Thanksgiving Day and The Christian Attitude

FeaturedThanksgiving Day and The Christian Attitude

Christmas time is a holiday celebrated throughout the world as many Christians reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ and what this birth has meant for the world at large. However, there is another important holiday that may have a tendency to be overlooked by many and this is the holiday of Thanksgiving.

The history of Thanksgiving is not just a uniquely American holiday but in terms of the Christian faith is extremely significant. The previous concept of a day of Thanksgiving comes from George Washington, the first president of the United States, who had issued a proclamation for a day of “Thanksgiving and prayer” for all fellowships and denominations on January 1, 1795, in light of the victory of the American Revolution. A portion of George Washington’s proclamation is stated in the following paragraph:

…I, George Washington, President of the United States, do recommend to all religious societies and denominations, and to all persons whomsoever, within the United States to set apart and observe Thursday, the 19th day of February next, as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, and on that day to meet together and render their sincere and hearty thanks to the Great Ruler of Nations for the manifold and signal mercies which distinguish our lot as a nation.

George Washington. Proclamation 6—Day of Public Thanksgiving. Retrived from: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=65500.

George Washington’s motive for this proclamation was to seek the Lord, thank Him for all of the blessings that He provided, and to keep the citizens from a proud heart, as noted below:

I, George Washington, President of the United States, do recommend to all religious societies and denominations, and to all persons whomsoever, within the United States to set apart and observe Thursday, the 19th day of February next, as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer…for the prosperous course of our affairs, public and private; and at the same time humbly and fervently to beseech the kind Author of these blessings graciously to prolong them to us; to imprint on our hearts a deep and solemn sense of our obligations to Him for them; to teach us rightly to estimate their immense value; to preserve us from the arrogance of prosperity, and from hazarding the advantages we enjoy by delusive pursuits; to dispose us to merit the continuance of His favors by not abusing them; by our gratitude for them, and by a correspondent conduct as citizens and men…

George Washington. Proclamation 6—Day of Public Thanksgiving. Retrived from: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=65500.

A day of Thanksgiving, for George Washington had in mind a day set aside for the saints to pray, reflect, and ponder the goodness of God and His benefits to the citizens of a young nation. The same idea was echoed by James Madison, the fourth president of the United States when he writes:

It is for blessings such as these, and more especially for the restoration of the blessing of peace, that I now recommend that the second Thursday in April next be set apart as a day on which the people of every religious denomination may in their solemn assemblies unite their hearts and their voices in a freewill offering to their Heavenly Benefactor of their homage of thanksgiving and of their songs of praise.

James Madison. Proclamation 20-Recommending a Public Day of Thanksgiving For Peace. Retrieved from: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=65984.

The proclamations of both George Washington and James Madison (and even Abraham Lincoln in his proclamation set aside the last day in November as officially Thanksgiving Day) highlights a very important characteristic of the saint, and this is the attitude of thanksgiving.

There are many verses in the Scriptures that discuss the saints and their thanksgiving to the Lord. If the Israelites wanted to offer a “sacrifice of thanksgiving” to the Lord they would do so by a peace offering (Lev. 7:11-14). This specific offering was to honor God and how He was the source of their provision and sustenance. There were those in Israel who were charged with singing songs of thanksgiving to the Lord (Lev. 22:29; Neh. 12:7). A person who played a musical instrument was to offer thanksgiving to the Lord (Ps. 33:2). Additionally, the Psalms are replete with the psalmist offering praises of thanksgiving to God for His works (c.f., Ps. 6:5; 9:1; 18:49; 26:7; 30:4, 12; 42:4; 50:14; 69:30; 95:2; 107:1, 22; 116:27; 136:1-26; 147:27). 

In the New Testament, there are many verses that speak to the attitude of thanksgiving in light of the Christian’s attitude. Paul often addressed the saints by personally giving thanks to God in his letters (c. f., Rom. 1:8; 1 Cor. 1:4; Phil. 1:3; 1 Thess 1:2;). Paul also instructed the saints to be thankful to God and His works (Col. 3:5, 3:17; Eph. 5:4, 5:17-20). A believer can give thanksgiving, not just by praying but singing to the Lord (Col. 3:16-17). It is observed for the Christian to be thankful in every circumstance, good and bad, is also within the will of God (1 Thess. 5:17-18). The author of Hebrews mentions when a believer gives God thanksgiving they are giving a sacrifice of praise to Him, expressing their gratitude to God and His benefits (Heb. 13:5). In other words, thankfulness for the Christian is not just reserved for one day out of the year, but it is to be an essential quality of the believer’s life.

By contrast, the unbeliever refuses to honor the Lord as God and does not give thanks to Him and the things He has done. As Paul addressing the believers in Rome stated below:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

Rom. 1:18-22 NASB emphasis mine

This is the reason both George Washington and James Madison proclaimed a day of thanksgiving to churches in the establishment of this nation: to remember the Lord and all of His benefits. They understood that without the providence and goodness of God, this nation would have not been successful and would not endure. They also understood that it would keep the hearts of those who sought Him humble, knowing that all things that are given to men are given because of the hand of God. The modern history of why Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday is far divorced from the origins of the proclamations of Washington, Madison, and LincolnHowever, the eternal word of God still to this day instructs every believer to give thanks to Him, irrespective of the events and the day. For the believer in Christ, every day is literally “Thanksgiving Day.”

As believers in Christ who are looking forward to Thanksgiving Day let us reflect and give thanks to the Lord for all of the things that He has done and has given to us, not just for the turkey and stuffing with all of the side dishes on the table. In addition, let us continue to give thanks to Him beyond this particular day. For by doing this we are completing the very will of God for us and giving honor and glory to Him. 

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

 

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Reclaiming A Historical Behavioral Science: How The Reformation Laid The Groundwork For A Biblical Psychology

Reclaiming A Historical Behavioral Science: How The Reformation Laid The Groundwork For A Biblical Psychology

There have been many believers, in modern times that have been apprehensive when it comes to the study of psychology.  This has been with good reason since there have been theories and models have been antithetical and hostile to the teachings of sacred Scripture. One such person is Sigmund Freud, the creator of the psychoanalytic theory, who believed that religion (specifically Christianity) was just an invention of the mind to deal with the guilt that human beings experience.

There are many believers that state that the field of psychology has found its origins in Sigmund Freud. After detailing what a chaplain said regarding how “the religious approach” was no good in a mental health institution, one such person wrote the following sentence:

How has [this rejection of a religious approach] come about? What is its base? The answer lies in the fundamentals of Freudian theory and therapy.

Adams. J., (1970). Compent To Counsel. Zondervan. Grand Rapids, MI. p. 10.

This author even goes on to say that Sigmund Freud is the chief propagator for the justification of sinful behavior in modern times:

Freud has not made people irresponsible; but he has provided a philosophical and psudeoscientific rationale for irresponsible people to use to justify themselves. Freud is a cause of the ills in modern society only as a complicating factor and not a basic cause of those ills. The ultimate cause is sin

Adams. J., (1970). Compent To Counsel. Zondervan. Grand Rapids, MI. p. 17.

There is no doubt that Sigmund Freud and his ideas found in the psychoanalytic model have run against a biblical worldview. There are some who teach because Freud had a significant impact on this discipline that the origin of psychology began with him, and that a Christian who is serious about counseling should not engage with the field or study of psychology.  However, what those who state this fail to observe is that the field of psychology may actually find its roots, not in Sigmund Freud and the psychoanalytic theory, but in the Protestant Reformation under a man by the name of Philip Melancthon.

October 31st, 1517 marked the start of the Reformation when Martin Luther took the 95 Theses, a treatise on some of the works of indulgences that were among the Roman Catholic Church, and nailed it on the door of the Wittenberg church in Germany. This act was the foundation for returning back to the Scriptures alone for life, doctrine, and practice rather than church tradition or ecclesiastical authority.  It was a year later (1518) when Philip Melanchthon held the position of Chairman of Greek at the University of Wittenberg and became acquainted with Martin Luther. From this point Philip Melanchthon worked alongside Martin Luther and became extremely influential in the Reformation as an author comments below:

A valuable ally, who later supplemented Luther’s bold courage with his gentle reasonableness, came to Wittenberg as a professor of Greek in 1518. At the age ot twenty-one Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) was already well trained in the classical languages an Hebrew. While Luther became the great prophetic voice of the Reformation, Melanchthon became its theologian. 

Cairns., E. (1967). Christianity through the centruies. Zondervan. Grand Rapids. p. 315. 

Philip Melanchthon believed in the authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures. He was a defender of sola Scriptura, rejecting the ecclesiastical traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, the Magisterium, and canon law. Philip Melanchthon was also a major proponent of what became known as the Augsburg Confession, which was (and still is) the official creed of the Lutheran church.

Philip Melanchthon also desired to conform disciplines to the teaching of the Scriptures. He commented on the topic of psychology in his writings known as Loci Communes (1521), and Commentaruis de anima (1540) with each book having been revised many times. In his forward Commentaruis de anima (1553) Melanchthon wrote in the foreword to his book as follows, “…eam partem doctrinae, quae de anima agit” (i.e., “the part of the physical doctrine that deals with the soul.”) (cited by Holzapfel, W & Eckardt, G, 1999). Historically Philip Melanchthon did not see psychology as a stand-alone discipline but as a discipline that was under the umbrella of philosophy, which an author notes below:

According to Melanchthon philosophy includes three branches: 1) artes dicendi (dialectics and rhetoric), 2) physiologia, which contains for example physics, psychology, and mathematics, and, 3) praecepta de civilibus moribus (ethics). Melanchthon assigned psychology to physiology-the scientific branch of philosophy. That is why he saw his treatise upon the soul as a part of a conception of physics.

Holzapfel, W & Eckardt, G., (1999) Philip Melanchthon’s psychological thinking under the influence of humanism, reformation, and empirical orientation. Vol. 20., num 4. p.7

Philip Melanchthon rejected the ideas and the notions of a philosophy that did not have God at the center. He believed that God was the Creator of all things, was the Source of all truth, and that the Scriptures undergirded the basis for scientific rationale in the modern era. The ideas outlined in his books were taught in universities around Europe for over 150 years. His legacy left an impact not just in the area of theology, but also in the field of psychology found in philosophy.

However, despite the significant contributions to this field of study, and his central focus of sola scriptura, there was a limitation concerning his view. Even though he promoted the instruction of sola scriptura he looked to the philosophers of Aristotle to build and established his psychology:

Melanchthon structured the field of psychology following Aristotle, who differentiated between the soul of plants, animals, and humans.

Holzapfel, W & Eckardt, G., (1999) Philip Melanchthon’s psychological thinking under the influence of humanism, reformation, and empirical orientation. Vol. 20., num 4. p.8

In his attempt to build a God-centered approach to psychology he took most of his influence from a philosopher, not from sacred Scripture. It is clear through his works Loci Communes, and Commentaruis de anima he attempted to build and establish a cohesive approach that was God-glorifying. However, even though he was pursuing to harmonize the study of the soul with theology, due to his philosophical approach, he was inconsistent.

This is a brief study observing the life of Philip Melanchthon and his observation in the field of psychology, however, one thing is clear: Psychology, as a discipline, does not find its origin in Sigmund Freud or the Psychoanalytic theory. Philip Melanchthon who played a significant role in the Reformation sought to observe the discipline of philosophy and all of its “branches,” such as psychology, from a theological worldview desiring to establish the discipline in its proper place. Yet he failed in this endeavor due to the fact his psychology built on a theological/philosophical perspective, not from a Biblical perspective. Nevertheless, psychology (or pyschologia as he called it) has a history within the Protestant Reformation, and he sought to observe God’s truth in all areas and subjects of life.

There should be a healthy caution when approaching this discipline of psychology in light of its theories and concepts. As Christians who are pursuing the truth let us not be afraid of the discipline itself. In fact, let us take the passion of Martin Luther, and Philip Melanchthon in desiring to stay true to the Scriptures and continue the reformation not just in the area theology, but also in the field of psychology. The Reformation was established on challenging and reforming the ecclesiastical ideas and the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church back to Scripture alone, and believers in Christ should do the same with the ideas and concepts found in psychology.

Let us take up the challenge and continue the rich legacy of the Protestant Reformation, not to throw away the field of psychology, but to reform it, and continue to reform it in accordance with the Scriptures, all for the glory of God. Amen.

Semper Reformanda!!

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

 

The Reformation and Biblical Counseling (Part Five)

The Reformation and Biblical Counseling (Part Five)

In the last article a fourth sola of the Reformation, sola Scriptura (scripture alone) and how this influences a biblical counselor was observed. The biblical counselor, using God’s word, works with the believing counselee equipping them for good works. In addition, the biblical counselor works alongside the unbelieving counselee using the universal truth of God’s word looking for the opportunity to share the gospel of Christ to them. Lastly, the counselor, holding to sola Scriptura, strives to explain and apply the truth of the Scriptures to the counselee’s problem accurately, using a consistent literal-grammatical and historical method when serving their counselees.

The last and final sola promoted by the Reformers was soli deo Gloria (i.e., glory to God alone). This last sola expresses the acknowledgment of who God truly is in how He has revealed Himself to mankind in His word. In addition, the glory of God also has everything to do with His works within the world. Martin Luther, in many of his writings, emphasized the glory of God in Christ Jesus and His perfect work on the cross for the salvation of man from eternal damnation. John (Jean) Calvin described the glory of God not just being found in the salvation of man, but in all of the works of God under heaven.

When it comes to the saint and the glory of God this is the reason the Christian lives and breathes. Paul mentions this reality of the glory of God to the saints who resided at Corinth:

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

1 Cor. 10:31 NASB

In the immediate context surrounding this verse, Paul is giving some counsel concerning eating meat sacrificed to idols in the city of Corinth. Paul explains that if the saint purchased meat sacrificed to idols that they should eat it, understanding that idols (i.e., false gods) do not exist (v. 26). Furthermore, Paul informs the churches of Corinth that if an unbeliever invites them over for dinner not to ask questions about the food, but to eat freely, strengthening the reality that all things belong to the Lord (v. 27). However, if an unbeliever informs them that the meat was sacrificed to idols that they should not eat the mean, not for the sake of the believer’s conscience but for the conscience of the unbeliever (vs. 28-30).

Paul then wrote that whatever the saints in Corinth do, let it be to the glory of God (v. 31). Paul stated that all of the Corthinian saints’  intentional actions; even actions that were of human necessity (e.g., eating, drinking) were to be completed in a manner that acknowledged God in His proper place. No action or work for the saint was outside of the reality of God’s glory.

God’s glory is the central goal of the biblical counselor, not just for how they serve their counselees, but it is the goal for the counselees who come for guidance and direction. The main objective for the biblical counselor is to work alongside a counselee with God’s word so that the counselee observes the glory of God in every area of their life. For example, if a counselee comes to a biblical counselor because they are struggling with a specific active sin (e.g., uncontrolled anger), the biblical counselor knows that the counselee has a very hard time glorifying God with this particular behavior. The biblical counselor would work with a believing counselee, from the Scriptures,  in turning away from their sin of uncontrolled anger and turning to a more self-controlled response, because their uncontrolled anger does not glorify God (Tit. 2:11-12).

The biblical counselor may work with parents in learning how to train their child(ren). As a result, the parents are instructed on how to glorify God in training their children in His word (Eph. 6:3). Consequently, the child(ren) due to the training of the parents may glorify God by obeying their parents in a consistent manner (Eph. 6:1-2). In short, the biblical counselor works with the counselee to be intentional about glorifying God more than they did when they came into the office to receive counseling.

This sola is connected with all of the other solas of the Reformation. A counselee who is coming to resolve a matter may work with a biblical counselor to get refocused on the promises of God (sola fidae). The counselee is reminded that he is saved and sanctified by grace, and begins to ponder how this grace from God would instruct the counselee out of their current problem (sola gratia). The counselee is then reminded that it is due to Christ and His perfect work for the counselee, pointing that counselee back to the source of the believer’s faith (solus Christus). The counselee, along with the biblical counselor, examines the Scriptures taking into consideration context, language, and grammar so that there is proper explanation and application of the text for the counselee (sola scriptura). At the end of the counseling time, the counselee would have a plan of how to address their situation in a manner that acknowledges God (soli Deo gloria). 

How about the biblical counselor who works with an unbeliever?  The unbeliever does not have faith in promises that God has revealed so there is no way this counselee can glorify God. However, this does not mean that the biblical counselor working with the unbeliever cannot glorify God. If the unbeliever refuses to accept the truth of God’s word from the biblical counselor God is still glorified, not in the unbeliever’s conduct, but in the biblical counselor’s intentional actions to take into consideration the eternal, and the temporal problem of the unbelieving counselee, and pointing the counselee to the universal truth of God (c.f. Tit. 3:3; Col. 4:5-6).

Soli Deo gloria is the fifth and final sola of the Reformation. It is the sola that acknowledges God in His due place by thought, word, and deed. It is the sola which all of the other solas highlight. It is also the sola that guides the biblical counselor in everything the biblical counselor says and does in their counseling office. It is also the major motive of the biblical counselor concerning their counselees. All of the work and guidance that the biblical counselor does is to assist the counselee to glorify God more than when they walked in to be counseled.  Even with an unbelieving counselee, the biblical counselor still glorifies God due to the purposeful, and caring intentions the biblical counselor has for the unbelieving counselee.

The Reformation has such a great legacy and biblical counselors holding to these solas as they counsel others, share in this rich and glorious history. May this continue to be as biblical counselors by grace, through faith, in Christ, by the Scriptures serve their counselees all to the glory of God. Amen.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

The Reformation and Biblical Counseling (Part Four)

The Reformation and Biblical Counseling (Part Four)

In the previous article solus Christus (i.e., Christ alone), one of the solas of the Reformation, was explained in light of the work of the biblical counselor. A biblical counselor, operates from solus Christus with the believing counselee, pointing them to the active and perfect finished work of Christ for the counselee. A biblical counselor also works from solus Christus with an unbelieving counselee, assisting them gently and being considerate of all of the problems they have, looking for an opportunity to give them the truth of the good news of Christ for them.

Now we turn our attention to a fourth sola of the Reformation and this is sola scriptura (Scripture alone). Sola scriptura is defined as the biblical teaching that the Bible is the absolute authority for life and worship, which is found by highlighting four aspects: God’s word is authoritative because the word comes from God Himself. God’s word is sufficient for knowing the will of God and what He desires from mankind. Scripture is clear to teach and instruct the saint, and the Scripture is self-explanatory meaning that unclear passages in God’s word are to be understood, not from theological opinion or ecclesiastical explanation, but in light of other clear passages in God’s word. Paul in his letter to Timothy underscores this truth:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…

2 Tim. 3:16 NASB

Sola scriptura was seminal during the Reformation for making the case for justification of the believer by grace through faith in Christ alone for salvation. This sola was in contrast to the teachings of the Roman Catholic church that believed Scripture, church tradition, and the Magisterium were authoritative over the body of Christ. However, the teaching of  Sola scriptura is also important in the process of the sanctification of the believer. Paul mentions this in the proceeding verse to Timothy below:

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

2 Tim 3:16-17 NASB

This sola is important for biblical counselors because the Scriptures are the source by which the counselor assists the counselees in persevering in their progressive sanctification. In fact, this is the reason why the Scriptures are important for a believer because they are connected to the saint’s overall conduct and actions toward God and man.

One of the biblical counselor’s objectives in working with counselees, using God’s word, is guiding them to be equipped to do good works for their neighbor. For instance, for a biblical counselor working with a believing counselee in terms of active sins, they confront the counselee for the purpose of restoration. In effect, the one who is confronted would be admonished to perform good works, which would be to deny their ungodly behavior and act in a sensible and righteous manner (Tit. 2:11-13).  If a biblical counselor is working with a believing counselee who has suffered a loss or an extreme tragedy, the biblical counselor works in comforting the counselee with Scripture, offering them hope so that they may have the strength to continue to do good works (c.f., 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Jas. 1:2-12). If a biblical counselor is dealing with a presenting problem that is outside of the biblical counselor’s scope (such as evaluating an intellectual disability), it is a good work for a biblical counselor to provide a proper referral to the believing counselee so that the counselee can perform a good work to those in their family that have the intellectual disability (c.f. Eph. 2:8-10). All of this work the biblical counselor does with God’s word to assist the counselee in their progressive sanctification.

What about the biblical counselor serving the unbelieving counselee? Even though the works of the unbeliever is unrighteous in the sight of God (Rom. 1:18; 3:23), this does not mean that a biblical counselor’s works are in vain. In fact, the mere willingness of the biblical counselor to serve the person who is an unbelieving counselee is, in fact, a good work for the counselee. The biblical counselor understands due to the sola Scriptura, they are to be gentle and peaceable to unbelieving counselees, as they would their believing counselees (Tit. 3:2).

In addition, the biblical counselor, as I mentioned in the previous article, shows consideration for the cares and concerns of the unbeliever’s troubles, just like the believer’s troubles (c.f. Tit. 3:2). The biblical counselor in conjunction with the Scriptures uses their words carefully, with wisdom, attempting to respond to the believing counselee with grace and truth (c.f. Col. 4:5-6).  Furthermore, the biblical counselor, when working with an unbeliever, uses the universal truth of God’s word (e.g., the Proverbs of Solomon) to address their current problems also looking for the opportunity to share the gospel of Christ Jesus, because God desires the unbelieving counselee to be saved (1 Tim. 2:3-4).

Sola Scriptura also has behind it the idea that a person, fellowship, etc is not to read and explain the Scriptures from the perspective of a religious tradition or perspective. Since the word of God is important to be equipped for good works it is also important to make sure that a biblical counselor explains the Scriptures appropriately. This is why reading the Scriptures consistently in their plain sense, taking into consideration grammar, language, and context is necessary. Moreover, making proper distinctions in the Scriptures is significant to understanding, and explaining, the Scriptures accurately. To misinterpret the sacred Scriptures may lead not only to an improper teaching of the Scriptures but to a misapplication and an improper practice for the counselee.

Sola scriptura (scripture alone) is the doctrine that instructs saints that due to God revealing Himself by special revelation with His word,  it is this particular revelation that He has provided for the Christian that is the ultimate authority for life and practice. However, sola Scriptura is also important for the believer’s progressive sanctification as the word of God alone equips the believer for every good work.  This also includes a biblical counselors observation of the text. A biblical counselor should be careful not to read their traditions into the text, but interpret the Scriptures from a consistent literal-grammatical and historical approach, knowing that a proper explanation leads to a proper application of the text. 

As a biblical counselor continue to trust in sola scriptura (i.e., God’s word alone) for your counselees. By doing this the biblical counselor will be guiding the counselee knowing God’s word equips the believing counselee for good works and leads the unbelieving counselee to the Source of all truth. By doing this you will be honoring and acknowledging God who has given mankind the Scriptures alone to know Him and serve one another.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

 

The Reformation and Biblical Counseling (Part Three)

The Reformation and Biblical Counseling (Part Three)

In the previous article, the importance of sola gratia (grace alone) and biblical counseling was examined. It was shown that grace (i.e., undeserved merit) was not only important for justification but also important for sanctification. Observing Titus 2:11-14 it was shown that the grace which has appeared motives the believer in Christ to do two things: to deny ungodliness wicked living,  and promote the believer to live righteously, and godly in an age of evil. A biblical counselor, in light of this truth, would not attempt to use the Law to conform behavior but will work with their counselee from a perspective of grace, knowing it is this attribute that instructs a person to conform their life to God’s word.

In this third article, we turn our attention to another sola in sacred Scripture and this is solus Christus (Christ alone). This doctrine instructs the believer that the source of their justification, that is reconciliation to God Himself is found in placing our faith in Jesus Christ, and not by any other human work.  This is highlighted by Jesus Himself when He says to His disciples before His death:

1 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. 4 “And you know the way where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
John 14:1-6 NASB emphasis mine
Paul in the epistle to the Romans highlights justification by Christ alone when he writes:
16 Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:16-19 NASB emphasis mine

A believer in Christ can truly say they are saved by works…that is they are saved by the work of Christ and His perfect obedience to the Father alone. It is because of Christ’s work for us: His perfect obedience to the Law of Moses (Matt. 5:17-19), and his attitude of taking on a form of a servant up to the point of death so that we may be forgiven of our sins (Phil. 2:3-11).

Solus Christus is significant for the Biblical counselor. Jesus Christ is the foundation by which the biblical counselor is able to work with the counselee. The biblical counselor who works with a believer, in regards to shame, points the counselee back to the reality that they have been reconciled to God in Christ alone.  In addition, solus Christus is also the foundation by which the sanctification of the believer is built. It is because of the Lord Jesus and what He has done for the Christian that a Biblical counselor has the authority to confront a believing counselee when they actively sin, and refuse to live under the grace of God (1 Cor. 5:6-8). In addition, it is because of the grace of God in Christ that motivates the believer to deny ungodliness behavior and be sensible, righteous, and godly in their conduct (Tit. 2:11-12). Jesus Christ and His attitude of being a servant compel the believer to love their wives (Eph. 5:25; Col. 3:19), respect their husbands (Eph 5:22, 33), and train their children (Eph. 6:1-2). Furthermore, the believer’s attitude is to be like Christ, specifically to have the character of observing other believers better than themselves (Phil. 2:1-11).

Solus Christus is also important when a Biblical counselor works with unbelievers. A Biblical counselor works and strives because they have focused their hope on Jesus Christ and knows He is the savior of all men (1 Tim. 4:10). In addition, the Biblical counselor strives to serve the unbeliever by being peaceable and gentle taking into consideration not just their eternal state, but also the unbeliever’s current problem (Tit. 3:1).

Solus Christus is essential to the biblical counselor because it is the source of why the biblical counselor serves both the believer and the unbeliever. For the counselee who is a believer, especially those who deal with shame, the biblical counselor points them back to the active and perfect work that Christ has done for them. Solus Christus is also the reason why a Biblical counselor can confront the counselee concerning their active sin. For the counselee who is an unbeliever, the biblical counselor is motivated by Christ Jesus to serve them in a way that considers their current, and eternal problem important. 

Let us continue as biblical counselors, who hold to solus Christus to serve counselees with grace and truth. For the believing counselee, the biblical counselor points them not just to their justification in Christ but working with them in regards to the counselee’s presenting problem for the sake of their sanctification. The believer, being peaceable and gentle, assists the unbeliever by working alongside them with their current problems, all the while waiting for the opportunity to share Christ with them. By serving our counselees in this manner the biblical counselor, trusting in Christ alone, glorifies God.

Until Next Time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

 

 

 

The Reformation and Biblical Counseling (Part Two)

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.

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:

  • One is declared justified (i.e., “not guilty”) before God, by faith alone, and not by faith and works.
  • That Scripture alone is the final authority for life, instruction, and practice, and not by Scripture, Church Tradition, and the Magisterium.
  • 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 Him

Hebrews 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.