The Bible speaks to the whole person both individually and within society. The Bible speaks to one’s innermost being, including the mind, heart, soul, and all that is nonphysical—the spirit or psyche. The Bible also addresses the external behavior of the individual, both as the manifestation of the inner life and within the context of other people and external circumstances. In other words, the Bible addresses the entire human condition.
Moreover, the Bible addresses the human condition in relation to God and reveals two kinds of humans, the first being only a descendent of Adam and the second having been born again by the Spirit (Romans 5, 6). Those who have been born of God are indwelt by the Spirit and are even more complex than unbelievers. Not only do they have an inner life and an external life exercised individually and socially; Christ is the essence of their new inner life, and their external life is more and more to reflect His life. Moreover, Christians have a new relationship to other people in that they are now intrinsically related to other members of the Body of Christ, which is made up of all those who are born again.
Such complexity of each individual believer could be mind boggling, especially since each one experiences different circumstances. The complexity expands as we consider Romans 8:28-29:
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
What astonishing creativity! God works all things together to conform each of His children “to the image of his Son”! Taking this verse literally means that every word spoken, every situation, every detail of each believer’s life is being “worked together” by God for His purpose. He is the Creator and He is the One who conforms believers to the image of His Son. He does all this, with each one, while He allows each to make various choices. He does all of this without turning anyone into a puppet.
Considering that Christians “are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10), why must they look to outside systems to help believers in their walk with the Lord? Why are so many people who call themselves “Christian psychologists” or even “biblical counselors” attempting to peer inside Christians to analyze their psyche or identify specific “idols of the heart” and thereby bring about change? They may indeed be attempting to do what only God can do and thereby trespassing in places where only God is able to walk.
Christians are too complex to analyze. They cannot remake themselves or each other. God does the inner work. The Holy Spirit brings conviction to the heart. God’s Word also does the inner work:
For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:12).
David looked to God to search his heart and bring correction when he prayed:
Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalms 139:23,24).
There are numerous ways believers can minister to one another in the care of souls ministry, but the inside work is God’s work within an individual believer and that believer’s inner response to God.
Not even Paul tried to analyze individual believers. Yet he ministered to the inner person. He taught people. He exhorted and rebuked them. He encouraged them. He trusted God for the inner work, as he explained how believers work out what God works within them.
Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12,13).
God does the inside work. Each believer works out what God is working in him both individually and as a member of Christ’s Body.
As God’s Word is read, as doctrines are taught and learned, as teachers exegete Scripture, as fellow believers testify of Christ and live the Christian life in close proximity to other believers, the Word is planted in hearts and the water of life brings growth. But, it is God who brings the increase. It is God at work behind the scenes, within the heart, within the mind. Believers may exhort, may come alongside speaking the truth in love, but they need not analyze the soul, nor should they. The inner work is God’s work within a believer. He may use a word spoken by a brand new believer instead of wisdom from one mature in the faith. He may use a child’s question rather than an adult’s answer to turn a wayward soul back to Himself.
All this business of trying to develop a counseling system that addresses the vast complexity of a believer’s life within the Body of Christ is usually a waste of time. If secular notions about the psyche and how to help people change are integrated, recycled or embraced in any way, it is worse than time wasted. It is idolatry! It is looking to something other than what God has already provided in Himself, through His Word, His Son, the Holy Spirit, and Christ’s Body. If people are not being changed into the likeness of Christ by what God has already given, why do human beings suppose they can do any better? Do they presume to develop a better plan by looking at the notions of unsaved men who have supposedly studied the psyche?
The best counsel anyone can give or receive originates from Scripture, focuses on Christ, and encourages a person to trust and obey God. One does not have to analyze a psyche, nor should one even try. Neither must one become an “expert” of the soul, nor can he. One does not have to be a Bible scholar with a wall covered with certificates and degrees to minister God’s grace. One only needs to know Christ and to be walking according to the Spirit.
Those who call themselves biblical counselors and who specialize in identifying the idols of the heart have had to dip into the psychological theories of the world. The Bible clearly identifies sin, and the Holy Spirit reveals the idols of one’s own heart. However, the Bible does not instruct anyone to look into another person’s soul to identify or analyze that person’s idols of the heart. One must go outside Scripture to do what the Bible does not teach. This idols-of-the-heart methodology can be a serious impediment to true ministry. The notion that one must be able to identify the idols of another person’s heart may intimidate and thereby discourage believers from ministering to one another. Moreover, counsel based on speculation about another person’s inner life may sorely mislead a fellow believer who is being treated as a “counselee” and analyzed by a “counselor.”
Caring for Souls Inside and Out
The care of souls does involve the inner person. The care of souls does address and attack the idols of the heart. But such work is not done by “counselors” analyzing another person’s inner life. What we can do for each other in the care of souls continues to be what is given throughout the New Testament. We can teach, preach, testify, exhort, encourage, come alongside, speak the truth in love, rebuke, identify external sin, correct, comfort, forgive, and pray. These activities minister to the inner and outer person.
Humans may guess at the idols of another person’s heart by observing external sin, but, even with external evidence, they may be drawing the wrong conclusions. If there is sin, there is an idol of the heart; there is love of the world manifesting itself in “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” But, the way out is not through one person, called “counselor,” peering inside the psyche of another person, called “counselee,” to identify and analyze. True change is brought about by God working in the individual. As He is doing something miraculous in a believer’s heart, He uses the external efforts of believers teaching, preaching, testifying, exhorting, encouraging, coming alongside, speaking the truth in love, identifying external sin, rebuking, correcting, comforting, forgiving, praying, helping in practical matters of life, and being a living example of walking in the Spirit. We are not left with superficial, external help. Instead, God calls us to minister to one another on the human level while He accomplishes the miraculous inner work on the soul.
Note: The above article was adapted from the book Competent to Minister: The Biblical Care of Souls. See the Study Materials list for information on ordering.
(From PAL V5N1)