Most Biblical Counselors do not define their work as evangelism. We are more familiar, and perhaps more comfortable, with the biblical roles of teaching, encouragement, discipleship, and restoration. We often assume that because a counselee has selected a counselor with a biblical orientation, he/she is already a believer. But beginning with that supposition can lead to ineffective treatment results that carry great eternal ramifications.
While it is certain that none of us can fully know the true spiritual condition of another person’s heart, we must be receptive to what the Holy Spirit reveals when we begin a counseling process. A thorough and ongoing spiritual assessment must be at the foundation of everything a counselor does.
Typically a counselor is consulted at a point of great distress and brokenness. God can, and will use this vulnerability to open the client’s heart to the gospel message. The fact that a non-believer has selected a biblical counselor may be evidence that God is working in that client’s life. Jesus said:
“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” (Jn 6:44a).
When broken and tender, the heart of the client is searching for truth and peace that can only come through a personal relationship with Jesus. The Lord uses that pain and suffering to draw us into a situation where the truth can be spoken and received. Since there are no errors or accidents in the timing of God, the counseling session can be His appointed moment. Paul wrote:
…for He says, “AT THE ACCEPTABLE TIME I LISTENED TO YOU, AND ON THE DAY OF SALVATION I HELPED YOU.” Behold, now is “THE ACCEPTABLE TIME,” behold, now is “THE DAY OF SALVATION ” (2 Cor 6:2).
Counselors must then deal with the spiritual first and the physical second. What answer have we offered if we deal with matters of marital communication, emotion, behavior, etc. and fail to teach our clients to have access to the Way, the Truth and the Life (Jn 6:14). Until and unless the counselee comes to accept Christ as his/her Savior, any and all techniques of support and guidance will bear little gain. Jesus defined it clearly:
“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).
Thus, there can be no fruit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control) without an abiding relationship with Christ. Without “spiritual fruit” (Galatians 5:22-23) there are no remedies for marriage problems, parenting issues, depression, anxiety, addiction, or anger. In fact, the counselee and the counseling can “do nothing,” without the True Vine of nourishment and hope.
A counselee enters the counseling office at perhaps the most crucial point in his/her life. Perhaps they are thinking of suicide, considering divorce, contemplating an affair, or simply seek escape. We must not throw them a communicational technique, an emotional release, or a psychiatric medication; but rather let us give them the Chief Cornerstone (1 Peter 2:6) upon which they can build a structure that can withstand all of life’s storms and challenges (Matthew 7:24-25).
As biblical counselors, we must expand our spiritual calling if we are to be effective and useful to the Kingdom. We may never preach a revival or conduct an altar call, but we have an ordained role as witnesses and advocates of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are indeed evangelists, one and all.
The Counseling Process
The process of evangelism in biblical counseling requires the counselor’s attention to the leading of the Holy Spirit, as He reveals the true condition of the counselee’s heart. When the counselee is a confessed believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, there should be evidence of the indwelling Spirit in his/her life and an affinity that we experience when in relationship with him/her. John wrote:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 Jn 4:1).
In counseling we often fail to “test the spirits” and instead accept the verbal report of conversion without question. Yet many in our churches today have been led astray by “false prophets” and now claim a salvation that is grounded in partial truth. And remember, partial truth is a total lie!
If we do not test and search the heart of our counselees, then we might lose this opportunity to deliver the life-changing truth they, and their families, need. John provides the remaining equation of discernment:
We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 Jn 4:6).
Hence, as we speak of God, Jesus, and the principles of a biblical life, the Holy Spirit will reveal a spirit of kinship as adopted children or one of disharmony and unfamiliarity. In other words, we recognize our own family when they draw near. This begins to determine our role and call with a particular client. Soon we learn if we are working on issues of restoration or first the matter of salvation.
The Word of God further defines our assessment. Our counselee’s response to, and understanding of Scripture, will reveal much about his/her heart condition. Paul wrote:
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. (1 Cor 2:14).
Hebrews 4 tells us that the Word of God is “able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (v 12). Jesus said: “the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day” (Jn 12:48b).
As the counselor speaks biblical truth, defines biblical limits, and seeks biblical submission, the counselee will reveal his/her spirit, thoughts, intents, and end. Jesus said: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me… (Jn 10:27).
Upon these defining factors we develop our spiritual assessment. This assessment is critical in shaping the course and outcome of the counseling so that both the counselee’s current crisis and eternal security are addressed in a way that answers God’s use of this moment in time.
Counselees and counselors are often too concerned with the immediate, while God is concerned with the eternal. We search for solutions while God, through His Son, has already provided the Answer. If we ground ourselves in the goals and the workings of the Kingdom as revealed in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, then we will be the godly counsel (Ps 1:1) God intended.
Steve came for counseling at the request of his wife Ann. They have been married 15 years and have two children in elementary school. Two days ago, Steve “shocked” Ann with divorce papers and the announcement that he had been unhappy “for years.” Steve is a successful business owner, a good father, and a respected member of a local church. He teaches Sunday school and sings in the choir. He enters the first counseling session:
Steve: “I have decided to get a divorce and there is no way you can talk me out of it. I am here simply to appease my wife. I know you’re a Christian Counselor…I’m a Christian too. So I don’t need you to quote a bunch of Scriptures about what I should or shouldn’t do.”
Counselor: “As a Christian, you already know what the Bible teaches about divorce…correct?”
Counselor: “Good. Then you already know that divorce is sin.”
Steve: “According to some interpretations. I don’t take every word ‘literally.’ I think there is room for current-day applications. The world isn’t the way it was in biblical times.”
At this point in the session, I was prompted to remember Paul’s writings to the church at Corinth:
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor 1:18).
I wondered about Steve’s true spiritual condition. Praying silently I asked the Lord to open Steve’s heart and to direct my intervention to the most basic need. Clearl a debate over scriptural teachings on the sin of divorce would bear no fruit with Steve.
Counselor: “You seem to have some very clear opinions regarding the Bible and I see no point in challenging them.”
Counselor: “Tell me though, when did you come to know the Lord.”
Steve: “Come to know Him? I’ve always known Him! I was raised in the church and Sunday school and I still am very active. The fact that my marriage is not working out does not change that.”
Counselor: “So if your life ended today, you are confident that you would go to Heaven?”
Steve: “Of course!”
Steve: “Why? That’s a stupid question! Because I have always been in church and I am a good person even if I don’t stay married…that’s why!”
Counselor: “So you would go to Heaven because you have faithfully attended church and because you are a ‘good person.’”
Steve: “Yes. We all will get there one way or another.”
As the session advanced, the spiritual assessment grew dire. One could assume that Steve’s inability to see his sin and thwart his departure from the marriage was grounded in his acceptance of a false gospel. He rested in the incorrect theology that good people…church people…maybe all people…get to Heaven “one way or another.”
Just as in the case of a medical emergency, the counselor must triage and prioritize his/her treatment to the most serious condition presented. A doctor cannot treat a twisted ankle that is painful ahead of a heart attack that may be fatal. The biblical counselor cannot address an incorrect perception of marriage when eternal security is at stake. And remember, the counselor may have only one opportunity to respond with the truth.
Counselor: “Steve if you were wrong about any of this, would you want someone to tell you?”
Steve: “Wrong about going to Heaven?”
Steve: “Well of course I would.”
Counselor: “Steve will you allow me to show you some important passages in the Bible that address this very issue?”
Steve: “You aren’t going to show me a bunch of stuff about ‘the sin of divorce’ are you?”
Counselor: “No. You have made it clear that your mind is set on divorce. I can’t persuade you otherwise. I simply want to show you what the Bible says about eternal life and spiritual security.”
Steve: “Sure that sounds interesting. I enjoy discussing different views of eternity.”
The spiritual assessment of Steve was crucial in the process of his recovery. As the Holy Spirit prompted me that Steve might not be a child of God and was in fact “perishing,” the focus and course of the first session changed. I was led to leave the marital issue for now, knowing that until there is a relationship with Christ, there can be no godly sorrow for error in the marriage, no repentance, and no correction of sin (2 Cor 7:10).
The Holy Spirit guided me to “test the spirit” (1 Jn 4:1) of Steve; to note “the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 Jn 4:6) that was evident in his acceptance of a false gospel; and then allow God’s Word to “judge the thoughts and intentions” of Steve’s heart (Heb 4:12).
Over the next few sessions Steve heard the true and complete Gospel of Jesus and accepted Christ as his Savior and Lord. What about his marriage? As a born-again believer, the scriptures relating to marriage have a whole new meaning for Steve. He has ruled out divorce as an option and is working with his wife toward a biblically sound and healthy marriage. Thankfully we treated the heart ahead of the twisted ankle and the counselee was saved.