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The Counselor’s Hidden Sins

Truth in Love 324

God makes very clear that our sins are not hidden. They are open and laid bare by God Himself.

Aug 16, 2021

Dale Johnson: This week we’re going to do something a little different. Maybe not rare, but a little bit unusual and different and that is we’re going to dip into our mailbag. Recently we sent out requests for you, our listeners, to give us some ideas on topics for the podcast. And, wow, you guys gave some really, really great topics and I’m looking forward to covering these in succession over the next several months and one of those is the issue of hidden sins of the counselor. And I thought this really intriguing, especially when we talk about biblical counseling. I suppose with secular counseling and the view of expertise as being what guides the counseling practice in the mode of counseling, that these types of hidden faults are okay. But that’s not so in biblical counseling. I want to address that if we can today.

In a secular setting, there’s no need to be transparent. There’s no need to have some sort of dual relationship with your “client.” But in biblical counseling, it is quite different. We are talking about a spiritual relationship that pursues spiritual benefit. And so this is really important, especially when we look at Romans 15:14, where the Scripture tells us what prepares us and readies us to be able to admonish those who are full of goodness, Romans 15:14 says. I want to address this issue today for all of us. And listen, none of us as counselors—just because we do formal counseling with others, or we’re in a position where we’re mentoring and guiding and giving biblical wisdom to others, that doesn’t make us immune to sin. I want to make a distinction today, however, that when I’m talking about sin, I’m not saying that we don’t wrestle with sin. We absolutely do. No matter how mature we get in the faith, until we see Jesus face-to-face, we’re going to wrestle with sin, the law of sin and death consistently. We’re called scripturally to constantly be putting these things to death. That will be a battle for us all. 

What I’m talking about today are those sins which we try to hide from the world. Those types of things which are indwelling, if you will. And the first thing I want to say is, we describe them as hidden sins. Isn’t that interesting? Well, the reality is that those sins are not really hidden at all. Well of course they are hidden from other people, the people that we are around. Maybe we put a face on to some degree, but those things might be hidden from the people that we’re closest to and the people that we are around, but they’re really not hidden sins. Listen to the Scripture in Hebrews 4:13. God makes very clear that these sins are not hidden. They are open and laid bare by God Himself, and He is aware of all the things that are going on in our hearts. Listen to what the Scripture says. Verse 12: “for the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” 

Now, I know you counselors, you hear that passage and you know that the Bible is sufficient to unveil the thoughts and intentions of the counselee. And oh how easy it is for us to fall into the trap to think that now those passages only apply to the counselee. No, they apply to all of us. Listen to verse 13, “and no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.” There are two aspects there. First of all, the truth is that there’s nothing that we do that’s hidden before God. If you were to listen to David for example, in Psalm 139, you know, very clearly—or the psalmist in general—you see, very clearly that our sins are not hidden from God. He knows even the sins that we’re not aware of, the presumptuous sins, if you will. And you hear the psalmist quite frequently begging God to reveal those things to the psalmist. And isn’t that the way it is with us? 

So first of all, you have to understand that these sins that we commit, that we maybe enjoy, that indwell a person’s heart, they’re not things that are hidden from God. We have to understand that first. And that’s most important because I think our tendency is, and our desire to hide this from other people is the idea and fear of shame. Shame that it would bring on to us from other people. But the reality is that that shame is already very evident before the Lord. Now, I also want us to consider a second passage, Proverbs 28:13. Listen to what the Word says here, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” For those who are counselors, believers, followers of Christ, you need to understand, we need to understand, that when we struggle in certain areas, I think it is wise that we step away from that formal ministry in those moments when we have indwelling sin, sin that we’re battling with, sin that we’re fighting. And we need to make sure that—we can’t prosper, even in the counseling room, I don’t think. We can’t prosper well when we have these types of hidden faults. Now again that doesn’t mean that all of us don’t struggle with sin, but there’s this driving that’s different than just allowing sins to remain and sins that we allow to be hidden. So make sure that we confess. The Scripture tells us over and over again how healthy it is for us to confess to one another, to confess before God. Not to conceal those things which are hidden deep within us. 

Another important thing for us to consider when we describe these types of hidden sins is what we are trying to say to the watching world. We’re trying to present ourselves in a way that’s not a true representation of us. It’s not a true representation of how we think about the Lord. Really, what’s happening is this ultimate battle in our own heart between whether we fear the Lord or whether we fear other people. Think about how this battle takes place in your mind. “Well, Lord, I have all these people that look up to me. I have these folks who are coming to me for counseling. I’m supposed to be the one who’s wise and yet, I’m struggling with this issue of sin to a great degree. And oh my goodness, if I tell someone, I think about the immense amount of shame.” I think that does two things that’s really important. First of all, it’s an arrogant statement to act as though we as believers, even those who have been redeemed by the Lord, don’t struggle with sin. That we are guiltless or faultless in our practice. The reality is, all of us struggle to some degree. And especially, when we find ourselves in a pattern where there are consistent, habitual sins that we are committing and we’re moving along as if this is not a big deal. 

The second thing is, think about the statement that we’re making in relation to the fear of the Lord. We are not living in a way that exemplifies the fear of the Lord. Why is that problematic? Well, for a lot of reasons, but we know that wisdom comes from the fear of the Lord. So how is it in the world that you are going to be wise in relation to your counselee if you’re not fearing the Lord yourself? There’s so much that’s so important that’s just not simple, intellectual knowledge that we bring to the counseling room when we talk about biblical counseling. So much of it is the wisdom of the Lord. And if we’re living in perpetual sin, we’re not demonstrating that our heart fears the Lord above all things. Because if it did, what we would want to do is be obedient to the Lord at all costs, no matter what. And what does that mean? Even if it brings shame to me personally and it reveals a weakness that I have personally, I’m honoring the Lord by confessing first and foremost. The means to cleansing, the Bible describes, is to confess those sins. 

Now, I’m not speaking in terms of justification that—yes, the redemption of Christ has paid once and for all. That’s what should motivate us to confess those sins to bring them before the Lord or else I think we will see the chastisement of the Lord, especially in our counseling. In these moments for us as counselors, we’re wrestling with, do we fear God or do we fear man? Another thing that I think is important that we should consider is the dangers of unconfessed sin. Now, as you counsel, you believe these things to be true. That’s why you’re willing to say things in the counseling room that might be admonishment or it might be exhortation. It’s because you believe that the truth of God can set a person free and if they continue to live in sin you know where it’s going to lead them. It’s going to lead them down a path of death, difficulty, and destruction. And so you know that with your counselee, but in your personal life, sometimes you get in the mode where we are easily deceived ourselves. We need to pause as counselors and understand what the dangers of unconfessed sin are. 

The first thing that I think is really important for us is, counseling can actually become a ministry that validates even our own sin. You say, well what in the world do you mean by that? What I mean is ministry sometimes can be a means that we think gives us identity or obtains righteousness in some form or fashion as opposed to, counseling ministry should be an overflow of the godliness in our own life. As we pursue godliness, ministry becomes an overflow of that. We never want our identity to be found in some sort of external ministry that we’re pursuing. We don’t want even something good like counseling, we don’t want our identity to be found in us doing that ministry because doing that ministry and even being good at it can overshadow the pursuit of personal holiness in your own life. And what I would say is that breeds a bed of flourishing of sinfulness in our own heart. 

What we have to understand is that the beauty of counseling ministry and our ability to see the problems of another person well really resides in our ability to walk in faithfulness and to pursue holiness ourselves. That way the things that we tell our counselees are not just things that we read about or we heard someone say but that we’re experiencing ourselves. That we’ve experienced the beauty of the mercy of Christ. We know the power of repentance and humility ourselves experientially. And so how much more so do I plead with the counselee when their situation calls for the same? So for us, it can be something that’s absolutely blinding. 

I want to consider a couple of passages when you think about the dangers of unconfessed sin. The first passage I want us to consider is Psalm 66:18-19. Maybe I’ll go back up to 16. Listen to the Word. “Come and hear all you who fear God and I will tell you what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.” When we have unconfessed sin, it does cause a barrier in our relationship with the Lord. Then what needs to happen is the same mode of David in Psalm 51 as he cried out to the Lord to confess his sin, knowing that he had sinned against God specifically. The same needs to be true of us. God listens to a contrite heart. He will not despise it and we know that to be true. We encourage our counselees with that truth all the time. So what needs to happen for us as the counselor? We need to be practicing that biblical truth in obedience to the Lord or else our prayers will be hindered consistently. 

The next thing that I think is important is really more on a practical level. What happens when we live in indwelling sin? It darkens our mind. It blinds our eyes to certain things where we don’t see situations well. So, how in the world can we counsel someone else when our own heart is blinded? We won’t see the data rightly. We will interpret the data often wrongly. We will emphasize things that maybe don’t need emphasizing. We will focus on things that maybe we don’t need to primarily focus on. We’ll paint the picture of that person’s life, even contrary to the Word of God. And we do that blindly because we don’t, we’re not walking in wisdom because in that moment, we’re not demonstrating the fear of the Lord. So we have to be careful in harboring hidden sins, sins that we hide from other people but that are certainly not hidden from the Lord. What does the Lord tell us to do? He tells us to confess, 1 John 1:9. You guys are familiar with that passage, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Why? We know that He will fulfill that promise because He accepted the death and resurrection of Christ to forgive us of those sins. He’s asking us to just confess those sins. 

Second thing is, we know that that sin is entangling. If we still live in this body of death as Paul says in Romans 6 and 7, this flesh that lives within us, we know we’re going to struggle on this side of heaven with sin consistently that it’s easily entangling to us and it’s not just easily entangling to those that we counsel, it’s easily entangling to us as well. And so, what does the Lord tell us to do? To put those things off. To present our bodies as a living sacrifice to Him as a form of worship to Him. And so what am I encouraging you to do? Maybe it is that you need to take a season to step away and to deal with these hidden sins that maybe other people do not know. I know for me, I have several people in my life who I look up to, who I talk with, who I share difficulties with when I’m seeing different struggles in my life that happen and I go and speak with them. And I confess those things to my brothers and I talk with them, and they encourage me, they hold me accountable on those issues. And every single counselor needs a counselor. Every single counselor needs a mentor, someone who’s walking with them to pursue what’s ultimately most important, which is their own personal godliness. Because what makes you an effective counselor is your ability to walk in the fear of the Lord and to have the wisdom of God and to see other people clearly through the lens of Scripture. All of that is hindered when we walk in hidden sin, but rest assured, what the Scripture says. That it is at the feet of Christ that we will receive mercy.

Listen to Psalm 19:11 and following. Verse 10 says, “more to be desired than gold.” Talking about the Scriptures. “Much fine gold. Sweeter than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.” He’s talking about the Word and the Word’s effect on us. “Moreover, by them is your servant warned.” Your servant. You, the counselor. Us, we who try to counsel others. We’re just as susceptible to sin as anyone else. “Moreover by them, are you warned. In keeping them is great reward.” The Scripture encourages us by keeping the Word to be obedient. How much more effective will your counseling be if you’re confessing these things before the Lord and you’re warned by the Word? “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins. Let them not have dominion over me.” Because what’s most in power of you is the sin that’s in you as opposed to confessing and following in the lordship of Christ. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Can I encourage you that your counseling ministry and the things that you do there are not more important than caring for your own soul, making sure that you’re walking faithfully before the Lord? Because it is in your pursuit of godliness and your short account with the Lord and your obedience to Him by the Word that now empowers you with true wisdom to offer legitimate biblical counseling and biblical wisdom to those who are suffering and struggling. And you demonstrate that all of us are walking this difficulty together but God has wisdom that surpasses all human understanding.