Counseling One Another

Helping you grow in God's all-sufficient truth and grace

Counseling One Another

October 23, 2017
by Paul Tautges
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Sufficient for Life and Godliness (1 of 5)

We who minister the Word to one another; i.e. counsel, in whatever place and form God has called us, spend significant time with people whose lives, by their own admission, are badly broken. We listen to stories of marriages on the brink of divorce or accounts of childhood abuse that are too horrific to describe here. People reveal to us the addictive behaviors that result in job loss, financial ruin, and the destruction of relationships. Couples speak about relentless drama from extended family members, and children tell of parents whose chronic anger and alcohol abuse control every aspect of their lives. Many of our counselees simply weep in the midst of their brokenness — and we weep with them.

Thankfully, God’s Word is no stranger to brokenness. King David lamented, “I have been forgotten like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel” (Ps. 31:12). Variations of the same theme are repeated every day around the world to men and women who counsel others. Engaging people in love and wisdom is much more than an academic exercise for us. As followers of Jesus, we weep when others weep (John 11:35; Rom. 12:15). We minister to broken people in a broken world. We often sound, look, and feel like the prophet Jeremiah when he said, “For the brokenness of the daughter of my people I am broken; I mourn, dismay has taken hold of me” (Jer. 8:21 NASB). As we mourn, we share our counselees’ hurts and seek to find ways to help them achieve a real sense of healing and wholeness.

That is where the topic of counseling may actually take on a more disturbing ring, because Scripture speaks about the possibility of counselors addressing the hurts of others in ways that actually do more harm than good. In the days of Jeremiah, God condemned spiritual counselors who “healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14). The last thing a hurting soul needs is a superficial response. True healing requires answers that speak to the fundamental issues of the heart with a balance of grace and truth.

For this reason, having the right source of truth in the counseling room makes a huge difference. Jeremiah explained the reason some people-helpers in his day were offering superficial answers: “My people have committed two evils: / They have forsaken Me, / The fountain of living waters, / To hew for themselves cisterns, / Broken cisterns, / That can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13 NASB).

Words such as these strike appropriate concern and caution into the hearts of those of us who counsel. We practically tremble when we think of serving a broken person with answers that are equally broken. The words of James are always near: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).

This leads biblical counselors to be profoundly thankful for the sufficient resources of heaven. We look first to Scripture itself for an explanation of the nature of the revelation that God has provided to address the brokenness of His fallen creation. Alongside the apostle Peter, we marvel that “his divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:3 – 4).

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This is the first of five posts derived from the chapter that Steve Viars and I contributed to the Biblical Counseling Coalition’s book, Scripture and Counseling: God’s Word for Life in a Broken World, from Zondervan. Pastors, elders, counselors, small group leaders…anyone interested in growing in the personal ministry of the Word to one another would benefit greatly by reading this volume.

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October 20, 2017
by Paul Tautges
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NUGGETS

Some articles to read this weekend:

How I Started Down the Road to Pornography and How I Got Free – “From age 13 until 17, sexual sin took more pieces of my soul and more hours from my life.”

5 Things Not to Do in Your Marriage – “As we navigate the joys and the struggles of the marriage relationship, here are five things not to do.”

When a Loved One ‘Comes Out’ – Seven truths to consider.

10 Unrealistic Expectations Placed On the Pastor’s Wife – A new podcast from Thom Rainer.

Luther’s Jewish Problem – “Our memory of Luther must be tempered with sadness because of his sin and its consequences.”

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October 19, 2017
by Paul Tautges
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4 Truths You Must Believe About God’s Righteousness

Alva McClain, founder and first president of Grace Theological Seminary, wrote, “If someone should ask me, ‘Brother McClain, if you could have just six verses out of the Bible, and the rest be taken away, which would you take?’ I would select these six verses. All of God’s gospel is there, and in a way found nowhere else in the Word of God.” What verses were they? Romans 3:21-26.

This may be the most important New Testament passage concerning how sinners like you and me may be justified by grace alone. The theme is this: God’s righteousness—the gift of His grace—comes only to those who believe. But what must you believe? You must believe 4 truths about God’s righteousness.

  • Believe God’s righteousness has been displayed at the Cross (vv. 21-22a).

It is God’s righteousness, not man’s, which is displayed by the death of Christ. The Law required death for sin, but could do nothing to impart righteousness. The Law defends God’s righteousness, but it cannot dispense it. The sacrificial system of the Old Testament was a witness to the righteousness of God, which would ultimately be fulfilled by Christ. What made these sacrifices acceptable to God was the forward look of faith.

  • Believe God’s righteousness is lacking in every person—especially you (v. 22b-23).

By man’s standard there is a difference to each man’s “righteousness,” but according to God’s standard we are all condemned. When some of our church members go to area prisons to have Bible studies with inmates they meet men who are there for a variety of reasons, some more wicked than others. But they are all there because they have been found guilty. The same is true for each and every one of us. Before the bench in God’s courtroom we have all been found guilty. You must believe this is true about yourself before you are ready to be saved.

  • Believe God’s righteousness is a gift of grace (v. 24).

Central to the doctrine of justification is the 5-letter word grace, which is the opposite of works. Justification by grace alone is what separates Biblical Christianity from all religions. Man-made religion defines justification as the process of being made righteous. But the Bible defines it as the act of being pronounced righteous. Justification means to be declared and treated as righteous; it is as a gift from God. There is no cause in the sinner, all the cause is in Christ. It is the free gift of God.

  • Believe God’s righteousness is found only in Jesus Christ (vv. 25-26).

God, in Jesus, satisfied the requirements of His own law. Jesus is our propitiation, the satisfaction of God’s righteousness and the absorber of His wrath. The death of Christ upheld the righteousness of God by dying in the sinner’s place. God “passed over” sin in the Old Testament, looking forward to full payment in Christ. Because of this, He may have been accused of winking at sin, treating it lightly. But that was not the case. The cross displayed His love and upheld His righteous standard at the same time, enabling Him to be both the Just and the Justifier of the one who has faith in Christ.

3 TAKEAWAYS FOR CHRISTIANS

Perhaps you are reading this, thinking “Yeah, I get this. I’m already saved. I understand my salvation is not based on my merit, but only on the person and work of Jesus Christ. I believed that years ago when I was saved as a young child. So, how does this help me today…as a Christian?” Here are 3 applications for you.

  1. Your flesh will naturally fall away from grace. This is the way of your flesh. If you forget grace, you will have the tendency to fall into subtle, but tricky ways of thinking and begin to live—not by grace—but by your own spiritual performance. Perfectionism may become a pattern. As a result, you will be tempted to become proud…to look down upon others. You may forget how sinful your heart really is and begin to wonder why other Christians struggle with things that are of no bother to you at all. You may lack mercy and be quick to condemn those who struggle. When you are overcome by God’s grace yourself then you begin to treat others with grace, rather than being a harsh enforcer of the law.
  2. If you forget grace, you may easily be overcome by discouragement when you fail. Sometimes we know we are saved by grace alone, but fall into the trap of thinking our standing before God is based upon our spiritual success. Therefore, we can begin to think that God is happy with us when we are checking off all the right boxes, but He is not happy with us when we are struggling. Remember, if your faith is in Christ, your standing before God is not based upon our imperfect righteousness, but on the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.
  3. If you abuse grace then you may forget the gospel that saves you by grace will also sanctify you by grace. Grace does not give us a license to sin, but it demands that we grow in holiness. As Titus 2:11-12 teach us, “For the grace of God has appeared…training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.”

Salvation is by grace alone; that is, the only way for us to be considered righteous in God’s sight—and thereby be saved—is to God’s righteousness, which is a gift to those who believe in Jesus Christ. This new life, then, progressively displays conformity to His righteous standards.

[Adapted from last Sunday’s sermon, The Gift of God’s Grace, preached at Cornerstone Community Church in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.]

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October 18, 2017
by Paul Tautges
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4 Practical Reasons to Read the Bible with Our Kids

This morning, a small group of dads in our church gathered for our Dads’ Reading Group. In this 4-week gathering, we are reading out loud and discussing Jon Nielson’s wonderful little book, Bible Reading with Your Kids (Matthias Media, 2017).

First, we spent some time reading Psalm 78:1-8 and took notice of the key role fathers play in the passing of biblical truths from one generation to the next. Then we read Chapter 2 in Jon Nielson’s book. The chapter consisted of four practical reasons we should read the Bible with our kids.

  1. The Fatherhood Factor: “Like it or not, for both boys and girls, the spiritual engagement of their father is statistically the most influential factor in determining whether they grow up to identify as Christian and attend church regularly.” The author then references a 1994 study from Switzerland, which concluded that for children of parents who both attended church, 33% grew up to attend church regularly. While only 3% did the same when only Mom took them to church.
  2. The Relationship Factor: “By committing to read the Bible regularly with our children early on in their lives, we are helping to lay a foundation for an ongoing relationship with them that will be founded—at least in part—on regular engagement with God’s Word.”
  3. The Capacity Factor: Many Christian parents underestimate the ability of their kids to grasp spiritual truths, even difficult ones. “Our kids can pick up more than just the stories, from an early age.”
  4. The Relevance Factor: The Bible is not only relevant for adults, “it is extremely relevant and applicable to the lives of children too….Children are growing up in a world confused about gender and sexuality; the Bible shows them God’s good created order and intention for us.”

Fellow dads, our kids will take their spiritual cues from us. If we are not men of the Word or, through passivity, we let our wives set the spiritual tone in the home, our kids will typically follow. Men, it’s time to take the lead! A good step in the right direction is to read and being applying Jon Nielson’s book, Bible Reading with Your Kids.

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October 17, 2017
by Paul Tautges
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95 Affirmations for Gospel-Centered Counseling

[Today’s guest post is written by my friend and fellow BCC board member, Bob Kellemen.]

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his now famous 95 Theses to the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. In doing so, Luther was launching a reformation in how the church understood the gospel of Christ’s grace for salvation.

In 2010, over three dozen biblical counseling leaders gathered together to launch the Biblical Counseling Coalition (BCC). Over the next nine months, they crafted ten drafts of what became the BCC’s Confessional Statement. In doing so, they were seeking to capture in summary form how the church understands the gospel of Christ’s grace for sanctification and one-another ministry—applying the gospel to daily Christian living.

In September 2017, New Growth Press released my book, Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life. As I explain in the book:

“Martin Luther not only reformed theology; his understanding of the gospel reformed daily Christian living, biblical counseling, pastoral counseling, one-another ministry, and soul care.”

So, it seems only natural for me to combine my appreciation for Luther’s pastoral counseling and my involvement in facilitating the BCC’s Confessional Statement into this document: 95 Affirmations for Gospel-Centered Counseling.

In this document, I’ve taken the BCC’s Confessional Statement and divided it into 95 positive affirmations or thesis statements. My prayer is that you might find these summaries to be a helpful presentation of what it means to apply Christ’s grace to daily living through the personal ministry of the Word—gospel-centered biblical counseling.

One of my fellow BCC Council Board Members, Dr. Heath Lambert, recently released his 95 Theses for an Authentically Christian Commitment to Counseling. I’d encourage you to read Dr. Lambert’s work.

Preamble: Speaking Gospel Truth in Love—A Vision for the Entire Church

  1. Gospel-centered counseling focuses on a central question: “What does it mean to counsel in the grace and truth of Christ?” (John 1:14).
  2. Gospel-centered counseling flows from our calling to equip God’s people to love God and others in Christ-centered ways (Matthew 22:35-40).
  3. The vision for gospel-centered counseling is for the entire church to speak gospel truth in love (Ephesians 4:11-16).
  4. Gospel-centered counseling is dedicated to developing the theology and practice of the personal ministry of the Word, whether described as biblical counseling, pastoral counseling, personal discipleship, one-another ministry, small group ministry, cure of souls, soul care, spiritual friendship, or spiritual direction.

Introduction: In Christ Alone

 The goal of gospel-centered counseling is spiritual, relational, and personal maturity as evidenced in desires, thoughts, motives, actions, and emotions that increasingly reflect Jesus (Ephesians 4:17-5:2).

  1. Personal change must be centered on the person of Christ (Colossians 1:27-29). We are convinced that personal ministry centered on Christ and anchored in Scripture offers the only lasting hope and loving help to a fallen and broken world (Colossians 2:1-9).
  2. We confess that we have not arrived. We comfort and counsel others only as we continue to receive ongoing comfort and counsel from Christ and the Body of Christ (2 Corinthians 1:3-11). We admit that we struggle to apply consistently all that we believe. We who counsel live in process, just like those we counsel, so we want to learn and grow in the wisdom and mercies of Christ.
  3. All Christian ministry arises from and is anchored in God’s revelation—which is both the written Word (Scripture) and the living Word (Christ). This is true for the personal ministry of the Word (conversational and relational ministry which our culture calls “counseling”) and for the various public ministries of the Word. In light of this core conviction about Christ-centered, Word-based ministry, we affirm the following central commitments as gospel-centered counselors.

Confessional Statement #1: Gospel-Centered Counseling Must Be Anchored in Scripture

  1. We believe that God’s Word is authoritative, sufficient, and relevant (Isaiah 55:11; Matthew 4:4; Hebrews 4:12-13). The inspired and inerrant Scriptures, rightly interpreted and carefully applied, offer us God’s comprehensive wisdom.
  2. We learn to understand who God is, who we are, the problems we face, how people change, and God’s provision for that change in the Gospel (John 8:31-32; 10:10; 17:17).
  3. No other source of knowledge thoroughly equips us to counsel in ways that transform the human heart (Psalm 19:7-14; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3). Other systems of counseling aim for other goals and assume a different dynamic of change. The wisdom given by God in His Word is distinctive and robust. God comprehensively addresses the sin and suffering of all people in all situations.
  4. Gospel-centered counseling is an insightful application of God’s all-embracing truth to our complex lives (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:6; Philippians 1:9-11). It does not merely collect proof-texts from the Bible. Wise counseling requires ongoing practical theological labor in order to understand Scripture, people, and situations (2 Timothy 2:15). We must continually develop our personal character, case-wise understanding of people, and pastoral skills (Romans 15:14; Colossians 1:28-29).
  5. When we say that Scripture is comprehensive in wisdom, we mean that the Bible makes sense of all things, not that it contains all the information people could ever know about all topics.
  6. God’s common grace brings many good things to human life. However, common grace cannot save us from our struggles with sin or from the troubles that beset us. Common grace cannot sanctify or cure the soul of all that ails the human condition.
  7. We affirm that numerous sources (such as scientific research, organized observations about human behavior, those we counsel, reflection on our own life experience, literature, film, and history) can contribute to our knowledge of people, and many sources can contribute some relief for the troubles of life. However, none can constitute a comprehensive system of counseling principles and practices.
  8. When systems of thought and practice claim to prescribe a cure for the human condition, they compete with Christ (Colossians 2:1-15). Scripture alone teaches a perspective and way of looking at life by which we can think biblically about and critically evaluate information and actions from any source (Colossians 2:2-10; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Confessional Statement #2: Gospel-Centered Counseling Must Be Centered on Christ and the Gospel

  1. We believe that wise counseling centers on Jesus Christ—His sinless life, death on the cross, burial, resurrection, present reign, and promised return.
  2. Through the Gospel, God reveals the depths of sin, the scope of suffering, and the breadth, length, height, and depth of grace.
  3. Gospel-centered counseling gets to the heart of personal and interpersonal problems by bringing to bear the truth, mercy, and power of Christ’s grace (John 1:14).
  4. There is no true restoration of the soul and there are no truly God-honoring relationships without understanding the desperate condition we are in without Christ and apart from experiencing the joy of progressive deliverance from that condition through God’s mercies.
  5. Gospel-centered counseling points people to a person, Jesus our Redeemer, and not to a program, theory, or experience (John 14:6).
  6. We place our trust in the transforming power of the Redeemer as the only hope to change people’s hearts, not in any human system of change (John 2-4).
  7. People need a personal and dynamic relationship with Jesus, not a system of self-salvation, self-management, or self-actualization (John 14:6).
  8. Gospel-centered counselors seek to lead struggling, hurting, sinning, and confused people to the hope, resources, strength, and life that are available only in Christ.

Confessional Statement #3: Gospel-Centered Counseling Must Be Grounded in Sound Theology

  1. We believe that gospel-centered counseling is fundamentally a practical theological discipline because every aspect of life is related to God.
  2. God intends that we care for one another in ways that relate human struggles to His person, purposes, promises, and will. Wise counseling arises from a theological way of looking at life—a mindset, a worldview—that informs how we understand people, problems, and solutions.
  3. The best gospel-centered counselors are wise, balanced, caring, experienced, practical theologians (Philippians 1:9-11).
  4. Gospel-centered counselors seek to relate the Scriptures relevantly to people’s daily lives and relationships (Hebrews 3:12-19).
  5. All wise counseling understands particular passages and a person’s unique life experience within the context of the Bible’s larger story-line: God’s creation, our fall into sin, His redemptive plan, and the consummation of all things. Thus gospel-centered counselors engage in person-specific conversations that flow naturally out of a comprehensive biblical theology of life.

Confessional Statement #4: Gospel-Centered Counseling Must Be Dependent Upon the Holy Spirit and Prayer

  1. We believe that both genuine change of heart and transformation of lifestyle depend upon the ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-16:16; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18).
  2. Gospel-centered counselors know that it is impossible to speak wisely and lovingly to bring about true and lasting change apart from the decisive, compassionate, and convicting work of the Spirit in the counselor and the counselee.
  3. We acknowledge the Holy Spirit as the One who illuminates our understanding of the Word and empowers its application in everyday life.
  4. Wise counselors serve in the truth that God reveals and by the strength that God supplies. By the Spirit’s work, God receives glory in all the good that takes place in people’s lives.
  5. Gospel-centered counselors affirm the absolute necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit to guide and empower the counselor, the counselee, and the counseling relationship.
  6. Dependent prayer is essential to the work of gospel-centered counseling (Ephesians 6:18-20). Wise counselors humbly request God’s intervention and direction, praise God for His work in people’s lives, and intercede for people that they would experience genuine life change to the glory of God (Philippians 4:6).

Confessional Statement #5: Gospel-Centered Counseling Must Be Directed toward Sanctification

  1. We believe that gospel-centered counseling should be transformative, change-oriented, and grounded in the doctrine of sanctification (2 Corinthians 3:16-18; Philippians 2:12-13).
  2. The lifelong change process begins at salvation (justification, regeneration, redemption, reconciliation) and continues until we see Jesus face-to-face (1 John 3:1-3).
  3. The aim of gospel-centered counseling is intentional and intensive discipleship.
  4. The fruit of gospel-centered counseling is spiritually mature people who increasingly reflect Christ (relationally, rationally, volitionally, and emotionally) by enjoying and exalting God and by loving others well and wisely (Galatians 5:22-6:10).
  5. Gospel-centered counseling seeks to embrace the Bible’s teaching regarding God’s role and human responsibility in spiritual growth. God’s strength and mercy call for our response of faith and obedience.
  6. A comprehensive theology of the spiritual life provides the basis for applying relevant biblical methods of spiritual growth. Gospel-centered counseling helps believers to understand what it means to be in Christ (Romans 6:3-14). It equips them to apply the principles of progressive sanctification through renewing their minds and actions based on Scripture with a motive of love for God and others (Romans 12:1-2).

Confessional Statement #6: Gospel-Centered Counseling Must Be Rooted in the Life of the Church

  1. We believe that we best reflect the Trinity as we live and grow in community (John 17; Ephesians 4).
  2. Sanctification is not a self-improvement project, but a process of learning to love and serve God and others.
  3. Wise counseling embeds personal change within God’s community—the church—with all God’s rich resources of corporate and interpersonal means of grace (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
  4. We believe that the church should be both the center and the sender of Gospel-centered counseling (Romans 15:14).
  5. By example and exhortation, the New Testament commends the personal, face-to-face, one-another ministry of the Word—whether in one-to-one or small group relationships (Hebrews 3:12-19; 10:19-25).
  6. God calls the church to mutual wise counseling just as He calls the church to public ministries of the Word in preaching, teaching, worship, and observing the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
  7. God desires His people to love and serve each other by speaking His truth in love to one another (Ephesians 4:15-16).
  8. The primary and fullest expression of counseling ministry is meant to occur in local church communities where pastors effectively shepherd souls while equipping and overseeing diverse forms of every-member ministry (Ephesians 4:11-14).
  9. Other like-minded counseling institutions and organizations are beneficial insofar as they serve alongside the church, encourage Christians to counsel biblically, and purpose to impact the world for Christ.

Confessional Statement #7: Gospel-Centered Counseling Must Be Founded in Love

  1. We believe that Christ’s incarnation is not just the basis for care, but also the model for how we care (Hebrews 4:14-16; John 13:34-35).
  2. Gospel-centered counselors seek to enter into a person’s story, listening well, expressing thoughtful love, and engaging the person with compassion (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
  3. The wise and loving personal ministry of the Word takes many appropriate forms, from caring comfort to loving rebuke, from careful listening to relevant scriptural exploration, all while building trusting, authentic relationships (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15; 1 John 4:7-21).
  4. Gospel-centered counseling takes into account all that people experience (desires, thoughts, goals, actions, words, emotions, struggles, situational pressure, physical suffering, abuse, injustice, etc.) All of human experience is the context for understanding how God’s Word relates to life. Such awareness not only shapes the content of counseling, but also shapes the way counselors interact so that everything said is constructive, according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to the hearer (Ephesians 4:29).

Confessional Statement #8: Gospel-Centered Counseling Must Be Attentive to Heart Issues

  1. We believe that human behavior is tied to the thoughts, intentions, and affections of the heart. All our actions arise from hearts that are worshipping either God or something else; therefore, gospel-centered counseling emphasizes the importance of the heart and addresses the inner person.
  2. God fully understands and rightly weighs who we are, what we do, and why we do it. While we cannot completely understand a person’s heart (even our own), God’s Word reveals and penetrates the heart’s core beliefs and intentions (Hebrews 4:12-13).
  3. Gospel-centered counseling seeks to address both the inward and outward aspects of human life to bring thorough and lasting change into the image of Christ.
  4. The Bible is clear that human behavior is not mechanical, but grows out of a heart that desires, longs, thinks, chooses, and feels in ways that are oriented either toward or against Christ.
  5. Gospel-centered counsel appropriately focuses on the vertical and the horizontal dimensions, on the inner and the outer person, on observable behavior and underlying issues of the heart (Matthew 23:23-28).
  6. Gospel-centered counselors work to help struggling people to learn wisdom; to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength; to love one’s neighbor as oneself; and to endure suffering in hope.

Confessional Statement #9: Gospel-Centered Counseling Must Be Comprehensive in Understanding

  1. We believe that gospel-centered counseling should focus on the full range of human nature created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28).
  2. A comprehensive biblical understanding sees human beings as relational (spiritual and social), rational, volitional, emotional, and physical.
  3. Gospel-centered counseling takes the whole person seriously in his or her whole life context. It helps people to embrace all of life face-to-face with Christ so they become more like Christ in their relationships, thoughts, motivations, behaviors, and emotions.
  4. Gospel-centered counseling recognizes the complexity of the relationship between the body and soul (Genesis 2:7). Because of this, gospel-centered counselors seek to remain sensitive to physical factors and organic issues that affect people’s lives.
  5. In our desire to help people comprehensively, we seek to apply God’s Word to people’s lives amid bodily strengths and weaknesses.
  6. Gospel-centered counselors encourage a thorough assessment and sound treatment for any suspected physical problems.
  7. Gospel-centered counselors recognize the complexity of the connection between people and their social environment. Thus we seek to remain sensitive to the impact of suffering and of the great variety of significant social-cultural factors (1 Peter 3:8-22).
  8. In our desire to help people comprehensively, we seek to apply God’s Word to people’s lives amid both positive and negative social experiences.
  9. Gospel-centered counselors encourage people to seek appropriate practical aid when their problems have a component that involves education, work life, finances, legal matters, criminality (either as a victim or a perpetrator), and other social matters.

Confessional Statement #10: Gospel-Centered Counseling Must Be Thorough in Care

  1. Gospel-centered counselors believe that God’s Word is profitable for dealing thoroughly with the evils we suffer as well as with the sins we commit.
  2. Since struggling people usually experience some combination of besetting sin and personal suffering, gospel-centered counselors seek to discern the differences and connections between sin and suffering, and to minister appropriately to both (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
  3. Gospel-centered counseling seeks to address suffering and engage sufferers in many compassionate ways. It offers God’s encouragement, comfort, and hope for the hurting (Romans 8:17-18; 2 Corinthians 1:3-8). It encourages mercy ministry (Acts 6:1-7) and seeks to promote justice.
  4. Gospel-centered counseling seeks to address sin and engage sinners in numerous caring ways. It offers God’s confrontation of sins, encourages repentance of sins, presents God’s gracious forgiveness in Christ, and shares God’s powerful path for progressive victory over sin (1 John 1:8-2:2; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11; Colossians 3:1-17; 2 Timothy 2:24-26).

Confessional Statement #11: Gospel-Centered Counseling Must Be Practical and Relevant

  1. Gospel-centered counselors believe that a commitment to the sufficiency of God’s Word results in counseling that demonstrates the relevancy of God’s Word.
  2. Gospel-centered counseling seeks to offer a practical approach to daily life that is uniquely effective in the real world where people live and relate (1 John 3:11-24).
  3. By instruction and example, the Bible teaches foundational methodological principles for wise interaction and intervention (Acts 20:26-37; Galatians 6:1-5; Colossians 1:24-2:1).
  4. Within the Bible’s overall guidelines for the personal ministry of the Word, there is room for a variety of practical methods of change, all anchored in applying scriptural truth to people’s lives and relationships.
  5. The Bible calls us to use wise methods that minister in Christ-centered ways to the unique life situations of specific people (Proverbs 15:23; 25:11).
  6. We are to speak what is helpful for building others up according to the need of the moment, that it may benefit those who listen (Ephesians 4:29).

Confessional Statement #12: Gospel-Centered Counseling Must Be Oriented toward Outreach

  1. Gospel-centered counselors believe that Christianity is missionary-minded by its very nature.
  2. Gospel-centered counseling should be a powerful evangelistic and apologetic force in our world.
  3. Gospel-centered counselors want to bring the good news of Jesus and His Word to the world that only God can redeem.
  4. Gospel-centered counselors seek to speak in relevant ways to Christians and non-Christians, to draw them to the Savior and the distinctive wisdom that comes only from His Word (Titus 2:10-15).
  5. Gospel-centered counselors want to present the claims, mercies, hope, and relevance of Christ in a positive, loving, Christ-like spirit (1 Peter 3:15).
  6. Gospel-centered counselors seek to engage the broad spectrum of counseling models and approaches. We want to affirm what is biblical and wise. Where we believe models and methods fall short of Christ’s call, we want to critique clearly and charitably.
  7. When interacting with people with whom we differ, gospel-centered counselors want to communicate in ways that are respectful, firm, gracious, fair-minded, and clear.
  8. When we perceive error, we want to humbly point people forward toward the way of truth so that we all become truer, wiser, and more loving counselors.
  9. Gospel-centered counselors want to listen well to those who disagree with us, and we want to learn from their critiques.
  10. Our mission to spread the truth and fame of Jesus Christ includes a desire that all counselors appreciate and embrace the beauty of a Christ-centered and Word-based approach to people, problems, and solutions.

Conclusion: Unity in Truth and Love

  1. Gospel-centered counselors are committed to generating a unified effort among God’s people to glorify Christ and multiply disciples through the personal ministry of the Word (Matthew 28:18-20).
  2. Gospel-centered counselors trust in Jesus Christ in whom grace and truth are perfectly joined (John 1:14).
  3. Gospel-centered counselors cling to God’s Word, in which truth and love live in perfect union (Ephesians 4:15; Philippians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:8).
  4. Gospel-centered counselors love Christ’s Church—living and speaking gospel truth in love, growing up in Him who is the Head, and building itself up in love as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:15-16).
  5. Gospel-centered counselors desire to encourage unity in truth and love through a fresh vision for biblical counseling. When people ask, “What makes biblical counseling truly biblical?” gospel-centered counselors unite to affirm:

“Gospel-centered biblical counseling occurs whenever and wherever God’s people engage in conversations that are anchored in Scripture, centered on Christ and the Gospel, grounded in sound theology, dependent upon the Holy Spirit and prayer, directed toward sanctification, rooted in the life of the church, founded in love, attentive to heart issues, comprehensive in understanding, thorough in care, practical and relevant, and oriented toward outreach.”

  1. We invite you to join us in seeking to equip God’s people to promote personal change centered on the person of Christ through the personal ministry of the Word—gospel-centered biblical counseling.

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October 16, 2017
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on Grace for Holiness

Grace for Holiness

Grace propels us toward holiness. It does not lessen its pursuit. According to Titus 2:11–13, this empowering grace compels us to live godly while we look for His coming: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.” Notice the past, present, and future grace mentioned in these verses.

Past, Future, and Present Grace

The past grace of God has already appeared and has brought salvation to mankind. Future grace will be fully revealed when the Lord Jesus returns. However, sandwiched between the past and the future, God also supplies present grace. This present grace is constantly “instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.” In other words, biblical grace does not lead us toward licentiousness. Instead, it sanctifies. It leads away from sin and toward righteousness. This present grace is a foretaste of the consummation of our salvation, which will take place when Jesus returns.

Hope that Sanctifies

To be holy, we must renew our minds with this “blessed hope.” Merrill Unger defines hope as the “expectation of good … a joyful and contented expectation of eternal salvation.”10 It is a confident expectation that is based on the truth of the gospel and the promises of God in Christ Jesus. He Himself “is our hope” (1 Tim. 1:1) and God the Father “has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). He raised Jesus “from the dead and gave Him glory, so that [our] faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:21). And since we are “heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7), we must, necessarily, gird our minds for action; “everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3).

Fully Holy, One Day

As followers of Christ who continue to pursue holiness, we can be confident of the final completion of our sanctification that will take place when we see Jesus face to face. “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2).

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October 12, 2017
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on RESET – Learning the Grace-Fueled Life

RESET – Learning the Grace-Fueled Life

RESET: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture is a compassionate and courageous book. Reading it from “the other side of burnout” gave me much-needed perspective. About five years ago, I began to receive some of the counsel now bound into this book, since David Murray was one of several faithful brothers who began to walk through a deep valley with me.

My Crash

At the time, Satan had taken advantage of a two-year battle with depression and anxiety triggered by the collision of multiple stress factors. Pressures from every direction would in the next year seem to converge all at once. Perfectionism, over-commitment, escalated church conflict, people-pleasing, family trials, financial burdens, and my own sinful responses would eventually all merge together. Two stress-induced heart attacks would be part of the coming year, and David would be there to help me begin to make some sense of it all.

Now that I’m on the other side, I’m able to see things a bit more clearly. The gracious hand of Providence was over it all, enlightening, correcting, changing, training, and blessing me by initiating a life and ministry reboot that humbles and amazes me. Therefore, reading Reset in this new season was not only instructive of the areas where I continue to need to change and grow (there are many), but it also affirmed some of the progress the Spirit has made in repair and maintenance. As a result, David’s words in the Introduction could have been written by me: “Through painful personal experience…I’ve learned that God has graciously provided a number of ways for us to reset our broken and burned-out lives, and to help us to live grace-paced lives in a burnout culture.”

10 Repair Bays

The structure of Reset follows the analogy of a broken down car brought in for repairs and equipped for ongoing maintenance. Ten chapters minister grace and truth in ten repair bays.

  1. Reality Check – David advises us to pay attention to warning lights, and gives examples in eight areas: physical, mental, emotional, relational, vocational, moral, relational, and pastoral.
  2. Review – The second chapter gives us a big-picture look at the limitations of our humanity. “God has given us instructions about how to live as his creatures, as the finite body-and-soul beings he has made us to be. But some of us are trying to live as if we are infinite. It’s hardly surprising that we are breaking down.
  3. Rest – A brief theology of sleep is given as well as many illustrations of the value of physical rest.
  4. Recreate – “Is our obsessive work ethic self-defeating? In trying to impress other men with our manly work rate (and pastors are especially susceptible to this), are we destroying our ability to think about our callings, our problems, and our challenges in fresh, clear ways.”
  5. Relax – “The grace of peace is a vital part of a grace-paced life. We need rest for the body and the mind.”
  6. Rethink – This chapter counsels the perfectionist.
  7. Reduce – “Remember, it’s rarely one extra big thing but the addition of lots of little things that tends to overwhelm us, because it is much more difficult to say no to the little things.”
  8. Refuel – Here is wise, balanced counsel concerning food and medicine.
  9. Relate – We cannot go it alone. Therefore, it’s essential to carefully maintain our relationships.
  10. Resurrection – David encourages us to accept the beauty of our new, post-Reset, resurrection from the Lord. “In comparison to our pre-Reset lives, we may feel lazy to be running slower, or we may feel guilty about reducing other commitments and taking breaks to renew our energy.”

Reset is a very personal book. Personal because of the author’s refreshing transparency. And personal because it describes me and reveals how much I need to learn to live a life fueled by grace. Our God is the God who is making all things new and, for this, I praise Him. I’m grateful for the wise, balanced, pastoral counsel contained in Reset and I recommend it to you. Note: Reset is written to men, especially pastors. Crossway has just released a similar title for women, entitled Refresh, written by David’s wife, Shona.

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October 10, 2017
by Paul Tautges
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The Superior Word from God

This month, as we remember the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we are reminded of the priority of keeping the Gospel of Jesus Christ pure and true, free from man’s teachings and religious traditions. Last week, I introduced this series to our church by calling our attention to the conviction of the apostles to protect and defend the gospel.

This week, we begin looking at what are known as the Five Solas. The Five Solas are five Latin phrases (or slogans) that emerged from the Protestant Reformation intended to summarize the Reformers’ basic theological principles in contrast to certain teachings of the Roman Catholic Church of the day. These Biblical truths were held as central to the doctrine of salvation, central to the gospel. “Sola” is Latin meaning “alone” or “only” and the corresponding phrases are:

  • Sola Fide, by faith alone.
  • Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone.
  • Solus Christus, through Christ alone.
  • Sola Gratia, by grace alone.
  • Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone.

This week, I want you to think about Sola Scriptura, which speaks of the inherent authority of the Bible and, therefore, the functional authority it should occupy in our lives.

A common problem in our day is that people pick and choose from the Bible what they like and what they agree with, rather than humbly place themselves under its authority. This is a subversion of the sufficiency and authority of Scripture, which was a critical concern to the leaders of the Reformation. Martin Luther said of the Scriptures: “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.”

When he was called to Worms, Germany, to appear before the assembly of the Holy Roman Empire and answer charges of heresy, he stood his ground. When the Emperor Charles V demanded he recant his teachings and writings which called the Pope and Roman Catholic Church to submit to Scripture, to repent of its false doctrine and corrupt practices, he stated these now famous words:

Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience would be neither right nor safe. God help me. Here I stand, I can do no other.

For Martin Luther, one thing was clear: Scripture alone is the final authority. Every true church must submit to it. Scripture alone is the scepter by which Christ rules His church.

John Wycliffe, an English theologian who fought for truth almost 200 years before Luther, attacked the privileges of the clergy…believing the Bible should not be kept hidden from the people. He said, “No man is to be credited for his mere authority’s sake, unless he can show Scripture for the maintenance of his opinion.” This led him to pour his life into seeing the Scriptures translated into the language of the common people. He believed, “The laity ought to understand the faith, and since the doctrines of our faith are in the Scriptures, believers should have the Scriptures in a language familiar to the people.” The lasting legacy of John Wycliffe is the Wycliffe Bible, a translation from Latin into English which he completed in the year 1382.

When the Bible is read and believed by the people, eyes are opened and hearts and changed. In his written works, Luther said of the power of the Bible: “Take me, for example. I opposed indulgences and all papists, but never by force. I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing.… I did nothing: the Word did it all.”

The Word of God is powerful to save and to transform sinners into God-fearing, Christ-loving disciples. And Satan knows this. From the time that Satan planted doubt in Eve’s mind about the integrity of the word of God (Has God really said?) sinful man has sought for a different authority—to be his own authority, ultimately. When the pride of man determines he does not like the Bible’s teaching, or thinks he can come up with something better, the Scriptures are set aside and replaced by man’s tradition or personal spiritual experience. Both of these errors must be exposed for what they are, a rejection of the sufficiency and authority of Scripture.

In the early days of the New Testament, the apostles had to face this issue as well. Just as there were false prophets in the days of the Old Testament, so there would continue to be in the days of the New (2 Peter 2:1). But how could the apostle Peter protect the believers from these heresies? By establishing them firmly in the doctrine of the sufficiency and authority of Scripture.

Today, take some time to read 2 Peter 1:16-21, and think about the reasons Scripture is the superior word from God. The Bible is the Word of God. It is the mind of God in written form. If you submit to it as your ultimate authority and if you strive to apply its teachings to your life, you will never go wrong.

[Adapted from last Sunday’s sermon preached at Cornerstone Community Church in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.]

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October 3, 2017
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on Saving the Gospel: A Helicopter View of Galatians

Saving the Gospel: A Helicopter View of Galatians

According to the Barna Group’s 2016 State of the Church report,

  • Most people in this country identify themselves as Christian. Almost three-quarters of Americans (73%) say they are a Christian.
  • However, 55% believe that if a person is generally good, or does enough good things for others during their life, they will earn a place in heaven, that good works are sufficient for eternal life.

This inconsistency leads me to ask two questions, “Do people who identify themselves as Christian know the Bible’s definition?” and “What gospel are they believing?”

At best, many professing Christians are ignorant and confused about the exclusive nature of the gospel. At worst, they are believing a false gospel and the state of their own souls is in grave danger. The Bible is clear: No man, woman, or child will ever earn eternal life through good works or their own merit. Rather, the only way to be justified before God; that is, to be declared righteous, is by faith. This is the conclusion every person must come to in order to be saved. And that’s the truth a German monk named Martin Luther had to come to as well.

This month marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Though Luther was not the only leader calling the Catholic Church to account, he served as God’s catalyst when, on October 31, 1517, he posted 95 theses for debate on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg. This document exposed the corruption of the Catholic Church’s practice of selling sinful “indulgences.” Indulgences were vouchers for forgiveness which could be purchased from the church, preferably before your wild night. But the document also proclaimed two central beliefs:

  • The Bible, not the Pope, is the central and final religious authority
  • Sinners may receive salvation only by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ and not by their deeds

The heart of the Reformation was a battle over the gospel. Are sinners justified by grace through faith alone, or are they justified by good works through the church? That was the question.

In his little book on the Reformation, Michael Reeves writes, “Martin Luther was concerned with people’s happiness. In fact, he would come to believe that he had found the secret of happiness. And that, at its heart, was what the Reformation was all about. Not moralizing. Not self-improvement. It was a discovery of stunningly happy news—news that would transform millions of lives and change the world.”

What was that news? The truth that transformed Luther’s life was this: The solution for a guilty conscience is not more religion, more sacrificial attempts to demonstrate love for God, but repentance and faith in the God who had already demonstrated His own love toward sinners by sending His Son to pay for their sins. This is the gospel that saved and transformed this unsaved monk.

Numerous men (not only Martin Luther) put their very lives at risk to save this gospel from corruptions and false imitations. But they were not the first to do this. The New Testament records the faithful service and sacrifice of others who fought to defend the truth. In fact, from the day Jesus ascended into heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit to fill the church, there has been a battle for the purity of the gospel. The apostles warned believers of this danger.

For example, Peter put Christians on the alert when he wrote, there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them… (2 Peter 2:1). And before sailing away from Ephesus, the apostle Paul exhorted the elders: I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them (Acts 20:28-30).

It was the corruption and distortion of the pure gospel which provoked the writing of the book of Galatians. On his first missionary journey, Paul and his companions had preached the gospel in what is now modern day Turkey. As a result, many came to saving faith in Jesus Christ. However, after he departed, false teachers known as Judaizers tried hard to bring the young believers back under Old Testament law. They thought that by doing so they could garner the praise of the Jewish authorities. As long as they could succeed in turning Gentiles into practicing Jews they could live in peace and not be persecuted like those who truly believed and preached Jesus as the only way to God.

These teachers did not openly deny salvation in Christ, but their additions to the gospel denied that faith alone was the means by which a sinner received the righteousness of God. They promoted a “Jesus + circumcision” gospel. They were basically saying that Gentile believers needed to become Jews by placing themselves under the Law of Moses. But the apostle rightly saw that to require such things was to deny the gospel of grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Hearing of this brought grief to the apostle. He was alarmed…and rightly so…for they were in danger of turning to a different gospel. And by turning to a different gospel the possibility of eternal damnation was real. Satan loves nothing better than to deceive people into believing a “Jesus + man’s religious merit” gospel. Therefore, the apostle was moved to write this short, but strong letter. Galatians compels us to guard God’s gospel from error. The purity of God’s gospel must be preserved and guarded from distortions, additions, or subtractions.

A helicopter fly-over Galatians reveals four responsibilities to guard the gospel.

  1. Guard the true gospel revealed by God in Scripture from the false gospel passed on through man’s tradition or experience (1:6-12).
  2. Guard the true gospel of freedom in Christ from the false gospel of slavery to religious ritual and regulation (2:1-14).
  3. Guard the true gospel of justification by grace through faith from the false gospel of justification by obedience to works of the law (2:15-3:2).
  4. Guard the true gospel of transformation by the Holy Spirit from the false gospel of dead faith evidenced by continued living in the flesh (5:13-26).

[Adapted from last Sunday’s sermon, Saving the Gospel.]

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