How do I counsel unbelievers?

You cannot counsel unbelievers. Don't even try. Those two statements need explanation, of course. Let me try to help you understand.

When you work with believers, your resources are vast; the Spirit and the Word operate to bring about change. Unbelievers have neither power at work in them. Moreover, the Christian counselee possesses a regenerate nature capable of understanding and appropriating biblical truth. Again, that is something the unbeliever does not have. According to Romans 8:8, "Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." That fact underscores it all. Even if you help an unbeliever change from one outward behavior that is displeasing to God to a different one, the new behavior will also displease Him. Is that what God has called you to do? Certainly not.

Then, what should you do to help unbelievers? The Bible tells you to precounsel (evangelize) them. Explain to him,

God has the answers to all your problems. But they are not available to you. I must first spend time precounseling* you so as to help make them available. We cannot begin counseling until this matter is settled.

Then, present the gospel. Never seek to counsel before successful evangelism has taken place, or the unbeliever may think that some change he has made pleases God when, in reality, it does not. False assurance will lead him away from Christ.

Warn unbelievers not to make a false profession of faith in order to obtain counseling. Faith must be genuine. Sometimes you must help remove some impediment to evangelism in order to get a hearing. This may take the form of giving simple advice, helping a believing spouse change, etc. But never confuse those kinds of help with counseling.

 * I use the word "precounsel" for two reasons: first, it makes clear that counseling has yet to begin. Second, the word "evangelize" scares off some unbelievers.

Jay E Adams

Institute for Nouthetic Studies

100 White Meadow Ct
Simpsonville, SC 29681

(864) 399-9583




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