Gospel-Centered Pastoral Counselling (2)

8 February 2011 by Wes Bredenhof

Part 2 of the revised text of a lecture for the Bible Seminary in Aguascalientes, Mexico in February, 2008.  See here for part 1.

Applying the Presuppositions

So, those are our presuppositions.  Now I want to take those presuppositions and apply them to pastoral counseling.  Especially that first presupposition about the Bible.  Second Timothy 3:16 said that the Bible is useful for a number of things.  Did you notice that all of those things have something in common?  They are all about change.  Changing people into something new and better.  The Bible is useful for changing people.  Now that is what counseling is all about, isn’t it?  People come to us because they are unhappy.  They want to change and be happy.  Counseling is all about change.  So, the Bible is useful for counseling.

Now remember what I said a few moments ago about the message of the Bible.  It’s all about Jesus Christ and the good news about him.  If that’s true, then we should think about how to apply the good news of the Bible to pastoral counseling.  As pastors, how can we bring the gospel of Jesus Christ into a broken marriage?  As pastors, how can we bring the good news of Christ for someone addicted to alcohol or drugs?  How can we help someone who is depressed with the gospel?  How is bringing the gospel going to bring real change?

Application of the Gospel to Pastoral Counselling

When we do counseling, usually we are working with people who have broken lives.  Sometimes this brokenness is caused by their own sin or sins.  Sometimes this brokenness is cause by the sin or sins of other people.  Sometimes the brokenness is caused by the fact that we live in a world that has sickness and weakness – things which are the general effects of the fall into sin of Adam and Eve.  Many times it is a combination of these things.  Sin is at least part of the problem – and sin is the part of the problem that pastors are able to help with.

As pastors, we know what to do about sin and how to help sinners.  We have Jesus Christ who came into this world to save sinners.  We have Jesus Christ who not only saves people from the wrath and curse of God.  Jesus Christ also saves people from the power of sin in their lives.  He can help!

So, when we do pastoral counseling we need to think carefully about where Jesus Christ fits in this situation.  How can we present the gospel as good news for the person who asks for our help?  How can that good news become even better good news as Jesus Christ continues to do his work in that person?  How can that good news change sinners to become more and more like Jesus Christ?

There is a lot to say here and I am keeping things simple.  To help you understand what I am saying, let us look at three examples or case studies.

Case Studies

A Broken Marriage

Marriage problems are common, even among Christians.  What do you say when you have a couple in front of you and they just cannot stop fighting?  The first thing we need to get them to realize is where the problem really is.  They have to look in the mirror.  The famous British author G.K. Chesterton was asked what he thought the biggest problem in the world was today.  He said, “I am.”  What is the biggest problem in my marriage?  I am.  This is where we need to get couples.  We need to have them see their own sin and take responsibility for it instead of blaming.

When we get them to that point, we can say to them, “Okay, where is Jesus Christ in your situation?”  We can ask them, “Who is Jesus Christ to you at this moment in this problem?”  We want to lead them with the Bible to see that first of all Christ is their Saviour, the one who forgives their sin.  Jesus is the one who wipes away all their sins in this situation with his blood.  The Lord Jesus is the one who lived a perfect life for this couple.  They have been forgiven much if they believe in Christ!  And if they have been forgiven much, they should also be ready and willing to forgive one another, just as Christ has done for them.  If they have been shown mercy, they should show mercy.  They believe in Christ, they are joined to him with faith, they are in him.  What he does has to become what they do.

We also want the couple to see that what Paul says about Christ and the Church in Ephesians 5 is good news.  Christ never abandons his church.  He works to have a good relationship with her.  The church is called to have a good relationship with him.  The good news is very good and so in our marriages, we want to reflect that good relationship.

An Addict

Addictions are terrible things.  People become addicted to drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling, and many other things.  Addiction is slavery.  Basically, sin takes over your life.  With addiction, the sin also often takes over your body and makes chemical changes in your body.  Pastors can help with the spiritual side of addiction, but the physical side is a place where the help of doctors may be needed.

What hope can we give to a person who is an addict?  How can we do gospel-centered pastoral counseling with an addict?  First, we need to tell them the truth.  Addicts are sinners like everyone else.  And there is hope for sinners.  There is hope with Jesus Christ, the friend of sinners.  In a sense, we all are addicted to sin.  We keep going back to it again and again.  Yet there is hope with Jesus Christ.  We need to tell the addict that.  If he believes in Jesus Christ, if he places his faith and trust in him, there is hope for change.  We can read that wonderful passage from 1 Corinthians 6:7-11.  Paul says that some of the Corinthian Christians were sexually immoral, some were homosexuals, some were thieves, and others were drunkards – they were addicted to alcohol.  And then listen to the good news he brings in verse 11, “And that is what some of you were.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  That is very good news!  There is hope.  And that hope comes when we counsel the addict to fix his eyes and focus on Jesus Christ.

Let me mention a resource on the Internet:  www.settingcaptivesfree.com This is a gospel-centered counseling program for people with addictions.  People can also follow the programs in Spanish.  Many people have been helped with it.


Where I come from, depression is a serious problem for many people.  Many people in my church suffer with depression, especially in the winter time.  I do not know how things are in Mexico.  There are apparently cultures in the world where there is no name for depression.  People do not know what it is and it does not seem to happen.  At least it does not seem to happen very much.

But okay, maybe you will have a depressed person in your church.  How can you give them help with the Bible?  Like addictions, depression can be a complicated problem.  Sometimes people who are depressed need to be helped with medication.  But you are the pastor and you can still give the hope of the gospel.  For a Christian, you can comfort them with the promises of God that even though they do not feel like it, God is still there.  God still loves them and cares for them.  God still gives his grace in Jesus Christ.

The Psalms are very good to read with people who are depressed.  In the Psalms we hear many cries for help.  David and the other writers of the Psalms often suffer.  Take Psalm 88.  If you read that Psalm to someone who is depressed, they will agree that the person who wrote it is someone who understands.  This is somebody who believes in God, but he feels like God has abandoned him.  He feels like God is distant.  He feels like God does not care for him.  Those feelings might not be telling the truth, but those feelings and emotions are very real for the one who is suffering.  The Bible takes those feelings seriously.

Then as we read this Psalm with the depressed person, we should ask them to think about whose words they are.  They are not just the words of a man.  They are the Word of God and that is God’s grace for them.  In fact, they are the words of the one who is both God and man, Jesus Christ.  We saw earlier that the Old Testament (and the book of Psalms – Luke 24:44) is all about Jesus.  The Psalms are the songs of Jesus.

When the person we are counseling learns this, we can read Psalm 88 with them again.  We read it with new eyes.  Psalm 88 is a song about Jesus Christ.  The Lord Jesus was the one abandoned by God.  When he was on the cross he said, “My God, my God, why have you turned your back on me?”  Jesus suffered in a way that we can never understand.  And he did it for us.  So Jesus Christ understands depression.  People can go to him and tell him how they feel and ask him for help.  They can learn to cope with depression.  By looking to Jesus Christ, they can even learn to grow spiritually through depression.


That brings us to the end.  If there is one thing that I want you to remember it is that the Bible is all about Jesus Christ.  Further, 2 Timothy 3:16 says that the Bible is useful for helping people to change.  In other words, for pastors the gospel of Jesus Christ is all we need to do the counseling work that God puts on our path.  I am not a counseling expert with many years of experience. Yet I have seen the power of the gospel to change lives.  I know the power of my Saviour and I hope and pray you do as well.