by James Rudy Gray
After the initial problem has been presented and the smoke of disguise has lifted, pastors, counselors, and others who do counseling often find we are dealing with a sin problem. What do we do?
What we cannot do is skirt the issue. Suppose a couple comes to see a pastor for counseling. They are not married but are sexually active. They are planning to be married but they are "living in sin." I believe we must gently and yet firmly confront them with the truth of God's Word. There are plenty of verses we could show them, and if we have earned their trust, the fact that we are pointing out something wrong will have an impact. They may not repent, but at least they will be counseled in truth.
My technique has been to ask the couple what they think of their behavior. Do they think it is sin? Do they believe it is wrong? Whatever their answer, I always go to the same passage. Hebrews 13:4 says, "Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge." That is a chilling verse. God takes sexual responsibility seriously. Immorality is sin and there is no way to get around it. We fail in our duty to God if we do not point this out to a couple.
If they agree it is sin, what next? In the past I have suggested that one of the two parties move out of the house if they are living together. Next, they should take the time to create a healthy bond that focuses on friendship and learning to walk together in obedience to God. Obviously, they should not have sex until after the marriage.
A counselor or pastor can never know for sure if a couple is living immorally or not. However, we can present the truth of God's Word in a clear way to them. If we believe that His Word will not return void, we can also expect that His Word may very well have a significant impact on the couple. A couple may or may not listen to our advice, but we cannot dodge our responsibility. We must speak the truth in love.
There are many other types of sin that someone may be involved in when they come for counseling. For example, alcoholics and drug addicts are typically excellent liars and con artists. I have asked many over the last 11 years, and they virtually all agree that they are among the best at misleading people. How can we deal with a person who lies to us in counseling?
First, we must recognize that it is going to happen. Next, we must be determined to seek the Spirit's wisdom as we try to help them. Usually, if we ask enough open-ended questions and follow-up with probing interaction, they will eventually be caught in an inconsistency. When that happens, we can help them see the wrong and even the bad patterns of thinking and living that have become entrenched in their lives.
1 John 1:9 is a powerful verse of hope and healing for people struggling in the grip of a life-besetting sin, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." That is a verse written to Christians for Christians. If the person we are counseling is a Christian caught in the web of some sin, this verse can be especially helpful and encouraging to them.
People may have many different problems when they come to us for counseling. When sin is evident in their lives, it is the responsibility of a Christian counselor to help that person learn to deal with sin God's way. There is healing and hope in that type of help.
James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the
National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the
American Association of Christian Counselors. He pastors
Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C.