I want us to begin today thinking about some of the basics when it comes to counselling, the Christian, and the local church. Paul Tripp says that very many of us, and probably most Christians we know, live in what he describes as the gospel gap of the here and now. So, people have a strong sense of how the gospel saved them and maybe a vague hope of the heaven to come, but very little clue as to how the gospel works and applies to their lives in the trials and problems of the here and now.
Six unavoidable facts have occurred in our ministries:
- Someone had a problem in your church this week.
- The Bible claims that we have everything we need in the gospel to help that person.
- People seek help first from friends, family members, or pastors before professionals.
- That person either got no help, bad help, or biblical, gospel-centred help.
- If they do not get meaningful help, they will go elsewhere.
- Whatever help they received, they will use it to help others!
The problem is that if the help they received is not clear gospel help, then it is going to be something else that usually ends up damaging them and everybody they come into contact with. The problem in churches is that when people try to get help, what they receive falls into six particular categories.
Formalism—This is where the gospel is reduced to participation in scheduled meetings and ministries in church. People are led to believe that their faith is defined by a series of meetings and events. Poor attendance means a lack of faith and good attendance means a strong faith. So, when struggles come, the formalist’s answer is to go to more meetings and try harder.
Legalism—This is where the gospel is reduced to carefully keeping the rules. If a problem occurs, the advice given is a set of rules to follow. As long as people are performing, they feel like they are making progress.
Mysticism—This is where the gospel is reduced to emotional/spiritual experiences. People base their faith on how they feel. So if they feel bad, then the key is for them to feel the power of the HS in order to be better again. They begin to chase after experiences, and their relationship to God is gauged solely on how they feel.
Activism—This is where the gospel is reduced to participation in Christian causes. People feel good about their lives by engaging in good works, but this is not enough to sustain a balanced life.
Biblicism—This is where the gospel is reduced to mastery of biblical and Christian theology—all knowledge no application. Just read more verses and it will all work out!
Psychologism—This is where the gospel gets reduced to healing emotional needs. Christ isn’t my Saviour; he is my therapist. He exists to make us feel better about ourselves.
Socialism—This is where the gospel is reduced to the fellowship of the body of Christ. Be in community and that will help ease your problems.
What is the problem with all of these approaches? They are all rooted in elements of truth, elements that God has called us to, but they allow SELF to be at the centre of our universe. Part of heart transformation is the dethroning of self and the enthroning of Christ in our hearts.
How exactly will we go about doing that? We’ll find out in part 2.