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The Holy Spirit and Biblical Counseling

One can trust fully in the sufficient Spirit and Word of God in every element of counseling.

Mar 14, 2024

Last [year], I preached at the annual conference of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. My task was to address the Sufficiency of the Holy Spirit from Galatians 3. I had more than a year to prepare the message. I regularly have too much material for a weekly sermon; having a year to prepare (even after many edits) left me with too much material, so during my sermon I had to shorten the section on implications for counseling in light of the exposition of Galatians 3. What follows is the more complete text of what I had planned to say about the Spirit of God and His sufficiency for biblical counselors.

Because the Spirit of God is wholly sufficient for every need of life—

Don’t Go Back to the Old Way of Caring for Souls

Don’t attempt to change behavior by legalistic practices like the Galatians did in returning to the Law. The Law’s fundamental function was to maintain cultural civility until Christ came (3:24), but it was devoid of ability to save and change men’s hearts.  Don’t go back to that.

And don’t go back to the old man—to the things you used to do when you weren’t in Christ. Don’t go back to secular practices. We don’t need a “Christian mindfulness” that is rooted in Buddhism. We don’t need to reclassify heart issues as body issues and give physical medication to attempt to solve inner man problems.  We don’t need to turn the Bible into a source for mantras to be recited ritualistically in “prayer breathing.”

We don’t need those things because we have a sufficient Spirit and a sufficient Word.

The ways of the Law and self-righteousness and the ways of the world have not worked since Genesis 3—in fact prideful self-righteousness is the source of the problem with that piece of fruit in Genesis 3. Don’t go back to those old ways. They don’t ultimately work and they don’t honor Christ who died so that you might have the Spirit to be with you always. The Spirit is enough.

Beware of the Temptation To Minimize the Gift of God

We have been given a gift to change us—the sufficient Spirit who has the sufficient Word.

We typically use the word “sufficient” and “adequate” to mean “it’s enough (barely).” “I think I have enough gas to get to work.” “I think I have enough money to cover that bill.” “I think I can finish this workout.” “My marriage is ok; my children are doing ok—I think.”

But that is not what the Bible means when it speaks of the sufficient Spirit. Nothing overwhelms Him. Sufficient means He has infinite resources and provision to care for us in every circumstance. 

When we turn to secular means of caring for souls as if they offer something that supersedes the Spirit’s work or can add to His infinite labors, we denigrate the gift of God as if He could have given us more and He has instead withheld something good or necessary from us. That’s not the way God is. He has given all we need—all we need for life and godliness. We don’t need something beyond what God has given us in the Spirit. The Spirit is enough.

Always Counsel the Gospel and the Gospel of Christ

The gospel is of first importance. That means that in counseling (and all of life) we always start with the gospel.  We believe that we cannot counsel until the counselee has believed the gospel.

But that doesn’t mean that after the gospel is believed we leave the gospel for so-called greener pastures of better and more effective ways to care for our counselees.

Everything we do in the counseling room is connected to the gospel. Repentance, faith, liberty from sin, position in Christ, security in the love of God, and hope for the future are all gospel realities. That’s the territory in which we walk in every counseling session.

And when we counsel that gospel we counsel and get the sufficient work of the sufficient Spirit.

Remember some of the sufficient works of the Spirit that are rooted in the gospel:

  • He has gifts and gifted people that are sufficient to sanctify and care for every believer in the church of Christ
  • He has fruit that will be produced in every believer, no matter how horrid their start in sin was
  • He has power to liberate us from any previously life-dominating sin—He who is in us is greater than the flesh that remains with us
  • He has a ministry of comfort to every believer that is storm-tossed by the troubles of life
  • He has access to the throne of God and prays effectually for every believer
  • He is the guarantee of infinite future blessing in Heaven. If the Father has already given us a Gift this great—a member of the Triune godhead to be in us and with us as the down payment on the future gift—then how great will glory in Heaven be?

Nothing in the world can do these works.

So when we counsel, let us start with the gospel, stay in the gospel, and finish with the gospel so that we can experience what the Spirit of the gospel will produce in our counselees—and us.

The gospel is enough and the Spirit is enough.

Always Use God’s Ordained Gift (the Spirit) and the Spirit’s Tool (Scripture) To Care for Souls

God has designed the church as the care facility for the spiritually ill. And He has given us all the resources we need to care for those souls. 

We have the Spirit of God. And because the Spirit of God is God, He has access to the mind of God and knows God’s will, knows what we need, and has the power to provide what we need (1 Cor. 2). 

We don’t need the ideas of the world to minister to the hurting and needy. We have a sufficient Spirit who has given us a sufficient Word. Let us minister to others in the Spirit’s power and with the Spirit’s wisdom (His Word).

Paul exhorts the Galatians to live dependently on the Spirit (5:16, 25). Those verses compel us to be dependent on the Spirit. And to be dependent on the Spirit means that are just like Jesus.

Our Savior lived dependently on the Spirit—“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness” (Lk. 4:1).

And in that dependence He was guided by the Word, which is how He answered each of Satan’s temptations. The Spirit guided and controlled the God-Man, Jesus, through the Word.

And we are like Christ when we too depend on the Spirit and live according to His Word.

That’s how we care for our souls and the souls of those entrusted to us for counseling.

That also means that we do not need the tools of human wisdom—either our fleshly tools or the world’s ideas derived from secular counselors. Because secular approaches avoid the Spirit, do not understand the Spirit, and do not have access to the Spirit, they only have what man can do. Because we have the Spirit, we have access to what God can do.

Working in a way that demonstrates dependence on the Spirit is also liberating for us—we care for others as well as we can, we pray for the Spirit to work, and then we put our heads on our pillows at night and trust that God will do in the hearts of the hurting what only He can do. As Martin Luther said about his role in the Reformation: “we simply preached the Word…and then we went home and slept and while we slept, the Word did its work.” The Spirit and His Word are enough. 

After his sin with Bathsheba that King David begged the Lord —“Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11). Even before the widespread gift of the Spirit that came from the gospel, David knew his only hope was the work of the Spirit in His life. 

When we are in Christ, we don’t fear the removal of the Spirit as David did in the OT economy. But we can ignore the Spirit. So may our prayer echo David’s prayer and the similar prayer of the Puritan John Rogers (which I have paraphrased): “Lord, whatever you do to us, take not Your Spirit or His Word from us; kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods; only spare us Your Spirit and Word, only take not away Your great gifts of the gospel.”

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