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Bible Principles for Counseling Troubled People

Principles of Biblical CounselingWhen Christians have serious spiritual or behavioral problems, should other Christians seek to counsel and advise them? Or are trained psychiatrists and psychologists the only ones qualified to do so? 

Should advice be based on the Bible or human wisdom? Are people accountable for sin, or should they be excused because they have sickness ("mental problems")?


At times all of us need advice, and we all give advice.

We may seek advice regarding a medical condition, how to follow a certain recipe, or whether or not to buy a certain product. And most of us have offered advice to others in such matters.

But all of us also at times face spiritual problems or hardships for which we need advice. Yet sometimes we are hesitant to ask or to give advice regarding spiritual needs.

The purpose of this study is to consider Bible principles regarding giving and receiving counsel regarding spiritual problems.

The word "counsel" may be used in various ways, but we will emphasize counsel that helps us deal with spiritual problems. We do not pretend to have all the answers, but there are basic Biblical principles that should be understood and respected but are far too often overlooked.

[The New Testament word for giving counsel is defined: "1 to give advice on a course of action, advise, ... 2 to be involved with others in plotting a course of action, consult, plot, ... 3 to give careful thought to someth., meditate on, consider..." - Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich.]

Consider the following principles:

Counseling Is Often Needed.

Often People Do Not Receive the Counsel That Would Benefit Them.

Sometimes people are unwilling to seek help with their problems.

They may be too proud to admit they need help. They may be ashamed to admit to others that they have a problem. They may be determined to solve their problems themselves without outside help. They may think no one else is willing or able to help.

So they continue to struggle when help might be available if they would seek it.

Sometimes Christians are not willing to give the help that others need.

Sometimes Christians think they are unqualified to help or they simply do not want to take the trouble. Probably the biggest hindrance is that, even when a problem clearly involves serious spiritual issues, many Christians have been intimidated by propaganda that insists that only professional psychiatrists or psychologists can help.

Many Bible Passages Teach the Importance of Giving and Receiving Counsel.

Everyone has problems at times.

Genesis 3:16-19 - The sin of Adam and Eve brought pain, suffering, hardship, and eventual death into the world. All people since then have endured these same problems.

Job 14:1 - Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.

[Acts 14:22; John 16:33; 2 Timothy 3:10-12; Romans 3:12; 5:12]

Sometimes we need counseling to deal with our problems.

Proverbs 1:5 - A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel.

Proverbs 11:14 - Where there is no guidance, the people fall, but in abundance of counsellors there is victory. [15:22]

Proverbs 15:32 - He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds rebuke gets understanding.

Proverbs 19:20 - Listen to counsel and receive instruction, that you may be wise in your latter days.

Proverbs 10:17 - He who keeps instruction is in the way of life, but he who refuses correction goes astray.

Proverbs 13:18 - Poverty and shame will come to him who disdains correction, but he who regards a rebuke will be honored.

Proverbs 15:31 - The ear that hears the rebukes of life will abide among the wise.

Christians should be willing and able to counsel one another.

Romans 15:14 - Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.

Galatians 6:1 - Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. So if a brother is overtaken in a trespass, should we send him for help to those who were unspiritual, or should those who are spiritual accept the responsibility to help? [Compare verse 2.]

1 Thessalonians 5:14 - Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.

Hebrews 3:12-14 - Christians should exhort one another daily so that none fall away.

Hebrews 10:24 - And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.

Hebrews 12:12,15 - Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, ... looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;

James 5:19,20 - Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

1 Corinthians 6:5 - I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?

Titus 2:3-5 - The older women should give admonition to the younger women about their responsibilities, including in the home.

It follows that Christians should be willing to go to others for counseling when they need it, and should be willing to give spiritual counsel to those who need it. Some problems may have both spiritual and non-spiritual aspects. In that case those who are unspiritual may be able to help with the non-spiritual aspects. But Christians should help with the spiritual problems.

As with all teaching, some Christians have more natural ability and some have more experience. But all should learn to help others to the best of their ability.

Counseling Must Be Based on God's Word.

When dealing with spiritual issues, guidance must harmonize with the will of God.

Many Counselors Seek to Solve Problems by Human Wisdom Without Absolute Standards.

An article in a psychology journal said, "the amoral, evolutionary psychologists have no absolute or eternal rules of right or wrong about anything" (Berkley, p. 146).

Albert Ellis advised a client as follows:

"Your problem actually is the fact that you have a lot of what I call 'shoulds,' 'oughts,' and 'musts' ... which unfortunately you were taught when you were very young. You were taught these by your father, your mother, your church ... But if you didn't have this concept of ought ... you wouldn't be disturbed" (Adams, p. 11).

Dr. Paul Vitz, who taught psychology at New York University, wrote:

"...the hostility of most psychologists to Christianity is very real. For years I was part of that sentiment; today it still surrounds me. ... The universities are so secularized that most academics can no longer articulate why they are opposed to Christianity. They merely assume that for all rational people the question of being a Christian was settled - negatively - at some time in the past" (p. 12).

Numerous marriage counselors have been divorced or have clearly dysfunctional families. Some of the nuttiest people I met in college were in the psychology department.

Should we trust people to help others deal with personal problems, when they reject Bible teaching and have proved that they don't know how to deal with life's problems?

The Bible Warns About the Danger of Improper Guidance.

Genesis 3:1-6 - The very first sin occurred because Eve listened to improper counsel, then she gave improper counsel to Adam.

Numbers 31:16 - Women caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.

1 Kings 12:1-21 - Israel was divided because Solomon's son Rehoboam rejected good counsel and followed bad counsel.

Psalm 1:1 - Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly...

When Christians face spiritual problems and even sin in their lives, far too often they go for advice to friends, family members, coworkers, or professional counselors who do not understand the Bible or do not believe the Bible or do not give advice based on the Bible. When people give advice that does not harmonize with the word of God, isn't that the counsel of the ungodly? And if we follow that advice, are we not walking in the counsel of the ungodly?

[1 Chronicles 10:13; 2 Kings 21:6; 23:24; 2 Samuel 13:3-5; 16:20-23; 1 Kings 12:28; 2 Chronicles 22:3-5; Isaiah 5:20; Nehemiah 6:7; Job 26:3; 38:2; Psalm 2:2; 71:10; Isaiah 19:11; 30:1; 47:13; Ezekiel 11:2; Hosea 4:12; Habakkuk 2:10; Mark 15:1]

Proper Spiritual Guidance Comes Only from the Word of God.

Psalm 119:24 - Your testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.

Proverbs 19:21 - There are many plans in a man's heart, nevertheless the Lord's counsel - that will stand.

Proverbs 3:5,6 - Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.

Isaiah 28:29 - ...the Lord of hosts ... is wonderful in counsel and excellent in guidance.

2 Timothy 3:16,17 - God gave the Scriptures to rebuke us, correct us, instruct us in righteousness, and provide us to all good works. Doesn't this mean that the Bible gives us all the guidance we need to deal with any spiritual problem? So why should we go for guidance to unbelievers, many of whom reject fundamental Bible teachings?

Is it a good work to give counsel to those who are struggling with spiritual problems? If we think that a counselor - who is not a Christian and may even reject fundamental Bible truths - can do a better job than Christians can counseling someone with spiritual problems, are we not saying that we really do not believe the Bible provides us to all good works?

[Psalm 33:11; 73:24; Isaiah 9:6; 25:1; 55:8,9; Jeremiah 10:23; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 1 Samuel 25:33; 1 Chronicles 15:13; Job 12:13; Proverbs 2:6; 6:23; 8:14; 12:15; 27:9; Acts 20:27]

Counseling Must Speak the Truth about Sin and Accountability

Many Professional Counselors Seek to Be Nonjudgmental and Often Excuse Sin.

In order to remove people's guilt feelings, psychologists often convince clients that they are not guilty of evil, but are victims of someone else's wrongs. We often hear, "It's not your fault."

A chaplain from a state mental hospital gave the following advice to preachers:

" a mental institution people with guilt no longer are subjected to rebuke from others outside, the pressure is off, and in this way they quietly lose their guilt and get well. ... when we look at their erratic behavior, it seems to be sin, but it isn't; the patient is not really responsible for his actions. He can't help what he's doing; he's sick..." (summarized by Adams, p. 9).

Rollo May is quoted as follows:

"[Consider] the matter of moral judgments in counseling. It is clear, first from a Christian point of view, that no one has a right to judge another human being; the command, judge not, is an incontrovertible, particularly since it was given a dynamic by Jesus' own life. And ... as Adler says, 'let us never allow ourselves to make any moral judgments..." (Adams, p. 87,85).

So when a person commits what the Bible calls sin, he is not accountable because he is sick. He can't help it, just like he can't help having a brain tumor or a heart attack. It's not his fault. He is not a sinner but is a victim of his conscience and mistreatment by others. This approach may be applied to alcoholism, homosexuality, and even stealing and adultery.

But it follows that there is nothing the person can do about his problem. If he didn't cause it, then he can't cure it. If the trained counselors can't help, then there is no solution. He is left in sin with despair and hopelessness.

The Bible Says that, Unlike Disease, People Sin Because They Make Wrong Choices.

James 1:14,15 - Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. People sin because something allures, attracts, or appeals to them. They want to do it.

1 John 2:15-17 - For all that is in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world. People sin because they find sin more attractive than doing right.

Hebrews 11:24-26 - Moses chose to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, because he looked to the reward. Moses had the power to choose to sin or not sin.

People contract diseases because they are overcome by germs, etc. And they rarely rationalize continuing a disease; they want to be cured! But sin is a matter of choice, whether or not people consciously realize it.

Sometimes people continue a sin because the habit has captured them - they are "hooked" and find it very difficult to quit. But they began the sin because they chose a pattern of life that led to the habit. (2 Timothy 2:24-26; John 8:31-34; Romans 6:12-23)

[Joshua 24:15; 1 Kings 18:21; Isaiah 1:18-20; Matthew 13:13-15; 23:37; Revelation 22:17; Titus 3:3; 1 Corinthians 10:6; Ephesians 2:3; 2 Timothy 3:1,4; Luke 8:14]

The Bible Says that, Unlike Disease, Sin Can Be Avoided and Overcome.

Sin is not a force outside ourselves that is beyond our ability to overcome.

Genesis 4:3-7 - God told Cain that he could and should rule over sin.

James 4:7 - Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

Philippians 4:13 - I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Ephesians 6:10-18 - By using the armor God provides, we can resist the devil. We have the power to stand against all his wiles and quench every fiery dart (temptation).

1 Corinthians 10:13 - No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

The Bible claims that God provides everything we need to overcome sin. Resisting temptation is always within our power, if we use the means God provides. If we fail to do so, it is because we failed to use God's power. Therefore, sin is without excuse.

[John 8:31-34; 1 Peter 5:8,9; Proverbs 24:10]

People Ought to Control and Discipline Themselves to Do God's Will.

Galatians 5:22,23 - Self-control is a fruit Christians develop by obeying the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter 1:5-11 - God expects Christians to add to their lives qualities including self-control.

2 Timothy 3:1-4 - When people are "without self-control" - when society believes people need not restrain themselves but may excuse their sins by blaming others or by saying they cannot help it - perilous times have come.

When society exercises the kind of freedom advocated by many counselors, that society is doomed to sink deeper and deeper into moral degradation and eternal condemnation.

[2 Corinthians 10:4,5; Proverbs 29:11; 16:32; 25:28]

So, God Holds People Accountable for Their Sins.

It is true that some people are not accountable for knowing and obeying God's word: this includes children, and elderly people sometimes once again become childlike. Likewise, some erratic behavior is caused by a physical impairment or malfunction of the brain or glands, such as a good physician might diagnose.

But most grown people could do right if they would choose to do right. When we participate in sinful behavior, we cannot excuse ourselves saying we could not help ourselves.

Jeremiah 14:10 - God said regarding Judah: "Thus they have loved to wander; they have not restrained their feet. Therefore the Lord does not accept them; He will remember their iniquity now, and punish their sins." God expects people to restrain themselves. They sin because of bad choices, so He holds them accountable and will punish them unless they repent.

Acts 10:34,35 - God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.

Romans 2:5-10 - Those who do not repent but continue in disobedience will receive tribulation and anguish.

When a person can act right whenever he wants to act right, he demonstrates that he could do right all the time ... if he wanted to. The problem is that at times he simply does not want to do right. In other words, it is a choice. It follows that God is right to hold him accountable for his conduct. And we should hold him accountable too.

If there is an all-wise, all-powerful God who made us for the purpose of serving Him, then His word is the absolute standard. Our duty is to accept and obey what He says. If we don't, then we are wrong, we ought to feel wrong, and if we don't change He is right to punish us.

(Note: Even when a person is not generally accountable, so they are not counted guilty of sin or ready for baptism, nevertheless we should still teach them Bible principles and expect them to follow Bible teaching to the full extent of what ability they do have.)

[Matthew 25:46; Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Revelation 21:8; Psalms 36:1,4; 1 Thessalonians 5:21,22; Proverbs 17:15; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Psalm 26:3-5]

Counseling Must Teach People How to Overcome Sin.

The Bible Requires Christians to Rebuke Sin.

Instead of withholding rebuke, we help people by telling them to correct their lives.

Jeremiah 23:22 - If they had stood in My counsel, and had caused My people to hear My words, then they would have turned them from their evil way and from the evil of their doings.

2 Timothy 4:2-4 - We must preach the word, reproving and rebuking sin. Faithful preaching requires us to rebuke error. Instead, many who people turn from the truth will want preachers to justify their sin, which is exactly what many counselors do.

Revelation 3:19 - Jesus said: "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent." The purpose for rebuking sin is so guilty people can repent and be saved.

Despite what many people and psychologists claim, no one was more directive, more authoritative, or more outspoken against sin than Jesus. Read the Bible and see for yourself!

[Proverbs 28:4; Ephesians 5:11; Luke 17:3; John 7:7,24; Daniel 4:27; Galatians 2:11-14; Colossians 1:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 1 Timothy 5:20; 2 Timothy 3:16,17; Titus 1:13]

The Solution to Sin Is to Repent, Confess, Cease Sinful Practices, and Be Forgiven.

The fact God tells people to cease sin proves that they can quit and that they are accountable to do so.

Psalms 32:5 - I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord," And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.

Psalms 51:2,3,8-10 - Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

Proverbs 28:13 - He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.

One who is not a child of God must repent and be baptized for forgiveness - Acts 2:38.

A child of God who sins must repent and pray for forgiveness - Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9; James 5:16; Luke 18:13,14; Matthew 6:12.

[Psalm 38:18; 1 Samuel 12:1-7]


Not all problems in life are spiritual problems. Not all problems a person has are because he committed sin. But many problems do have spiritual consequences or causes. When this is the case, Christians need to accept our responsibility to help people learn the Bible teaching.

Much of what we have learned is simply what the Bible says about teaching the gospel. Counseling others about problems is just a specific situation in which teaching is needed. It may be more difficult, but the principles involved are basically the same.

And if problems are the result of sin, this actually can lead to hope and encouragement, because God's word has the solution to sin! If sin is the problem, forgiveness through Jesus Christ is the solution!

Do you have sins in your life that you need to correct? Are you willing to acknowledge your sins, repent, determine to change your life, and come to Christ for forgiveness?


Competent to Counsel, Jay Adams; Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapid, MI, 1970.

Psychological Seduction, William Kirk Kilpatrick; Thomas Nelson Pub., 1983.

"Psychology and the Bible," Warren E. Berkley; Gospel Anchor, Dec., 1986-Feb., 1987.

Psychology As Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship, Paul C. Vitz; William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1977.

"Some Things Can't Be Done," Warren E. Berkley; Gospel Anchor, ?/?.

(C) Copyright 2017, David E. Pratte;
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