Monday, March 14, 2011

Christian Counseling is for Christians

I was listening to a radio talk-show program yesterday when a lady called in and in the midst of her conversation mentioned that she had been divorced. When the talk-show host asked if she had tried to make the marriage work, she replied that they had "even tried Christian counseling." As if to say, that if trying "Christian counseling" didn't make it work, then nothing would.

The way she said that made it sound as if there is something magical about Christian counseling, and it got me to thinking. Christian counseling is not for everybody. Christian counseling is for Christians. And what I mean by "Christian" is not just anyone who claims that name: what I am referring to by that title are people who believe in the authority of the Bible, who believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the only Savior of the world, and whose lives have been changed from the inside out, who have received the grace of God by faith alone and not by works. What I am saying is that if you are not a Christian in the above sense, it doesn't make sense for you to pursue Christian counseling for your problems. What you need is the gospel, not Christian counseling.

Let me give you several reasons why:

1. Christian counseling is based on the principle that the Bible is the authoritative the Word of God. If you don't believe that, you can't really benefit from Christian counseling. If the Scriptures are not your authority, then you are your own authority, and when the going gets rough and you want to squirm out of any Biblical commitments you have made, it will be easy to do so since you don't believe that the Bible is God's word in any case. If you are going to make the hard choices that the Bible confronts us with, then you need to have the rock solid assurance that the Bible is not just another religious anthology. And if you don't believe the Bible is the word of God, then you are not a Christian, and so Christian counseling is not for you.

2. Christian counseling, if it is indeed Christian, is gospel-oriented. Note how the apostles counseled people in the epistles. It was not "husbands love your wives because it will create social harmony in the home," but "husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it" (Eph 5:25). Such an exhortation is meaningless if you don't believe in the gospel. And so it is in every sphere of Christian life: we are properly motivated to do the right thing when we are motivated to do so by the gospel. Motivation to get a better marriage, or to get sober, or whatever else, is not Christian motivation unless it is grounded in the gospel. But again, if you are not a Christian, such motivation is useless, and Christian counseling is not for you.

3. The New Testament ethic assumes conversion. Non-Christians are not exhorted to live like Christians in the New Testament. They are exhorted to repent and believe the gospel. It is useless to get people dressed up when they are dying, and people who want to spend their energies fixing unconverted people's lives and marriages and whatever else are only wasting their time, because what primarily needs to change is not their relationship to their spouse or themselves but their relationship with God. Until that is settled, everything else is only putting bandages on cancer. "Without faith, it is impossible to please God" (Heb 11:6). If you are not a Christian, you don't need Christian counseling; you need to repent of your rebellion against God and to put your faith and trust in the Son of God.

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