Association of Biblical Counselors

Association of Biblical Counselors

The Association of Biblical Counselors (ABC) exists to encourage, equip, and empower people everywhere to live and counsel the Word, applying the Gospel to the whole experience of life.

Encourage: ABC provides a fellowship of believers committed to life transformation through the Living Word.

Equip: ABC promotes training in biblical counseling and points to resources that deal biblically with all of the issues of life.

Empower: ABC provides excellent materials for growth in Christ and for use in effective biblical counseling.

To find out more, visit the Association of Biblical Counselors website.

Reflections on Broken Hearts and Closed Ears

by Brad Hambrick

Exodus 6:9

Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.

We might ask ourselves why this note of commentary is included in the Exodus narrative. By this point in the book of Exodus, it has already been mentioned several times that Israel was suffering immensely at the harsh hand of Pharaoh.

To answer our question, we would have to consider when the book of Exodus was written. Most likely it was written well after the actual events along with the other books of the Torah (Genesis, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) either during the 40 years of wilderness wandering or close to the time when Israel was going to enter the Promise Land (finally).

In order to understand this particular verse, we need to understand the purpose of the Torah as a whole. Moses was writing to re-establish a national identity as God’s chosen people for a nation that had been in slavery for 400 years. They were trying to learn who they were and what it meant to be a free people under God’s reign.

Just before verse 9, God had appealed to His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 6:8). Israel needed to be reminded of their heritage and (more importantly) of God’s faithfulness. However, that is the whole point of verse 9; they needed to hear these things, but their hearts were too broken to embrace the message their ears received.

This passage is revelation of the understanding of God and the pastoral heart of Moses. Israel received this text long after the actual events transpired. Their current need was not to have hope in the midst of Pharaoh’s oppression (that season of their life was over), but, rather, to be prepared to trust God the next time their spirit was broken (and that would be many more times).

How you remember your story is important. Taking time to see God’s faithfulness is encouraging. However, it can be equally edifying to reflect on the times when (because of our frailty or doubt) we were unable to rest in God’s faithfulness. When we see (retrospectively) God’s faithfulness in the moments of our greatest fear and hurt, we come to realize that God will truly never leave us or forsake us (despite what our heart may say in the present or about the future).

End Note: When you read the Torah remember that it is not just a narrative with lots of laws and sermons at the end; it is also a pastoral work. Moses is writing the history of a people learning to be free after generations of oppression. Moses is walking Israel through the process of remembering who they have always been and the implications of trusting God during this monumental transition. I believe this will help you in making application of books that we too often view as “just history.”

Resolving Conflict in Relationships Biblically

by Biblical Soul Care Harvest Bible Chapel

When it comes to conflict in relationships, Ken Sande says there are really only three kinds of people: peace-fakers, peace-breakers, and peace-makers.

Peace-breakers are prideful and power up. If they don’t get their way, they blow up, escalating conflict like gas on a flickering flame.

Peace-fakers avoid conflict or clam up trying to shove conflict under the rug out of fear.

Neither way is glorifying or healthy.

Peace-makers see conflict as an assignment, not an accident. They approach the problem with humility, reasonableness, and seeking wisdom from God (James 3:17-18). They do not intimidate, but they also do not hide. They expect conflict, embrace the opportunity to resolve things biblically, and have an urgency to keep unity in the midst of hard times.

Recently, I considered the relational landscape of my life. I have not ignored the conflict in my life, but am I doing everything, as far as it has to do with me, to keep the peace with others (Romans 12:9-21)? What would it look like to be a peace-maker in those situations and relationships?

Is there anyone in your life you are bitter toward or someone you have offended deeply? I want to challenge you to get your eyes off another’s sin and turn your focus inward with a vertical orientation (Psalm 139:23-24).

But the Bible never treats the symptoms alone… we have all tried to control our anger or appease someone else’s with a moment of kindness—but it goes deeper. Sometimes the only way to heal what is sick or broken is to get to the source, to seek true healing, to go vertical.

The Source of Conflict

Don’t you love it when God answers our most profound questions?! Hey, why do we fight anyway? Why can’t we just get along? Consider this passage from James 4:1-12, which gets to the heart of the problem.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?…

What Can We Learn about Conflict from This Passage?

The Word of God presents some very clear reasons why we can’t seem to lay down our agendas or get along well with others who differ from us.

  • The enemy is within us: We see early in this passage that conflict is internally motivated before externally manifested (your selfish passions are what you fight about most… even good desires have a way of morphing into demands!)
  • It’s not just what we want, its how much we want it: where are you coveting?

Fill in the blank: "If I only had ___________, I would be happy?" That is the beginning of constructing an idol. So, think about these four escalating steps of selfish desires:

I. I want it too much – it could be a good desire or an evil desire (not always sinful… God may still be in the picture, but kingdoms begin to collide).

II. I need it now – it now owns you (leads to sin because looking to someone or something to fulfill only what Christ can… God can’t meet this need or won’t… so I will).

III. I deserve it – it now controls you (sinful entitlement creates murderous thoughts and feelings if desire is blocked… God wants me to be happy or is an afterthought at best).

IV. You will give it to me or I will punish you – it now betrays you (even hurt those you love if your demands are not met… is God even in the picture at this point?).

Here are three more truths from this passage:

  1. We need to get our eyes on our own sin! (where are you trying to change someone else?) If she only would…. if he quit….
  2. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble: Godly humility makes a world of difference (where do you need to repent, mourn, and stop contributing to the fight?)
  3. Keep walking in repentance not judgment (where has resentment or bitterness crept in… and made you a judge not a keeper of the law?)

That sets up the problem well, but there is more grace! The second half of the chapter teaches us to truly repent and turn to the Lord so we can be a peace-maker in the situation. Consider verses 7-10 as the way out of your side of the conflict and into the graces of God.

Seven Steps out of this selfish cycle of personal conflict:

1. Submit to God – what are you holding away from Him?

2. Resist the devil – what are you giving over to Him?

3. Draw near to God – where are you hiding or running from Him?

4. Cleanse your hands – what outward behavior needs to stop?

5. Purify your heart – what inward attitude needs to change?

6. Be wretched mourn and weep – where do people need to see godly sorrow?

7. Humble yourself – where do you need to admit you’re wrong and ask forgiveness?

Remember, those who are in Christ are called to be peace-makers. That requires for us to be intentional with how we deal with conflict.

5 Indicators of an Evil and Wicked Heart

by Leslie Vernick

As Christian counselors, pastors and people helpers we often have a hard time discerning between an evil heart and an ordinary sinner who messes up, who isn’t perfect, and full of weakness and sin.

I think one of the reasons we don’t “see” evil is because we find it so difficult to believe that evil individuals actually exist. We can’t imagine someone deceiving us with no conscience, hurting others with no remorse, spinning outrageous fabrications to ruin someone’s reputation, or pretending he or she is spiritually committed yet has no fear of God before his or her eyes.

The Bible clearly tells us that among God’s people there are wolves that wear sheep’s clothing (Jeremiah 23:14; Titus 1:10; Revelations 2:2). It’s true that every human heart is inclined toward sin (Romans 3:23), and that includes evil (Genesis 8:21; James 1:4). We all miss God’ mark of moral perfection. However, most ordinary sinners do not happily indulge evil urges, nor do we feel good about having them. We feel ashamed and guilty, rightly so (Romans 7:19–21). These things are not true of the evil heart.

Below are five indicators that you may be dealing with an evil heart rather than an ordinary sinful heart.  If so, it requires a radically different treatment approach.

1. Evil hearts are experts at creating confusion and contention.

They twist the facts, mislead, lie, avoid taking responsibility, deny reality, make up stories, and withhold information. (Psalms 5:8; 10:7; 58:3; 109:2–5; 140:2; Proverbs 6:13,14; 6:18,19; 12:13; 16:20; 16:27, 28; 30:14; Job 15:35; Jeremiah 18:18; Nehemiah 6:8; Micah 2:1; Matthew 12:34,35; Acts 6:11–13; 2 Peter 3:16)

2. Evil hearts are experts at fooling others with their smooth speech and flattering words.

But if you look at the fruit of their lives or the follow through of their words, you will find no real evidence of godly growth or change. It’s all smoke and mirrors. (Psalms 50:19; 52:2,3; 57:4; 59:7; 101:7; Proverbs 12:5; 26:23–26; 26:28; Job 20:12; Jeremiah 12:6; Matthew 26:59; Acts 6:11–13; Romans 16:17,18; 2 Corinthians 11:13,14; 2 Timothy 3:2–5; 3:13; Titus 1:10,16).

3. Evil hearts crave and demand control, and their highest authority is their own self-reference.

They reject feedback, real accountability, and make up their own rules to live by. They use Scripture to their own advantage but ignore and reject passages that might require self-correction and repentance. (Romans 2:8; Psalms 10; 36:1–4; 50:16–22; 54:5,6; 73:6–9; Proverbs 21:24; Jude 1:8–16).

4. Evil hearts play on the sympathies of good-willed people, often trumping the grace card.

They demand mercy but give none themselves. They demand warmth, forgiveness, and intimacy from those they have harmed with no empathy for the pain they have caused and no real intention of making amends or working hard to rebuild broken trust. (Proverbs 21:10; 1 Peter 2:16; Jude 1:4).

5. Evil hearts have no conscience, no remorse.

They do not struggle against sin or evil—they delight in it—all the while masquerading as someone of noble character. (Proverbs 2:14–15; 10:23; 12:10; 21:27,29; Isaiah 32:6; Romans 1:30; 2 Corinthians 11:13–15)

If you are working with someone who exhibits these characteristics, it’s important that you confront them head on. You must name evil for what it is. The longer you try to reason with them or show mercy towards them, the more you, as the Christian counselor, will become a pawn in his or her game.

They want you to believe that:

1. Their horrible actions should have no serious or painful consequences.

When they say “I’m sorry,” they look to you as the pastor or Christian counselor to be their advocate for amnesty with the person he or she has harmed. They believe grace means they are immediately granted immunity from the relational fallout of their serious sin. They believe forgiveness entitles them to full reconciliation and will pressure you and their victim to comply.

The Bible warns us saying, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord (Isaiah 26:10). 

The Bible tells us that talking doesn’t wake up evil people, but painful consequences might. Jesus didn’t wake up the Pharisee’s with his talk nor did God’s counsel impact Cain (Genesis 4). In addition, the Bible shows us that when someone is truly sorry for the pain they have caused, he or she is eager to make amends to those they have harmed by their sin (see Zacchaeus’ response when he repented of his greed in Luke 19). 

Tim Keller writes, “If you have been the victim of a heinous crime. If you have suffered violence, and the perpetrator (or even the judge) says, ‘Sorry, can’t we just let it go?’ You would say, ‘No, that would be an injustice.’ Your refusal would rightly have nothing to do with bitterness or vengeance. If you have been badly wronged, you know that saying sorry is never enough. Something else is required—some kind of costly payment must be made to put things right.”1

As Biblical counselors let’s not collude with the evil one by turning our attention to the victim, requiring her to forgive, to forget, to trust again when there has been no evidence of inner change. Proverbs says, “Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips” (Proverbs. 25:19). It’s foolishness.

The evil person will also try to get you to believe

2. That if I talk like a gospel-believing Christian I am one, even if my actions don’t line up with my talk.

Remember, Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:13–15). He knows more true doctrine than you or I will ever know, but his heart is wicked. Why? Because although he knows the truth, he does not believe it or live it.

The Bible has some strong words for those whose actions do not match their talk (1 John 3:17,18; Jeremiah 7:8,10; James 1:22, 26). John the Baptist said it best when he admonished the religious leaders, “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God” (Luke 3:8).

If week after week you hear the talk but there is no change in the walk, you have every reason to question someone’s relationship with God.

Part of our maturity as spiritual leaders is that we have been trained to discern between good and evil. Why is that so important? It’s important because evil usually pretends to be good, and without discernment we can be easily fooled (Hebrews 5:14).

When you confront evil, chances are good that the evil heart will stop counseling with you because the darkness hates the light (John 3:20) and the foolish and evil heart reject correction (Proverbs 9:7,8). But that outcome is far better than allowing the evil heart to believe you are on his or her side, or that “he’s not that bad” or “that he’s really sorry” or “that he’s changing” when, in fact, he is not.

Daniel says, “[T]he wicked will continue to be wicked” (Daniel 12:10), which begs the question, do you think an evil person can really change?

[1] Tim Keller, Jesus the King, page 172

Abused Wives: Called to Suffer?

by Leslie Vernick

This week one of my coaching clients shared that her counselor told her that her role as a godly wife was to submit to her husband’s abuse and quietly suffer for Jesus. She was told that setting boundaries was unbiblical and asking her spouse to change specific behaviors for her to feel safe or rebuild trust was demanding. Is that true?

Does scripture encourage a spouse to patiently and quietly endure harsh and abusive treatment within her or his marriage?

The passage that we usually turn to support this thinking is found in 1 Peter 2:13-3:22 where Peter writes to believers who face mistreatment for their faith. 

The entire book of 1 Peter has to do with suffering, but I want to focus on a few points from these verses to help us understand what Peter is teaching us about how we suffer in a godly way as well and when we should patiently endure suffering.

Peter anticipates that the new believers will be persecuted for their faith. Therefore instead of talking about the normal mutual household duty codes between slaves and their masters and husbands and wives that Paul already covered in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, Peter zeros in where the relationships are not mutual or reciprocal. Peter wants Christians to know how to respond when the government or a slave owner misuses his power or is abusive, or when a husband is a non-believer and isn’t following the mutual household duty codes that Paul spoke about, such as “husband’s love your wives as Christ loved the church.” To a non-believing husband those words would hold no weight. 

First, let’s look at how Peter tells us to handle ourselves in the presence of abusive people. Peter is clear that believers should be respectful of others regardless of how we are treated. Often in destructive marriages, a spouse who is regularly verbally battered or emotionally neglected or abused starts to lob some verbal bombs of her own. Instead of learning to handle such mistreatment in a way that honors God, she dishonors herself, her husband, and God by her building resentment as well as her explosive or negative reactions and responses to his abuse. 

It’s painful to keep quiet in these circumstances. In fact, the psalmist talks about his struggle with keeping quiet in Psalm 39 when he says, “I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say. I will hold my tongue when the ungodly are around me. But as I stood there in silence – not even speaking of good things – the turmoil within me grew worse. The more I thought about it, the hotter I got, igniting a fire of words.” (Psalm 39:1-3). Not using our words to hurt others once they have hurt us, may indeed cause some internal suffering. But when we choose this path, God is honored.

Second, Peter reminds us that God sees our mistreatment and is pleased with us when we bear it without retaliating with our words or actions. Peter encourages us not to pay back evil for evil by reminding us of Jesus, who, when reviled, did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:22, 23).

Next, Peter explains when we should endure abusive treatment. He writes, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.”

The good Peter is talking about here is a moral good, a doing-the-right-thing kind of good. Although in this passage Peter specifically advises us to submit to authority, Peter himself was flogged after he refused to stop preaching about Christ even though he’d been ordered by those in authority to stop.  Peter refused to submit because in doing so, he would have to stop doing good (Acts 4:19; 5:17-42).

In the same way when a wife refuses to submit to her husband’s sinful behavior, or stands up for her children who are being mistreated, or refuses to sign a dishonest income tax report, or calls 911 when her husband is threatening to harm her or himself, she is doing good even if it doesn’t feel good to her spouse. Her behavior honors God, protects her children and does what is in the best interest of her spouse. (It is never in someone’s best interests to enable sin to flourish.).

A wife who does good in these ways will suffer because her husband will not view her actions as good. Instead he will get angry, defensive, and likely retaliate against her for what she’s done. That’s exactly the kind of suffering Peter is talking about. He’s speaking about suffering for doing good instead of being passive or fearful or doing the wrong thing or nothing at all. Peter is saying that when we do what is right and we get mistreated for it, God sees it and commends us.

Lastly, Peter reminds wives that their unbelieving husbands who refuse to obey God’s word can be won by their respectful and pure conduct. But we must keep in mind that a godly wife’s godly actions may include implementing tough consequences for repetitive and unrepentant sin in the hopes that those actions influence her husband to look at his destructive behaviors, repent, and come to Christ. God used that approach with hard hearted Israel when they repeatedly refused to heed his verbal warnings. Paul encourages us to do likewise (e.g., 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 13).

When a woman takes these brave steps she will suffer. She may suffer financially as her husband sits in jail because she called the police when he hit her. She may suffer the censure from her church when she separates from him because of his unrepentant use of pornography and verbal abuse. She may suffer with loneliness, retaliation from her spouse, disapproval from her friends and family for the stance she’s taken. 

When we counsel a wife that God calls her to provide all the benefits of a good marriage regardless of how her husband treats her, provides for her, or violates their marital vows, we’re asking her to lie and pretend. This is not good for her or her marriage. This counsel also reinforces the abusive person’s delusions that he can do as he please with no consequences. Marriage does not give someone a “get out of jail free” card that entitles one to lie, mistreat, ignore, be cruel, or crush his spouse’s spirit with no consequences. To believe otherwise is to not know the heart or wisdom of God.

If Peter meant that a wife should stay passive and quiet and do nothing to help her spouse see the damage he is causing his family, her behavior would not be doing him good. It would enable him to stay blind to his sin and colludes with his destructive ways, which is not good for him, for her, or for their family. That kind of passivity does not honor God. 

Peter concludes his teaching about suffering with these words. “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:19 ESV).  

Let’s encourage suffering spouses do good rather than pretend or stay passive. There is a huge difference between the two.

The Gospel Cure

by Elyse Fitzpatrick

Upon brief reflection it’s easy to see that the remedy du jour for treating depression solely with medication is based upon very specific assumptions: that its genesis is always within the body (primarily the brain) and that we do not have an inner, invisible mind that directs brain activity. If that is true, then anesthetizing uncomfortable feelings is the wisest choice. However, if Scripture teaches something different, specifically that we have both a brain and a mind (or inner man), then categorizing depression solely as a dysfunction of the brain and turning to medicine first (thereby silencing the emotional voice of the mind) will unavoidably impede the important heart-work that God-ordained suffering is meant to produce.

Of course, there might be times when medicines are a viable option, but because there are such wonderful graces at our disposal and because there are so many drawbacks with the use of anti-depressants, perhaps medicines should be considered the last line of defense, rather than the first.

Well, then, you might wonder, what is the scriptural cure for spiritual depression? This question begs another one: Should we assume that there will always be a cure for discomforts in this life? Isn’t it true that Christians recognize that suffering is part of what it means to live in this sad world? Don’t we believe suffering in itself is frequently beneficial to our lives, as it (and all things) come to us through the hands of a loving Father (Rom. 5:3–5)? Of course, that’s not to say that we shouldn’t seek to alleviate suffering when appropriate (1 Cor. 7:21), but rather to inject perspective into our search for wisdom. So let’s rephrase our quest: If there were a practical wisdom to help the depressed, where would we find it? In Jesus Christ, of course (1 Cor. 1:30).

“All progress in the Christian life depends upon a recapitulation of the original terms of one’s acceptance with God” (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 27). This delightful quote points us to an enduring remedy for all our ills, even that of spiritual depression. Every step we take in our Christianity, especially as we learn to war against inclinations to be introverted, self-critical, angry, anxious, bitter, hopeless, unbelieving, or fainthearted, depends upon an intentional revisiting of the Gospel. After all, what does a sad person need more than to be gently, yet continually, reminded of the good news? Over and over again, we’ve got to remember His suffering on our behalf: His incarnation, sinless life, substitutionary death, bodily resurrection, and ascension. In a nutshell, we have to intentionally consider Jesus, especially during those dark hours when we’re tempted to think only of ourselves. And although every one of us needs a daily dose of Gospel-recapitulation, those of us who feel the blows of Giant Despair need it even more.

What would this Gospel-recapitulation look like? It would simply look like encouraging the fainthearted with the truth about Jesus Christ. The depressed person needs a deep draught of encouragement, not trite banalities like, “Cheer up, things are bound to get better,” or “You’re not so bad. You’re really a wonderful person.” No, the depressed need strong medicine like, “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that… we might live with him” (1 Thess. 5:9–10).

The counter-intuitive truth that the depressed person needs to hear isn’t “you’re really a wonderful person,” but rather, “you’re more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe.” When he bemoans that he’s “such a failure,” we should agree with him, at least on one level. We should agree that we’re all failures to the point that the perfect Son of God had to die before we would be able to have fellowship with Him. Every one of us has utterly failed to love God or our neighbor. We fail not only because we don’t love as we should, but also because we think we should be able to. We don’t really believe God’s assessment of the depth of our depravity. We can be freed from over-scrupulous consciences, from the incessant viewing and reviewing of our disappointments, when we realize that we shouldn’t expect success or to be well-treated. No, we deserve failure, abandonment, and wrath. Here’s one powerfully freeing facet of the Gospel message: We will never live up to our own standards! Neither will anyone else! In fact, the deception that we should be able to do this flows from a proud belief in our own abilities, self-sufficiency, and self-righteousness — beliefs that fly right in the face of the Gospel. We’re not in need of minor adjustments; we’re desperate for an all-sufficient Redeemer. The depressed person should ask, “What do I think I deserve? What am I expecting of myself, of others? Do I really believe that I’m as sinful and weak as Scripture says I am? Do I believe that I should be successful, appreciated, or sinless?”

Matthew 6:21, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be,” also speaks directly to the depressed. In some ways, depression is a slow, painful death of desire, the heart-sickness that comes from repeatedly having hope deferred (Prov. 13:12). Hope that sustains the heart when pursuing a treasured desire has faded (or disappeared) in the depressed. What, then, do you treasure? What do you think would bring you happiness? Who or what are you worshiping? What would give your life meaning? Whose life do you covet?

The joyous truth is that perhaps this painful depression is the Lord’s way of revealing false gods to you: gods of success, romance, acceptance, security, reputation. Is your heart sick? What hoped-for desires have been withheld? Why do you love them like you do? Why has a loving God withheld them from you?

Bathing our soul in the Gospel message will powerfully transform the locus of our treasure. Rather than cherishing success or self-approval, we can learn to cherish the Lord because He’s lavished such love upon the undeserving (1 John 4:7–10). All-satisfying treasure is found in this Gospel message: “It’s true that I’m more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe, and that truth frees me from the delusion that I’ll ever be able to approve of myself; but I’m also more loved and welcomed than I ever dared hope, and that truth comforts and encourages me when my heart condemns me and my darling desires are all withheld. It assures me that although I struggle with accepting myself, the Holy King has declared me righteous. What I’ve really needed — forgiveness, welcome and enduring love, have all been given to me in Christ.

“This is the freeing truth you can learn through your depression: You weren’t created to love and worship anything more than you love and worship God; and when you do, you’ll feel bad. God has made you to feel pain when you’ve got other treasures that you’ve placed above Him. He wants you to treasure Him” (Elyse Fitzpatrick, Will Medicine Stop the Pain? p. 102).

We can fight against weariness, despair, and hopelessness when we consider Jesus, how he authored and, yes, even completed our faith (weak though it seems); how “for the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” We are to “consider him… so that [we] may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb. 12:2–3). Rather than considering ourselves, our record, humiliation, and failure, we’re to consider Him.

The depressed person needs to repeatedly hear this lovely statement, “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.” In Matthew’s gospel we read of a paralytic who was brought to Jesus by his friends. Although we don’t know who they were, we can surmise what they wanted. What were they hoping for? Healing, of course. This invalid and his friends were hoping that Jesus would enable him to walk. But Jesus had a different perspective on this man’s true need. Instead of saying initially, “Be healed. Rise and walk,” he said, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matt. 9:2–3).

The depressed don’t simply need to feel better. They need a Redeemer who says, “Take heart, my son, my daughter; what you really need has been supplied. Life no longer need be about your goodness, success, righteousness, or failure. I’ve given you something infinitely more valuable than good feelings: your sins are forgiven.” This forgiveness permanently cleanses not only outward conspicuous sin, but also hidden unbelief, faithlessness, pride, self-sufficiency, and apathy. Rather than the Gospel being ancillary to the life of the depressed, everything else in life needs to be ancillary to it.

Like the paralytic’s friends, we must bring our fainthearted brothers and sisters to Jesus. His sweet truth is to be lovingly communicated to them through a wise and patient community of faith. Encouragement to believe Gospel truth rather than Satan’s lies and support to step out in faith, whether that means simply opening the blinds or taking a walk around the block, need to come to them through others who know they are just like the depressed: immeasurably unworthy but nevertheless immeasurably loved jars of clay filled with life-transforming treasure. In this way, the Gospel is not only recapitulated but reincarnated before the suffering.

The power to transform the depressed belongs to God alone, thus we trust that “he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.… So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:14, 16).

Changing Your Definition of Good

by Rachael Rosser

In my office, I am daily bombarded with the painful reality of living in a fallen world. The topics that are discussed range from singleness to marital infidelity to miscarriage to rebellious teens. The statement that is often made is how "this" (whatever this is) does not feel good, or the question that is asked is how is "this" good? I think as Christians, especially American Christians, we have often let our "comfort culture"  shape our view of the word good versus allowing the Lord to define good.

"You are good and what you do is good; teach me your statutes" (Psalm 119:68). The Lord can only do or give what he is. It would be contrary to his nature to do harm, and since he is unchanging he cannot do what he is not. Suffering is gifted (Phillipians 1:29), yet we do not see the good. This last year, I have personally wrestled with this. Several weeks ago, my older sister gave birth to a healthy baby girl, her fourth, named Emma. That same day I found out a sweet friend had received the final act of her salvation—glorification through death.

I thought of how so many well meaning Christians in the days after congratulated my sister and told her how blessed she was to have four healthy children. Simultaneously, other Christians expressed their gratefulness that God took my friend home so she did not have to continue to suffer. So, in my mind I wrestled with why my sister was so “blessed,” yet my friend daily suffered... was she cursed? Is that what people were implying? Or were they so focused on external circumstances they could not see the eternal gift by internal change that was taking place.

Both of these women were 35 and Christians. That is where their similarities stop. My friend's life was marked by fleeing a communist country as a small child, losing her father shortly after coming to America, getting sick and losing the function of both her kidneys, a kidney transplant, cancer, donated kidney failure, frequent dialysis, problematic eye sight, frequent pain, and the inability to walk without assistance. Some looked on her with pain and pity, some just didn't see her at all, but I know she was least to be pitied, for she was far more blessed than any physical eye could see.

In her pain, she chose to depend on the Lord. She daily humbled herself even to ask for help from others to walk across a room. She received so much of Jesus through her dependence on him. Through that process, the Lord continued to shape her heart to reflect his son's. That was evident by the large smile she wore on her face while she still wrestled to submit her feelings, thoughts, and desires to him. At her funeral, various people spoke on how she encouraged them, comforted them, was honest with them about hard questions. She bore much fruit through her pain. Recently, she had discussed with a friend that she was thinking of not praying for healing (knowing He was able) because she received so much of the Lord where she was that she may not be as dependent if she were healed. The Lord actually answered both prayers (healing and more of him) shortly after by taking her home.

Now, I am not saying that suffering in itself is good. I am not rejoicing about cancer, miscarriages, and divorce. I am rejoicing in what it is producing in the moment. Many people fix their eyes on a change in a future circumstance to enable them to endure the struggle. They state that when that next baby is born, then this miscarriage makes sense. Or I have seen where in retrospect they justify their suffering by their now more favorable circumstances. With that view they are still missing out on what God is doing in them and through them now, and how in these moments he is preparing them for eternity.

The beatitudes describe blessings that are contrary to what are culture esteems. James 1:12 states,"Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him." Our definition of good/blessed  must be impacted by the eternal vs. the external. I pray we would not be so quick to make judgments and grumble about circumstances before shifting our gaze upward. Lord, may you give us eyes to see that which you say is good.

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

New Year's Resolutions

by Paul Tripp

Well, it's that season once again. It's the fodder for blogs, newspaper articles, TV magazine shows and way too many Twitter posts. It's the time for the annual ritual of dramatic New Year's resolutions fueled by the hope of immediate and significant personal life change.

But the reality is that few smokers actually quit because of a single moment of resolve, few obese people have become slim and healthy because of one dramatic moment of commitment, few people who were deeply in debt have changed their financial lifestyle because they resolved to do so as the old year gave way to the new, and few marriages have been changed by the means of one dramatic resolution.

Is change important? Yes, it is for all of us in some way. Is commitment essential? Of course! There's a way in which all of our lives are shaped by the commitments we make. But biblical Christianity - which has the gospel of Jesus Christ at its heart - simply doesn't rest its hope in big, dramatic moments of change.

Living in the Utterly Mundane

The fact of the matter is that the transforming work of grace is more of a mundane process than it is a series of a few dramatic events. Personal heart and life change is always a process. And where does that process take place? It takes place where you and I live everyday. And where do we live? Well, we all have the same address. Our lives don't careen from big moment to big moment. No, we all live in the utterly mundane.

Most of us won't be written up in history books. Most of us only make three or four momentous decisions in our lives, and several decades after we die, the people we leave behind will struggle to remember the events of our lives. You and I live in little moments, and if God doesn't rule our little moments and doesn't work to recreate us in the middle of them, then there is no hope for us, because that's where you and I live.

The little moments of life are profoundly important precisely because they're the little moments that we live in and that form us. This is where I think "Big Drama Christianity" gets us into trouble. It can cause us to devalue the significance of the little moments of life and the "small-change" grace that meets us there. And because we devalue the little moments where we live, we don't tend to notice the sin that gets exposed there. We fail to seek the grace that is offered to us.

10,000 Little Moments

You see, the character of a life is not set in two or three dramatic moments, but in 10,000 little moments. The character that was formed in those little moments is what shapes how you respond to the big moments of life.

What leads to significant personal change?

  • 10,000 moments of personal insight and conviction
  • 10,000 moments of humble submission
  • 10,000 moments of foolishness exposed and wisdom gained
  • 10,000 moments of sin confessed and sin forsaken
  • 10,000 moments of courageous faith
  • 10,000 choice points of obedience
  • 10,000 times of forsaking the kingdom of self and running toward the kingdom of God
  • 10,000 moments where we abandon worship of the creation and give ourselves to worship of the Creator.

And what makes all of this possible? Relentless, transforming, little-moment grace. You see, Jesus is Emmanuel not just because he came to earth, but because he makes you the place where he dwells. This means he is present and active in all the mundane moments of your daily life.

His Work to Rescue and Transform

And what is he doing? In these small moments he is delivering every redemptive promise he has made to you. In these unremarkable moments, he is working to rescue you from you and transform you into his likeness. By sovereign grace he places you in daily little moments that are designed to take you beyond your character, wisdom and grace so that you will seek the help and hope that can only be found in him. In a lifelong process of change, he is undoing you and rebuilding you again - exactly what each one of us needs!

Yes, you and I need to be committed to change, but not in a way that hopes for a big event of transformation, but in a way that finds joy in and is faithful to a day-by-day, step-by-step process of insight, confession, repentance and faith. And in those little moments we commit ourselves to remember the words of Paul in Romans 8:32

"He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us, how will he not also with him freely give us all things."

So, we wake up each day committed to live in the small moments of our daily lives with open eyes and humbly expectant hearts.

What Makes the Gospel Good News?

by Steve Clay

I’ve been reading, thinking, and praying much about the meaning of the Gospel. As a biblical counselor I believe the gospel is the central element of change. By that I mean that the gospel is necessary in order to change the heart from its natural pursuit and slavery to sin toward the pursuit of things pertaining to Christ. The gospel is good news. But what is the good news? And what is it that we are believing when by faith the gospel applies to us all that is necessary to be changed?

Commonly understood, from 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus as God’s appointed means of salvation to those who believe. And this is good news. But what is the peril from which a believing person is saved? And, what is it about this salvation that really changes a person?

While I intend to talk not so much about the mechanics of change, I do want to show that the gospel has power in the human heart by virtue of being rightly understood. Right understanding of the gospel has powerful implications in regard to our growth in the Lord. John Piper’s book, God is the Gospel, is very helpful here. After having discussed many facets (implicit benefits and essential components) of the gospel, presented in various texts from the New Testament, Piper’s conclusion is astounding. He writes:

If you embrace everything . . . about the facets of the gospel, but do it in a way that does not make the glory of God in Christ your supreme treasure, then you have not embraced the gospel. Until the gospel events of Good Friday and Easter and the gospel promises and justification and eternal life lead you to behold and embrace God himself as your highest joy, you have not embraced the gospel of God. You have embraced some of his gifts. You have rejoiced over some of his rewards. You have marveled at some of his miracles. But you have not yet been awakened to why the gifts, the rewards, and the miracles have come. They have come for one great reason: that you might behold forever the glory of God in Christ, and by beholding become the kind of person who delights in God above all things, and be delighting display his supreme beauty and worth with every-increasing brightness and bliss forever. (pp. 37-38)

My takeaway from this is that what changes us is delighting in Him in whose image we are being remade. Delighting in divine grace propels us toward Christ. It is not a pursuit of a “must do” list of Christian duties that moves us toward change, but rather submitting ourselves to the one we love to serve. Application of the gospel in the process of changing the heart of the believing sinner is not simply changing beliefs (though that is involved), but rather ever-increasing changes of affection—that is, what the heart delights in.

Piper is right. While the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, what makes it good news is that it provides a means whereby we can get to God, whom by the very grace He freely gives changes us to delight in Him. Spiritual disciplines, in this context, become a means to a pleasurable end—that is, knowing God and enjoying Him both now and forever.

We need to rethink what we are asking people to do when encouraging them to embrace the gospel. Consciously we are asking them to consider that God is the object of the longings of their naturally rebellious and deceitful hearts. In application to our own hearts we are acknowledging the same. Faith, not works, is the means by which we come to know God, taking Him at His word that the end of our pursuit for pleasure, safety, meaning, and life will only be found in Him. Our precious Savior died to this end, that He might bring us to God.

Considering this gospel reality reorients us to a different view of heart change, one that makes Christ the center, because we love to behold His glory, rather than a duty-oriented approach that centers on self. The gospel is God—He is the good news. To live with and enjoy Him is essence of life.

How to Make Things Right When You Hurt Someone

by Margaret Ashmore

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” – Colossians 3:12–15

It is impossible to live in a fallen world populated with fallen people in yet unconverted flesh and not hurt others or be hurt by them, and as believers we can do one of two things in response–either isolate in our own self protective, “fantasy” kingdoms (withdrawing, avoiding honesty and vulnerability, being paralyzed with a fear of rejection, controlling with anger) or live in the reality of God’s kingdom (loving others with a prodigal, “expect nothing in return” love) and experience His protection. We choose the latter by submitting to the following mandates of our King.

When we hurt others. Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matthew 5:23, 24). We don’t read, “If you have something against your brother,” but instead, “If your brother has been hurt or offended by you.” In which case we are, in effect, to drop everything and first humble ourselves in that relationship by clearing our conscience, asking forgiveness or making restitution. Then, and only then, can we return to the altar to experience unimpeded worship, thus “seeing the Lord’ and being transformed into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18). Christ-likeness is inextricably bound to the health of our relationships.

When others hurt us. I tend more easily toward the desire of enlightening others as to how they have offended me or engaging in the lust of vindication when I think I have been ill perceived. But the King’s mandate is to bear it patiently as did our Lord. “When He was reviled, He reviled not. When He was threatened, He uttered no threats” (I Peter 2:21-23). Instead of retaliation toward those who were threatening and maligning Him, He “commended to the One Who judges righteously.” And that’s what we do. Give it to God. Give thoughtless comments, unkind remarks, harsh words and injustices to the One Who in His perfect time (in other words, we don’t go ahead of Him) will make things right and in so doing bring about transformation in us. 

When a friend’s words hurt me deeply, it seemed most unjust. (Doesn’t it always?) I stewed. I lost sleep. I rehearsed over and over in my mind an oration worthy of the Pulitzer Prize in telling her just how right I was and how dreadfully wrong she was. I had just spoken at a conference on commending our rights to God and was overwhelmed with a deep sense of conviction that I was holding on to resentment compounded by claiming the right to be understood. By God’s grace, I chose not to confront but to commend, holding close to my heart Psalm 62:1: “My soul waits in silence for God only; from Him alone is my salvation.”

An amazing thing happened. In that time of prayerful waiting, God revealed some truth in my friend’s criticism by using her to point out an area of pride that had been veiled by my reactive resentment. It also allowed God to work in her heart (a good reminder–I am NOT the Holy Spirit) who recognized a rather harsh delivery. To that end, full restoration was made, and I never had to fire a shot! As my pastor Tom Nelson says, “Hold the moral high ground. God will bring about His will and your vindication.”

And from that high ground, we can now extend a hand to those who are living in the deep pits and hollows of error and sin.

When it is right to confront. Once the log is out of our own eye, we can see clearly how to take the speck out of our brother’s eyes (Matthew 7:5). Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Nothing can be more cruel than the leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.”If the goal is restoration, and it should always be, here is further light from James 5:19-20: “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

But how we go about confrontation is everything! When I had a mastectomy and a subsequent follow up with my oncologist, he looked at the surgery site and exclaimed, “Dr. Sally Knox must have been your surgeon!” I was wondering at that point if she had signed her work when he said, “No one leaves a more beautiful scar.” There is sometimes the need to do intervening “surgery” in the lives of our brethren, but to do so with a actions not tempered in prayer, a critical spirit or with any malice can leave a jagged, ugly wound and its recipient with a greater desire to close off their hearts in relationships. Knowing this, God gives very careful instructions in Galatians 6:1 for making accurate incisions.

Brethren, if anyone is caught in a trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” 

“You who are spiritual” means one who is mature in their walk with God. Only a believer whose words are seasoned with grace, understanding and tenderness should do surgery on a fragile heart, leaving a beautiful scar which only serves as a reminder of the love that saved their souls from destruction. Further, the word for “restore” is a Greek word (katartidso) meaning, “the mending of a net.” If we are going to confront someone, we should not only do so with clear eyed, meticulous maturity, but we had also better be prepared to walk alongside that person, helping them to sew up the torn places in their lives through counsel, discipleship, or mentoring.

In the Old Testament, snuffers of pure gold were the only instruments allowed to trim the candlewicks of the tabernacle (Exodus 25:38). Sometimes we need to be “trimmed back,” but that job is exclusive to those who have not the alloy of unconfessed sin or embittered hearts, but speak as one forgiven person to another–and always with the aim of a warmer, brighter fervor for the gospel.

In a fallen world, Christians have a risen Savior, an enthroned King Who bids us through obedience to live in His unshakeable Kingdom by loving with His love, forgiving because He has forgiven us, then treating our brethren in such a way that others want to live there, too.

Lessons Learned as a Biblical Counselor

by Jeremy Lelek

During the Fall of 1999, I entered the final year of my Master’s program, and was given the daunting task of finding a counseling center at which I was to fulfill my practicum experience as a student. This was an exciting time wherein I was to take all of the book knowledge I had acquired as a student of counseling, and begin to apply it in an actual counseling setting. Personally, it was a time of great enthusiasm as I was moving into the next big step of my career and ministry. Simultaneously, I felt much uncertainty in that I had never done anything like this before. Little did I know this “next step” of my educational life would change the course of my counseling ministry forever!

Throughout my Masters program, I would have considered myself a devout Christian counselor. I believed the Bible was a great source for help and healing, and had in my possession every Christian counseling self-help book I could get my hands on. That is the very reason I chose a Christian counseling center to fulfill my practicum requirements. The process was pretty typical.

In order to be accepted as a practicum candidate I had to complete a series of interviews. During the first such interview, the director of the center asked me what I thought about Nouthetic and biblical counseling. Given my astute background in studying the myriad of psychological theories of human nature, group dynamics, family systems theory, and cultural theoretical models, I answered the director quite confidently. “I believe such models are very simplistic in their approaches to the counseling process.”

It was my assumption as an interviewee that he likely agreed. He then went on to ask me which models of counseling have most influenced me. “Definitely Carl Rogers’ Person-Centered model,” I replied. “His ideas of acceptance, genuineness, and unconditional positive regard resonate well with my Christian convictions of love, mercy, and compassion.” The director’s stare was almost haunting. Upon asking me a few more questions, he kindly concluded the interview. A week later, he called to tell me I had been chosen as a practicum student for his site, and it was at this point, everything in my life took a very unexpected turn.

The first pieces of literature the director gave me for my training were the book, A Theology of Christian Counseling, by Dr. Jay Adams (1979), and an article from the Journal of Biblical Counseling entitled Modern Therapies and the Church’s Faith, by Dr. David Powlison (1996). The first author, Jay Adams, I had heard about, and what I heard was not very positive. The second author, David Powlison, was new to me.

Even though I had initial concerns once Jay Adam’s book was given to me as required reading, there was no turning back at this point. So, I started reading. Prior to that day, I had a negative view of Adam’s model, but sadly, I had never so much as cracked a book he had ever written. As I began to make my way through A Theology of Christian Counseling, I soon realized that I had drawn some unfortunate and unmerited conclusions about biblical counseling and its relevance to my work as a counselor. It was this book, coupled with reading three other required articles (Powlison, 1993; Powlison, 1996; Welch, 1994) that caused my worldview of soul care to unravel, and in its place a new, truly biblical view began to form. That was over eleven years ago, and from that time until now, I have learned so much about God and His Word. Following are just a few lessons that come to mind.

God Is Faithful

The fact that God is a passionate Lover of those He saves is one of the most stunning things I have learned as a biblical counselor. Sure, this is something I have heard my entire life (i.e., God loves you), but to witness it in real-time moves it far beyond the superficiality of Christian sloganeering.

My faith in God as a loving Father and ruling King has been multiplied one hundred times over as I have had the privilege of seeing Him rescue, restore, and redeem His children from some of the most catastrophic circumstances you could ever imagine. Romans 8:26-39 is a living narrative of which I am far more cognizant than was the case prior to my work as a biblical counselor. For this, I am deeply grateful.

Biblical Counseling Demands a Love for Others

Try sitting hour after hour, day after day in the trenches with others just for the sake of “doing your job.” You will likely face the threat of becoming one of the most despairing or cynical people walking the planet. Biblical counseling, in its most sacred form, is an intense, and at times grueling process of “loving your neighbor.”

It is no wonder Paul warned that if we forget love, we have nothing (1 Corinthians 13). Biblical counseling is one of God’s most precious warehouses in which He shapes the human heart to do that for which it was originally created—love God and others.

The Spirit of God Really Does Transform Lives

It never fails. The moment I feel as though I have a particular issue figured out, a person comes to see me whose life completely decimates my nicely packaged system of methodologies. I have witnessed the insatiable love of God, not merely in theory, but in actuality as lives have been literally transformed before my very eyes.

There have been many times I did not know how my counselees were going to get from point A to point B (much less any point thereafter), when the precious Spirit of God would move on their hearts, and bring incomprehensible change in the lives of His people. I’ve learned and am immensely humbled that Ephesians 3:14-20 is a powerful reality when engaging others in the process of counseling.

God Is Exceedingly Involved in the Lives of Those He Calls to Counsel (Psalms 139)

I had no intention of pursuing life as a biblical counselor. Without God’s sovereign rule over my life, I am convinced my days in this line of ministry would have never come to fruition.

As a matter of fact, had things stayed on course (as I had naively planned), I was well on my way to becoming one of biblical counseling’s most ardent opponents. I am thankful God had another plan.

Biblical Counseling Is Extremely Rich and Dynamic

love reading the myriad of theorists on human nature. From classics like Freud, Maslow, Rogers, Piaget, and Kierkegaard to newer thinkers like Ken Wilber, Peter Singer, Kenda Creasy Dean, and Stephen Pinker, I am fascinated by our relentless pursuit for understanding. And while intrigued by various sources of knowledge, I am overwhelmed with awe by only one—the Bible.

There is no doubt that Scripture’s divine truths are genuinely competent to “discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12) while also giving us “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Biblical counseling offers a profoundly comprehensive understanding of the human experience, while dwarfing every other competing theory in both scope and breadth. The more I learn from the sacred pages of Scripture as it pertains to the whole of life, the more I realize how little I actually know.

Though this list is far from exhaustive, these five lessons burn deep within my soul as a biblical counselor. My journey in this work, I pray, has many miles to go (God willing), and I look forward to how He will continue to use biblical counseling to deepen my understanding of Him while shaping my heart and mind to genuinely love and care for others.

Join the Conversation

How is your journey as a biblical counselor deepening your personal relationship to Christ?


  • Adams, J.E. (1979). More Than Redemption: A Theology of Christian Counseling. Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan.
  • Powlison, D. (1993a). Critiquing Modern Integrationists. The Journal of Biblical Counseling, 11(3), 24-34.
  • Powlison, D. (1996). Modern Therapies and the Church’s Faith. The Journal of Biblical Counseling, 15(1), 32-41.
  • Welch, E. (1994). Who Are We? Needs, Longings, and the Image of God in Man. The Journal of Biblical Counseling, 13(1), 25-38.

Am I Boundary-Driven or Love-Driven?

by Susan Thomas

The word “boundaries” is a popular word in our culture today. From books and pop-psychology, to talk shows and everyday conversations at the local coffee shop, this topic of “boundaries” is a hot topic among people as we try to navigate our relationships.

“I have to establish my boundaries.”

“I need to figure out how to set up better boundaries with my in-laws.”

“You need to define boundaries with your husband so he knows when he’s crossed them!”

“If people don’t respect my boundaries, then I will have to cut off those relationships."

In an era of so many dysfunctional relationships, we all search for answers on how to interact with one another. How can I experience meaningful relationships? How do I respond to difficult people in my life? What do I do when others hurt or disappoint me?

Thankfully, God has a design for our relationships. God is a God of order. There is no question that God has created boundaries for us to abide by in order to live in a healthy, fulfilling way. There is a boundary between the ocean and the sandy shore. There is a boundary between the earth and the sky. God declared a boundary in marriage and sex to include one man, one woman for a lifetime. God has given us order. Furthermore, He has called us to be people who walk with discernment in our relationships. But, we want to make sure we follow His heart as we look at our own interpersonal boundaries. We want to make sure we understand God’s design for our relationships rather than allow a popularized word or concept to define our interactions with others.

I remember a couple that adopted a boundaries mindset. The woman shared with me one day that she had read a book on the subject and that it was really guiding her in her relationships. She went on to describe that her life was like a piece of property with a fence around it. This was her domain given to her by God. She said she needed to make sure that everyone who came into that fenced in yard was right for her life. If people hurt her or she deemed them as toxic, then they were not allowed inside the fence. And, if someone inside the fence began to cause pain or behave in an ungodly way, they were escorted out of the fence. 

As I observed her life, I watched as she struggled with her in-laws and eventually saw her lead her husband to cut them off for months with no communication until she was ready. Not long after, I watched some of her friendships deteriorate. She experienced conflict like we all do at some point. But, rather than work for peace and fight for resolution, she politely escorted them one by one outside the fence of her life. She was very sad. And the people around her were very sad. This unfortunate turn of affairs went on to cause disunity in their church and chaos in her life. She left a trail of tears and pain behind her, and I believe this experience is not unique to her.

I recall another woman who spoke to me about her boundaries. She said, “I can’t be friends with everyone,” and then further explained that people needed to fit into her life if the friendship was going to work. “Otherwise, it’s not happening. ” Again, I was confronted with a cautionary tone that prompted me to examine God’s design for our relationships and the place for boundaries.

So where is the balance? How do we navigate our relationships?

I believe we must begin by answering this question . . .

What drives me?

While God-given boundaries are an important aspect of life, we must be aware of the danger of slipping into a boundary-driven mindset. In our attempt to protect ourselves, we may miss God’s design for our relationships and His call on our lives.

My time here is short. What I do with it is HUGE. What drives me is paramount. We must look carefully at what drives us as we relate to other people. Thankfully, God is clear when it comes to what should drive us in our relationships.

God clearly tells us that we are first and foremost to love Him with all of our being! This is the first commandment. Then He goes on to say . . .

“The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:31, NLT

We are not to be boundary-driven in our relationships with others. We are to be love-driven! We are not to live in such a way that we demand people meet our expectations and then cut them off when they hurt or disappoint us. We are to love the people around us. We are to seek reconciliation rather than only self-protection.

Furthermore, if I live my life behind the fences, it seems my focus might become very me-centered! I am tempted to fixate on my small little yard-of-a-life versus understanding and embracing my call in God’s Kingdom!

When Jesus gave some of his final words to his people (right before He went to be with God the Father) He did not say:

“Go ye therefore and build fences. Make sure that you evaluate each person to see if they are suitable for your yard. Build an airport security system to scan them and see if they can come in. Once they are inside, make sure to pat them down on a regular basis and escort them back out if needed.”


God said, “GO!”

“19) Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20)Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you . . . ” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT)


Make disciples. Baptize them. Teach them.

These are very involved and even intimate commands. We are to reach people. Our focus is not to evaluate people. We are to share with them the greatest gift we’ve ever been given . . . Jesus! And as for those who already know Him, we are to encourage them by loving them the way Christ commanded us to love them. And while God-given, healthy boundaries may sometimes be a way to love someone, boundaries must never drive us.

Yes, we must seek God’s design in every relationship we encounter. Not all relationships are supposed to look the same. We must prayerfully seek God’s wisdom and discernment on how to navigate our relationships with one another. We must ask Him, “God, what is my purpose in this relationship?” While God may have different plans for each and every sacred soul in our lives, one purpose is clear for them all:


3 Reasons Why Staying Neutral is not Biblical

by Leslie Vernick

Last month I received an avalanche of responses on my Facebook page to last month’s blog “Let’s Not Call it Abuse.” Many women recounted painful experiences of invalidation, minimization, and silence from their Christian counselor when she disclosed what was happening at home.

From the overwhelming feedback I received, it obvious I hit a raw nerve and I think it best that we, as biblical counselors pay attention.

Refusing to call certain behaviors abuse and watering them down with more palatable words like “mutual sin” is like telling a rape victim that she had sexual intercourse outside of marriage. It’s true but imprecise. It doesn’t tell the whole story. We diminish the reality and intensity of an offense by our choice of words.

One woman, after reading my blog, decided to ask her counselor why he never stood up for her. Why he never confronted her husband on his abusive behavior. He said, “I can’t be your advocate because that would mean taking sides, and I can’t believe one person over the other. I have to counsel someone in a way that won’t drive him away.”

While I understand his position, in these kinds of cases it is unwise. It’s true that the counselor’s goal in marital counseling is to stay neutral and not take sides, but that is not Biblical when it comes to serious and repetitive marital sin. We must not stay silent and not speak the truth just because it may cause someone to get upset, walk away, or stop counseling. Jesus never did. 

Here are three reasons why I believe staying neutral is unbiblical and even dangerous to the individuals as well as the marriage.    

1. We don’t tell the truth.

As biblical counselors we are not merely truth-seekers; we are called to be truth-tellers. If we are counseling someone who is caught in a repetitive and dangerous sin and we minimize it, whitewash it, or ignore it, how are we helping that individual?

Biblical counselors are trained to tell the truth when it comes to sins; so, why do we stay silent on marital abuse? Most biblical counselors have no problem telling a woman who decides to divorce her abusive husband that she’s wrong, or God hates divorce. When she’s expressing bitterness and resentment toward her abusive spouse, she’s told that she’s unforgiving and hard hearted. Yet, why in so many situations has no one said to her husband that he is abusive and destructive to her and to their marriage? God’s word is quite clear. Scripture amply supports God’s stance against abuse and the tactics of abusers. 

The Bible says God hates injustice, oppressors, revilers, liars, hypocrites, and those who abuse their power to hurt and take advantage of others. Marriage is not the exception to God’s guidelines on how to treat people.

2. Neutral is not neutral when it comes to abuse and other serious sins.

Yes, it’s true that both people in a marriage are sinners, and, therefore, we should not cast more stones in one direction than another. But speaking the truth doesn’t have to be done with scolding and shame. It can be done in love, but it must be done. 

When we stay silent and refuse to name something for what it is, we are not neutral. Whether we realize it or not, by our silence we collude with the abuser that their behavior isn’t that bad. By our silence the abuser believes that we agree that if only his wife was more _____ he wouldn’t act that way. This places the burden on the abused to manage the abusers actions and attitudes. By our silence, we send the wrong message. We’re implying that we agree with the abuser’s interpretation of reality. That is not neutral or helpful.

Dietrich Bonheoffer, a martyred Lutheran pastor during Adolf Hitler’s regime said, “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself. Not to speak is to speak, not to act is to act.”  When the church refused to speak out against Hitler’s abuse of the Jews, the abuse became culturally acceptable behavior.

3. We fail to love  

In Hans Christian Andersen’s book The Emperor’s New Clothes, the king’s most trusted advisors were afraid to tell him the truth about his new non-existent wardrobe. Instead, they allowed him to make a fool out of himself parading around in his nakedness, believing that he looked fabulous. It took a child who was willing to tell the truth to shake people awake to their fear and foolishness. Those closest to the king failed to love him well by their unwillingness to tell him the truth. 

James reminds us, “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).

We do someone no favors when we silently collude with his delusion that it is his wife’s problem that he acts this way, or it’s his wife’s sole responsibility to fix their marriage.

In 1836 two sisters in an upper class Southern family, Angelina and Sarah Grimke, took a bold stance against their family practices, their church, and against their culture.

First Sarah, then Angelina, began to speak out against slavery, even though their family owned slaves and their church taught slavery was biblically sanctioned.

They were attacked, persecuted, and were not permitted to return to their own hometowns because people thought they were unbiblical.

Today when we look back, we applaud these young women for their courage and bravery. Today, Christians everywhere are speaking out against modern-day slavery and would never defend slavery as biblical, even though the Bible never speaks directly against it. 

I hope it doesn’t take a hundred years for the church to speak out against any kind of abuse in marriage. I hope it doesn’t take a hundred years for churches to begin to speak out against emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse in marriage and stop turning a blind eye to a woman or man or child being treated as a slave or object, especially in their own home.

I hope that a hundred years from now we look back on this time in church history and feel great shame for the way we have failed to defend or speak out for the victim, and by our silence and often our very words, we have empowered the “Christian” bully to continue to abuse those under his or her care. 

Edmond Burke once said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men (or women) do nothing”.

As Biblical counselors you and I have an obligation and responsibility to do something. We must speak up.