Grow By Grace

There are all sorts of ideas floating about today in various circles concerning sanctification. If you are getting confused by them, consider the following:

But grow in (by) the grace (help) and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:16).

More often than not, in NT (Koine) writing, it seems that the Greek “en” (often translated “in”) ought to be translated by one of its other possibilities–“by, with,” etc. Here, I am sure that it should read “by,”as I noted in the parenthesis in the quotation. The idea of a “spherical dative” is foolish here (as in many of the translations made of this important preposition).

What Peter was trying to get his readers to understand is that in order to grow in their faith it takes grace and knowledge—both, of course, applied to daily living—in order to grow. And growth, as one learns more about Christ and becomes more like Him, is what sanctification is all about. That grace (here, “help,” the second meaning of the word grace, is also a more appropriate translation).

Growth comes about as a believer learns more of the Christian faith and is helped by God to practice it. More and more he progressively comes to walk as he should (not, in this life without failures, of course). But if one is a true believer, he grows. He will change. He can because he is a new creation. Sanctification is not “on the spot,”as one modern preacher recently said. Nor does it come about without effort: studying and prayerfully applying scriptural truth. It is the result of knowing God’s truth about putting off the old sinful ways and replacing them with new biblical ones that please God. Growth is a sign of life—in this case spiritual life. No growth—no life.

Think about this and refuse to be herded by the crowd that teaches that something other than growth is essential.

ACBC

The National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC), now known as the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC), has had a powerful influence in my life and ministry for over 35 years. As a young pastor, I looked forward each year to spending a few days with men who influenced the course of my ministry through their teaching and example. Bill Goode, Jay Adams, Tim Turner, George Scipione, Howard Eyrich, Wayne Mack, Lloyd Jonas, and Randy Patten were among the men who helped and encouraged me in ways they probably never knew. The friendships I formed with other pastors who were learning and growing with me remain a valued part of my life today.

Those who are regular readers of our little blog know that my enthusiasm for the organization began to wane about seven years ago, and will recall several blog posts from those days in which I expressed my disappointments. Last year, however, marked a turning point for me. I came away from the conference in Louisville with a renewed hope for the direction of ACBC. The leaders were beginning to address many of the concerns I had, and many loose procedures were being tightened up.

Last week I attended the annual ACBC conference in Jacksonville. In the same way I thought it was important to express my misgivings in the past, I think it is equally important that I now express my enthusiasm and gratefulness for the direction I now see ACBC headed. Let me note a few takeaways I had from the conference this year:

  1. Each plenary speaker was helpful and encouraging. I especially appreciated the keynote address by Heath Lambert. It was a clear and bold explanation of the need for a faithful, biblical, and uncompromising stand for the authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures. Well done Heath.
  2. Several initiatives were announced that addressed areas that have needed to be “beefed up.” Asking members to get more training in specific areas of counseling is a great step forward.
  3. First Baptist Jacksonville were great hosts. The music they led was wonderful.
  4. There was a great spirit of comradery among those who were present, much like the “old days” that I remember.
  5. I was struck, however, by these who were NOT there. There were no displays, and no representatives from organizations and schools that like to identify with Christian Counseling broadly. Now I doubt they were asked not to attend, but I want to think that those organizations that would be comfortable at an AACC conference, or who believe it necessary to “build bridges” to integrationists, concluded they would have little to gain by displaying at an ACBC conference. If our message at ACBC clearly communicates we are not of that ilk, it would speak well of us.

Now I would like to think that the powers that be at ACBC were so greatly influenced by my opinions and came to see the great wisdom of what I was saying that they embarked upon these corrections because of my vast influence. But I doubt anyone reading would conclude the same. Still, from my little corner of the biblical counseling world, I would encourage anyone contemplating pursuing certification to hesitate no longer. The certification process is a bit stiffer than in the past, but that is a good thing. I believe ACBC is an organization with which you can identify with confidence.

Written In Stone

How would you like to have your words written down when you didn’t know they were going to be?

Well, listen to Job 19:23-24:

I wish my words were written down,
That they were recorded on a scroll
Or were inscribed on a stone forever
By an iron stylus and lead.”

He got his wish! Only from what he says later on in the book, I doubt that he would want them to be written anywhere by any kind of instrument after having been laced out by the Lord.

Still think he’d want his words to be recorded? Listen to Job 40:4:

I am so insignificant. How can I answer you?
I place my hand over my mouth.

So much for bolstering self-esteem! So much for questioning the Lord’s will as Job did.

“Will all of my words be recorded somewhere?”

Who knows?

Have you read Luke 12:3 lately? I suggest you get out your Bible right now and do so. It might have a salutary effect on your speech!

Using the Original Languages in Preaching

Why do I need to? After all, there was no time in the history of preaching when there were more good translations than now.

The argument sounds good; but the objector misses the obvious fact that the more translation possibilities that he has to choose from, the more one needs to know (at least something about) the original languages; otherwise, when they differ (and they do), how does he know which is correct? From which should he preach? Which more faithfully represents the original text of the writers? This is a special problem today, when so many translators have determined to become interpretive in their renderings. The very wealth of modern options itself should (all the more) point up the need for an acquaintance with the original languages.

“Where can I get this knowledge?” Self-help books, printed languages courses in both Greek and Hebrew, and internet courses exist. But (easiest) many Bible colleges. All conservative seminaries and a number of other schools provide courses in the original languages. Any pastor who has never had Greek or Hebrew (even if he doesn’t ever complete a seminary education) ought to take these courses. “Why?” Well, not only to decide between translations, but:

  1. To be able to “get the feel” of a passage. English translations tend to trowel off the original tone of the writers. Only by becoming acquainted with the original can one restore this. This “feel” is essential to good preaching.
  2. To be able to use the best commentaries and read the better Bible helps (most of which refer to the original text). Without some knowledge of the languages, one cannot follow the reasoning behind the renderings suggested.
  3. To be able to evaluate other books that (again, not using the original) may be far afield in their interpretations and/or uses of many passages.
  4. Preaching that flows from the study of a passage in the original moves forward with a more sure-footed stride; other preaching often limps. A certain confidence derives from having examined the text for one’s self.

“But I’ll never be a Greek or Hebrew scholar.” Right! That is true of most pastors. And right there lies the problem. Many good men who could have profited from a sensible use of the original languages were turned off by seminary teachers who taught them the study of languages as if their life occupation would be to teach Classics or Semitics in a university. They never recommended short cuts (e.g., like forgetting all about the rules for Greek accents—learning these is an almost totally unnecessary chore. One can get along well with learning only those distinguishing accents that count). They tried to build up a conscience against using analytical lexicons and interlinear translations (two very valuable helps that no one should feel guilty about using freely). They talk negatively about such books as Kubo’s Reader’s Lexicon and don’t tell students about Spiros Zodhiates’ crib for Machen’s grammar. All such “purism” is sheer nonsense. Who cares if a pastor leans on some Bagster help? Who cares how a person learns to get the right answers to his exegetical questions concerning the original languages so long as he gets them? Of course one should use the Englishman’s Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance if he finds it helpful. Why not?

With all that a busy pastor must do, it is only right for him to employ every available aid that he can afford, to keep his hand into the continued use of Hebrew and Greek. He would be a poor steward of time and energy if he did not. Many men have lost any language ability they once had because they believed (what they were told, or strongly led to think) that it was wrong to use anything but the naked text and the standard grammars and lexicons. Sheer, unadulterated nonsense! Pastor, if using an interlinear will help you get back to the Greek and Hebrew, use it—let me emancipate you from the chains of guilt forged in the shops of language teachers who never had to face the everyday problems of the pastorate. Use it! Use whatever is available. Indeed, every teacher of Hebrew and Greek in a theological seminary ought to take the time to compare and contrast these helps, giving his opinion about which is best (and why) and instructing pastors in the most effective and intelligent use of each.

Preach; preach from a study of the original text, and you will preach with confidence and joy.

All Truth

According to John 14:26, the apostles received the last revelation that would ever be given this side of eternity. Jesus told them

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, that the Father will send in My name, He is the One Who will teach you everything and remind you of everything that I told you.

It’s a good thing that God provided the Spirit to give all remaining revelation to the apostles, as well as to enable them to remember Jesus’ ministry so as to write inerrant Gospel accounts (See also John 12:16). We know that He met with them for forty days following His resurrection talking to them concerning the things that pertained to the church (Acts 1:3), but it was only after the Spirit of truth came upon them that they were given “all truth” (John 16:13), including prophetic understanding of the future. To know that they received all the truth that the church will ever have is important for many reasons, among which are the following:

  1. We can be sure that claims to additional revelation are false, and know, therefore, to reject them.
  2. We can know that there are no more prophecies to be forthcoming.
  3. We can know that the Scriptures, in which all truth is deposited, are sufficient for our lives.
  4. We can know that the more that we study the Bible and come to know the truths therein, the closer we come to knowing all the truth that God has disclosed (not that any of us gets all that far).
  5. We can know that there is a source of truth available to those who ask the Spirit to enable them to access and appropriate it as they study the Bible.
  6. We can know that God has completely provided a fixed rule of faith and practice for us in a world where everything else seems uncertain.

How richly God endowed us when in the coming of the Spirit, we also received all truth through the apostles!

Legalism

The Judaizing Christians who gave Paul and his infant churches so much difficulty were legalists. There are, of course, legalists around today as well. The Jerusalem council once-and-for-all decided to put an end to legalism in the church when they ended their letter with these words:

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to lay any additional burdens on you than these essentials: . . .

Then they went on to mention sacrifices to idols, blood from strangled animals and sexual sin, all of which had to do with pagan worship.

Did you get it? Not “any additional burden!” No legalists I know are making additional rules regarding pagan idolatry. But, sure as the day is long, they are busy all the time laying other burdens on people. It’s interesting; if you ask “why do you think that we must refrain from this or that?”—or “why we must certainly do such and such?”—what sort of answer they give. Usually it’s something like this: “you don’t get it; these things are really important. Such rules are crucial.”

Whoa! Did you read Acts 15:28 carefully? It says nothing but “these essentials.” Those listed in their letter are the only essentials. I quoted them above—and if I were a betting man (which I’m not), I’d bet dollars to donuts that these “really important” matters aren’t among them.

Every legalist—one who wants to make rules that aren’t found in the Scriptures—has his own set of “essentials” that differs from those of the council. Think twice before requiring them of others. The important thing is to always sharply distinguish God’s commands from your suggestions. What you say may or may not be expedient, and it probably is worth giving consideration to, but if it isn’t God’s Word it doesn’t have the same authority. And whenever you add to God’s Word, you adulterate it—now, that’s something that’s really important to avoid, don’t you think?

Counseling by Cliché

How is nouthetic counseling different from just coming along side of those who are struggling and building relationship and speaking into their lives?

This was the question that was put to one of our students as he explained to his church elders his goal to complete his studies with us and seek certification. Though framed many different ways it is a common question—why the need for formal training and formal counseling? Why can’t our church people just help each other with problems informally? Isn’t this just the “one anothering” the Bible talks about?

Let’s think for a moment about how your church accomplishes the tasks it believes are important. You believe studying and learning the Scriptures is important so you have organized a Sunday School and other learning opportunities. You meet at a set time, someone is designated to teach, and when you meet everyone understands the purpose of the gathering. The teacher has studied, is prepared to take charge of the class, and leads the students in a structured way to make good use of the time allotted.

What about your choir? You have a goal of presenting a Christ honoring anthem in a way that will facilitate the worship of your congregation. How is that accomplished? The choir meets at an appointed time, a qualified leader who understands music is placed in charge, and he uses the rehearsal time wisely to prepare the choir to minister the following Sunday. Would the choir be ready if rehearsals were done informally with a few choir members meeting at different times, in different places, and informally going through music of their own choosing?

In Corinth the church tried to have just these kinds of worship services.

What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.   (1 Cor 14:26)

The result was chaos. No one was being helped and nothing was being accomplished. Look again at the specific question as it was posed to our student. It consists of three abstract clichés strung together and asked as though this was the preferred way to minister to those who are “struggling.” Come along side how? Speak what into their lives? How will you decide if you have built a sufficient relationship in order to do this “speaking?” Does this same church approach other important ministries with similar vague and ill-defined plans?

Helping people deal with important problems in a biblical way that pleases God is far too important a task to do in such a haphazard way. It should be pursued aggressively, by people who are trained thoroughly, and done in a structured way so much can be accomplished as quickly and effectively as possible. Why should hurting people have to wait for a relationship to be built with a counselor before getting help?

Biblical counseling is not the only ministry going on in a church, but it is a vital one. Church members are taught and ministered to in a variety of ways, in various settings, and by many different people—all leading to the building up of the body of Christ. But when people’s lives hit the rocks (how’s that for a good cliché?) and they have problems that need immediate attention, what could be better than to have a cadre of well-trained men and women in your church who are ready to meet with them with the same kind of purpose and focus that your other church ministries are afforded? So much more can be accomplished—and much more quickly—if counseling is done “decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40).

Forgiven, and then Counsel Others

David was forgiven! He rejoices over the Lord’s goodness for that forgiveness in Psalm 32.  But he doesn’t stop with celebrating God’s mercy. He also considers it an obligation to urge others to seek forgiveness for their sin.  Indeed, he seems to be obligated to help. So he counsels them:

I will instruct you and show you the way to go; with my eye on you I will give counsel.   Psalm 32:8.

But what is that counsel? We can read it in the next verse:

Do not be like the horse or mule . . . that must be controlled with bit and bridle (v.9).

Why mention that?

He says that these are needed to bring the animal to you. In other words, when one won’t come on his own to seek God’s forgiveness, he must be dragged along. And David is willing to do it!

He wants his reader to deal with their sin differently than he did. He counsels him to be willing to come readily to God and seek forgiveness.  David had to be stunned into submission to God by Nathan’s story. He wanted, therefore, to warn others that they need not go through the agony he had experienced when, mulishly, he wouldn’t come to God seeking forgiveness (see v. 4).

So, too, why not urge your counselees—forgiven of sin—to willingly counsel others as he did?

 

When Counseling, Also Don’t . . .

Yesterday we published Dr. Adams’ list. Here is mine. What would you add?

  1. Minimize your counselee’s problem. It was important enough to him to seek counsel.
  2. Tell your counselee that you understand what he is going through. You probably don’t. Tell him Christ does.
  3. Use psychological labels and jargon.
  4. Debate counseling models and methods with your counselee.
  5. Give homework that does not directly relate to the problem.
  6. Delay addressing his problem thinking you must build a relationship first. Build a relationship by addressing his problem.
  7. Adjudicate disputes between two people.
  8. Overwhelm your counselee with too much homework.
  9. Let your counselee’s emotions dictate the agenda.
  10. Let other things distract you during a counseling session.
  11. Fail to laugh and enjoy a humorous moment when appropriate.
  12. Try to make a point with a long list of verses. Instead, explain carefully the one or two verses that best meet the need.
  13. Fail to take good notes during the session.
  14. Charge your counselee for the privilege of counseling with you.
  15. Commiserate with a depressed person—help him!
  16. Excuse failure to do homework.
  17. Allow someone, whose own life is out of control, control yours.
  18. Have your counselee read Scripture during the counseling session. You read it TO HIM—clearly.
  19. Yawn
  20. Fake it. If you don’t know what to do next ask the counselee to pray for you as you study the issue during the coming week.
  21. Do another pastor’s work for him. Insist that your counselee’s pastor come along to the counseling session.
  22. Become angry with an angry counselee.
  23. Pity a pitiful counselee.
  24. Think more highly of yourself than you ought.
  25. Speak in abstractions, be concrete.
  26. Assume your counselee understands the biblical principle or passage you are referring to.
  27. Let your counselee settle for relief from the immediate problem.
  28. Give up.
  29. Settle for some substitute for church discipline.
  30. Promise absolute confidentiality.
  31. Ignore or gloss over doctrinal differences.
  32. Fail to secure commitments from your counselee.
  33. Confuse repentance with regret.
  34. Monopolize the conversation. Listen!
  35. Talk about a counseling case with someone who has no reason to hear about it.
  36. Fear litigation because you have obeyed Scripture.
  37. Back down when you should stand firm.
  38. Fail to handle the Word carefully and honestly. Do your exegesis!

When Counseling, Don’t . . .

  1. Counsel women alone
  2. Counsel drunks; wait till they sober up
  3. Counsel someone being counseled by another
  4. Counsel without access to a phone, desk, writing materials, etc.
  5. Counsel people who set down conditions
  6. Counsel when a person refuses to do his homework
  7. Counsel by telephone
  8. Counsel by separating spouses from one another
  9. Counsel people so drugged that they can’t reason
  10. Counsel young children; counsel their parents
  11. Counsel unbelievers; evangelize them
  12. Counsel a Christian who will not accept Scripture as a Standard
  13. Counsel on succeeding days, unless absolutely necessary
  14. Counsel without giving homework
  15. Counsel unrepentant persons, who ought to repent, until they do
  16. Counsel during the 6-week period prior to the checkup
  17. Counsel if there is any question of an organic problem
  18. Counsel when a person will not come regularly for counsel
  19. Counsel until you have a PDI properly filled out
  20. Counsel heretics or cultists; evangelize them
  21. Counsel unless a person is willing for you to use the Scriptures
  22. Counsel people who denigrate others when told not to over and over again
  23. Counsel blame-shifters who will not admit it after adequate discussion
  24. Counsel people who insist on running the session their way
  25. Counsel people to return to liberal churches

This list is preliminary. Many other items could be added. There are possible exceptions to some of the items in the list. Donn will be posting his list tomorrow. What would you add to our lists?

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