Gospel-Centered Counseling.

September 5, 2008

I’m still not finished processing this conference message from over a month ago, but here are some of my notes from it (and some rough reflections of it).

“Any obedience not motivated by love for God is penance.”

“If you’re serious about God’s commands in/for your life and you don’t live in light of the gospel, [it will lead to] utter despair … because you cannot rest in your own righteousness.”

Elyse Fitzpatrick wrapped up the conference as Session #4’s speaker. Nothing pierced so deeply at the conference than what she had to say during this message. Her message was on “Gospel-Centered Counseling.” (Again, “counseling” could be as we counsel another or as we give counsel to ourselves in the crucial moments of life.)

Honestly, my notes from this session are all over the place. I didn’t want to miss a thing. I wanted notes that I could look over again, as if this godly woman were counseling me again. And just between you and me, I looked down to write to hide the tears, too.

She pointed us to the example of the Apostle Paul — one who determined to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. She reminded us that gospel obligations (the commands in Scripture) cannot be gutted of their heart: gospel declarations (what Christ accomplished on the Cross). She asked, “In seeking to help others pursue godliness, have you left Jesus behind?”

Gospel Declarations + Gospel Obligations = Gospel-Centered Counseling

To focus on the commands alone, apart from the gospel, is to “strip away the very course and essence of the applications of Scripture.” The commands without the gospel foundation only invite legalism, works-based righteousness. (And legalism never works to accomplish what it promises.)

“Any obedience that not motivated by love for God is penance,” she said. Guilt never breeds love; it does not bring holiness. Obedience is not motivated by the law. If anything, the law is our tutor — to bring us to Christ, to show us our need (see Galatians 3). It is not the road to self-righteousness. As believers, sometimes we only know these truths in abstract, but we don’t know how to actually apply the balm of these truths to our lives.

Elyse shared that a couple weeks before the conference, she had committed a certain sin. It was a sin that was particularly detestable to her. She felt much guilt, and she prayed for His forgiveness, remembering the words of I John 1:9 — that if she confessed her sin, He would be faithful to forgive her sin and cleanse her from all unrighteousness. But after she prayed, she still felt the weight of the guilt.

At this point, if I wasn’t completely attentive to every word she was saying before, I definitely was now. She described what I felt and struggled with every single day.

She went on to say that she realized that she could not release the guilt of her sin because she still clung so tightly to her own righteousness. She kept beating herself on the head about her sin in a “How could I have done that? How could I have sinned in that way?” manner, even after knowing that God forgave her, because she still wanted to rest in her own righteousness.

She said, “When you still hold to the guilt of your forgiven sin in self-flagellation [or etc.], you are spitting in the face of the Righteous One, saying you still want your own righteousness.” We have no righteousness of our own. Christ alone is our Righteousness.

What do we need to remember?

2 Corinthians 5:14-15. We need to remember His love.
(Our love is always responsive in nature. “We love because He first loved us.”)

2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1. We need to remember our adoption.

Colossians 3:1-4. We need to remember our future.
(We have been raised with Christ!)

2 Peter 1:3-10. We need to remember that we’ve been cleansed from sin; we have perfect peace in conscience.

“We aren’t meant to live in light of our sin. We’re to live in light of His finished work on the cross for our sin. Now, take a shower in that and then love God!

We need to remember the gospel: His incarnation, His perfect life, His substitutionary death, His bodily resurrection, His ascension and reign.

She shared a quote from John Stott’s The Cross of Christ (i.e., John Stott who quoted Rowan Williams): “All progress in the Christian life depends upon a recapitulation of the original terms of one’s acceptance with God.” She followed this quote up with, “Like Luther said, hammer the truth continually into your head,” all the while hammering her own head with her fist. :]

I guess this message was so convicting, because she pulled up certain weeds in my heart and exposed their roots: legalism, pride, … Nothing new, but it was still painful to see these old fiends hiding in yet another corner of my heart.

Why do I beat myself up about my sin? Because I’m prideful. I think I’m “above” certain sins because of some extra inherent goodness that I possess. Why do I have trouble accepting that God has forgiven my sins after I pray and confess them? Not because I haven’t “forgiven myself,” but because I still want a little bit of my own righteousness — one that I can earn, one that I can boast in and say, “Look. That there is mine. I did it.” Why do I view His commands with an “I know I’m going to fail” attitude? Because I’ve forgotten the gospel. I’ve forgotten that Christ is my Righteousness and that by His Spirit, I can put to death the deeds of the body and obey from the heart.

Ah. And how has this bled into my counsel to others? Not even formal counseling necessarily, but the little conversations, the informal accountability?

Change and progress cannot stem from us. The hope of change and progress stem alone from Christ and His gospel. His righteousness imputed to us.

I went up to Elyse and hugged her after this session. God used her to begin shedding light on years of inner trials.

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3 Responses to “Gospel-Centered Counseling.”

  1. Jason Says:

    What a great discovery. It is amazing that we ever make our striving about anything but Christ. Thanks for reminding us of his imputation (what a great word and an even greater concept).

  2. cathiekimn Says:

    i wish i had hugged her too.
    this was the most heart-piercing & peace-giving session…
    i’m still struggling with it frequently, but thank God for His grace.

  3. tia Says:

    jason: “It is amazing that we ever make our striving about anything but Christ.” thanks for that.

    cathie: i still struggle with it, too. it’s hard putting off ways of thinking that we’ve held for so many years … but you’re right :] thank God for His grace. He’ll help us! ❤


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