Justification and Counseling
Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.[i]
When this pastor begins counseling a new person my first question is not “what brings you in to see me today?”, rather I ask: “Tell me how you came to faith in Christ?” This is the single most important question that a pastor/counselor can ask because it is the foundation upon which all future counsel will be built. A person who is not “in Christ” has no hope. As long as he/she remains in that estate, Biblical admonition will only be heard as either moralistic advice or as a self-help methodology. Without the “eyes of their heart being enlightened”[ii] and “the immeasurable greatness of Christs power”[iii] the counselee will be left in the futility of their own thinking and the desires of their own flesh. No change will result. The pastor/counselor must share the gospel and pray for the person to come to faith. Only the power of the gospel can transform the heart and reform a life. A person who is in Christ, however, has hope. He/she has hope because they are justified.
More often than not somewhere at the heart of every counseling situation, there is sin. Where there is sin, there is guilt. Guilt has two elements, there is an objective and a subjective element. The person who sins has objectively violated God’s law. Say for example a person has stolen something. The law of God says “thou shalt not steal”. The law of God has been broken and the person is objectively guilty and is rightfully under the actual wrath and judgement of God. Subjectively, their conscience accuses them of their sin and they experience the feeling of guilt.
Consider a sampling of reasons that justification is a cornerstone for all successful counseling.
A justified person knows they are accepted as righteous.
Believers in Christ must repent and must seek reconciliation and implement restitution for our sins, but nothing we “do” can “undo” our sin. It is the work of Christ credited to our account that objectively pays the guilt, that reconciles the sinner to God. Thus, the counselee has a firm foundation from which to build. In Christ, they are pardoned.[iv] Because they are “in Christ” they are accepted as righteous before God.[v] They are freed from the burden of trying to “earn their way back” or prove their repentance. Having been justified by faith, they have peace with God.[vi] As a result, they can simply begin to seek to live faithfully and obediently before their God.
A justified person can stand against the attacks of the evil one.
Part of the difficulty in living in victory over sin, is the fact that we have an implacable enemy. The devil is called the “accuser” of the brethren.[vii] Part of obtaining victory over sin in the context of counseling is overcoming the voices in our minds: “You are a failure!” “You will never change!” “How can God love you?” “You have no hope!”. This condemnation can be reinforced by the counselee’s own conscience. Some people have a sensitive conscience, others, less so. The conscience can be a tricky guide. It is possible for example to think you have a clear conscience, when in fact you are objectively guilty and should “feel” guilty. On the other hand, a sensitive conscience can paralyze a believer, condemning them and preventing them from moving forward from their sin. The believer must recognize they are justified. Return to the opening words of this article: The believer is pardoned. The believer is “righteous”, not because of their inherent goodness, but because of Christ. They can, and must, preach to their own souls the words of the gospel: “through Christ’s one act of righteousness I am justified.”[viii] “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”![ix] When their hearts no longer condemn them because they are claiming by faith their status as justified, they will have confidence before God.[x] This is putting on the “helmet of salvation”.[xi] Our minds must be protected. They are protected by claiming our status as justified by Christ.
A justified person has hope that they will be sanctified.
Romans 8:30 is known as the “Golden Chain of Salvation”:
30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.[xii]
There is an inexorable drive from beginning to end. If the believer was predestined, therefore it is inevitable that he/she will be glorified. God will not fail to complete each successive step. Buried within the Golden Chain of Salvation is the Ordo Salutis. Leading to glorification is sanctification.
Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.[xiii]
This being the case, there is hope for the counselee to obtain victory over whatever struggle they are facing. In this life, in increasing measure, the believer will be changed more and more into the image of Christ. This will necessarily lead to victory over sin.
Justification stands behind Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians:
20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!-- 21 assuming that you have heard about him
and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to
your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed
in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in
true righteousness and holiness.[xiv]
The believing counseling must be taught – you are justified! Because you are justified:
- You stand before God pardoned and clothed in the righteousness of Christ. You do not need to earn your way back. Simply begin to life obediently and faithfully.
- You have confidence before God. If He does not condemn you, you should not condemn yourself, others cannot condemn you, nor can the devil.
- You have hope for victory. Those whom he justifies, he will also sanctify!
Martin B. Blocki has served since 2003 as the Associate Pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North Hills in Pittsburgh, PA since 2002. He is a counselor at the Biblical Counseling Institute in Pittsburgh. Rev. Blocki graduated from Indiana University, Bloomington (BME), Arizona State University (MM), and the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary (MDiv). Martin and his wife, Kathy, have two married sons, one daughter, and four grandchildren.
[i] Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 33
[ii] Ephesians 1:18
[iii] Ephesians 1:19
[iv] Ephesians 1:7
[v] S Corinthians 5:21
[vi] Romans 5:1
[vii] Revelation 12:10
[viii] Romans 5:18
[ix] Romans 8:1
[x] 1 John 3:21
[xi] Ephesians 6:17
[xii] Romans 8:30
[xiii] Westminster Shorter Catechism #35
[xiv] Ephesians 4:20-24