counselors (Psalms 119:24).

O how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day. Thy commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever mine. I have more insight than all my teachers, for Thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Thy precepts (Psalms 119:97–100).

There are some today who would have us believe that the Bible is not the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, and this greatly disturbs me. What is more distressing is those who believe in biblical inerrancy, but who also practically nullify their position by believing in the irrelevancy of Scripture. On some subjects, such as the role of women in the church, they tell us that the Scriptures were only for that culture and time. And beyond this, they unhesitatingly maintain that the Scriptures are not really sufficient to deal with complicated and sophisticated subjects such as counseling.

While giving lip service to Paul’s contention in 2 Timothy 3:16–17 that Christians are adequately equipped with the Word of God, they urge us to set the Scriptures aside for secular psychology and psychiatry. “All truth is God’s truth,” they tell us. With this I agree. But, to use the words of Pilate, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Functionally, secular thinking becomes the standard. The Bible is simply used to “amen” secular thinking with a salting and peppering of verses which seem to support contemporary thinking on the subject.

Now, I do not for one moment wish to say that we should use the Bible as our only reference in the matter of removing the appendix or for resetting a broken leg. But the Bible does not claim to be all sufficient and authoritative here. Where Scriptures teach or imply medical truth, we should hold it as authoritative. Where it does not, we must lean upon the science of medicine.

What Paul does claim is that the Word of God is adequate and authoritative for counsel that involves teaching, reproof or admonition, correction, and training in righteousness (Romans 15:14; 2 Timothy 3:16–17). While other books may enlighten our understanding of the Bible’s teaching, the Bible is the text; other books are mere commentaries, all of which must be true to the Scriptures or must be rejected.

I would doubt that when we come to stand before the living God to give account of our lives and ministries, that most of us will agonize over reading the Bible too much and other works too little.

The Essential Ingredient of Hope

The message of the Bible is one of hope. While Scripture clearly declares that man’s basic problem is sin (cf. Romans 3:10–18), it stresses the hope which we have through Jesus Christ and God’s provision for our needs.

. . . by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; . . . (Romans 3:20–22).

The ungodly counselor tries to offer hope, but at the cost of truth (and salvation). They either deny sin or attempt to redefine it. At best, they pin it on someone or something else. To recognize man’s basic problem as sin gives men hope, for Jesus Christ has dealt with sin. We need no longer to be under its penalty and power.

To tell a homosexual he is sick does not offer hope, for there is no cure for the “sickness” of homosexuality. To call it sin (Romans 1:24ff.) is to offer hope, for there is no sin which is not under the blood of Christ.

. . . do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our Lord (1 Corinthians 6:9–11).

If alcoholism is simply a disease or sickness, like the common cold, we are left without hope. If it is a sin, we have hope in Christ, who died to sin and for the sinner.

If we maintain a balance of emphasis between the truth of man’s sinfulness and the verity of God’s sufficiency, our counsel will offer hope to men.

Proverbs makes it very clear that hope must always be the keynote of our counsel. Hope is what desperate people most need.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12)

Desire realized is sweet to the soul, but it is an abomination to fools to depart from evil
(Proverbs 13:19).

A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit (Proverbs 15:4).

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones (Proverbs 17:22).

The spirit of a man can endure his sickness, but a broken spirit who can bear (Proverbs 18:14).

The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that God meets men at their point of need, not their point of strength. That, my friend, is what grace is all about.


From my study of the ministry of counseling, I have come to several convictions I would like to share with you as we conclude this series:

1. The only good counsel is Godly Christian counsel.

Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord, how much more the hearts of men! (Proverbs 15:11)

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord, it will stand (Proverbs 19:21).

Man’s steps are ordained by the Lord, how then can man understand his way? (Proverbs 20:24)

There is no wisdom and no understanding and no counsel against the Lord (Proverbs 21:30).

Only God knows the hearts and motives of men. Only God’s counsel will stand. While secular counsel can often be of help to people, it is because that counsel not “against the Lord” (Proverbs 21:30) is true to biblical principles. If you and I do not have words of hope and help, my Christian friend, who does?

2. Counseling and evangelism compliment one another.

Counseling seeks to pinpoint specific and basic needs and minister to them. Nowhere is the gospel more appropriate and more welcomed than at the point of desperation. More than ever I am convinced that we are poor evangelists because we are poor counselors.10

3. No other word so captures the substance of counseling as that of grace.

Grace is God’s sufficiency applied to my inadequacy. Legalism, intellectualism, and other humanistic attempts to solve man’s problems only serves to compound man’s problems.

4. Counseling is a process.

It involves time (a lifetime), the collective involvement of many saints with diverse gifts, and it ministers to the whole person, body, soul and spirit.

1 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on January 27, 1980. Anyone is at liberty to use this edited manuscript for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel. Copyright 1979 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081.

2 Carl Menninger, Whatever Became of Sin? (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1973).

3 Andras Angyal, as quoted by William Klassen, The Forgiving Community (other data is not available), p. 207.

4 Albert Ellis contends that . . . “giving anyone a sense of sin, guilt or self–blame is the worst possible way to help him to be an emotionally sound and adequately socialized individual. . . . If . . . we can teach our patients . . . that even though human beings can be held quite accountable or responsible for their misdeeds, no one is ever to blame for anything, human morality will be significantly improved. . . . The concept of sin is the direct and indirect cause of virtually all neurotic disturbance. The sooner psychotherapists forthrightly begin to attack it the better their patients will be.” William Klassen, The Forgiving Community, (other data not available), p. 205.

5 Cf. C. Donald Cole, “Shall We blame It All On Genes?”. Moody Monthly, October, 1977, p. 24. In this article, Cole responds to an article contained in Time magazine.

6 Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1970), p. 6.

7 Kidner understands the expression often rendered “thinks,” “thinketh” as meaning, “doing mental arithmetic.” Derik Kidner, The Proverbs (Chicago: Inter–Varsity Press, 1964), p. 151. Delitzsch, in his commentary on Proverbs, seems to agree. He takes the Hebrew term (with Fletcher) to mean “to measure, to tax so as to determine the price, to reckon.” He goes on “but there lurks behind the mask of liberal hospitality the grudging niggardly calculator, who poisons thy every bite, every draught, by his calculating, grudging look.” Franz Delitzsch, The Proverbs of Solomon, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), II, pp. 109–110.

8 Frank B. Minirth and Paul D. Meier, Happiness is a Choice (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978).

9 H. G. Wells, as quoted by Wilber M. Smith, Therefore Stand (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1945),
p. 197.

10 We should not seek to counsel only as an excuse to give the gospel. Our Lord met the needs of men without the pre-condition of trusting in Him as the Messiah. But as a result of His ministry, many did believe. It may be that as biblical counsel is demonstrated to be right counsel, the men and women we minister to may come to trust in what the Scriptures say about their eternal salvation.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Ecclesiology (The Church)

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