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Conformity to Christ and the Capacity to Enjoy Him

In counseling, one must teach their counselees to see their trials as the road to becoming more like their Savior. Embracing this truth will lead to a more profound joy and enjoyment of Him.

Jan 18, 2024

Just by way of introduction, when folks come in, often times they sit down and they have agendas for their life and for God in their life. In my own personal counseling and teaching, I would say the most important truth that I know and typically where I start in counseling is to advocate God’s agenda for their life. I find the concepts here, especially Romans 8:28-29, to be very helpful in having them see God’s agenda for their life. One of the things that I try to do as early as possible is renegotiate agendas. We’ll see in Titus that it’s not even a negotiation; we’re declaring and exhorting for their joy that God’s agenda for their soul is more joy-full than the agenda they came in with. Nine times out of ten—I think I’m being gracious there—their agenda is relief and God’s agenda is redemption.

I know Jay’s book is titled More Than Redemption. I think he was talking about redemption in the justification sense. If I could borrow from Heath, God’s grace is unmerited favor, not only in justification, but it’s also God’s unmerited favor in sanctification. God is not content to declare you righteous; He is going to set about the rest of your life to make you into what you’ve been declared to be for your joy. I want them to see that God’s agenda is their greatest joy.

I’m going to borrow from Jonathan Edwards here. Everything I reference is on the shoulders of better men, either the dead dudes (assume Puritans) or the live dudes who read the dead dudes (live guys who read the Puritans).

God’s agenda is that they could apprehend the glory of Christ. If you want to see glory, you have to have lenses that are glory-seeing. You have to be fitted with new eyes, new tastes, and new desires. You have to be fitted so that when you get to heaven, you see Christ and say, “He is what I’ve been after my whole life. I now see unencumbered what I’ve wanted.” For me, this is the most important truth that I’ve learned in biblical counseling and I hope it will be helpful for you as well.

God is not merely interested in making disciples. Disciples serve a greater purpose. God is interested in making disciples for a reason. We want to show you what that reason is. They come in with their agenda for “I want to win the game of who is hurt the most in this marriage because if I win ‘being the most hurt,’ then I’m the most absolved of obeying all of God’s commands and am the most justified in my responses.” They want to go to Jude chapter 2—which doesn’t exist—and they want to win that battle, right? Or, “I want to be free and I just want relief from this pain and suffering.”

Our task for today is to try to defend the following thesis: God’s ever-present agenda for His redeemed is always their increasing capacity to enjoy Jesus through their increasing conformity to Jesus. This goal of sanctification is exquisitely accomplished through the means of suffering.

God not only gives you unmerited favor in justifying you, He gives you unmerited favor in sanctifying you, and part of that unmerited favor in sanctifying you is bringing suffering into your life to sanctify you. If I asked you, Did Jesus have to suffer? The answer is yes. He was made perfect through suffering (Hebrews 2:10). He learned obedience through suffering (Hebrews 5:8-9). Our Lord had to suffer. The Perfect One had to be made perfect through suffering. That will just blow your mind. Just ponder. That’s a whole different discussion. But our Lord had to suffer. We have to suffer. God is taking one form of evil—suffering—and turning it on its head to accomplish a greater good, namely, my sanctification.

That’s my thesis. That’s what I want to try to defend today. In reverse order:

  1. Suffering is THE means of sanctification. It’s not the only means, but it’s the exquisite mean, so I put “the” in all capitals.
  2. God’s ever-present agenda for you is your sanctification.
  3. Your sanctification increases your satisfaction.

That’s my agenda.

1 PETER 4:12-19

Turn with me in your Bibles to 1 Peter 4:12-19. This text is very helpful. Before I start, you all know the circumstance, right? Peter is writing when Nero is in charge of Rome, and Nero—from what I understand historically—wanted to increase his palaces so he had to burn down some parts of Rome to make room for his bigger houses. In burning down those houses, he had to defend himself so he blamed it on the Christians. Then to punish the Christians, they would wrap animal skins around you and give you to the dogs (who would tear you to shreds), give you straight up to the lions (who would tear you to shreds), or give you to the gladiators (who would hack you to shreds). Or they would put you in hot wax and sometimes put you on a stake, which would enter through your rectum, and as you were slowly sinking and being impaled on the inside, he would light you on fire so that he could have his orgies at night. These are some of the things Nero was doing to Christians when Peter writes these words:

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial…” Do not be surprised. It’s not abnormal. I referenced Hebrews 2:10 earlier, which reads, “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist…should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” It was not wrong; it was not unreasonable; it was the right thing that God the Father would put God the Son through suffering. It was fitting.

Returning to Peter’s words:

Verse 12: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

He says, “Don’t be surprised at suffering.” I think we, in our culture, have settled in on the idea that the greatest evil in the room is suffering. Go read Ralph Venning about “the sinfulness of sin,” right? It was initially the plague of plagues, but that wasn’t selling. Well, no, the Puritans sell. Then they made it “the sinfulness of sin.” There is nothing worse than sin. Nothing. It’s infinitely worse than suffering. Suffering cannot keep you from Christ. One ounce of unbelief will.

“Beloved, don’t be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you…” That idea of testing you is one of the great things suffering does: it first proves what’s in your soul. Remember taking tests? Through tests you didn’t gain new knowledge as you took the tests, the tests just revealed what knowledge you had when you walked into the door, right? That was the problem with the tests. This test—the trial—does not put into your soul anything new. It just squeezes out of your soul everything that’s already there.

As a counselor, I can’t remember the 47 things or the 57 or the 27 things. We teach all kinds of great things, right? Learn all those. Suffering pinches your soul. The word for affliction in the Greek means “pressure,” used most often for our afflictions. When it pinches your soul, what comes out of your mouth? That’s what I look for when I sit with folks. The first thing suffering does is it proves what is in your soul.

More often than we would all care to like, what comes out of our soul is:

“I don’t trust God’s goodness, I don’t trust God’s greatness, and I don’t trust God’s wisdom. I don’t believe God knows what is good for me. He’s not wise. I don’t believe God is powerful enough to bring what’s good for me, and I don’t think that God actually wants what’s good for me.”

In fact, we just don’t trust God. That’s why everyone’s going to read Trusting God by Jerry Bridges. That’s going to be a staple to give to all of your counselees, right? You’re going to find that no matter what the presenting problem is, you’re going to find behind it idolatry and unbelief: I don’t believe God is good, wise, or great. God’s ever-present agenda may not be to remove the fiery trial. It is to hack to pieces every Agag that comes out of the soul that betrays that I don’t believe that God is good, great, and wise.

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12)

Verse 13: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings…”

This is one of the most important words in your Bible: but. All those little tiny words. One author—I think it was Piper—said for is the most important word in the New Testament. I think he’s right. Nine times out of 10, when you read the word for in your Bible it means because. Therefore, every time you read your Bible and you read the word for, you want to ask, Is the author answering the why question? It will really help your study of the Scripture. Other great important words are all the purpose clauses: that, in order that, so that. Another great word is but because it’s a contrast. Other great words are all the inferential statements: thus, therefore, so. All those little tiny words matter. Get a Bible that leaves all those tiny words in there, right? Because they show you logical connections. Peter comes at you with a but in verse 13. “Don’t be surprised at the suffering, but…“—contrast coming—”…Christian, rejoice.”

Now, listen. I’ve swum in the same pond you’ve swum in your whole life. All the water that has gone over my gills has been this: that when people are in suffering, all we can think of to say is what? “I’m so sorry.”

That’s not what Peter says. Maybe it’s not a wrong place to start, but if that’s all you ever say, eventually you’ll call into question God’s character. Eventually you’ll have the counselee think, “You know what? God is dealing with me too hardly in this circumstance. He should have to repent for what He’s…” Isn’t that what happened to Job’s soul? Eventually he jokes that, “You know what? I haven’t done anything to deserve this. God, you owe me an explanation.” Right? But Peter comes and says, “…but rejoice.”

There’s a bigger reality going on in your suffering. Peter has a better agenda in your suffering than mere relief. “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings…” (1 Peter 4:13). That phrase insofar as is a to the degree that statement. Peter is saying, “to the degree that you share in Christ’s sufferings, to that degree you rejoice more.” Do you see the linkage? He’s going to go on to say, you can’t rejoice because you were sinning. You’re not going to get this reward if you’re suffering from causes of your own making. If you’re in a tough relationship and you just trade sin for sin, you don’t get this joy. I promise you that you won’t get it; you’ll just get bitterness.

You have to suffer because your food is to do the will of the Father. You have to suffer because all you want is for God to be glorified in your life. I’m going to borrow again from Piper—it’s just so helpful. The analogy he uses is that you can’t add to God’s glory, right? He’s infinitely glorious. The way you glorify God is you live as a telescope to His glory. A microscope makes things that are tiny look bigger than they are; a telescope makes things that are massive look more like they really are. You have to want to live life in a way that you can say to everybody in the midst of your suffering, “Look through my life, look through it, do you see that I think God is my greatest good, not what has been taken from me?”

You know the story in Acts 16 when Paul was stripped of his freedom for having done nothing but good on the way to the House of Prayer, rescuing a girl from human trafficking and from a demon. He does nothing but good. Instead, he ends up bound against his will, drug in front of an angry mob, falsely accused, stripped naked, beaten with rods, inflicted with many blows, thrown into prison. The jailer says, “Normal prison is not good enough for you. Inner prison for you.” In inner prison, his feet were shackled, probably standing in his own blood and defecation. Everything was nasty. Then at midnight, what is he doing? Singing.

Then Dr. Luke records, “And the prisoners were listening to him.” Do you see it? Paul lives as a telescope to the glory of God. The prisoners were fascinated by a man who would sing hymns after everything in his life had been taken from him. Paul’s whole life screamed, “In losing everything, I’ve lost nothing.” His testimony was, with Christ, my soul is satisfied. Right?

What Peter is encouraging us to here is that if we share Christ’s sufferings, if our desire is the glory of God, then we rejoice as we share in Christ’s sufferings. Now, look at the purpose clause: “…that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”

I’m going to go Jonathan Edwards on this. I take it that this is the main point of the whole (and then we’ll see it again in Romans 8:28-29): that if you share in Christ’s sufferings, the reward you will get isn’t going to be crowns and jewels and mansions. What you’re going to get is greater capacities to enjoy Christ.

Did you see it? To the degree that you rejoice in Christ’s sufferings, to that degree, you will be better prepared to rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you have not suffered like Christ has suffered for the glory of the Father, you’ll see Christ and you will not be captivated. But if you suffer for the glory of God like Christ did, you will have eyes fitted, eyes more glorious to see the Glorious One. You will now be prepared to be more rejoicing and more glad when His glory is revealed.

Verse 14: “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed…”

You know what is fascinating? In the context of persecution as a Christian, does this passage apply to someone who has cancer? Yes. Why? Because cancer tends to squeeze out of the soul the exact same things that all other suffering squeezes out of the soul. Is God good? Is God great? Is God wise? Otherwise, we’d just have to put this book on the shelf and say, “Wait until the suffering of Sudan comes to America.” This book applies not only in the suffering of persecution, but in all forms of suffering because all forms of suffering tend to prove what I think most about God in my soul. “If you’re insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed because…”—I think it should be and I’m leaning on Tom Schreiner here—”…because the Spirit of God and the glory of God.” The ESV has “because the Spirit of glory…” but there’s actually two instances of the word the. It’s because the Spirit and the glory of God rest upon you. If you want to see glory, you have to be made glorious.

I’ll get to my analogy later, but I’ll give a different one now. We live next to the racecar track. I know what it is to go 500 miles an hour in a canyon with clouds above me, trying not to get hit by birds coming at me as a pilot. I have no idea what it’s like to go 225 miles an hour around a track. If I want to glory in a racecar driver, I’m going to have to what? Get in a racecar and do what they do. Otherwise, I don’t know what it is to drive 225 miles an hour.

Beloved, if you’re insulted for the name of Christ, then you’re blessed because God is glorifying you, and I take it that His reason is so that you are better prepared to rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.

Verse 15: “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.”

Just real quick, meddler is a great word. It just means busybody. It’s two words: overseer and another. It’s just someone who is constantly overseeing other people and who always knows what’s best for other people. There’s lots of people who are suffering and they think their suffering is redemptive. Peter’s telling you, “There is suffering that if you suffer for these reasons you don’t get the reward I just promised you.”

But by the way, C.S. Lewis is right. Everybody has to read The Weight of Glory, right? We’re not curmudgeons, we want to call people to seek their greatest good. In Romans 2:6-11, there’s two kinds of seekers: those who are seeking self are condemned; and those who are seeking glory are commended. If your self-seeking terminates on you, it’s condemnable; if your act of seeking your greatest good terminates on God, it’s commendable. If you see God and more of Him as your treasure, that’s commended in Romans 2:6-11. If you see you as your greatest good, it’s condemnable. There is a suffering that gets you no reward. If you’re fighting back with each other, you don’t get the rewards of eyes fitted to see Christ.

Verse 16-18: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And ‘If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?'”

In Psalm 22, David says right after the “my God, my God why hast Thou forsaken me,” “but our fathers put their hope in you and they were not put to shame.” Every time I’m embarrassed or ashamed, I ask my soul, Have I put my hope in the wrong place?

The psalmist says, “The one who puts their hope in You will not be ashamed.”

I think what verses 17-18 teach is this: if suffering is required for the saints to be sanctified, how much worse will the suffering be for unbelievers? Therefore, why would you want to partake in that sort of suffering for having sinned?

These are God’s good promises to motivate us and to guardrail us away from sin.

Verse 19: “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will…”

Look at the conclusion in verse 19. This is our goal in counseling. This is a great goal in counseling for whatever the presenting problem. “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will…”

Not just God allowed, God ordained. God ordains suffering. He ordained the death of His Son. It pleased Him to crush His Son according to Isaiah. In Acts 2:23, it was God’s predetermined plan and foreknowledge. In Acts 4:28, God predestined the death of His Son. Do not allow people to settle with allow. God ordains suffering for your joy. The full verse 19 reads: “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” But you see the two aspects of the law, don’t you? You see love God and love your neighbor, right? That’s what we do all the time in counseling.

God is preparing you for a reward and that reward is to better see Christ. You don’t get that reward if you sin in response to being sinned against. You don’t get that reward if you don’t trust God. When counselees come in, my agenda is to put before them two rewards (God’s reward and the world’s reward) and help them see that God’s reward is better, God’s promises are better, and God is using this suffering to get rid of all the things that will keep them from seeing and enjoying Christ more.

ROMANS 8:28-29

Now, beloved, I’ve heard a pastor preach on suffering from Job. He got to talking about this text and he said, “This is the last text I’ll share with anybody. The last thing I want to do is share with them some trite verse from the Bible.”

If I’m in suffering, this is the very thing my soul tends to doubt and the very thing that I need to hear more than anything else.

What am I trying to help you see? That God’s agenda is your enjoyment of Christ, your enjoyment is increased through conformity to Him, and your conformity to Him is increased through suffering. Now I want to help you see that middle purpose, that God’s agenda for you is sanctification and it’s right in the middle of the context of suffering. We introduced Romans 8:28-29. We know these texts very well. It’s very helpful that Paul tells us something we have to know in the midst of suffering because suffering doesn’t feel good. We have to know that for those who love God—that’s a present tense love, so this promise is given to those who love God and love is not just merely a door. It’s those who serve and obey and treasure God. For those who are presently loving God, all things work together for good.

Verse 28: “…for those who are called according to His purpose…”

I take it that those first and third clauses are two sides of the same coin. Who was it that’s loving God? It’s those who are called. Who are those that are called? Those that are loving God. What do we know about that group? Here’s what we know: that all things work together for good. We raise our hand to the Apostle Paul, and we say, “Hey Paul, it doesn’t feel good in the midst of being sinned against. What is the good?” It’s as if Paul says, “I’m glad you asked me.”

Verse 29: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that…”

We’ll skip a lot of theology here. Let me just say that this means those whom God has set His love upon. That’s a verb. It’s not just mere knowledge of you and what you do. That’s God purposing and doing.

There is an “in order that” after this idea of conformity. This idea of discipleship or being conformed into the image of Christ serves a greater purpose. Conformity to Christ—that line—serves the next line: “in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

The term for firstborn is prōtotokos, from which we get the term prototype. The prototype is not only the first; it’s also the standard to which all must adhere or that all must conform. The woman who is the best violinist sits in the first chair. I want you to see that this term is not just chronologically, that your conformity to Christ doesn’t make Christ first chronologically. It makes Christ first in terms of prominence. In Psalm 89:27 you can see this very idea in the Septuagint. The same term prōtotokos is used. God says of His Son, “I will make Him the firstborn.” Then He defines what that means in the next line: the highest of the kings of the earth. God is in the business of increasing your enjoyment of Christ or your conformity to Christ.

This can also be seen in Ephesians 1 and Titus 2. We’ll review Titus if we have an opportunity just so that you get to see that this is God’s ever-present agenda, that you be made holy and blameless and that you be purified. God’s agenda is your sanctification. God’s agenda for your counselees is their sanctification always.

Two notes:

  1. Most counselees come in wanting relief from circumstances rather than redemption from sin.
  2. Sin is worse than suffering. I’ve talked about that.

I want to share a quote from Ralph Venning’s book. He says:

Nothing is so evil as sin; nothing is evil but sin. As the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us, so neither the sufferings of this life nor of that to come are worthy to be compared as evil with the evil of sin…. Sin is worse than affliction, than death, than Devil, than Hell. Affliction is not so afflictive, death is not so deadly, the Devil not so devilish, Hell not so hellish as sin is…. The four evils I have just named are truly terrible, and from all of them everyone is ready to say, Good Lord, deliver us! Yet none of these, nor all of them together, are as bad as sin. Therefore our prayers [and our counsel] should be more to be delivered from sin, and if God hear no prayer else, yet as to this we should say, “We beseech Thee to hear us, good Lord!”

God is using your suffering to kill your sin. I’ll just tell you my phrase: God uses the chemotherapy of affliction to kill the cancer of sin. You will call His name Jesus for He will save His people from their sin.

In Romans 8:17 and following we see that we have to suffer in order to be glorified with Him. It’s all in the context. The whole creation is groaning. He then comes in with Romans 8:28-29. We have to help our counselees see that God is actually ordaining their suffering that they would be sanctified, that they would be more satisfied in Christ.

Again, our thesis is: God wants you to see His own glory in the person of the Son, so He wants to exalt Christ. Christ is the one who is on display as it were. The spotlight is on Christ. God does this by sanctifying you through suffering, and therefore, it leads to your greater satisfaction. One’s conformity to Christ does not terminate on themselves; one’s conformity serves a higher goal, namely bringing prominence and preeminence to Christ. Who will enjoy Jesus the most? The one most conformed into His image.

I’m going to read the Jonathan Edwards quote and then we’re going to see if we can do an analogy that may be helpful. Again, I’m thankful to John Piper. It’s in a book on missions—Let the Nation’s Be Glad—that he turned me on to this a number of years ago. I would commend Edwards to you. Edwards writes: “The glory of the saints above will be in some proportion to their eminency in holiness and good works here. Christ will reward all according to their works…every one shall be perfectly satisfied. Every vessel that is cast into this ocean of happiness is full, though there are some vessels far larger than others…there will be different degrees of both holiness and happiness according to the measure of each one’s capacity.”

The analogy of what I think Edwards is teaching us is this: if I had a water bottle, there will be some people in heaven that that’s all the capacity they have to enjoy Christ. The thief on the cross knew Christ for a couple of hours. Now, he’ll be full; he won’t be jealous; he’ll have all of Christ that he can handle; but that’s it. There will be some that will have this capacity. There will be some that will have a big gulp. Some will have a 50-gallon drum. Some will have a swimming pool. Some will have the Atlantic Ocean and some will have the Pacific Ocean. The way you go from a contact lens to the Pacific Ocean is suffering. The more that you’re conformed into the image of Christ, the more you’ll have eyes fitted to apprehend the glory of the One who was acquainted with much sorrow and grief.

When we teach this to younger folks, do you know what’s the hardest part for them? They haven’t suffered. Some of them have, but when I’m teaching it to 19- and 20-year-olds in college, a lot of it just goes right over their heads. Now, let me give you my analogy and we’ll see if it’s helpful. Chuck Yeager is the first man to have broken the sound barrier. If you have not watched The Right Stuff, watch it on TV because there are 37 seconds that are bad, and if you watch it on TV, they cut that out. Great movie. My dad was a second-generation test pilot. He succeeded where Chuck Yeager failed. He took an F-104 Starfighter into space and flamed it out and blew it up on Rogers Dry Lake bed. My dad was a stud pilot. Everybody thought Chuck Yeager was going to blow up when he broke the sound barrier. They had no idea what was going to happen. He is the prōtotokos of pilot. He is the pilot of pilots. Now, in pilot training, I flew heavies in the Air Force—big gigantic planes—we hauled toilet paper and orange juice. But in pilot training, I got to break the sound barrier once, and it was really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really cool. Anybody else break the sound barrier? I know a couple of people who have broken it. Ray’s broken it. I know Scott Shirk—he’s an A-4 pilot, Navy guy.

If Chuck Yeager walked into this room right now, who would enjoy him the most? The one who has been most conformed into the prōtotokos of pilot. If Chuck Yeager walked into a pampered, chef convention, nobody would even know who he was. Now, imagine if I was given the assignment to prepare an address at the airline pilots’ convention and all the pilots were there, and I prepared for months and I’d written out every word and not ended any sentence with a preposition. It was all well-crafted and I’m about to give my address, and then Chuck Yeager walks into the room. I yield the mic and I walk off and I just give him the floor.

Probably wrongly and sinfully, amongst which group is Chuck Yeager most glorified? Pilots. Do you see it? In Romans 8:28-29, the great promise comes with the more you walk in His footsteps. First Peter 2 says that you’ve been called to walk in His footsteps and suffering; that He never sinned; neither was deceit found in His mouth; that when He was reviled, He didn’t revile in return; that when He suffered, He didn’t threaten.

I’d just like to share one analogy here. We even have a little pet idiom in our own culture that when husbands are in trouble with their wives, they often hear, “Well, you’ll be sleeping in the doghouse tonight.” That’s a threat. It’s a threat, isn’t it? Christ never threatened.

One of the most amazing things to me about Christ is as He’s walking on the Via Dolorosa, He allowed the crowd to think Himself worse than Barabbas; and Barabbas was a murderer and an insurrectionist. When sinned against, my soul wants to vindicate my name. Christ entrusted. What does 1 Peter 2 tell us? In fact, the direct object is missing in that text, “…but He continued entrusting [blank] to Him who judges justly.” Peter left out the direct object. He broke grammar, I take it to help us see that He entrusted everything: He entrusted the vindication of His name, He entrusted His death, He entrusted His joy, He entrusted His pain, He entrusted the just punishment of those who are unjustly killing Him. Christ entrusted everything to Him who judges justly.

How in the world am I going to grow in the enjoyment of that if I’m threatening my spouse with forms of manipulation?

God has called you to walk in His footsteps the Via Dolorosa so that when you see Him you will say, “Now I know to a greater part what you did in perfection.” Who will give Jesus the kiss for taking the Judas kiss? But the one who’s been betrayed and, in their betrayal, clung to God, and didn’t revile those who reviled, and didn’t threaten when suffered. God’s conforming you into the image of Jesus so that you, when you see Him, you will have a greater enjoyment of Him.


Now, let me give you a counseling application for this. I think you can promise all of your counselees that, if in the midst of their suffering they will follow in Christ’s footsteps—Christ depended on the power of the Spirit to obey God, you have the same Spirit if you’re a Christian—if you will follow in Christ’s footsteps and depend on the Spirit in obedience and treasuring of God and suffering for the name of God like Christ did, if you will walk like Christ walked, I promise you this: when you die and you see your Savior, you will say to Him, “Thank you for every ounce of suffering. Thank you for every ounce of suffering. Because I wouldn’t have known that about you, and I wouldn’t have known that about you, and I wouldn’t have known that about you.”

Paul says, “I forsake everything for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord.” You can give the promise to the wife whose husband is in the midst of adultery that if she clings to Christ, if she treasures God, and if she is being conformed into His image and walking in His steps, that when she sees Him, she will thank Him for the suffering. In the text in Corinthians where this “slight momentary affliction is producing in us an eternal weight of glory,” the glory engulfs our suffering. We don’t relish in suffering for suffering’s sake. We relish what suffering produces in us: a greater and greater conformity and capacity to enjoy Christ. There’s nothing better. I don’t think there’s anything better to learn than this.

Just advancing Jonathan Edwards’ idea—I think, you wrestle with this—that when you die, that’s it. Your capacity is capped. If you’re a contact lens going into heaven, that’s all you’ll be for eternity. That’s it. I think he’s right. If I’m a big gulp, it’s all mixed on earth. There’s a lot of sin and there’s some faith that God grants. When I’m in heaven, I take it that He’ll burn up all of the sin and it’ll all be faith so that I will be full to my capacity. But Edwards is very suggestive that that’s it; I’ll never be an ocean. That’s it. There’s something bigger at stake here than winning the fight with my husband or wife. There is an eternal enjoyment of Christ. I think he’s right.

MARK 4:35-41

My favorite text on biblical counseling is Mark 4:35-41. Let me just say this because, at least in my Bible, the introduction sets me up for a psychological savior. The introduction in my Bible says, “Jesus calms the storm.” You’ve heard it preached, so if you’re in a storm, just call out to Jesus. Maybe you’ve got to wake him up—I mean he’s asleep half the time—but once you get him awake, he’ll come down here and will fix the storm. That’s a god of relief! [shudders]`

It should say that God commanded the storm, controlled the storm, and calmed the storm that He may create in His disciples a greater fear of sin than drowning. I mean, who walks up to people who almost drown and says to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” He would have gotten kicked out of every counseling ministry in America for that.

Is sin worse than suffering? Is it? Obviously, I think our Lord thought it was infinitely worse. Go read Psalm 107. He actually commanded the storm. God made the storm and took them right into the storm to help them see that their greatest enemy is not the storm but unbelief. “Who then is this that even the wind and sea obey Him?” I take it parenthetically all the disciples were asking themselves—and we don’t. He speaks and the entire creation obeys Him, and I don’t. I’m always reminded of Luke 5 when all the fish jump in the boat. Peter doesn’t set up a shop and get a fishing business going and make a bunch of money off Jesus. He falls on his face like a dead man and says, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinner.”

This is my favorite text on biblical counseling. It helps people see that God’s agenda is sanctification and not merely relief.

JOHN 12:27-28

If I gave you biblical counseling in 2 verses it would be John 12:27-28. Jesus says this: “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Verse 28 continues, “Then a voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’”

That’s your goal for all your counselees. You want that the reflex response of their soul when suffering comes to be, “Father, glorify Your name in my suffering. Father, glorify Your name. Make of me a telescope to Your worthiness in myself.” That should be all of our prayers. Imagine what a great goal that is. Then would your counselee be satisfied if God responded to them and said: “Oh my dear child, don’t worry. In your excruciating crucifixion, I will glorify My name. Don’t worry about My glory. I will glorify My name.”? Who prays that? He’s amazing, right? By the way, our sin doesn’t get the last say, Christ gets the last say, right? Romans 8, right?


This is the paradigm I try to teach people how to live. Five W’s.

1. Listen to Your Warning Systems.

The first thing I ask them to do is listen to their warning systems. Every time you’re upset, God’s warning you about something. Your emotions are the thermometer of your soul. That’s what they are. They just report the temperature of your soul as it interacts with circumstance. Every time you’re upset—every time—that’s a warning system from God.

2. Ask your soul: What am I wanting?

Every time you’re upset, ask what you’re wanting. Then I’m going to add an “r” to it: Be relentless in that pursuit. You’re not going to like the answer.

3. When you find that you don’t like the answer, when you find that it’s wicked, repent.

4. In your repentance, worship and rejoice.

God has given you the perfect righteousness of Christ. He succeeded where you failed. How dare we let our sin have the last say. Every time we find out we’re not like Christ, we repent and then we rejoice and we worship Christ.

5. Live as a winsome witness.

You get a double “w” on that one.

In summary:

  • Warning system
  • What am I wanting?
  • Is it wicked?
  • Worship Christ.
  • Be a winsome witness.

That’s the paradigm I try to teach counselees. You make your own better one.

TITUS 2:11-15

This is maybe my other favorite text on biblical counseling.

Titus 2, starting at verse 11. Here we go.

“For the grace of God has appeared…”—that’s Christ—…”bringing salvation for all people.”

What does the grace of God do when He appears? He presently trains us. That word for training is the same word for discipline used in Ephesians 6:4. It’s the noun in Ephesians; here, it’s the verb. The grace of God disciplines us. Isn’t that fascinating? The grace of God is not licentiousness. The grace of God disciplines. What does it discipline us to do? In order that we would live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age and having renounced ungodliness and worldly passions. The grace of God disciplines us to put off and put on.

Do you see it? The grace of God disciplines me to run away from sin. That’s what renounce ungodliness means. When you see it coming, run away, and then in its place, put on self-control, uprightness, and godly lives. Self-control with me, uprightness with you, and godliness towards God. Grace trains us to do that.

What else does it do? Verse 13, constantly, expectantly, waiting for our blessed hope. Which is what? The appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Is that what’s happening in your life? Are you being fitted through suffering and discipline and everything God is using in your life that you are growing in your constant waiting and expectation? All I want is to be free from sin to see my Savior.

I am sick of me. It is not my wife. (I’m speaking fictionally). It is not my cantankerous wife that’s my problem; it’s that I have a hard heart and I can’t love anybody but me. My sin is my problem, not you, no matter what you do to me.

The grace of God is teaching us to treasure and wait for Christ more and more and more. According to verse 14, He “…gave Himself for us in order to redeem us from all lawlessness…”— (put off) —”and to purify for Himself a special people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.” Not only are we being prepared to have eyes fitted to enjoy Christ more, we’re being prepared to be enjoyed by Christ more. What does He enjoy, but His own image in you? That’s what’s being renewed. That’s the conformity. Men, you are an instrument by which God and Christ will enjoy your wife more (Ephesians 5). You’re the one He’s using that she would be holy.

Verse 15: “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.”

Counselors, constantly declare these things. We’re not negotiating. We’re gentle. We don’t yell at anybody. We’re kind, but this is not open. This is God’s agenda for your life. It’s something better and we’re to exhort. To exhort is to call alongside (parakaleō). Rebuke. We do both. To rebuke is to expose someone’s sin or to bring correction. Why would Paul have to write that last phrase (“Let no one disregard you”)? Because they will.

This is the hardest work in the world because you’re going to stand before a person who thinks the greatest enemy in the room is the sin that woman is doing to me. You’re going to have to help them see that the greatest enemy to your joy is the sin in you, and God wants that hacked to pieces (hack Agag to pieces – 1 Samuel 15) so that you would grow in your conformity to Christ, that then you would have eyes fitted to enjoy Christ more. Beloved, this is the goal of goals.