Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast, I’m delighted to have a new guest with me, Dr. Jacob Elwart. He’s been a fellow with ACBC since the beginning of 2022. He’s the pastor of Discipleship Ministries at Inter-City Baptist Church in Allen Park, Michigan, and he is an Assistant Professor of Biblical Counseling at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Jennifer have been married for over 23 years and they have three children. Inner-City launched its counseling center this past spring, where Jacob serves as the director, and I’m so grateful for Jacob and the work that he’s doing up in the Detroit area and not just at the inner city but also at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. Brother, so glad that you’re with us today, and welcome to the podcast.
Jacob Elwart: Thank you so much for having me.
Dale Johnson: Well, listen as we talked about self-confrontation, this is important for us as counselors, but it’s also important that we help our counselees work through self-confrontation. Just talk a little bit about what we mean when we use this term: self-confrontation.
Jacob Elwart: I think it’s difficult for us to be able to help somebody along in this process of change. Ultimately, we can’t change for them. So we’re actually teaching them to confront themselves, to take principles from Scripture to be able to see what’s going on in their own hearts. And so we’re doing this in the form of questions, trying to dig down to the heart and ultimately showing them where they are not matching up to what the Scriptures call them to do.
Dale Johnson: I love that. It’s a lot like what missionaries used to say it was a part of their work is instead of catching fish for people and just feeding them. Yes, because they need to be fed. They teach people how to catch fish themselves, and essentially, that’s a part of what we’re doing in the counseling process. We’re teaching people how to confront themselves with the Scriptures and how to walk faithfully with the Lord. And certainly, a part of that is the idea of repentance and for all of us, we understand that yes, we repent and believe that’s a part of how the Lord brings about justification in our life but repentance doesn’t stop there. So let’s talk a little bit about repentance. What is repentance? Particularly as it happens in self-confrontation and what makes this so critical for biblical counseling?
Jacob Elwart: If you look at how the word repentance is used in the Scripture in the Old Testament, it’s almost always referring to God and has to do with the idea of sorrow or regret, in the New Testament, it can mean regret or sorrow, but most often it’s used to turn or return to change. So Hebrews 6:1 says that we are to have repentance of dead works and Acts 20:21 talks about repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ. So repentance is really a turning, it’s changing, it’s moving away from false gods or moving away from sin and turning toward God because God and idols are mutually exclusive, you can’t serve both of them. So if you’re heading towards idols, if you’re heading toward sin, then the only way to come to God is through repentance. And so, yeah, you’re right. We are called to repentance at the beginning of our spiritual lives, but all throughout our lives as Christians, we’re called to repentance.
And it’s critical for us as counselors because a large part of what we do is challenge people to deal with sin issues. Of course, many of the cases that we’re dealing with are genuine suffering issues, innocent, suffering types of situations, or people who are looking for guidance. But a lot of the cases that I’m dealing with are people who are dealing with sins and need to be confronted. And so I’m helping them do that and helping them to get to a place where they can learn to confront themselves by looking at the Scriptures and seeing how it matches up to what they’re doing and then actually make a turn.
Dale Johnson: Yeah, this is how we target the heart in biblical counseling. We call just as the Scripture does, as a changing of the mind or renewing of the mind and if your mind is going to change, that is what repentance looks like. So that’s the what of repentance I want to talk a little bit about how does repentance happen. Many times biblical counselors want to know, just tell me how it works practically. We want to see how it works. So, how does repentance happen exactly, then give me a couple of examples of how we find repentance in the Bible.
Jacob Elwart: Well, I think repentance, there are lots of different ways that we could think about this. The way that I think about it is in terms of three phases. So, I think about it in terms of determining, designing, and doing. So, the determining phases like what you see in Luke 15 where the prodigal son comes to his senses. He determined something in his mind that I’m actually going to make a switch from what I was doing to what I needed to be doing. And then the next step would be to start to design a plan. So, what would that look like for me to actually change? So for him, he kind of rehearses what he’s going to say to his father. I am unworthy to be called your son, and I’ve sinned against you, and against heaven, I’m unworthy to be called your son. And please make me one of your hired, as one of your hired servants there. He’s actually designing a plan, and then he actually does it. He goes back and talks to his father, and he puts his ambition into action, so to speak, and the best illustrations, there’s lots of them, but probably the best illustration of repentance, at least in terms of a succinct kind of way is 1 Thessalonians 1:9 where the Macedonians are commending to Paul the repentance of the Thessalonians, how they turned from idols to serve the living and true God. So, from Idols to God, very clear turn that’s happening there. A change in direction.
A couple of negative examples, I guess we could look at Saul and first Samuel 15, where he actually has some remorse, some kind of remorse. “I have sinned,” he says, I have indeed transgressed the command of the Lord when he didn’t destroy all the Amalekites, and he actually asked Samuel, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may worship with the Lord. So there’s something there of a turn, but, obviously, Samuel recognizes, and God recognizes that was not genuine repentance. Judas is another example where he felt remorse and Matthew 27, but the positive examples would be people like David and Peter come to mind right away. David says, I know, my transgressions and my sins are ever before me Psalm 51, and he moves to restore his relationship with God. And then Peter, of course, wept bitterly after his sin against Jesus and then turns into a great leader obviously in the early church.
Dale Johnson: Alright, Jacob, so you’ve walked us through this idea of what repentance actually is. You have given us some great examples on how we can find this idea of repentance in the Bible. But now we get to brass taxes where we’re talking about the counselor now, having to discern and that maybe the church even understanding has true repentance taken place. How does the counselor discern that sort of thing when repentance has taken place?
Jacob Elwart: I think this is one of the hardest, most difficult parts about counseling and walking with somebody through this process of repentance because we want to see real change, and the question that they’re asking, the question that we’re asking the question, hopefully, that the pastors in our church are asking is, has change happened? And so, I think the emphasis that I’m looking for in this stage is action, I want to know if repentance has happened, and I think I can know by looking at action, and so for me it’s I want to look at it in terms of benchmarks for change. So, for example, suppose a person is engaged in sexual immorality. I would want to think through with him what are some clear benchmarks of what change would look like if repentance was truly happening, if the spirit of God was genuinely working in you, what would that look like? And I think this is best evaluated in the context of the local church. Counselors I think should involve his or her pastor, especially for particularly difficult cases. But anytime that you’re dealing with sins are issues of unrepentance, you don’t want to deal with that alone if you’re not in a position of pastoral authority. So you want to involve your pastors in on that because there may be a case in which like in Matthew 18, where you need to take this another step further when there is unrepentance, but in terms of how we know when it’s happened, it’s actually kind of difficult. And I think the best way to do that is to try to put down some clear benchmarks. It’s not an easy process, but it’s definitely a worthwhile one both for you and the counselee.
Dale Johnson: Well, we know anything that’s worthwhile is not simple. It’s not easy, there are often roadblocks or difficulties things that hinder anything that’s worthwhile, and that’s certainly the case when we talk about repentance. What are some of the things that we see in the counseling room that acts as roadblocks or hindrances to repentance?
Jacob Elwart: One of them is connected to something that I just mentioned, and that is a disconnect from the local church or a detachment from the local church. So I would call that autonomy as if I’m coming to you as an independent counselor or independent counselee really, I’m coming to you, and I’m seeking your help, and can you please not tell my pastor about this, or you know, I don’t want to go somewhere where people are going to know about my issues, and they probably wouldn’t say that this way, but be held accountable, but that’s really what they need. And so I would say one roadblock would be autonomy. A second would be worldly sorrow. So a kind of sorrow that does not lead to genuine change like the sorrow of Judas, where he felt remorse. But unlike Peter, he actually moves to try to cover or hide from his guilt. He tried to escape from it, and really all he did was accelerate the rightful judgment that he deserved instead of going to Jesus falling on him for Grace. So, the third one, I would say, is a merely ambitious kind of person who has good ideas of what they want to do when it comes to change, but it actually doesn’t result in action. So this is a person who might come to their senses in terms of they recognize that they have sinned, they also recognize that they need to take ownership for their sin, but then it doesn’t actually turn into any kind of transformation. So, a person who says something like I want to be a good husband or I want to be a good wife. Well, that’s fine. That’s a great ambition; that’s a great place to start. In fact, repentance should start that way. Or I want to stop looking at pornography; those are good intentions, but unbelievers have good intentions too. And one main difference that Jesus makes between believers and unbelievers is illustrated in the parable of the wise man and the foolish man.
We often think when we think of the difference between believers and unbelievers that one hears the word and the other doesn’t hear the word. But in that parable, the difference between those two is that one hears the word and puts it into practice, and the other hears the word and doesn’t put it into practice. So, when someone is just ambitious, that’s great, but that’s not enough. That’s only the beginning of change. And so in counseling, we want to encourage and challenge people to not only have good intentions, intentions are good, but those intentions need to result in action. So we want to encourage them with God’s help to employ the means of grace.
Dale Johnson: Well said, Jacob. Biblically sound but very practically laid out, and emphasizing something that’s absolutely critical when we talk about biblical counseling and true biblical change in the process of counseling. Brother, this has been very helpful in our talk on repentance and self-confrontation, I really appreciate the time.
Jacob Elwart: Thank you.
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