I love counseling. As a pastor, I’ve never understood the antipathy of some who find it burdensome. When I sit down to counsel a brother or sister in Christ, it’s like being given front row seats to Game Seven of the World Series. Better than that, I have front row seats to the arena of God’s grace overcoming the stubborn holdout of indwelling sin in a believer’s life. And I’m not just a spectator; God allows me to call the pitches.
I love seeing the sparkle of recognition in a person’s eyes when they realize for the first time that the answer to their problem has been right under their nose. I delight in hearing the first clumsy attempts to articulate the infinite profundity of mercy overcoming sin. I get to witness something like scales falling from eyes, followed by the slow realization that God’s ways are simply better and that God’s grace in Christ is more than enough.
Obviously, not every counseling experience ends with such triumph. I can also point to many encounters where sin persisted, and God’s fathomless grace was rejected. Those instances remind us that we don’t get to control the outcome, and that’s a needed reminder. In this life, we can plead and implore, but we can’t make change happen. That’s not our role, and that reminder may be the very reason why some recoil at counseling. We don’t like being reminded that we’re not in control.
But when counseling does work, when a sinner finds the grace of forgiveness and the power of transformation through Christ, it’s a beautiful thing to behold. In fact, I believe that counseling has apologetic value in testifying to the reality of the resurrection. In other words, when we see repentance and human flourishing in Christ, we are seeing Christ’s triumph over sin and death through the cross and resurrection in real time. Changed lives bear witness to the empty tomb.
Paul puts it like this: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Did you catch that “just as”? The same power that raised Christ from the dead now courses through our bodies, enabling us to live new lives of joyful obedience.
Those who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been immersed into his death and resurrection. We have died in him. “Our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6). We have also been raised in him. “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Romans 6:22).
So, every time I get to see gospel transformation happening in a person’s life, I’m being reminded of Jesus’s victory over sin and death through his resurrection. Every time I notice that gospel gleam in a person’s eye that comes after realizing that the way of Christ leads to flourishing, I’m seeing a ray of resurrection glory. Whenever someone bears verbal witness to the overwhelming feeling of knowing that they, perhaps for the very first time, are living life the way it’s intended to be lived, I’m simultaneously hearing an Easter sermon.
Counseling testifies to the resurrection. The sinner, struggling with personal pain and pockets of stubborn rebellion, encountering the transforming power of Christ’s resurrection, demonstrates that our Savior is alive. Sin can be overcome because he defeated it already. The fruit of sanctification can grow because he lives. Death will not win because the eternal victory has already been won.
So, let’s counsel with anticipation. We should expect to see transformation. Indwelling sin stands the same chance of winning as death’s capacity to hold our Savior down. Opportunities to counsel sinners are not burdensome; they are potential displays of resurrection power. And when we get to witness such a triumph, let’s celebrate it publicly. Let the church delight anew in Christ’s triumph over the grave!