What Is Biblical Counseling?

Psychology approaches human behavior from a secular, humanistic perspective. Accordingly, Biblical revelation is irrelevant to understanding or changing human behavior. Psychology seeks to describe and explain human behavior apart from what God has clearly revealed. Its premises are derived from man-made theories, human wisdom and research conducted without a corresponding search for truth as God defines truth. The end result is a field of study that has yielded hundreds of conflicting theories, constantly changing hypotheses and a plethora of widely opposing “experts” who disagree from one school of thought to the next as to the cause and cure of man’s behavioral difficulties. Worse still, it is a field of study that produces endless therapy with little lasting help. It is satisfied to control rather than conquer destructive behavior and mitigate rather than eliminate its devastating effects.

By contrast, the emphasis in Biblical counseling is exactly opposite. Whereas secular psychology begins with a study of man’s ideas, Biblical counseling begins with a study of the Word of God as it relates to human behavior and human need. It is dependent upon the revealed mind of God rather than the easily deceived mind of man. Yet it does not just begin with God, it follows a path that is in constant harmony with the Word of God and addresses man’s problems in light of God’s answers. God’s truth is the focal point of Biblical counseling because it is God’s truth obeyed that enables believers to know the truth that sets them free, as Christ describes in John 8:31-32. The desired end of Biblical counseling is a life filled with God’s goodness and the good outcome of spiritual maturity, which includes not only wisdom and understanding, but the character qualities of genuine love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness (humility), temperance (self-control).

The fruit of God’s Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23 is essentially what secular psychology strives to duplicate, but can only imitate-- for one can learn to act loving, joyful, longsuffering or self-controlled without actually being any of these things. Because of our sinful nature, human beings cannot be truly transformed and changed into a person motivated by God’s love and characterized by His love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, humility or self-control apart from conformity to the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. An accurate view of man cannot be attained apart from God’s Word, for the Bible is filled with instruction and enlightenment that addresses man’s true needs. These are the very same root issues psychologists attempt to explain and resolve without recourse to God and his principles.

What God reveals about Himself and His creation profoundly affects our understanding of human emotions and behavior. For instance, though psychologists are able to easily observe the devastating emotional and behavioral effects of unresolved guilt, the Bible alone provides man with the criteria necessary to reject false guilt and at the same time, resolve real guilt stemming from specific violations of God’s laws. There are not three hundred and fifty different ways to resolve genuine guilt. There are not even two ways to resolve guilt—God provides only one. Apart from repentance and faith in God’s promises to forgive, human beings are left to “manage” guilt, but have no means to actually remove it.

We cannot presume to think counseling can be “neutral” or can be separated from one’s world view, for even a silent counselor makes a statement as to what he or she believes will help those who come for assistance. Because God’s conclusions may not bear any resemblance to man’s conclusions, man cannot possibly hope to respond to life’s adversities, interpersonal relationship problems, human frailties, perplexities or injustices without the broader view of man’s purpose and eternal existence as designed by God. To think one can resolve his problems without the help or enlightenment of God’s Word is as foolish as believing one can learn to fix his car by consulting with a chef and reading a cookbook. The chef might know how to cook, and the cookbook might have some great information about food preparation, but they aren’t going to help someone learn the mechanical complexities of a car engine much less how to fix it. For that you need to consult an owner’s manual written by the car manufacturer or enlist the help of a good car mechanic who is experienced fixing cars.

The Bible is God’s “owner’s manual,” written for the benefit of His creation. It contains everything one needs to know about God in order to trust and believe Him and everything one needs to know about life on earth and human nature in order to live a happy, fulfilled life free from those things that enslave human beings and steal their joy (such as anger, fear, worry, hatred, guilt, greed, sexual immorality, etc.). We read, “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption [moral decay] that is in the world through lust [desiring that which is forbidden by God].” (2 Peter 1:2-3)

A skillful Biblical counselor knows how to redefine common problems in Biblical terms and how to apply scriptural principles to life’s challenges. For instance, we don’t find the word “insecurity” in the Bible. However, if we understand “insecurity” is called “fear” in the Bible, we can find many passages that shed light and understanding on the human problem of fear. The Bible uses the term “ in bondage” or “enslaved to” instead of “addicted.” The word “self-deceived” is used instead of “in denial,” “sorrow and cast down instead of “depressed,” and “faint” instead of “stressed.” Common words such as “dysfunction,” “bulimia,” “self-esteem,” and “cognitive therapy” are not used in the Bible—yet the Bible does describe them. Furthermore, while we do not read a clinical description of such things as panic attacks in the Bible, we do read about the problems that underlie and feed panic attacks and other such difficulties. Every problem that originates in the way we think and respond to life’s circumstances is addressed in the scriptures!

When the Bible is eliminated from the counseling process, man is left with little resource for change. The best such counseling can hope for is a measure of behavior modification, for there is no such thing as heart transformation apart from the path God prescribes in the Bible. Without the power of God’s Word, and the work of the Holy Spirit, one is left to put out huge fires with a garden hose while the power of Niagra Falls is at the disposal of believers who recognize and submit to God’s authority and power. In contrast to those who reject the wisdom found in the Bible, those who come to the Lord discover the Bible is our source of help and healing. We read, “Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he saveth them out of their distresses. He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.” (Psalm 107:20-21) “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3) The Bible addresses the underlying root issues responsible for man’s distress—we simply need to know where to find it in the Bible and how to apply it in practical ways. This is what a Biblical counselor helps us do.

Many people, including Christians, have lost confidence in the power of God’s Word to change lives or heal broken hearts because they have never learned how to understand and interpret the Bible, or they have never learned how to apply its truths properly. Reading the Bible changes no one! Memorizing isolated passages and quoting endless Bible facts imparts no spiritual benefit or change. It might puff one up with pride or make one obnoxious to be around, but it does not change ones inward character. Our inward character is transformed and our lives changed when we understand the Bible, believe it, and apply it appropriately to our life.

Before the people of Nehemiah’s day experienced a great change of heart and direction, we read that Ezra “read in the book of the law distinctly, and gave the sense [meaning], and caused them to understand the reading.” The divine order of hearing, understanding, and obeying the Word of God preceded the rejoicing and praising that occurred as a result of God’s blessing and supernatural working in their lives. It is no different today. We must hear AND understand, AND obey, and THEN God works mighty changes within our hearts and lives. People who know the Bible but do not experience the power of the Bible are like the religious Pharisees Jesus addressed when he said, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29)

Without the Bible, man becomes his own authority, and as such is forced into the powerless world of ever changing conclusions and ideas without enlightenment and without any means of stability or assurity of truth. Without a source of authority and absolute truth with which to test every thought and idea, we cannot determine what is true or what is right. One opinion is as valid as another. Solomon understood this and wisely said, “He that trusts in his own heart is a fool...” (Proverbs 28:26) Jeremiah also understood it and said, “Cursed is the man that trusts in man...” (Jeremiah 17:5)

The foolish man who exalts human wisdom and sets aside the wisdom of God lives in darkness and rejects the only true light that can lead him out of a world of despair and meaningless existence. Those who come to Christ come to the light that dispels all darkness and leads to genuine fulfillment and joy. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12) Biblical counseling seeks to lead people out of darkness and into the light by showing them how to follow Christ, how to define problems in Biblical terms, how to construct solutions that are in harmony with the Word of God, and how to reach goals that will yield the practical fruit of spiritual maturity.

Last Updated (Tuesday, 01 June 2010 16:05)