Pastoral Counseling In Light of Man’s Fallen Nature
I) A Biblical View of God
As one begins the ministry of pastoral counseling with a counselee, it is vital that the minister begin with a biblical view of God. This is important because if we do not start with a right view and understanding of God then when we think of righteousness and the goal of biblical change, we will adopt a less than adequate goal. We will be thinking in terms of human comparison rather than looking to Christ and seeing where we must change. In other words, I may look to be more righteous than the man in jail awaiting trial for murder simply because I have never actually pulled the trigger of a gun and shot someone.
To begin with God means that we begin by catching a clear glimpse of His holiness and holy requirements. Begin with the counselee by leading them to Scripture that addresses a clear biblical view of God. A suggestion would be to expose the counselee to Scripture that presents God and His holiness.
One practice for the counselor is to find a good systematic theology text book and begin looking through the Doctrine of God sections and accumulating various texts. A very good place to begin is to have the counselee focused on the character of God highlighting His communicable and incommunicable attributes. Assimilate these texts in such a way as to provide very rich homework assignments for your counselees. Use various methods and worksheets that will cause the counselee to spend time filling out and looking for the correct answers. By spending time in the Word of God the counselee is set in a right position for the Holy Spirit to begin working.
An example would be that the counselor makes up a list of various texts that the counselee reads through. Ask the questions, how is God different from us in this verse? Another is to ask, how are we like God in this verse? Finally, you could ask, what have you learned about God that you did not know before? By doing these types of biblical exercises your counselees will be learning the important points of theology that will give them a firm foundation on which to build a new life.
Other issues to touch on would be things like God’s holiness, God’s glory, How the Bible is God’s Word, and What God’s holy requirements are. These are simply things to think through as a counselor and try not to leave them out of your sessions.
Another important point when speaking in terms of God’s requirements is to never leave the counselee in a hopeless situation. When the biblical reality of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness hits home, always take the counselee to the cross of Christ. Now is when a gospel presentation is very applicable. It may be that the gospel is what the counselee needs more than anything else. Even if you think the counselee is converted still take the time to review the gospel whenever you can.
II) A Biblical View of Man
With a basic right understanding of God and what He requires, the counselor and counselee can now look to man and his condition before a holy God.
As one begins a counseling ministry, it is vital to the counseling practice to begin with a true picture of man. I believe that secular methods miss the mark right from the very beginning. They see man as basically good. Secular counseling is built on that assumption. They teach that man is good and it is something on the outside, such as his environment or early childhood that has created a problem for this basically good person. The reality is very different.
Man is not basically good just waiting for the right conditions to take place. Mankind is not a diamond in the rough simply waiting to become what time will make him. Man is fallen and unable to become anything good apart from the work of God. So, it is on the inside that man is evil and it takes something or someone from the outside to move and to work in order for some progress to be made.
It is of the utmost importance to counsel in accordance with a biblical anthropology. If there is to be any lasting effect from the counseling experience it is going to be a change God brings about through the Holy Spirit– who is the real counselor ( John 14:16; 14:26; 15:26; Proverbs 1:23; Isaiah 11:2).
Not only must we see man from a biblical lens, we must also see God clearly. We must see Him as the center of the universe not us. As soon as the counselee comes to grips with that truth the better. Douglas Bookman writes,
“When these soul sick individuals come to us for counseling, we need to encourage them to honor the dynamic of Jesus’ spiritual paradox; that is, to redirect their focus, to set their soul’s gaze first of all upon God and then upon those around them, and then to order their lives in ways consistent with that focus” (Bookman 1994, 169).
The proper understanding of God’s role and man’s condition will go far in a counseling session. The counselee must understand that he is responsible for his own actions and that there are always consequences to those actions.
One suggestion at this point is to have the counselee spend time reading through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from Matthew chapters five through seven. This exercise is designed to see that God’s standards in the New Testament are very high, same as in the Old Testament. Another purpose for this is to see that mankind cannot measure up to God’s standards. The counselee will begin to see Jesus as a crucial part of the process. Hopefully, the counselee will see Jesus in a new light while recognizing his own failures and shortcomings in regard to the Law of God.
III) A Biblical View of Sin
Along with the proper understanding of God and man, there must be attached a proper understanding of sin. The counselor must focus on the sin problem rather than the surface problem or surface issue, by doing this he can soon get to the heart of the matter. To be accurate he must understand also, that the heart is, in fact, the heart of the problem (Matthew 15: 19). If we look at the Scriptures, it is obvious to see that sin is man’s greatest dilemma. It is also plain to see that this dilemma has totally affected every person (Job 15:14; Job 25:4; Psalm 51:5; 1 Kings 8:46; Ecclesiastes 7:20).
The counselor should try to express to the counselee that sin is the real issue. First, all problems are sin problems, either directly or indirectly. My sin is the essence of the problem or someone else’s sin is the essence of the problem. Second, all problems are relationship problems. Sin has greatly affected relationships. Third, all problems are heart problems” (Williams 2000). If Counseling is to make a lasting change it must deal with the heart of man. It must address the issue of the sinful nature of the heart (Genesis 6:5; Genesis 8:21; Proverbs 6:18; Matthew 12:35; Mark 7:21). Change is possible if there is proper understanding of the real problem. If God is involved, this change can be swift. Adams says, “The Christian cheerfully asserts the possibility of thorough, rapid change” (Adams 1973, 28).
Much of today’s counseling, however, is merely changing behavior or in some cases allowing the counselee to feel better about their situation rather than offering real hope for a break through. That is why it is crucial to properly diagnose the problem biblically and to submit biblical solutions. We have established that sin is the actual problem, but what causes acts of sin?
If sin is the center of man’s problems, then at the nucleus is idolatry. The scriptures speak of idolatry as the essence of sin. Humans often replace God with many other things. These “other gods” have many shapes and sizes. Quite often they are even perspectives within the mind. Humans love power, approval, comfort, and control, just to mention a few. In other words, people have chosen finite objects, other people, or their state of mind, to glorify rather than glorifying an infinite God (Exodus 20:2-3; Psalm 81:9; Isaiah 44:17; Ezekiel 14:3-4; Ephesians 5:5).
IV) Motivation to Either Sin or Change
The counselee may have a better understanding of God, himself, and his sin but that alone is not going to effect biblical change. Many people may have a good understanding of these issues but they still live a life that is not God honoring. What is then the key that opens the door to proper sources of motivation for godly living? What will make the difference?
The only possible real and lasting change of the heart is to seek God’s forgiveness
(Mark 11:25; 1Peter 4:8: Luke 17:4; Luke 6:36; Ephesians 4:32). It is critical to understand that it is through repentance that God grants forgiveness. This is the beginning of the sanctifying process. This requires a turning from the old life of sin, from those old idols, to God. Truly then, repentance is dying to the old self while the new self is being renewed daily (Romans 7).
God then tells us basically that sin is the problem and repentance is the answer to the problem. So what is the cure? The process of sanctification is the long lasting cure for sin.
According to Sam Williams,
First, we need to begin to see the world through God’s perspective. Arriving at the place where we trust in God’s wisdom and not in our own. All true knowledge comes from God. Second, in order to find a cure people must know God and experience His grace. Jesus Christ has given us hope. Finally third, meaningful change requires practice and discipline. We do not just “let go and let God.” It takes work, often very hard work to overcome our natural tendencies to sin (Williams 2000).
In contemporary America, people are suffering from real problems; they are in great need of real solutions. The problems will not go away until people understand themselves and their difficulties biblically. It is only then can they properly diagnose and successfully treat the real problems of life.
Why do people do what they do? What is the force behind a person’s behavior? The Bible has much to say about what motivates people. Take for example the nation of Israel when challenged by the Philistine named Goliath. Why did they cower in fear? 1 Samuel 17:11 says, “On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.” On the other hand when David viewed the very same problem, he said, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26b). Saul and the Israelites had faulty thinking which led to bad perceptions which in turn produced disobedient behavior. What made the difference was the contrast in motivation.
There are at least three principles that precede motivation, or you could say they are the source of or cause of motivation: one’s worldview, one’s inclination toward sin, and one’s view of the Lordship of Christ. If yours is a Christian world view or a Theocentric Worldview, the dominant motive behind your actions will be the glory of God. However, if you are the center of your world view, an Anthropocentric Worldview, you will be seeking your glory. To understand a proper Christian world view there are some presuppositions one must consider:
First, is the Theocentric Principle-God is…and is the source of everything; therefore, all life is sacred and spiritual. Second, is the Omnipotence Principle- God is completely sovereign in all things even human suffering. Third, is the Omniscience Principle- God knows and sees all things, event the things we may think are hidden. Forth, is the Revelation Principle– God tells us who He is and who we are. He tells us what went wrong and how to fix it. God speaks infallibly and inerrantly which means we can see truth for our lives. Fifth, is the Transcendent Morality and Human Accountability Principle- Because God has spoken we have a source of morality that is eternal and we need to understand that we are accountable to that authority. Sixth, is the Sin/Misery Principle- All problems are heart problems, and we are responsible. Lastly, is the Transcendent Redemption Principle- God is in charge of human redemption. Jesus came to save lost sinners (Williams 2000).
A person’s world view directly affects their motivation. Who they believe dominates the universe will greatly affect their thinking and their behavior. Often when one is put through some sort of trial one’s worldview will rise to the top. When a situation appears that is challenging or highly upsetting what we believe about God will show itself. Scripture tells us that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. I believe it’s out of the diversity of the trial the heart is revealed.
Another aspect of motivation is a person’s Natural Inclination Toward Sin. People are motivated by their desires. Their desires spring from the condition of their heart. If any lasting change is to take place, the heart must change in order for it to desire to obey God (Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 24:7; Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26). Any behavior that violates God’s commands is rooted in sin. The ultimate question is do I do what I feel like or do I obey God? Adams says,
“Living according to feeling rather than God’s commandment is a fundamental hindrance to godliness and is a factor with which every Christian counselor must learn to deal. It is a clever ‘wile’ of Satan to tempt men to think that they cannot do what God requires because they feel like doing it, or that they must do what they feel like doing and cannot help themselves” (Adams 1973, 118).
What is another dynamic that plays into our motivations? Who or what we trust will greatly affect our motivation and ultimately our behavior. Really, the question of motivation is a question of Lordship (Matthew 16:24-27; Matthew 7:21-23; Mark 8:34-38; Luke 6:46; Luke 9:22-26). What you trust in the most is what dominates you. Your thoughts and feelings are controlled by what you value most (Matthew 6:21). If we believe we are sovereign and in control we will live a self-centered and self-serving life. Through this life style all relationships suffer.
The two most important parts of Christian Counseling is the Holy Spirit working in the lives of counselees and working through the counseling sessions. The second component is the Word of God. It is extremely important in light of man’s fallen state that the Word is applied every chance that it can be applied. So, the counselor would do well to utilize the Word for teaching examples. Flood the counseling sessions with Scripture and flood the homework assignments with Scripture.
Here is an example of using a Scriptural account as an illustration of a biblical worldview and a faulty worldview.
An example of an inferior worldview can be seen in the account of David and Goliath. In 1 Samuel 17:1-12 the author writes about Israel’s situation. He writes about the size and strength of Goliath. He writes about the weight of his armor, shield, and spear. The result of this confrontation was fear. The reason was their worldview. The Israelites had pick Saul to be there king because he stood head and shoulders above the others. They picked him because they were trusting in man’s abilities and were not trusting God.
Now they are still looking to strength and strategy over God’s power. The Israelites trusted in the size of their army and the strategy of its leaders, David trusted in the size of his God. David was out to give glory to God while Saul was seeking his own glory. The Israelites had an inferior world view. They were at its center instead of God. Next to them Goliath was a giant, however, when David saw Goliath next to God, he looked really small. The children of Israel had let their sin of self-sufficiency cloud their judgment. They even tried to get David to see things their way (1 Samuel 17:38). David, however, was armed with the Lord, who was the One he put his trust in. That day, the victory belonged to the Lord because David saw the real issue. The difference between David and Saul was their worldview. David saw God as King and he knew that His power could not be thwarted by any man, even one standing eight or nine feet high. Saul’s inferior worldview became his downfall.
The key when using an example like this in the counseling session or as homework is to make sure the counselee gets the main point. The main point is that while sinful men often look to external circumstances God looks to the heart.
The counselee may be looking to external insurmountable circumstances but that is not the issue, the issue is a right relationship with the Lord and a right worldview.
Always remember we all need to be reminded that the glory of Christ is why we are on this planet. When our focus changes from worshipping and glorifying self to worshipping and glorifying Christ, we are well on our way to overcoming most any counseling dilemma. Counseling in light of man’s fallen nature is crucial to a biblical counseling ministry.
Adams, Jay E. The Christian Counselor’s Handbook. Grand Rapids,
Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973.
MacArthur, John, and Wayne Mack. Introduction To Biblical
Counseling. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1994.
Williams, Sam. Pastoral Care and Counseling Notes. Fall 2000
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.