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.


Biblical Counseling: The Reformed (Covenant) Approach Vs. The Dispensational Approach (Part Five)

In the previous article, we examined the difference between the Reformed and Dispensational approach to Biblical counseling concerning the word nouthetic (or admonish). It was seen that the Reformed approach of nouthetic was appropriate in one aspect of Biblical counseling, and that was instructing a person out of active sin. However, it was too narrow because it did not cover all of the ways a person can admonish as seen in Scripture. In addition, the Reformed position was not broad enough to cover all of the ways a person can be cared for in terms of counseling. By contrast, the Dispensational, due to their Biblical hermeneutic, observes a diverse range of addressing problems based on the context of the problem the counselee is experiencing.

Next, we examine the overarching perspective for the counselee in Biblical counseling. What is the overall aspect of both the Reformed (Covenant) approach and the Dispensational approach?

The founder of nouthetic counseling comes from a man by the name of Jay Adams, who is a devoted Presbyterian, which roots originate from 5-point, or “classical,” Calvinism. The broader Presbyterian tradition instructs from the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechism. In the catechism, it defines the 10 Commandments as the “moral laws” that govern men, and specifically Christians. These are found in Questions 40-42 in the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechism:

Quest. 40. What did God at first reveal to man for the rule of his obedience?
Ans. 40. The rule which God at first revealed to man for his obedience, was the moral law.(1)

Quest. 41. Where is the moral law summarily comprehended?
Ans. 41. The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments.

Quest. 42. What is the sum of the ten commandments?
Ans. 42. The sum of the ten commandments is, To love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as ourselves.

These three particular points found Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechism are the goal of Reformed (Covenant) Counseling: to change behaviors so that they are in the confines of the moral law. Jay Adams underscores this in his book Competent To Counsel:

The overarching purpose of preaching and counseling is God’s glory. But the underneath side of that splendid rainbow is love. A simple biblical definition of love is: The fulfillment of God’s commandments. Love is a relationship conditioned upon responsibility, that is, responsible observance of the commandments of God…Thus the goal of nouthetic counseling is set forth plainly in the Scriptures: to bring men into loving conformity to the law of God (Adams, 55 emphasis mine).

However, the Dispensational counselor has a different goal in mind in counseling Biblically, which is set forth in the Scriptures. Paul writes in his letter to Titus and stated the following:

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…

Titus 2:11-12 NASB

Paul, addressing the churches in Rome, also writes:

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

Rom. 6:12-14 NASB

The Dispensational counselor, unlike the Reformed (Covenant) counselor, does not attempt to alter behaviors and attitudes to conform to the “moral law” (i.e., the Ten Commandments) because the church age saint is not under the Ten Commandments. Instead, the Dispensational counselor seeks to give counsel others from a perspective of grace, and this is the perspective that the Dispensational counselor works from. In fact, the Dispensational counselor would strongly assert there would be no way a counselee could conform to the “moral law” because of the very purpose of the Law, which Paul highlighted in his letter to the Romans:

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

Rom. 2:19-20 NASB

The Counselor who works from a Dispensational view sees that the “moral law” (i.e., the Ten Commandments) give one an awareness of sin, and how they fall short. To attempt to conform a counselee under the “moral law” would be to place a person under a great burden. When a Dispensational counselor works with a counselee their consistent perspective is to work from a position of grace.

This is also not to say that the Dispensational counselor avoids confronting active sin with a counselee. Referring to Paul in his letter to Titus it is the grace of God that instructs the Christian in a two-fold manner: 1. To deny ungodliness and worldly desires, and 2. To live sensibly, righteously, and godly in this present age (Titus 2:11-12). Paul even repeats this in his letter to the Roman believers in which he makes the case they were not under (i.e., to be subject to) the Law but under grace (Rom. 6:12-14)! 

Once more this underscores the “one size fits all ” approach Reformed (Covenant) counselors take. Because they are attempting to conform one to the “moral law” by intrinsic design they have to look at all problems as a result of active sin because this is what the Law is designed to observe. At the same time, the very “moral law” they attempt to use to conform a counselee’s behavior is the same Law that condemns the counselee, because no one can conform themselves to the Law perfectly (which question 82 of the Catechisms also recognize)!

To sum up: The Reformed (Covenant) counselor uses what is known as the “moral law” to guide their counselees. This belief comes from the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechism which teaches the “moral law” is the Ten Commandments. The Dispensational counselor, in contrast to the Reformed (Covenant) counselor, looks not to the “moral law,” but to the grace of God (i.e., Jesus Christ) to instruct the counselee to deny and throw off their active sin and to seek to live a godly life that pleases God. This approach comes not from a catechism, but from a plain consistent literal-grammatical reading of the sacred Scripture.

Let us continue as biblical counselors not to look to models that are built on creeds, confessions, or catechisms. Let us continue to apply secondary applications from a proper Bibliology that come from the truth of the sacred Scriptures. 

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.


Biblical Counseling: The Reformed (Covenant) Approach Vs. The Dispensational Approach (Part Three)

In the last article, we discussed the historical roots of Reformed (Covenant) theology. We observed how the Covenant approach to counselors is a “one size fits all” perspective. We also observed the reason why there is a “one size fits all” approach–the Reformed approach adheres to the Westminster Confession of faith.  This confession was developed as a response to the practices, and instruction of the Roman Catholic Church, and promoted justification by faith alone (sola fidae), in Christ alone (Solus Christus). Because this confession was frozen in time, the Reformed counselor only observes problems and solutions through the lens of active sin and repentance.  The Dispensational approach does not look to confessions but looks to the sacred Scriptures alone to resolve issues to problems.  In addition, a Dispensational counselor uses the applications, or indicatives, in the Bible to address various problems that one has in their life.

Now we turn our attention to the Reformed (Covenant) and Dispensational approach concerning the work of the Holy Spirit, specifically the area of sanctification in Biblical counseling. Those who adhere to a Reformed approach believe the Holy Spirit works in what is known as the “means of grace.” The Westminister Confession states this:

I. Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits; and to confirm our interest in Him: as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to His Word.

II. There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.

III. The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither does the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that does administer it: but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.

IV. There are only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the Gospel; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord: neither of which may be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained.

V. The sacraments of the Old Testament in regard to the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the new.

The Westminster Confession states that the Holy Spirit works within the sacraments, specifically baptism and the Lord’s supper. The Westminster confession also references the practices of the Old Testament. Specifically, circumcision.  One who holds to the Westminster Confession also believes the Holy Spirit does mysterious things through these sacraments. Ligonier, a website committed to the Reformed (Covenant) theological position states below:

Question and answer 65 of the Heidelberg Catechism emphasize the role of the sacraments in confirming our faith. They bless us as we receive them in faith, and if we neglect them, we weaken our trust in God’s work. The sacraments are mysteries in that we cannot explain fully what God accomplishes through them. We do know, however, that they are more than memorial observations. They become effectual means of grace to those with faith by the working of the Holy Spirit (WLC , Q. 161). To downplay their importance is to desupernaturalize our holy religion, so let us have a high view of the sacraments as confirming signs of God’s Word.

Ligonier Ministries. Means of grace. Retrieved February 25, 2017 from:

Why is this important to Biblical counseling? The treatment for a Reformed counselor that will be promoted in this particular theological approach will include, in some way, the means of grace in their counseling plan. The problem is the “means of grace” is a confessional instruction, not a Biblical instruction.

The Dispensational approach observes the working of the Holy Spirit, not through a confession, but by means of sacred Scripture only. A Dispensational approach knows the Holy Spirit convicts mankind of sin and unbelief (Jn. 16:5-11). It is His Holy Spirit that baptizes us into the church (Acts 2:4; Acts 2:33). It is being filled and walking by the Holy Spirit that one exhibits the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:15-21; Gal. 5:13-25). A Dispensational approach would not mention the Holy Spirit working through water baptism and the Lord’s Supper because the word of God does not explicitly state the Holy Spirit works through these ordinances.  However, the Holy Spirit works, not through the substance of water baptism and the Lord’s supper, but through believers as they submit themselves to the Holy Spirit in their daily living. It is here the Dispensational approach operates with the Christian in terms of Biblical counseling.

This is not to say that the Dispensational approach minimizes or disregards water baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Christ told them to conduct the Lord’s supper in remembrance of Him  (Matt. 26:26-29; Lk. 14:22-23). Christians take the Lord’s Supper because they are to remember and proclaim the death of Christ Jesus until He returns (1 Cor. 11:23-26). Water baptism represents the work of the Holy Spirit in a believer as the Christian identifies with the death of Christ, and cleansing the conscience by pointing a Christian to Jesus’s resurrection (Rom. 6:1-6; Col. 2:12; 1 Pet. 3:21). The Dispensational approach could use this in the counseling session to point to the significance of the death of Christ, and how this is important for reconciliation, and forgiveness. The Dispensational approach could also bring up how being baptized in the Holy Spirit is important to being a new creature, having a new identity in Christ, and how this new identity looks for the Christian (2 Cor. 5:17-19). Yet, the Dispensational approach would not promote the Holy Spirit working through the “means of grace,” because it is not explicitly taught in Scripture.

The Reformed approach operates from a worldview underscored in the Westminster Confession. This approach has a specific way it views the process of sanctification. A Reformed counselor, in an attempt to work with their counselees, would mention the “means of grace” and how it is important for one’s sanctification in counseling. The Dispensational approach does not look to confessions along with the Scripture but observes the Holy Spirit’s work in positional and progressive sanctification from what God has revealed in sacred Scripture alone.

Let us continue as Biblical counselors to observe how to best serve people, not from the confessions of history, but from Scripture alone. In doing so this is how we can best love our neighbor, and glorify God as we seek to do good works as Biblical counselors, to our neighbors.

Until Next Time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.