Justin Holcomb on the role of the Holy Spirit in Christian counseling (abridged excerpt from “The Ministry of the Holy Spirit,” a chapter that Mike Wilkerson and I co-authored in the new book Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling):
IT’S ABOUT ENGAGEMENT, NOT A PROCESS
Life is a mess of sin and suffering. When people find themselves in over their heads, they come to us the counselors, and quickly we’re in over our heads with them.
What do they want? Often they want relief from the pain or practical advice for how to break sin patterns. Sometimes they’re aware that there’s more to it, something deeper.
We can’t go far without prayer and Scripture.
What do we want for them? If we’re thinking biblically, then we’ll want to provide some immediate, practical help. But we also know that the roots of their problems are likely deeper than they are aware, and that God is often up to something greater than merely cleaning up the messes as we see them and in the ways that we would clean them.
We know that biblical counseling will involve prayer and Scripture—we can’t go far without those. Yet if we’re not careful, even prayer and Scripture can be deployed in the counseling process as mere techniques (the technologies of biblical counseling) rather than as means of engaging with the living God, who alone is sufficient for the needs at hand.
IT’S THE HOLY SPIRIT’S COUNSELING
Rather than asking about the role of the Holy Spirit in counseling, we should be asking about the counselor’s role in the Holy Spirit’s counseling! Yes, there will be Scripture. Yes, there will be prayer. Yet, it is good for us to focus on the Holy Spirit’s personal presence, agency, and efficacy. We should not reduce him to the topic of “prayer in counseling,” nor to “Scripture in counseling.”
By taking this more personal approach, we’ll be reminded that prayer is not just a technique of spirituality—it is conversation with our Redeemer, a person.
The Holy Spirit is the primary counselor.
Further, the Spirit is at work even before we pray and in ways for which we may not even know how to pray. He does more than we ask or think (Eph. 3:20). We’ll also be reminded that the Scriptures are not magical formulas that work apart from our understanding; they are meaningful communications from a personal God about himself that we might know him. It is the Spirit who opens our hearts and minds to know God through the Scriptures.
Counseling that lacks this dependence on the Holy Spirit ceases to be Christian. Jay Adams is emphatic here:
Ignoring the Holy Spirit or avoiding the use of Scriptures in counseling is tantamount to an act of autonomous rebellion. Christians may not counsel apart from the Holy Spirit and his Word without grievously sinning against him and the counselee.
The role of the Holy Spirit in counseling is therefore a crucial one. He is the ultimate source of all true healing and wholeness. All true Christian counseling needs to be done in the Spirit, by the Spirit’s power, truth, and love, under the Lordship of Christ, and to the glory of God.
IT’S A TRIALOGUE
If the Holy Spirit is the primary counselor, then biblical counseling is not merely a dialogue between a counselor and a counselee. Rather. It is a trialogue in which a counselor participates in the Spirit’s work already underway with the counselee. The Spirit is actively engaged in counseling, working directly on the counselor and the counselee, and through each to help the other.
The entire chapter can be downloaded here.