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?

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, 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?

Literal Truth

In John 1:14 we read

And the word became flesh, and tented among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as a unique One from the Father, filled with grace and reality.

Notice several things:

  1. This literal, more accurate translation reveals much that the KJV does not.
  2. We learn truth about Jesus’ first advent and person that we don’t learn about elsewhere
  3. These truths are of importance to us in our daily, living relationship to Him.

Notice that His stay among us was temporary: He “tented” among us—He set up no permanent living quarters. He intended to spend only enough time here to accomplish what He needed to do upon His trip. From the time of His anointing as the Messiah (His baptism) to His death, He lived among us for only 3 1/2 years. His entire earthly dwelling was about 33 years in all. He intended not to remain, but to come and accomplish a purpose, and then leave—precisely what He did.

Note also that He was God’s message transformed from words alone into a living person (‘flesh”) so that we could see and hear him do and say what it was that God wanted us to know about Himself, delivered in this form. To see truth in person, in action, is more dramatic, clearer, memorable, etc.

Moreover, He was unique.  He was not only-begotten—all believers are begotten of God.  The word really means (as it does in John 3: 16, etc.) “the only one of His kind.” Only Jesus cold accomplish what He did because as a Person Who was unique in the ways in which He was, only He could do it. Only He, for instance, was God become man while yet remaining God as well.

Finally, He was full of grace (“help” of the sort sinners need)  and reality. There are two words N.T. Greek for “truth”—one for truth over against falsehood (not the one used here); the other reality as over against its shadow.   The Old Testament was full of shadowy types and truths, but no realities.  He was the reality that cast those shadows—the shadows that were but unreal, vague types, or pictures, of the reality that they represent.  He is the reality itself.

Take time to concentrate on each of these items and as you do, you will gain a much clearer understanding of Jesus and His earthly mission. Apart from a literal translation, you miss much of what God wants you to know about Jesus Christ.

God in Heaven and on Earth

Here is how a believer ought to think in the midst of the general confusion that he finds himself surrounded with today:

You guide me with Your counsel, and afterwards, you will take me up in glory; Whom do I have I heaven but You? And I desire nothing on earth but You.         (Psalm 73:24)

It really doesn’t matter whether or not we find the answers to the troubles, trials, and difficulties that we face in the present life. It is wonderful when God gives us such a boon! But we have more than the present for which to live and rejoice—we look forward to a trouble-free heaven where all tears will be wiped away, where we will no longer regret our actions because we will never sin again!  That is a place where righteousness will be at home!

So, whether now or later, our lives are sure and steadfast in Christ—and that is something for which we can be eternally thankful, beginning today!

That is something that those who do not know Him as their Savior cannot appreciate or affirm.  If it sounds too good to be true, read the Scriptures in which you can find God’s counsel, and the life of faith here and complete joy hereafter.

Women at Each Other’s Throats?

In the church at Philippi there was a division. This was headed up by two women—the worst sort of split any church can have! There’s always the possibility that it can become a real shin-kicker and hair puller!

Their names might easily have been Odious and Soon-touchy, if they were anything like what we find in churches today. Their actual names are found in Philippians 4:2.

Before Paul mentions any names, he makes clear two principles that must be at work when bringing unity to a divided church. In Philippians 2:3, 4, he sets these forth:

  1. Get rid of selfishness or vane thinking about your own worth, while at the same time considering others better than your self.
  2. Instead of being all—fired concerned with your own interests, for once in your life begin to put the interests of other before your own!

You can always find some way in which others are better than you—if you’re willing to prayerfully take an honest look (of course, as his words indicate, Paul would have you to look away from yourself in order to do so).

And, if you are concerned about furthering others’ concerns rather than your own, again, you’ll find ways of doing so.

The two principles are not hard to understand-just hard for quarreling people to follow. Repentance may be in order to be able to do so.

On those two points, he goes further in the verses that follow to show how that’s exactly what Jesus did for us. He selflessly put us first, going so far as to put our interests (salvation) before His manifested glory as the second Person of the Trinity. He was willing to stoop to becoming a man, to becoming a slave, to becoming a criminal who died on the cross—all for our sakes.

Think of His condescension the next time your foot gets stepped on, the next time someone disagrees with you, the next time you’ve been insulted, the next time . . . simply the next time! It isn’t a matter of who is right. The point is—how are you handling the relationship? Follow these two principles, and you will certainly be doing much to bring about unity. In unity, you can work out the differences!

Assurance

John Calvin’s emphasis was upon certainty. He abhorred the way in which Romanism kept people wondering whether or not they were saved. In his Defense of the Reformed faith, p. 256; Eerdmans, Grand Rapids (1958), he wrote:

Thus nothing is left but constant disquietude, and slow torture, and perplexing doubts, which will wear out the soul not less effectively than open murder.

In speaking of Roman confession, he also said,

The Apostles did not discharge their office of binding and loosing by hearing Confessions, but by preaching the gospel . . . And the reason why they strongly urge Confession is, because they wish to make the world obsequious to them, and to hold it in subjection . . . yet to color Confession, and hold it forth as a thing necessary to salvation, is neither expedient nor lawful. Conscience cannot be squeezed by the chains of such laws, without being strangled. (Ibid., p. 257, 258).

He was concerned about poor, wretched people, deluded by the traditions of men, who were enslaved to a system purporting to be Christian, but in reality, anything but.

There is salvation neither in works of penitence, nor in any other ceremony or human action. Salvation—with the assurance it brings—is in Christ alone. It is because by His death and resurrection He satisfied God once for all, that those who believe can have assurance of salvation. In what are you trusting—that which brings certainty or that which brings confusion and terror?

Ready to Enter

According to the writer of Hebrews the saints listed in chapter 11 among the faithful all died in faith

 “without receiving the things that were promised.”

As the last verse in the chapter makes clear, this is the point of the words written about them. They believed, their faith led to extraordinary works, they went to be with Christ (which is far better than anything they knew here), but they still were waiting—waiting for the coming of the One Who would finally die, once for all, that they might be assured of life eternal. God was waiting for us to arrive on the scene—and believe. How wonderful that He and they patiently waited for us.

But patience is one of the great biblical virtues; it is not merely another piece of the Spirit’s fruit.  How good God has been to us (as He was to them) to postpone the fulfillment of the promises so that we too could cash in on them. The day when we rise to meet the Lord in the air, and all that occurs subsequently, is yet in the future, but we have come right up to it. We could not be closer without being inside enjoying the festivities of Hebrews 13:22-24! It’s as if we were standing in the vestibule looking through the glass doors at the joyous gathering inside. As we die, the door opens and we join the crowd!

THANKS FOR THE WONDERFUL PICTURE OF THAT DAY FOUND IN THIS CHAPTER!

Living Right?

Christians often wonder about their lives—“Am I living the sort of life that pleases God?” some ask themselves (sometimes every day!). They think “I know that I still sin frequently; I haven’t by any Scriptural standard become all that God wants me to be.”  They wonder, “How does God see me when He sees my heart and my works?”

There are a number of indices by which you may begin to find answers to your questions (see especially 1 John), but there is one in particular that I wish to mention. Listen to Psalm 97:10:

You who love the Lord, hate evil.

How strongly do you hate? If there is no hatred in your life, there is something dead wrong.  Hatred for evil is a determining factor in whether or not you love God as you should. In some ways, the strength of your love for God is your hatred for evil—especially in yourself!

If evil doesn’t disturb you, and you have become cavalier about it, so that when you encounter evil not even the slightest bit of anger whelms up within—then something is wrong: dead wrong! You’d better begin examining your true love in terms of a true hatred—for sin and its effects.

Your love for God is determined by your hatred for evil (in part) because God hates evil. If you are not moved to anger, let alone hatred, over evil, it is time to do something about it.

“How can I change?” you ask. By beginning to think God’s thoughts after Him.  Until you think as He does about sin in His world, you will not love Him as you ought. How can you begin to think His thoughts? By studying the Bible—more and more to discover How He thinks!

Empirical Evidence?

minion-clipboardQuestion: What empirical evidence do you have that Nouthetic Counseling is superior to other forms of counseling?

Answer: Quite frankly, none. Do you wonder at that? Let me tell you why you shouldn’t. To compare Christian counseling with other forms of counseling is to compare oranges to apples (no, let’s say, oranges and socks!). Consider the goal of Christian counseling over against that of others. Most counseling seeks to solve a person’s problem in order to bring relief. That is the prime goal. In Christian counseling, however, the goal is to honor and glorify God, whether or not relief is obtained. How, then, do you compare the outcomes?

Moreover, since the object of biblical counseling is to bring about change in the counselee that honors God, how would you test for that empirically? Would you put his soul in a test tube, shake it up and hope it turns blue? How would you test whether God was honored, whether the motives of the counselee were sound (since God looks upon the heart; not merely on outward behavior) or whether he only made changes outwardly? How would you determine the extent of the Holy Spirit’s work in the counselee’s life so as to make the desired spiritual changes? In other words, there is no way to obtain empirical evidence. Since it is biblical attainments that are under consideration, it is impossible to get statistical evidence for the spiritual changes that the biblical counselor seeks to bring about.

Then, further, why would we need any tests anyway? The One Who tries the hearts of men is the Lord. He infallibly knows what is happening within the person. We can look only at his outward behavior and listen to his speech. It is He Who tests; and that is all that counts. Besides, from the counselor’s perspective, success is measured not by the outcome of the counseling sessions but ultimately by whether the counselor did those things that were biblical, thereby honoring his Lord. Success may be measured in many ways; Christians should measure it in terms of how well the counselor followed the Bible in a given case. And once again, there is no way to test this except by comparing what he does with what the Scriptures require of him.

So, what does the Christian counselor have to demonstrate the effectiveness of Nouthetic counseling? Nothing, as I said before. And he is absolutely content to say so. He must do as well as he can to meet biblical requirements in order to please God, and then let the chips fall where they may. He knows that his performance as a counselor will be flawed since he is not perfect. But he also knows that when he asks for forgiveness for failure God measures his success by that as well as by the performance. So, given the goals, given the persons at work (the counselor and the Holy Spirit) and given the kinds of outcomes that are expected and achieved in the sight of God, it would be not only foolish but arrogant to attempt to test Nouthetic counseling by some human apparatus. We do not have to set results of the sort that they might wish before the world, so long as we honor and please God. On Judgment Day, He will reveal the statistics! Any counseling claiming to be “Christian” that makes much of statistics thereby invalidates itself as such by showing that its goals and outcomes are not thought of in biblical terms.

Since the human counselor is not the only one who is at work in Christian counseling, the Christian has an “unfair advantage” over other counselors. With the Holy Spirit enlightening the minds of counselees and enabling them to overcome sinful propensities that hinder growth, producing His fruit through His inerrant Word, what profit would there be in trying to determine how well a human counselor counsels? In effect, he is but a catalyst, ministering the Scriptures in ways that the Spirit utilizes to bring about change in counselees. The Spirit is the ultimate Counselor. The whole concept of empirical evidence, statistics and the like, begs the question. And the thought of attempting to obtain them is repugnant. Sorry, but that is how it is.