Helping the Counselee Understand Competing Voices

September 21st, 2020 by posted in Counseling

“When truth lines up next to error, Bible next to philosophies of life, Christ next to figments of the imagination, you can learn to spot the difference in a flash. Good is good, evil evil, never the twain shall meet, and God trains our senses to discern good and evil. But in actual lives lived things are often not simple.

It is no surprise, then, that in life stories you often notice competing voices jostling for the final say. Competing life-trajectories wrestle for the controls. A transcription of what takes place in a person’s soul reads like a courtroom drama where different witnesses tell contradictory stories about what happened.

These are givens of our struggle on the long walk from regeneration to glorification.”[1]

One of the goals of biblical counseling is to effectively use the Scriptures to address the pressures, issues and difficulties of life with the power, guidance and authority it contains.  Using the authority of God’s Word and loving guidance from the counselor, Biblical counseling seeks to reverse those sinful patterns which began in the Garden of Eden.[2] Lasting change requires more than behavior modification, which has usually only short term success at best. For genuine change to occur, the Holy Spirit must act upon a person’s heart as he makes him a “new creation.”   God has provided answers in his Word for every possible spiritual/mental/emotional problem that mankind has ever or could ever experience.

Another goal of biblical counseling is to assist others in their maturity in Christ. R.C Sproul wrote, “No Christian can avoid theology. Every Christian is a theologian. Perhaps not a theologian in the technical or professional sense, but a theologian nonetheless. The issue for Christians is not whether we are going to be theologians but whether we are going to be good theologians or bad ones”[3]

Through proper counseling we learn more about God, more about ourselves, we are faced with the reality of sin, and through Christ centered discussion, the Holy Spirit uses his Word to move us further through progressive transformation that conforms us more and more to the image of Christ. This, indeed, makes both the counselor and counselee better theologians. And thus, the Bible is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17).

So, the goal of biblical counseling is to help someone see themselves through the lens of Scripture.  Biblical counseling should help them accurately assess what God’s Word says, understand and admit where they are falling short in obeying it, and provide encouragement to help them get on or back to the correct path. Our hope in counseling is always the transformation of the counselee. And so in most cases, by the grace of God, we have a front row seat as God transforms our counselee. We spend weeks pouring into the life of another person. We spend many hours in prayer and in weekly preparation hoping to bring God’s Word to bear in the lives of these dear people. We are thrilled to see what the Holy Spirit has done through the Word of God.

And now it is time to “graduate” them and end the period of formal counseling.

We are confident, while at the same time a bit nervous. We would be wise to sense a similar confidence and nervousness in the heart of the counselee. Certainly our goal has never been to have the counselee rely on the counselor. It is always our desire that the counselee develop a deeper love for the Word of God, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet we sometimes sense that we are throwing the sheep back into the world with wolves.

How can we help the counselee continue in godly transformation without regular formal meetings together? I believe one of those practical ways is to help the counselee understand competing voices in their lives, and help them focus on the treasure of their heart.

Competing Voices from Satan[4]

The Bible establishes, in the record of the fall in Genesis 3, where the real battle to obey God is located. There will be external temptations that are presented through the body (eyes, ears, etc.). They will be deposited into the heart where beliefs and wants take root.

Out of the words of the heart, the Word of God is believed or denied resulting in sin or holiness.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. Genesis 3:1-7

In the account in Genesis 3 we see the introduction and commencement of sin. It is a horrific scene as the innocence of man is destroyed. We are introduced to the serpent, who has attributes that are more than strictly animal. In him we see deceit and evil craftiness, the embodiment of evil. This is not just a snake. There is more going on here than just an animal tempting Eve. There is a malicious, intelligent, and evil presence using the serpent as his tool. The implication here is that the servant may be beautiful and superbly intelligent. Eve does not see the serpent as either strange or sinister. This is of critical importance to our understanding of evil. Satan never appears as he is. He is always parading as something or someone else. He pretends to be an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) when he in fact is a fallen cherub and full of darkness and deceit (Ezekiel 28:14, 16).

Here we see the introduction of competing voices. God’s word and counsel have been the sole guide for Adam and Eve. Their world is not only made by God, but their understanding of that world is entirely shaped by God. Satan attacks humans by perverting and twisting what was to be there life and substitutes his own dark lies. This is what we face today. Even though we have the clarity and sufficiency of Scripture, we can be overwhelmed with a discord of compelling, but corrupt counsel. Notice that Satan tempts Eve through the way God has made her soul to function. There is no sin nature driving this or being appealed to. This is temptation aimed squarely at her heart, and how it believes and wants. Satan directs this temptation directly through lies aimed at the part of Eve’s soul which knows and believes.

While we have spent weeks and weeks praying for, memorizing Scripture with, and counseling, our counselee must remember that competing voices will always be a trial and temptation in their lives. And we are not strictly talking about competing voices from Satan. The culture and our own fallen selves speak lies to us daily. Our self-talk and even our negative God talk compete in our hearts and minds against the truths of God’s Word in the promises of Scripture.

But, how do these competing voices present themselves? They begin by questioning God’s Word. Here Satan undermines the accuracy and authority of the word of God. Did God actually say that? Is the Word that Eve has accurate? These questions intend to shake Eve’s confidence in what Adam has taught her. Is the voice of counsel she has been following really telling her the way things are?

Is God’s word authoritative? This line of attack is used over and over again. We are challenged with whether we truly have the Word in our hands. We are often tempted to think that what it is saying isn’t applicable to us. We hear this all the time in counseling through sentences like, “Well that’s just your interpretation.” and “I don’t think that text applies to my situation.”

Satan attacks God’s integrity and intention. Satan now declares that what God has said is simply not true. He doesn’t change the instruction itself, only its punishment, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Satan attacks God’s integrity by effectively saying that God has lied. It is simply not true that you will surely die. Satan attacks God’s intention. He imputes evil motives to God. God has given this command in order to keep you in your place.

And here is the heart of the danger of competing voices. We want to be equal with God. At the root is the desire to be like God. This is part of why we do what we do. We believe certain things to be true and that belief causes actions, as well as emotions and affections.

Competing voices appeal to the wants and desires of our heart. We are driven by craving, desires, and wants. We are often willing to trade the grace and goodness of God for something we desire and are willing to take. In Eve’s case, the tree is not truly desirable to make one wise yet she is deceived into thinking this is a greater pleasure than all the legitimate ones God has given. Eve will be mastered by her desire. The fruit is delicious and desirable. It is good to eat. It is lovely and beautiful. The temptation from competing voices explains it will bring me something I do not have now.

Can we help the counselee see in their own temptations how they appeal by presenting to them some sort of pleasure or promising something desirable? Can we help the counselee see how often these things are substitutes for the true pleasures and promises of God?

Competing Voices from the World (Colossians 2:1-11)

The culture around us presents us with prevalent and persuasive models by which we are to understand life. They are prevalent in that they are in the intellectual, academic, entertainment, social and religious air we breathe. They are persuasive in that they are generally argued from one’s experience that seems to ring true. The person with the experience almost always gains credibility over the person with the “truth.”

The context into which Paul writes is marked by the work of false teachers who were proclaiming “gospels” other than the true gospel, by adding rules and regulations and even setting for other beings as superior to Christ. This is not so different than the day we find ourselves with multiple false gospels contending for our faith – promising to rescue and restore.

One of those voices we face in counseling is the professional medical model. “The professional medical model was originally created to treat organic issues. Psychiatrists have expanded that model. Mental and emotional health is the new buzzword. It is not a biblical concept, though many seem to equate it with spiritual wholeness. Sin is called sickness, so people think it requires therapy, not repentance. Habitual sin is called addictive or compulsive behavior, and many surmise its solution is medical care rather than moral correction. Most advocates of psychology simply assume that psychology is a true science. But it is not. It is a pseudo-science, the most recent of several human inventions designed to explain, diagnose, and treat behavioral problems without dealing with moral and spiritual issues”. [5]

Psychologies are competing gospels. Each one with a complete system explaining all that we need to know. They claim to know how to save and change people. In order to avoid being taken captive by these systems, we must be able to recognize at what points and in what ways they compete with the true gospel. The best way to be protected from false gospels is to be thoroughly saturated with the one true gospel. Because the wisdom of the world is prevalent and persuasive, Christians need the truth of Scripture to illuminate their hearts. Colossians 2:1-11 brings our thoughts into focus.

Christ himself is the very wisdom of God

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. (Colossians 2:1-5).

The counselee attains what God expects through knowing and understanding Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

What makes Biblically authentic Christian counseling is not its theology, methodology, compassion or even the Scriptures. Its’ distinctiveness and authenticity come from our emphasis on the Lord Jesus Christ. No secular worldview is true wisdom when it does not know, understand, or value Christ. Biblically authentic care and cure of souls seeks its wisdom in Christ. It is focused around Jesus and on the truth in Him, on bringing Him to people and on bringing people to Him.

The great danger is that we will be deluded by plausible arguments.

Christ is the Object of our Faith

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6-7)

The primary aim of our counsel is to so focus faith, trust and reliance in Christ that people walk in Christ, living God-honoring lives in Him. So we are to help people, even in crises discipleship, to be rooted, established and built up in Christ resulting in a life that overflows thanksgiving to God. This is primarily accomplished through instruction (“…just as you were taught…”)

This is not just some moralistic spirituality. We admonish to position people firmly in Christ so that they treasure Him, and thus, respond to situations of life Biblically and not from worldly reaction. This is what the Psalms are all about. Even in confusion and desperation, the Psalmist (and we) finds satisfaction and delight in their hearts posture towards God, even when there is no apparent hope in the world.

Christ is the Antithesis of the World’s System

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.( Colossians 2:8-10)

Kent Hughes writes, “How is it possible for one not to be sucked in by a philosophy which is subtly deceitful in its language, logically compelling within its system of reason, and enticingly moral?”[6] The answer is that Christ is the standard against which all human systems of wisdom are to be measured.

This whole area of counseling and psychology is particularly vulnerable to philosophy and empty deceit. Psychologies are deviously captivating because they have the ring of truth. They are deceptive because they are the study of and studied by corrupt mankind who assume that because their observations are common, that they are also normative.

The wisdom of God in Christ stands as the Christian’s treasure and transforming wisdom. We turn away from the persuasive systems of human wisdom for we trust the promises of God in the Word. God opposes the human wisdom of the world because it is rooted in arrogance (1 Corinthians 1:18-29).

Summary

As we graduate our counselee and pray for their continued transformation, we need to be clear: desiring itself is not sin. Desire is simply a function of the heart. It is not possible to “not desire”. But those wants, desires and cravings are to be shaped by truths and submitted to God. Our counselee must see some important implications:

  • Your wants are shaped by what you believe to be true.
  • You are responsible to control and to change your wants.

As we release our counselee into the world of competing voices help them understand these challenges:

  • Pay close attention to the word of God. Continue to read it carefully and learn it well. Handle it accurately and obey it completely.
  • Reject all forms of false counsel. Eve listened to the quiet, compelling questions of the serpent. Adam listened and obeyed the tempting voice and example of Eve. We must learn to hold the line and not listen to competing voices, the false counsel of the world.
  • Watch over your heart with diligence. Out of your heart, you act. Out of what you believe and what you want, arise all affections, emotions, choices, and actions.
  • Respond in humble repentance when confronted with godly counsel. Do not hide your sin and run from counsel. Do not shift the blame but accept responsibility. Accept the consequences of sin. Place your hope on the Redeemer of our souls.

 

[1] David Powlison, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Volume 19. Number 3, Spring 2001 Page 2

[2] Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel, pages 54 and 55

[3] R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture, page 22

[4] Adapted with little change from the outstanding work Understanding Hearts in Temptation -Genesis 3 by Pastor Russ Kennedy

[5] John MacArthur, How to Counsel Biblically, pages 10, 14

[6] Kent Hughes, Colossians and Philemon, p.71.


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