Rev. Johnny J. Touchet has been my chief mentor in the area of biblical counseling. He developed a practical means of evangelizing those counselees who come for help but don't know Christ. He and I collaborated together in writing this article. His biblical method grounded in Gal. 5:19-23, which he calls "The Tree," is highlighted herein. We hope it will be helpful to you.
The disciplines of evangelism and counseling are regarded by most to be vastly different in both theory and method. However, a biblical understanding of the disciplines reveals the congruity of the two. The purpose of this article is to ground our understanding of evangelism and counseling in the Scriptures that the reader might understand their interconnectedness in relation to the glory of God. The concept of the glory of God comes into play here because that dynamic is ultimate.
D. T. Niles rightly noted that "evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread." Could not counseling be described in the same way? Let us examine then, the glory of God in counseling and the need of humankind in counseling. We will close with a synthesis of these two dynamics, that is, some practical application regarding evangelism in counseling.
First, there is the glory of God in counseling. The primary focus, in biblical terms, in evangelism is the glory of God in the lives of individuals. This focus is the missionary goal. Missionaries are sent to the people groups of the world with the message of hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ. While the conversion of those who do not know Christ is of paramount importance, behind the goal of conversion is the desire to see those who do not know Christ come to know Him that they might worship Him in Spirit and in truth. In other words, as John Piper has pointed out, because unbelievers do not worship Christ, we go with the purpose of making worshippers of the true and living God. We engage in this activity that God might be glorified among the nations. A thorough-going understanding of evangelism and/or missions in biblical terms must include the notion that the ultimate goal in such activity is the glory of God. Paul wrote in Rom. 15:8-12: "For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, 'Therefore I will give praise to Thee among the Gentiles, and I will sing to Thy name.' And again he says, 'Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.' And again, 'Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise Him.' And again Isaiah says, 'There shall come the root of Jesse, and He who arises to rule over the Gentiles, in Him shall the Gentiles hope.'" Paul affirmed that Christ came that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy.
Second, there is the need of humankind in counseling. The question arises, "Does the above understanding of evangelism have any connection with counseling?" Most people who come for counseling are not coming because they sense their need for a Savior. They come for counseling because they hurt. We, as God's spokespersons, should understand that so often the people who come to us have never been truly converted. We of all people should understand that their first need is to become worshippers of the true and living God. Why is it that we affirm the discipline of biblical counseling as opposed to psychology? Because we believe that abundant life is found in Christ; the Christ of the Scriptures. We desire that people come to Christ that their lives as a result of being changed from glory to glory by the grace of God might honor and glorify Him. God is glorified when persons who know Him not, persons whose lives are in shambles, come to know Him and walk humbly in obedience to Him submitting their understanding to His remedy for human sin, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thus, there is an interconnectedness between evangelism and counseling. When people who are hurting come to us as counselors for solid advice, we must establish, as far as it lies within us, whether or not a person is saved. We cannot really counsel unbelievers because they do not have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and therefore they do not have power for holy lives. Without the Spirit of God, men and women are spiritually deluded (1 Cor. 2:14), dead (Eph. 2:1-3), and helpless (1 Cor. 2:14). They are foolish (Psalm 14) and at enmity with God (Rom. 5:10). The counselee's greatest need at that point is Christ. Thus, the counselor must engage in what Jay Adams calls pre-counseling, or, what we would call evangelism. Only when a person is brought into right relationship with the Lord does he/she have the ability to change. This ability is derived from the indwelling Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 5:17; Jn. 3:3-7). The Holy Spirit gives power to change (1 Thess. 1:5-7). This change is necessary for life, both now and in the age to come. No counselor can see the heart of his/her counselee. Yet, he/she must deal with the heart with love and gentleness in light of the biblical revelation regarding the desperate condition of all human beings without Christ. Only then can counseling occur. Sanctification can only occur after salvation as persons understand, embrace, and apply the word of God to their hearts and lives. As men and women are saved and sanctified, God is glorified.
We have seen the interconnectedness between evangelism and counseling. Let us now turn to synthesis as we outline what we do most often with new counselees. First, after gathering data and determining that a person needs Christ, we simply ask the question, "How is your relationship with the Lord?" We may ask, "Are you a Christian," or "What evidence can you point to that indicates that you are right with God?" Obviously, the question is a means of turning the conversation toward the things of God.
Second, we turn to Gen. 2:17 and explain how God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil on the pain of death in the day they ate thereof. In Gen. 3:1-7 we read the account of the fall. After doing so, we ask the simple question, "Did Adam and Eve die in the garden that day?" Of course they did not die physically in that day, but, they did die spiritually.
Third, after explaining spiritual death, we turn to Eph. 2:1-3 and explain the depravity of all human beings. They are spiritually dead and focused on themselves. This truth elucidates the absolute necessity of the new birth.
Fourth, we turn to Jn. 3:1-8 and walk through Jesus' instruction regarding the new birth verse by verse. Note that Jesus told Nicodemus three times in four verses, "You must be born again." In v. 6 the Lord explains that which is flesh is flesh and that which is Spirit is Spirit. An obvious contrast is being drawn between those who have been born of the flesh only and those who have been born of the Spirit.
Fifth, this discussion naturally leads us to Gal. 5:19-25 where the flesh and the Spirit are contrasted again. At this point we do something very simple. We take a piece of paper and draw a tree with its roots in the ground. We talk about the fact that the type of seed in the ground determines the type of fruit produced on the tree. At the top of the page we write the word flesh on the left side of the tree and the word Spirit on the other. We then read vv. 19-21 and discuss the terms and definitions of the works of the flesh. We ask the counselee to write out the list under the word flesh. We always place an emphasis upon v. 21 where Paul states that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. We then ask the counselee to read about the fruit of the Spirit. After discussing the meaning of each term, we ask him/her to write the list under the word fruit. Then we very gently ask the counselee to circle those dynamics on either side of the tree that are part and parcel of his/her life. We cannot tell you how many times, after filling up the left side of the page, God has used this simple method to show counselees their sinfulness before Him, their need for Him, and their eternal destiny without Him. Seeing thier lives in black and white in the mirror of Scripture often causes them to see thier need for a Savior, Christ. It's like turning stadium lights on in one's bathroom in the morning.
Sixth, if the Holy Spirit appears to be working in the life of the counselee, we turn to Rom. 3:10-23. Here we see that no one seeks after God, no one is good, all persons are guilty before Holy God, no one will be justified by his/her own goodness or righteous deeds, and Christ is our only hope.
Seventh, we turn to Rom. 10:1-10. After walking through the text, we emphasize vv. 8-10 noting that one needs to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord. However, one can only do so in response to a change of heart that has been wrought by the Holy Spirit. Remember, human beings are totally dependent upon God for salvation. Paige Patterson rightly proclaimed, "It is from beginning to end the grace of God. It is what God has planned from all eternity and programmed…and we must confirm and affirm what God has said, and that is: Salvation is an act of God!" Thus, we may not manipulate people at this point. We call them to repentance and faith. We persuade and answer questions. But we do not give them false hope through some human mechanism like signing a spiritual birth certificate or leading them in a sinner's prayer. These dynamics are not found in Scripture. Calling persons to come to Christ through repentance and faith is the biblical method.
As many ways exist to share Christ from the Scriptures as there are men and women who do not know Christ. Remember always however, to start and finish with love for God and concern for His glory as your motive, love for human beings and a recognition of their helplessness as your worldview, and a complete reliance upon the Word and Spirit as the means of salvation. As you do these things, you will be an effective counselor. "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able also to admonish one another (Rom. 15:13-14)."
[Rev. Touchet is a certified biblical counselor and serves as Pastor of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in Powdersville, SC. He has a precious wife and six wonderful, homeschooled children. He may be contacted at email@example.com.]