The book titled I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional, by Wendy Kaminer, debunked much of the mystique of modern psychology. The author did not purport to be a Christian. In fact, she described herself as “a skeptical, secular humanist, Jewish, feminist, intellectual lawyer.”
Yet she wrote as a bitter critic of the marriage of religion and psychology. She noted that religion and psychology have always more or less deemed one another incompatible. Now she sees “not just a truce but a remarkable accommodation.” Even from her perspective as an unbeliever, she could see that this accommodation has meant a change in the fundamental message Christians convey to the world. She wrote:
Religious writers would minimize or dismiss the effect of psychology on religion, fiercely denying that it has made doctrinal changes, but it does seem to have influenced the tone and packaging of religious appeals... Christian codependency books, like those produced by the Minirth-Meier clinic in Texas, are practically indistinguishable from codependency books published by secular writers... Religious writers justify their reliance on psychology by praising it for “catching up” to some eternal truths, but they’ve also found a way to make the temporal truths of psychology palatable.
Some of the criticism Kaminer leveled against evangelicals is unwarranted or misguided, but in this respect she is right on target: Evangelicalism has been infiltrated by a worldly anthropology-psychology-theology that is diametrically opposed to the biblical doctrines of sin and sanctification. As a result of this accommodation, the church has compromised and hopelessly muddled the message it is to proclaim.
Psychology and worldly therapies have usurped the role of sanctification in some Christians’ thinking. Psychological sanctification has become a substitute for the Spirit-filled life.
But can psychotherapy possibly accomplish something that the Holy Spirit cannot? Can an earthly therapist achieve more than a heavenly Comforter? Is behavior modification more helpful than sanctification? Of course not.
To understand the crucial role the Holy Spirit plays in meeting people’s inner needs, we must go back to what Jesus taught His disciples when He first promised them He would send the Holy Spirit. It happened on the night Jesus was betrayed. His crucifixion was drawing near, and the disciples were fearful and confused. When Jesus spoke to them about going away, their hearts were troubled (John 14:1). In that hour of turmoil, they feared being left alone. But Jesus assured them that they would not be left to fend for themselves. He comforted them with this wonderful promise:
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. (John 14:16–17)
“Helper” in verse 16 is the Greek word paraklētos, meaning someone called to another’s aid. First John 2:1 applies the same term to Jesus Himself: “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate [paraklētos] with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” The word is sometimes transliterated into English as “paraclete.”
It describes a spiritual attendant whose role is to offer assistance, succor, support, relief, advocacy, and guidance—a divine Counselor whose ministry to believers is to offer the very things that so many people vainly seek in therapy!
The promises Jesus made with regard to the Holy Spirit and His ministry are staggering in their scope. Let’s look at some of the key elements of this text.
A Divine Helper
The word translated “another” (allos) is a key to understanding the nature of the Holy Spirit. The Greek text carries a precision that is not immediately evident in English. The word means “another of the same kind,” as in, “That cookie was tasty; may I have another?”
In using this word, Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as “another [allos] Helper [of the same kind].” He was promising to send His disciples a Helper exactly like Himself—a compassionate, loving, divine Paraclete. They had grown dependent on Jesus’ ministry to them. He had been their Wonderful Counselor, Teacher, Leader, Friend, and had shown them the Father. But from now on, they would have another Paraclete, One like Jesus, to meet the same needs He had met.
Here, for the first time, Jesus gave the disciples extensive teaching about the Holy Spirit and His role. Note that our Lord spoke of the Spirit as a person, not an influence, not a mystical power, not some ethereal, impersonal, phantom force. The Spirit has all the attributes of personality (mind, Romans 8:27; emotions, Ephesians 4:30; and will, Hebrews 2:4) and all the attributes of deity (see Acts 5:3–4). He is another Paraclete of exactly the same essence as Jesus.
There was, however, a significant difference: Jesus was returning to the Father, but the Holy Spirit would “be with you forever” (John 14:16). The Holy Spirit is a constant, sure, trustworthy, divine Paraclete graciously given by Christ to His disciples to be with them forever.
A Guide to Truth
It is noteworthy that Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17). As God, He is the essence of truth; as a Paraclete, He is the One who guides us into truth. That is why apart from Him, it is impossible for sinful beings to know or understand any spiritual truth.
Jesus said, “The world cannot receive [Him], because it does not see Him or know Him” (John 14:17). Echoing that truth, Paul wrote:
To us God revealed [things which the world cannot see or understand] through the Spirit . . . Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we might know the things freely given to us by God... But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. (1 Corinthians 2:10, 12, 14)
Believers are actually taught spiritual truth by God Himself (see John 6:45). In fact, much of the Holy Spirit’s ministry to believers involves teaching them (John 14:26; 1 Corinthians 2:13; 1 John 2:20, 27); guiding them into the truth of Christ (John 16:13–14); and illuminating the truth for them (1 Corinthians 2:12).
After Jesus ascended to heaven, one of the crucial ministries of the Holy Spirit was to bring to the disciples’ minds what Jesus had said and to teach them what He meant: “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:25–26).
That means that the Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to recall the precise words Jesus had spoken to them, so that when they recorded them as Scripture, the words were perfect and error free. This assured that the gospel accounts were recorded infallibly, and that the apostolic teaching was unadulterated.
But this promise of our Lord also reveals the Holy Spirit as a supernatural Teacher who ministers truth to the hearts of those whom He indwells. The Spirit guides us into the truth of God’s Word. He teaches us, affirms the truth in our hearts, convicts us of sin, and often brings to mind specific truths and statements of Scripture that are applicable to our lives.
The Indwelling Presence
Look a little more closely at Jesus’ words at the end of John 14:17: “He abides with you and will be in you.” Our Lord was promising that the Holy Spirit would take up permanent, uninterrupted residence within His disciples. It was not only that the Spirit would be present with them; the greater truth was that He would be resident within them permanently.
This promise was not limited to the eleven apostles who were present that night. The Holy Spirit indwells every Christian. In verse 23, Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him” (emphasis added). Paul, writing to the Corinthians, said, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Thus each believer enjoys the permanent, continuing presence of the Holy Spirit living within.
The Holy Spirit in Biblical Counseling
The new birth is the Holy Spirit’s sovereign work (John 3:8). And every aspect of true spiritual growth in the life of the believer is prompted by the Spirit, using the truth of Scripture (John 17:17). The counselor who misses that point will experience failure, frustration, and discouragement.
Only the Holy Spirit can work fundamental changes in the human heart. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is the necessary agent in all effective biblical counseling. The counselor, armed with biblical truth, can offer objective guidance and steps for change. But unless the Holy Spirit is working in the heart of the counselee, any apparent change will be illusory, superficial, or temporary, and the same problems or worse ones will soon appear.
It is futile to follow the path of psychology and look within ourselves to find answers to our problems. And it is certainly true that those who focus on themselves, their childhood traumas, their wounded feelings, their emotional cravings, or other egocentric sources will never find genuine answers to their troubles.
The true believer, however, does have a Helper who dwells within. He is the Holy Spirit, who applies the objective truth of Scripture in the process of sanctification. Yet even He does not draw our attention inward, or to Himself. Instead, He directs our focus upward, to Christ. Jesus said, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me” (John 15:26).
Ultimately, it is unto Christ that the counselee’s focus must be directed. “Beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corithians 3:18). That is the process of sanctification. And it is the ultimate goal of all truly biblical counseling.