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The Reformation and Biblical Counseling (Part Two)

In part one of this series, the topic of the importance of the Reformation was explored. The Reformers such as Martin Luther, Jean Calvin, and Urich Zwingli sought to return back to roots of a Biblical Christianity, mainly that a person is justified (i.e., declared “not guilty”) by God alone. This was expressed by the Reformers in what became known as the five solas.  The first sola that was examined was sola fidae (faith alone), and how the biblical counselor, and the counselee they work with, have faith in the promises that God has given to the saint. Even if the biblical counselor works with a person who is an unbeliever, the biblical counselor is still motivated by their faith in God’s promises, driving them to be truthful with their words and gracious in their deeds to the person who does not believe in Christ.

Now we turn our attention to the next sola, and this is sola gratia or grace alone. This particular sola teaches us that justification is a work we cannot earn from God. Paul writes this very clearly in Ephesians 2:1-9:

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind , and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.Eph. 2:1-9 NASB emphasis mine

Justification before God has to be by grace, and cannot be by our own works. All of us are born dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). We all have earned, not grace, but the wrath of God due to the debt of sin that we have racked up before Him (Eph. 2:2-3). In fact, it is this same grace of God given to the church age saint that continues to preserve the nation of Israel (Rom. 11:1-7). 

So what does sola gratia have to do with Biblical Counseling? Grace alone is not only a quality a biblical counselor reminds a counselee concerning their justification, but it is also a quality that is found in a believer’s sanctification, as Paul underscores when he writes to Titus:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.Titus 2:11-14 NASB

It is the grace of God that has appeared (i.e., Jesus Christ) that has brought salvation to all men through His sacrifice on the cross on our behalf for our sin and God’s wrath. Because of this reality, the grace that we have been given instructs us to do two things:

  1. It causes the believer to deny ungodliness (v. 11 and 13): Paul tells us the reason that the believer is to reject unregenerate behavior and desires, is not because the saint is not attempting to receive the grace of God, but that the saint has already received the grace of God in Christ, and they are now free to deny these lawless works.

2. It causes the believer to live sensibly, righteously, and godly (vs. 12-13): Grace motivates the person to live a temperate, self-controlled life doing good deeds that please God by the faith the saints possess. 

The biblical counselor, with an understanding of the grace in sanctification, will work from this position. The biblical counselor will point the counselee back to the reason why they are to reject sinful behavior: Not because they are trying to earn the faithfulness and grace of God, but because God has been faithful and gracious to them, even when they have been unfaithful to Him.  The biblical counselor, working from grace will also point the counselee, not only to the things they are not supposed to do (i.e., deny ungodliness) but to the things they are supposed to do (i.e., live sensibly, righteously, and godly). For example, a biblical counselor may ask believer who is having trouble with sinful anger, “How do you suppose the grace of God would affect the way you would respond in your anger?” or, “How is the grace of God instructing you to cast off this intense anger, and respond in a more temperate manner?” or even, “How is being self-controlled in your anger a good work God desires you to do?” 

A biblical counselor who is working with an unbeliever (which could be possible) also works from this position understanding that this grace has even appeared to the counselee that is before them by way of the gospel. The biblical counselor will still operate from a position of grace and truth for their unbelieving counselee (Col. 4:5-6), working with them, and looking for an opportunity to share this grace that has appeared to all men. 

In addition, the biblical counselor would also not use the Law as a method or way of changing someone’s behavior.  The Law’s dual purpose is to give one knowledge of their own sin (Rom. 3:26), and it is a schoolmaster that leads a person to the grace that will instruct them (Gal. 3:24-25). The entire purpose of the Law is not for justification or sanctification, but for condemnation (Rom. 3:23)! A biblical counselor may use the Law make one aware of their unrighteousness before God, but for the Biblical counselor to use the Law to conform a counselee’s behavior, according to sacred Scripture may be well-intentioned, but is not biblical.

Sola gratia (grace alone) is not only at the center of justification before God, it is also at the center of sanctification for the believer. The biblical counselor understanding this quality would work with believers and unbelievers under this quality. Working with believers to deny ungodliness, lawless deeds, and living sensibly, righteously and eagerly desiring good works and working with believers looking for the opportunity to tell them about the source of that grace-the gospel of Christ.  The biblical counselor also understands the use of the Law as in to reveal sin and leads one to the grace of God in Christ, but it is truly by grace alone a person throws off their sinful deeds and becomes zealous for good works. 

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

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