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Counseling and Faith Alone

Truth in Love 110

Without faith it is impossible to please God.

Jul 27, 2017

Heath Lambert: It is 2017 and the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. One of the things that we are doing to commemorate the Protestant Reformation this year at ACBC is to host our Annual Conference on the topic of the Protestant Reformation and biblical counseling. During the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th of October in Jacksonville, Florida, we are going to have our annual conference where we talk about the themes of the Protestant Reformation, including the five Solas of the Reformation, and we talk about how those five themes find their home in biblical counseling and how persons who are committed to biblical counseling are the best representatives of those five Solas. And one of the things that we’re going to be talking about during those days is the issue of biblical counseling and faith alone. We’re going to focus on the issue of Sola Fide. Now, as we talk about that on the podcast this week, I want to talk about faith alone in three different categories.

And first, I want to talk about it in a historical category. When you read about the Protestant Reformation, you will hear historical theologians talk about two principles of the Reformation. On the one hand, there was the material principle and on the other hand, there was the formal principle. The formal principle of the Reformation had to do with the authority that church leaders were going to use in the debate. We’re having a debate about very important and significant issues, what is our source of authority? For the Reformers, their source of authority was Scripture and Scripture alone. And so, when we talk about the formal principle of the Reformation, we’re talking about the debate over the authority that would be used to adjudicate the difference. For the Reformers, it was the Bible alone and for the Roman Catholic Church, it was the Bible and the teaching office of the church known as the Magisterium. That was a huge disagreement for the Reformers.

The second principle was called the material principle. And that was actually what was regarded to be the subject matter of the debate. And when we talk about the material principle, we are talking about the issue of Sola Fide or Faith Alone. So, Scripture alone had to do with the formal principle and faith alone had to do with the material principle. That is to say, the decisive break between Rome and Protestantism was the doctrine of justification by faith alone. For the Roman Catholic church, faith was essential, but it was not sufficient. That is to say Rome believed at the time and still believes today that faith is necessary in salvation, you must have it, but you also must have more than faith you must have faith plus works. For the Reformers, the crucial cry was Sola Fide, faith alone, you have faith irrespective of any work that you accomplish and that is what leads to salvation. It was the material principle that divided Rome from Protestantism. That’s the historical issue. Then we can talk about the biblical issue.

And here I want to talk about one text. It’s the famous text in the book of Hebrews. Hebrews 11:6, and it says, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. In the Bible, without faith it is impossible to please God. This is important in the argument of Hebrews because in Hebrews 11 we are in the Great Hall of Faith where there’s all these exemplary men and women who are understood to be exemplary not because first and foremost of the great things that they did, though so many of them did do great things, but it is their faith that separates them. What set these men and women apart was not their mighty accomplishments but the great faith that they had and that statement there in verse 6 explains all that. Irrespective of whatever these people did what made them pleasing to God was their faith. And so, we see from the standpoint of history and the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation that the importance of faith and faith alone was crucial. We see in just one text of Scripture that the issue of faith is what separates us and makes us pleasing to God not our works.

Then we come to this third issue. I said I wanted to talk about three issues. We come to this third issue and that’s the counseling issue. Historical issue, biblical issue, counseling issue. Why in the world would we want to have a counseling conference on faith alone? And why in the world would a counseling organization care about the issue of faith alone? Well, it’s because of the historical issue and the biblical issue. Historically, the church has been divided over this issue and biblically it’s impossible to please God without faith. If it is impossible to please God without faith, then that means you cannot have a counseling conversation that is devoid of faith. If God is calling people to live their lives by faith in Him, then how could we ever have a conversation about life’s problems without focusing on faith in Him? I would posit to you that it just makes no sense. And because it makes no sense it makes it a serious problem when Christians who know and love and have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ would ever advocate counseling approaches that make it optional to point people to faith in Christ. The reality is that Christian approaches to the left of biblical counseling, approaches like Christian psychology, integration, levels of explanation, transformational psychology, the leaders in each one of those counseling approaches make it optional to talk about faith in Jesus Christ. Many of them don’t just make it optional but say it’s flat-out inappropriate.

You think about that, and you hear what the Reformers gave their life for, that people would live by faith and by faith alone. You think about that, and you read a text like Hebrews 11:6, “Without faith it’s impossible to please God.” and it just makes no sense that you would have Christians who have counseling approaches that make a discussion about faith in Jesus optional. It just doesn’t make sense and it’s actually at odds with the teaching of Scripture. This is why it is those who are committed to biblical counseling who are the best representation in the counseling world of the truths of the Protestant Reformation. We preserve the doctrine of sola fide, and we preserve the teaching of Scripture that without faith it is impossible to please God, by insisting that we must talk about faith in the counseling room and don’t make it a matter that’s up for negotiation.

I want you to listen to the ACBC Standards of Conduct. This is our ethical document which declares how Christians ought to behave in a counseling room. And in article 2a expresses one element of our commitment to Jesus Christ and I want you to listen to what the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors says about the ethics of faith in the counseling room. “Biblical counselors must point their counselees to the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ unto salvation. Because Jesus Christ serves as the personal solution to all of our counseling difficulties, the primary goal of every counselor should be to introduce counselees to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Faithful counselors will pray for wisdom about the best way to call their counselees to saving faith in Christ, knowing that it is only through a relationship with Him that troubled people can know joy now and throughout eternity.” And that’s the end of the section. What you need to understand is that this ethical document from ACBC is the only counseling code of ethics in the entire world that makes it unethical to fail to speak of Jesus and that is a shame.

It’s possible to say that people we know and love who are committed to other counseling approaches are real live believers and are really wrong on this issue. What the church needs to do on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is recommit to the biblical truth that without faith it’s impossible to please God. What the church needs to do on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is recommit to the doctrine of sola fide and not just say that faith alone is going to be something we write about in textbooks on justification, but faith alone is going to be a commitment that springs to life in the counseling room. How could we ever confess to be committed to the Protestant Reformation, to exist in the grand tradition of the Reformers, how could we ever make the issue of faith alone a matter of a life-and-death cry and then make that a negotiable reality in the counseling room? Let’s all say we’re going to grow in our commitment to the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. And let’s say we’re going to do that by being faithfully Protestant, not just in our theology as we confess it, but in our theology as we live it, even in the counseling room.