Looking for Answers in All the Wrong Places
As biblical counselors, we offer the same hope Paul offered the believers in Colosse – Christ in you, the hope of glory!
As Paul wrote to the believers in Colosse, their situation mirrored ours. They were saints—“holy and faithful brothers in Christ” (Colossians 1:2). They were sons and daughters of “God our Father” (Colossians 1:2). Though forgiven and welcomed home by God through Christ (Colossians 1:13, 22), they were facing suffering—condemnation from Satan (Colossians 1:22), judgment by others (Colossians 2:16), interpersonal grievances and struggles (Colossians 3:13, 15), and family discord (Colossians 3:19-21). They also battled the same temptations to sin that we face—sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, anger, rage, malice, slander, and lying (Colossians 3:5-9).
And just like us, many voices were clamoring for their attention, claiming to have cornered the market on the secret steps to wholeness (Colossians 2:4, 8). I imagine Paul receiving a letter something like this from one of these saints, sons, sufferers, and sinners…
Dear Brother Paul,
I’m confused. No. Not about my salvation. I know I’m saved. I’ve received Christ’s grace by faith. What I’m confused about is life. Not only mine, but the Christians around me. I look around and see saints who struggle just like sinners. Our relationships are not just messy, but often a mess. Our homes are sometimes harsh and cold places. At times we seem to handle suffering little differently than those who do not know Christ. I see Christians who have no sense of who they are in Christ. They seem to sway between self-hatred and self-sufficiency.
What gives? What is the gospel sufficient for? Heaven only? If grace is so sufficient, then why do we seem to be so ineffectual in our lives and relationships?
But here’s where I really get confused. It seems like some folks feel as if the church doesn’t have wisdom for real life, yet the world sure claims it does! Every time I turn around, I hear about some new answer, some new approach to life, some new philosophy of life claiming to tell me what life is all about, how to live the good life, and how to make sense of my messed up life.
One day it’s a group alleging to have some special corner on the truth, some secret success sauce that they’ve been initiated into that I must learn. The next day it’s another group saying I have to work harder, follow all their rules and regulations. The third day it’s the philosopher-types with all their fine-sounding arguments about emotions, relationships, and right thinking.
While they all contradict each other, they all have one message in common. They all seem to be saying that my Christianity is not enough. They all demand that I mix Christ’s wisdom for living with their wisdom for living. It’s like I can keep my Christianity, but I have to add their secrets. I need Christianity plus their new way of thinking. I need Christianity plus their new way of living. I’m supposed to use my Christianity and plug in their steps.
So, Brother Paul, is Christianity all I need or what? If Christ is sufficient, do I really need something more? And if the gospel is sufficient not only for eternal life but for daily life now, then why doesn’t it seem sufficient to me and the rest of us? I know you’re busy, but if you could find time to reply, I sure would appreciate it.
God’s Word: Relational and Relevant
Though the letter is imaginary, it captures the real and raw life situation that motivated Paul to craft the letter that we know as Colossians. Using our imaginations again, perhaps we picture Paul, in response to this letter, stoically pondering, fingertip to temple.
Nothing could be further from the truth as Paul himself describes it. In his desire to care for their souls, Paul is struggling to the point of weariness, laboring to the point of exhaustion, and agonizing like an athlete wrestling in the Olympics. The whole time he’s clinging to Christ’s supernatural power working mightily within him (Colossians 1:29-2:1). Paul models for us counseling that is passionate and compassionate, other-centered and Christ-dependent.
Paul’s mission in this life-and-death contest is to relate gospel truth to the Colossians’ relationship: with God—that they would be mature in Christ, with one another—that they would be united in love, and with themselves—that they would be encouraged in heart (Colossians 1:28; 2:2). Paul models counseling that sees God’s Word as relational and relevant to life in our broken world.
God’s Word: Rich and Robust
Paul also models counseling that is gospel-centered and Christ-focused. Instead of allowing the pressure to provide a quick answer to drive him to simplistic solutions, Paul goes “big picture” by focusing on the larger story—the largest story—“Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Rather than offering smaller story “steps” or “keys,” Paul invites his Colossian friends to journey with him on a treasure hunt so “they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3).
Pie-in-the-sky? Too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good? That’s what the Colossians were being told. And it’s what the world tells us today. The gospel might be good for “spiritual stuff,” for heaven, but for life today you need Christ+, or the gospel+, or Scripture+, or Christianity+ the world’s wisdom. We might call that view “the Deficiency of Christ, the gospel, Scripture, and Christianity.”
Paul, like the apostle John, counters this deficient worldview by pointing people to the all-sufficient Christ who not only offers the amazing grace of eternal life, but also the amazing grace of life lived to the fullest—today (John 10:10). Jesus does not make the false promise of a trouble-free life, but the hopeful promise of peace in the midst of a troubled and troubling world (John 16:33).
This is the hope that Christ offers us. This is the hope that Paul offered the Colossians. And this is the hope that we, as biblical counselors, offer those we counsel.
Recommended Reading: Today’s blog post was developed from material in Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives by Bob Kellemen, providing readers with a biblical theology of biblical counseling. Check out other resources and recommended readings from Bob Kellemen in the ABC Store.
Posted on June 28, 2016