Counseling the Deceptive Counselee

I received a phone call the other day from Sue, a former counselee. Sue was devastated as she tearfully said, “Bob just admitted to me that he is not a believer… He told me that he said whatever I wanted to hear so I would marry him. Now he’s trying to get me to stop going to church, and he criticizes and demeans me whenever I mention Jesus.”
 
Just a year ago I spent eight weeks with this couple in pre-marital counseling. How could I have missed that Bob was not saved?
In pre-marital counseling we specifically talked about each of their conversions, their compatibility, their roles as husband and wife, and the purpose of marriage. Throughout the sessions we discussed their future together, their desires, children, and their responsibilities to each other as a married couple. In addition, we had detailed and ongoing conversations about faith, about their commitment to Christ, and about their role in the church.
 
Yet, this man seemed to have deceived us. He was so convincing that he fooled both his wife and me. He knew the Scriptures, he knew how to manipulate our conversations that hid his true motives, and he claimed to be a follower of Christ. Just a year later, almost immediately after the marriage ceremony, he admitted that he had been lying about his faith.
As biblical counselors, there are times we will encounter counselee’s who hide facts, mislead us in order to avoid confrontation, or sometimes just outright lie. Usually through the counseling process it’s possible to uncover secrets and sinful motivations. But what about those in our counseling room who come with an agenda to deceive us? How can we identify those who will blatantly lie to us for an ulterior motive? Bob’s ulterior motive was to marry Sue, and he determined to do and say whatever was necessary to accomplish his goal.
 
The fact that Bob fooled me troubled me so much that I sought advice from an older and wiser biblical counselor. This counselor reminded me that one of the reasons we fail in counseling is because we jump to conclusions too quickly. The only way to see through deception is to ask more intensive questions throughout the counseling process. Spending focused time in data-gathering, as well as providing homework that will ensure the counselee spends time in God’s Word, can be effective tools in attempting to uncover the motives of those who hope to deceive us.
 
Here are a few tips that will help uncover deception:
 
1. Be very specific in your questions. Don’t accept generalities or vague answers regarding faith and Christian life. It is very easy to accept the classic “Sunday school” answers as validation of a walk with Christ. There is a huge difference in a heart-felt devotion to Jesus and a head-knowledge of facts from the Bible.
 
2. Ask questions that require the counselee to evaluate life-circumstances from a biblical or God-oriented point of view. Consider the counselee’s level of spiritual maturity as he provides answers. This will also be a good opportunity to determine if the counselee is displaying the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26). Matthew 7:20-23 explains that we will know those who do not belong to Christ by their fruit.
 
3. Provide homework assignments that address the issues the counselee is seeking guidance for, but also take care that all homework specifically addresses a correct relationship with Jesus Christ. The Word of God is powerful and will accomplish the purpose God intends (Isaiah 55:11; Hebrews 4:12-13). Make sure the homework in grounded in the study of God’s Word.
 
4. One of the primary goals we have as biblical counselors is to glorify God and exalt Christ in our counseling. The work of counseling is the work of the Holy Spirit. All of counseling, including the homework assignments, should be pointing back to Christ. Therefore, teaching, as well as evangelism, should be a key component in every session of counseling.
 
Jesus spoke a parable, explained in Matthew 13:24-30, which tells us that there will be false Christians in our churches. This being true, it should come as no surprise when we encounter them in our counseling room as well. When we encounter someone entrenched in falsehood, we must keep in mind that it is the Holy Spirit who changes the hearts of those we are counseling. As we counsel Scripture, we should be wise and discerning during all phases of the process. Be very careful not to take shortcuts or make assumptions that could result in being deceived by a false Christian seeking counseling for an ulterior motive, while understanding that ultimately, it is God alone who can clearly see into and discern the hearts of all people.
 
One other bit of advice: I highly encourage you to find an older, wiser biblical counselor who you can call to talk about your successes and failures in counseling. Work to develop a network with other biblical counselors in your area where you can provide and seek advice, encouragement, and training.

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A Perspective on Biblical Counseling

I was heartbroken when a pastor told me, “The truth is that we are unable to provide the professional care that many of our members need.” Now, this wasn’t a bi-vocational pastor of a small church. This was a seasoned pastor—one of ten—in a large conservative church with thousands of members. He explained how he had contracted with a local counseling firm to provide “Christian counseling” to couples who were experiencing problems in their marriages. The pastor was convinced that the counseling center could tap into resources that were not available to him in the church.

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Returning Counseling to the Church – Part 2

The Sufficiency of the Scriptures – Continued 
The sufficiency of Scripture means that the Bible contains all the words of God that He intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all of the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting Him perfectly, and for obeying Him perfectly.[1] The Word of God contains all that we need to know His will and live a life pleasing to Him.[2]
 
The London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 states that even though the works of creation and providence manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, they are not sufficient to give the knowledge of God and His plan of salvation to His people. God in His goodness determined to reveal Himself to His creation in writing. By doing so, God has provided all things that are necessary to communicate His own glory, the need and means for man’s salvation, how to have faith, and live a life that glorifies Him.[3] We see Jesus emphasize this truth as He was being tempted by Satan in the wilderness. In a response to one of the temptations, He rebuked the devil by quoting the words from Deuteronomy 8:3, “man shall not live by bread alone, but every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4).[4] The words that have been provided for man to live a God-pleasing life are found in His special revelation, the Bible.
 
The sufficiency of Scripture is the foundation of all biblical counseling because true biblical counseling is Bible-based. From the Bible we understand who man is, the nature of his problems, why he has these problems, and what must be done to solve them. For counseling to be worthy of the name of Christ, the counselor must be conscientiously and comprehensively committed to the sufficiency of the Scriptures.
[5] Scripture is completely sufficient for understanding human nature and the necessary processes of change that are essential for wise and effective biblical counsel. The Scriptures are the whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, and faith and life.[6] It is for this reason that we must boldly proclaim the sufficiency of the Scriptures and prove to those who are misinformed that ministering from the Word of God is more than adequate for helping those who are suffering and have spiritual problems.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 127.

[2] Heath Lambert, A Theology of Biblical Counseling: The Doctrinal Foundations of Counseling Ministry. 37.

[3] Hanserd Knollys, William Kiffin, William Collins, and Benjamin Keach, The London Baptist Confession of 1689, Chapter 1. Kindle;   “G.I Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith For Study Classes (Phillipsburg NJ: P&R Publishing), 1.

[4] RC Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Wheaton IL: Tyndale House),15.

[5] Heath Lambert, Sufficiency: Historic Essays on the Sufficiency of Scripture, 17.

[6] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, 221. Quote from the Westminster Confession of Faith.


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Returning Counseling to the Church

The Sufficiency of the Scriptures-Part 1
In his book The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams, Heath Lambert explains that “’counseling’ is the word our culture uses to describe what happens when people with questions, problems, and trouble have a conversation with someone they think has answers, solutions, and help.” Counseling is something that ministers of the Gospel do every day. As a ministry and a “theological task,” it must be based in God’s Word, the Bible.[1] 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states that God’s revelation to us through the Scriptures is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. Read more…

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Called to Counsel

Pastors, We Are Called to Counsel God’s People
Saint Augustine wrote in his work titled On Christian Doctrine in AD 397, “Let every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to the Master.”[1] Most committed evangelical Christians will agree that the truth which comes from God, the truth that is provided by Him in His revealed Word, is absolute truth. Yet, the statement “all truth is God’s truth,” has provided a catalyst for well-meaning Christians to support the belief that man’s spiritual problems can be solved by information apart from the Scriptures. As mentioned before, most will agree that truth is revealed in special revelation, the Bible, but they place equal authority on the truth that is given to man through general revelation. As a result, many Christian churches that should provide care for people’s life-problems have willingly relegated that care to secularly trained professionals, many who have theories of care that exclude God. By doing so, sufficient care by using the Scriptures for people within the church has been replaced by an insufficient care that is based on man-generated ideas affected by the noetic effects of sin.

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Truth in Counseling

What is the “Truth” We Should be Counseling Our Congregations With?
The concept that “all truth is God’s truth” is used by many well-meaning Christians who have determined that God’s truth can be empirically discovered in general revelation and applied to the sciences; specifically, in the realm of psychology and counseling. As a result, there are pastors who consider this as justification for allowing secular psychology to be used in their church counseling programs. Ultimately, any source we rely on as truth impacts the way we as Christ-followers interact with other’s inside and outside of the church family. It is important that we thoughtfully consider the implications of general revelation being used as a primary source of truth while counseling a Christian.

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