Gospel-Centered Pastoral Counselling (1)

7 February 2011 by Wes Bredenhof

Revised text of a lecture for the Bible Seminary in Aguascalientes, Mexico in February, 2008.


Many pastors are asked for help in counseling.  This is especially true with members of their churches.  People look to their pastors for help.

As pastors, we can help with every kind of problem.  Yet we cannot help with every kind of problem in the same way.  For example, we are not trained in psychology or psychiatry.  We are not trained in medicine.  When people come to us with a physical or mental illness, we can help them in a certain way, but we cannot help them the way that a doctor can.

Pastors should be men trained to help people with spiritual care.  Many years ago, pastoral counseling was called “the care of souls.”  We are not trained to solve medical problems – a pastor is not a doctor for the body and that includes the brain.  However, we should aim to be doctors for the soul.  Hebrews 13:17 says that pastors are those who care for the souls of the sheep that God has placed in their flock.

In this lecture, I want to explain how pastors can help the people in our churches with every kind of problem.  How can we help in the way that fits with the work that God has given pastors to do?


To begin with, we need to speak about presuppositions.  Presuppositions are concepts or ideas that we hold which are not up for debate or discussion.  They are firmly held beliefs.  They are the starting place for our discussions about anything else.  All pastors should have certain presuppositions, concepts that are taken from the Bible that are the foundation for everything else we think about.  Presuppositions are the concepts that are the foundation for everything we do.   When we look at a topic like pastoral counseling, it is helpful to make our presuppositions clear.  In this section, we want to especially make clear those presuppositions which directly affect how we think about pastoral counseling.  We will now do that.  I should say that much more could be said on each of these presuppositions.  But I will try to keep it short.  So, our first presupposition:

The Word of God

The Bible teaches that it is the inspired Word of God.  It is the authority for our lives.  The Bible can never be wrong.  The most important Bible passage here is 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

From that passage, we know that the Bible has been breathed out by God – it is inspired by God, it comes from God.  Many people were involved with the writing of the Bible, but the first author is God.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 also tells us that the Bible is useful for a number of things.  It is useful for teaching people.  That means it is useful for teaching people truth that matters, truth that saves.  It is useful for rebuking.  That means it is useful for pointing out where people are going wrong in their lives.  The Bible is useful for correcting.  That means it is useful for showing people the right way to go in their lives.  Scripture is useful for training in righteousness.  That means the Bible is useful for making people look more and more like Jesus Christ.  And what is the result of all these uses of the Bible?  God says the result is that the man of God will be totally ready for every good work.  That means the Bible leads every Christian to be ready for a Christian life.

Now I could say a lot more on this point, but let me say just two more things.  2 Timothy 3:16 says “All Scripture.”  When those words were first written, the New Testament was not finished.  When Paul wrote “All Scripture,” that first of all meant the Old Testament.  Today many Christians do not place much value on the Old Testament, but God says here that the Old Testament is useful for all these different things.  Of course, as time went on the books of the New Testament were also added.  They are also the inspired Word of God that is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.  But we often forget that the Old Testament is important too.

That brings us to the question of what the Bible is about.  What is its main message?  We have help on this point from Jesus Christ.  Listen to what he said in Luke 24:27 as he spoke to the two men on the road to Emmaus,

And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, he expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

A little further on, Jesus appeared to his disciples and he said in Luke 24:44-45,

“These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning me.”  And he opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.

He said something similar to the Jews in John 5:39,

You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of me.

And also in John 5:46,

For if you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.

So, who is the Bible about?  It’s all about Jesus Christ.  It all points to him.  Remember that when Jesus said these words, the New Testament was not written yet.  The entire Bible, including the Old Testament, points to Jesus Christ and the salvation we have in him.

When we come to pastoral counseling, we do so with the understanding that the Bible alone is our foundation and the Bible’s message centers on Jesus Christ and on the gospel.  That has to be our starting point, our first and ultimate presupposition.

What the Bible Teaches About God

The Bible teaches that God is there.  It assumes the existence of God.  We know that God is highly exalted (transcendent), but he is also intimately present (immanent).  We also work with the presupposition that God is three persons in one being, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He is our Creator, Redeemer, and Renewer.  There is much more to mention, but let me also say that we presuppose God’s sovereign power.  He is almighty God and no one can stop him from doing what he wants to do.

What the Bible Teaches About Man

The Bible teaches that God created man in his own image.  Before the fall into sin, man was perfect, but yet finite.  Man is limited in what he can do and know.  The Bible teaches that man fell into sin.  Afterwards, the Bible says that man is dead in transgressions and sins (Eph. 2:1).  This fallenness extends to every aspect of our humanity.  We call that pervasive (or total) depravity.

What the Bible Teaches About Salvation

However, God comes after man to save him.  To save him from what?  To save him from the wrath of God against sin.  That wrath will be most fully poured out in hell.  God saves man from that.  He does that through Jesus Christ.  If a man will be saved, he must believe in Jesus Christ alone for his salvation.  Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone and through Jesus Christ alone.  The result is glory for God alone!

What the Bible Teaches About Sanctification

The Bible teaches that God saves people from the curse of sin.  That means when we believe in Jesus Christ, we have peace with God.  However, that does not mean that Christians are perfect people.  The Bible teaches in Romans 7 and Galatians 5 that we have the remnants or left overs of the old nature still in us.  While the curse of sin is taken away, we still have to contend with the power of sin.  We must fight against sin in our lives.  Yes, we have peace with God, but it is a peace which starts a war.  It is a war against sin.  We call this war “sanctification.”  Sanctification is the process by which God makes us to look and more like Jesus Christ.  He does that with the Word and with the Holy Spirit.

What the Bible Teaches About the Church

Salvation and sanctification normally occur through the ministry of the Church.  The church is not a hotel for saints, but a hospital for sinners.  It is the place where sinners are being made well.  Believers cannot be people who live by themselves.  God has put us in the body of Jesus Christ – in the Bible, especially in Ephesians, the body of Christ is typically the local church.

What the Bible Teaches About the Future

At the end of the age, the Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ will return.  When he returns, we will receive more with Christ than what we lost with Adam’s fall into sin.  We have a glorious salvation in Jesus Christ waiting for us.  We know that Jesus Christ has the victory over sin and death and when he returns that victory will be revealed as being complete.  The Devil and all who followed him will be thrown into the lake of fire.

(to be continued)