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Scripture and Counseling
By Bob Kellemen, Jeff Forrey
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2014 Biblical Counseling Coalition
All rights reserved.
The Richness and Relevance of God's Word
The Bible is for you, me, and us. As a gift from God, the Bible benefits us (2 Tim. 3:16 – 17). It also touches life in so many different ways. In fact, simply stated, the Bible is about what life is about.
In the pages of the Bible you read the stuff of life, stuff that, since the Garden (Gen. 3:1 – 24), emanates from life in a broken world. There are births, weddings, children, and deaths. There are times of peace and times of war. There are periods of work and rest. There are heroes and villains. The range of emotions seems endless. There are moments of jubilation and moments of extreme sadness. There are times of hope and times of despair. There are songs of deliverance and songs of lament. There are stories that capture the best and the worst of human beings. You read of love, patience, kindness, and delight as well as hate, impatience, abuse, and sorrow. Just as life brings with it many ups and downs, so also do the pages of the Bible. The Bible is addressed to the living about living.
The Bible is also about what counseling is about. We live in a broken world where life is teeming with difficulties, pressures, concerns, and tough circumstances. These pressure-filled situations provide the backdrop for interaction between believers. The Bible speaks about the various situations that fill conversational ministry, whether formal, informal, across a fence, or in a small group—wherever and whatever the circumstance. Some days it is easier to see the connection than others. Consider how the Bible speaks into the following stories:
Bill and Joan celebrated thirteen years of marriage. One month after their anniversary, Joan noticed that Bill seemed more distant than usual. He stayed increasingly longer and longer at work. When she eventually confronted him regarding his schedule and an increase in text messaging, Bill confessed to a relationship with a woman at work where he was committing marital infidelity.
Steve and Amanda prayed diligently to get pregnant. After a year of desiring a baby, Amanda finally became pregnant. Together they shared the news with their families and church, prepared the baby's room, and considered names. At the thirty-week OB-GYN visit and ultrasound, they learned there were significant difficulties with the baby. Amanda delivered the baby four weeks later; he lived only hours.
Jennifer made the college cheerleading squad. All through high school she prepared for just this day. The attention to her weight that started as preparation to make the big jump between high school and college performance levels had morphed into an obsession with her weight and appearance. After collapsing on the field house floor and being rushed to the hospital, the doctor diagnosed her with anorexia nervosa.
Bryan regretted turning twenty-seven alone. His dream of marriage seemingly withered daily. All the guys with whom he had gone to college were now married and, in Bryan's mind, enjoying all the pleasures of marriage. Bryan confessed to his small group an insatiable addiction to pornography.
Tom and Marian arrived at church with all five boys in tow. Although married for only seven years, God blessed their home with five boys ages six and under. What seemed like the perfect family at church in actuality was a war zone at home. Tom suffered abuse in his early elementary years and was determined to protect his boys from similar things. As his oldest son inched closer to the age when Tom was abused, his efforts to control and protect angered Marian beyond description.
Patrick and Donna loved each other. Or maybe not. One day they broadcast the news of their engagement. The next day one or both of them would question if it was really God's will to marry this person. But then, full steam ahead. Or not. Back and forth they went, trying to determine if God really wanted them to get married. Both spoke eloquently of their love for each other; however, both wondered if they were meant to be together.
You have just read six circumstances with varied levels of difficulty. For some, the biblical solution seems easy; for others, not so much. However, the Bible does speak in rich, relevant, and robust ways into each of these life situations. To understand how the Bible connects with each of these and with all other life circumstances, it is necessary to answer two questions:
1. What is unique about the content of the Bible?
2. What is unique about the character of the Bible?
THE UNIQUE CONTENT OF THE BIBLE
The Bible was written to you and for you as you live life. The words of Scripture—its content—came to the original readers as conversations from God to them about life. Today we get to read and consider the eternal truths embedded in these conversations as opportunities to apply them to life. This cross-generational quality of the Bible highlights the Bible's necessity, relevance, clarity, and profundity. What specifically in the content, then, helps us recognize these qualities in the text?
Your Life Purpose
The Bible is necessary because it provides us with our purpose in life: to glorify God through imitating Jesus. Genesis 1 – 2 tells the story of God creating the universe and everything in it, including humanity, and describes how perfect it was. The creation of man and woman in the image of God was the crowning moment of the creation week. Genesis records, "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). Pleased with the finished work of creation, God rested.
By the third chapter of the biblical narrative, the perfect turned imperfect, the innocent turned guilty, the sinless turned sinful, and the blessed turned cursed. Adam and Eve sinned (vv. 1 – 7). Although maintaining the image of God, Adam and Eve no longer shared the perfect quality of that image, for they had fallen. However, God made a promise of a future seed and provided coverings for them that began the process of mankind's redemption (vv. 15, 21). At the apex of human history, Jesus, a shining light, came from heaven to earth to provide redemption by dying for the sins of humanity (Rom. 5:8). Without Jesus, redemption is impossible. From Eden on in the history of humanity, God works for the redemption of people (Rom. 5:1 – 21). His redeemed people look for the final blessing fully realized in the kingdom and the King (Rev. 21).
GOD'S AGENDA: LIFE CHANGE
As followers of Christ living our lives from day to day, God is actively working toward our good according to His good purposes (Eph. 1:11 – 12). God is active. Similar to a great orchestration under the direction of a master conductor, God works all circumstances for our good. Paul wrote, "We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28). All things working together means that the orchestration of all life circumstances culminates for our good. All life circumstances include the various life situations mentioned above and every other situation as well. God uses the worst of times and the best of times—both are included in the "all things."
Paul explained the reason God uses all things for our good. "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers" (Rom. 8:29). The reason: God's agenda for the believer is to become conformed to the image of Jesus. Although God's plan unfolds in time, it is settled in eternity (notice all the past tense verbs). God plans for us to be like Christ, the perfect prototype. God plans for all His sons and daughters to become similar to His Son—to conform them. Christlikeness is the goal. Events and circumstances orchestrated and ordained by God are the tools He uses to bring about this goal.
GOD'S PROCESS: THE SPIRIT THROUGH THE WORD
God's change process takes place in His children by the Holy Spirit working through God's Word. The Spirit of God transforms the believer as God restores the believer in the image of Christ. Paul also wrote, "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18). The believer beholds Christ, the perfect image of the glory of God (John 1:14). The believer sees God's glory best as it is expressed through the pages of the Word.
God uses the Bible through the Spirit's power as He equips His children "for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:17). Paul wrote in Romans, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom. 12:2). The renewal of the believer's mind takes place by the power of the Spirit as the believer reads and meditates on the Scriptures. It is in this process of reading and applying the Scriptures in community with the body of Christ while living life daily that the believer grows into Christlikeness.
YOUR GOAL: TO BE LIKE CHRIST AND BRING GOD GLORY
The Bible plus circumstances (Rom. 8:28) provide the believer with the ultimate opportunity to grow and change. It is in these individual, yet essential, moments of life where the follower of Christ chooses between bringing glory to God—which is Christlike—or not (1 Cor. 10:31). It is in these individual moments where the believer chooses to live for something—either for God or self. As the waves of life circumstances continually crash on the shore of life, with each new wave the believer must choose how to respond, what to live for, and whom to live for.
Jesus summarized the choices in each moment of life with precision. He encapsulated the law in two great commandments: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 22:37 – 40; cf. Deut. 6:4 – 5).
As you face any moment of life, you choose between loving God and your neighbor or loving self. You determine if you are going to live for God in Christ or live for yourself. You decide what is most important to you: Am I going to bring God glory and love Him, or am I going to love myself? You choose whom or what you will love, serve, or worship in this moment of life in a particular circumstance.
IN SUMMARY: THE NECESSITY OF THE BIBLE
Therefore, the Bible is necessary because God calls us to glorify Him by becoming like Christ. It is in the pages of Scripture where we learn who He is, why we need Him, and how to be like Him. When learning about Christ, we learn who we are, what we could be, and what we will be. If there were no Scriptures, there would be no possibility of salvation and the redemption process (Acts 4:12). Furthermore, as those who have received salvation, our love for Christ drives us back to the Scriptures so that we can know Him more. We desire to grow in our intimate knowledge of Christ, and Christ is found in the Bible.
The consistent call to glorify God through becoming like Jesus, who loved God first and foremost and always sought to bring Him glory, insists on the absolute necessity of bringing Scripture to bear in each and every circumstance of life. Not one part of life lived on earth falls outside of the comprehensive nature of the commands given by God to direct us in those circumstances. Thus, the Bible by necessity must speak into each of those circumstances. We need the Bible in order to fulfill God's purpose for our lives.
Our Walk through Life
The Bible provides the parameters for honoring God in the midst of life circumstances. Without the Bible, believers could not understand the extent to which being like Christ changes each aspect of our experience.
JESUS EXPECTS US TO FOLLOW HIM
Before Jesus left the earth, He challenged the disciples, saying to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:18 – 20). The process Jesus describes is often called discipleship.
Jesus commanded the apostles to make disciples. He invested in the apostles and expected them to reinvest themselves in other Christ followers. After evangelism and Christian baptism, the apostles were to teach the new disciples to observe all that Jesus had commanded. There are two components to Jesus' instruction: (1) to teach and (2) to observe. The apostles were responsible for teaching the new believers whatever Jesus had commanded. This is impossible without the words of Christ serving as the content for that teaching as captured in the Bible. Furthermore, they were to teach so that future disciples could observe/obey. The apostles taught the next generation of Christ followers the content of what Jesus said and then how to live it out in daily life and relationships, which emphasizes the relevance of the teaching.
This command to carefully obey Jesus' words was not a new idea. Jesus had repeatedly told His disciples that if they loved Him, they would keep His commandments (John 14:15 – 31). Jesus even connected inward abiding in Christ with the outward manifestation of obedience to His commands (John 15:10). Further, the apostle John understood Jesus' lessons and applied Jesus' teaching in his epistle. He wrote, "By this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says 'I know him' but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:3 – 4). John also connected obedience to Jesus' words with answered prayer, abiding in God, and loving one another (1 John 3:21 – 24). He wrote, "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:2 – 3). Therefore, John caught that Jesus expected all future disciples to follow carefully in total obedience to what He taught. Jesus knew that the content of what He taught His first disciples would be equally relevant for daily living for all those disciples who followed after them.
Likewise, when Paul gave Timothy instructions on how to be a faithful minister of Jesus Christ, he exhorted him to take the teaching of Christ, which Timothy had learned from Paul, and hold fast to the teachings by the power of the Spirit (2 Tim. 1:13 – 14). Paul wrote, "What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2). The process is cross-generational. The transmission of truth from one person to another, from one generation to another, produces disciples. The relevancy of the content to daily living makes this process so vital to the discipleship process.
WALKING WORTHY OF OUR CALLING
Paul further emphasized the relevance of the Scriptures in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul commanded the believers in Ephesus to live consistent with the redemption they received in Christ. Paul wrote, "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called" (Eph. 4:1). Their calling refers to their salvation as it had been developed throughout the first three chapters of Ephesians. Their walking refers to their lifestyle, which Paul continued to develop throughout the rest of the book. The word worthy relates to a scale, so if weight A is equal to weight B, then the weights would be considered "worthy," or equivalent to each other. So Paul taught the Ephesians that they should expect to live life equal to or equivalent to their salvation or redemption.
Excerpted from Scripture and Counseling by Bob Kellemen, Jeff Forrey. Copyright © 2014 Biblical Counseling Coalition. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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