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The Reformation and Biblical Counseling (Part One)

The 500th year of the Reformation is quickly approaching and Protestants all over the world are reflecting on this significant time in history. It was on October 31st, 1517 where an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther took what became known as his 95 Theses nailing it to the door of the Wittenberg Church in Germany. This one document sparked a doctrinal revival that sought to return the church back to the fundamentals of the biblical faith all over the Western world. Over time, through many other Reformers like Jean Calvin and Urich Zwingli (who even knew Martin Luther), they penned the ideas of what became known as the five solae, which are as follows: sola fidae, sola gratia, sola Scriptura, solus Christus, and soli Deo gloria. These solas and their respective emphases sought to highlight the following points:

  1. One is declared justified (i.e., “not guilty”) before God, by faith alone, and not by faith and works.

  2. That Scripture alone is the final authority for life, instruction, and practice, and not by Scripture, Church Tradition, and the Magisterium.

  3. That one can go to God themselves and has no need for an earthly mediator (i.e., the priesthood of the believer).

Historically, this had everything to do with how a person is justified before God and how one is saved from eternal damnation. These solas, which are at the very heart of biblical truth, are also the very focus for the biblical counselor who assists their counselees. How do they relate to Biblical counseling? Let us observe one for this particular article: Sola fidae.

Sola fidae is the Latin phrase for “faith alone.”  This sola (as mentioned above) states that one is declared just before God by faith and not by any personal merits of the individual. Paul writing to the Roman saints draws attention to this truth:

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness…Romans 4:1-5 NASB emphasis mine

The writer of Hebrews also highlights this truth of sola fidae in the epistle to the Hebrew believers:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the men of old gained approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek HimHebrews 11:1-6 NASB emphasis mine

However, this begs the question: What does faith mean? The author of Hebrews tells us that it is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). However, what are these things that those who have faith hope for? How does this relate to our work as biblical counselors?

When it comes to faith a Christian does not just have faith in God, but a believer also has faith in what He has said to the saint. If you recall in verse in Romans chapter four, it says that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:3). Abraham believed the promises God concerning making Abraham a great nation (Gen. 12:2), and that his descendants would be blessed (Gen. 17:7), and that the nations through him would be blessed (Gen. 12:3; 17:4-5). These were promises that God gave to Abraham and Abraham believed them. This faith in God’s promises underscored Abraham’s (and many of the other Old Testament saints) deeds, not because they were attempting to earn God’s righteousness, but because they had already received His righteousness by believing in what He told them (cf. Jas 2:14-26). 

This is also found in chapter eleven of the book of Hebrews. After the author spends a great deal of time telling the reader about the saints of old and some of the things they accomplished, and endured, because of their faith the author of Hebrews writes:

…And all these [saints], having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.Hebrews 11:39-40 NASB

A believer in Christ has faith that Jesus Christ was sent by God, that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and was raised three days after he was crucified. The saint also believes that God the Holy Spirit lives inside of them, guaranteeing they will be glorified when Christ appears (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14). These specific promises, and many other promises found in His word, are what Christians believe (i.e., have faith in) because God has revealed these promises in His sacred word.

When a biblical counselor is confronting a counselee about their sinful behavior they do so pointing them back to the promises of God for the church, and the example Christ set for believers (Heb. 12:1-3). When counselees are grieving the loss of a saint in death, the biblical counselor points the counselee back to the promise that they will be reunited with the saint who passed when Christ appears to gather His church age saints (1 Thess. 4:13-18). If the biblical counselor has the privilege of working with a person who does not believe in the promises of God (i.e., an outsider), then because of the assurance in the promises of God the biblical counselor believes, they are to assist this person with grace and truth in their words (cf. Col. 4:5-6).

Sola fidae, one of the cries of the Reformation, is at the heart of biblical counseling pointing the counselee, and the biblical counselor, back to the promises that God has given the saints in Christ as He has revealed them in His word. The biblical counselor helps the counselee to fix their gaze back on these promises to give correction, encouragement, comfort, and strength to the believer in difficult times. In addition, sola fidae becomes the motivator for the biblical counselor to serve unbelievers well in their speech and actions, being able to respond to them in a graceful and peaceful manner.

Let us as biblical counselors continue to set our gaze to God and the promises He has freely given to us. For by this we are declared righteous by God, and it is this quality that drives us to serve both believers and unbelievers with excellence.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

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