The Goal of Counseling

Published July 21, 2020

By Gary Hallquist, DWS, DMin

I remember the moment in my first counseling class when the professor asked, “Do you know what the goal of all counseling is?” I was struck by the question for a couple of reasons. One, I hadn’t really thought of counseling as having a goal (shame on me). If I had to come up with one at that point, it would have probably been something like: “to help the counselee find a biblical solution to his problem.” Two, how could all counseling have the same goal? That seemed unlikely to me.

The professor answered his rhetorical question. “To please the Lord.”

Since that moment in my class, I have often thought of that question and answer. Many times, I have said to counselees, “You know what the goal is, don’t you? To please the Lord.” I am grateful for the insight I gained that day and adopted 2 Corinthians 5:9b as a kind of counseling life-verse: “we make it our aim to please him” (ESV).

Until one morning I was meditating on one of my favorite verses, Colossians 1:27b, where Paul writes, “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” and my attention was drawn to what follows in verse 28. “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” As I began to reflect on what Paul was saying, I realized he was disclosing his goal for ministry—to present everyone mature in Christ. Though this goal is by no means contradictory to that of pleasing the Lord, it speaks more clearly as to how to please the Lord. God is pleased when his people mature in Christ. And when counselors proclaim the rich image of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” to counselees, along with warning and teaching full of biblical wisdom, we become instruments in the hands of the Holy Spirit that promote that maturation.

Let’s unpack this a bit. What does it mean to proclaim Christ in you? I have found this phrase to be the single most important concept in my personal pursuit of holiness and sharing it with counselees often produces fruit. I couple it with the “in Christ” passages of Ephesians 1, and help them consider that the discovery of who I am is found in figuring out where I am. If I am positionally in Christ, and Christ is in me, what God sees when he looks at me is Christ. He sees Christ, whose wounds paid for my sins, rather than me—a vile, sinful worm plagued with wanderlust and wickedness. He sees Christ, who earned the robe of righteousness that I’m wearing, rather than me dressed in my stench-soaked rags of unrighteousness. He sees the life that I live as Christ living in me. He sees the death of Christ as my death to sin, and the resurrection of Christ as my power to live in newness of life. As Peter states: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3).

It is rare that I find a believing counselee who truly understands what it means that he or she is in Christ and Christ is in her. She may give mental assent to the facts but has likely never explored the implications of these magnificent truths. She has probably thought much about how she sees herself but has pondered little how God sees her. Progress toward spiritual maturity is impeded until we get this right. When we begin to see ourselves as chosen, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, blessed with a guaranteed inheritance, and sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1), instead of dead in our sins, followers of the world and Satan, enslaved to our flesh and its desires, by nature children of wrath, having no hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2), we are on the path to right thinking and glorious living. This path embraces the wonderful truth that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Step One in the process is to fix our eyes on Jesus. God gave us two eyes to behold Christ: one to see him humbled, crucified, suffering in our place; and the other to see him exalted, victorious over death and hell, ruling the universe and my life with perfect perfection. See with the eyes of your mind, your life hidden in Christ. In his humiliation, see your sin. See God’s wrath meted out for your transgressions. See the blood pouring from your wounds. Feel the nails and spear piercing your flesh. Enter into the cry of anguish, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Feel the coldness of the tomb as your lifeless body is wrapped and laid on a stone. Then with your other eye behold the Spirit’s power penetrating the tomb of your soul. Hear the rumble of the stone being removed, and see the light defeating the grave’s darkness. Behold the clouds opening up as you ascend to the Father in the heavenlies, where you are then seated with the victorious Christ. Now live with eyes wide open and fixed on Jesus. What your physical eyes see is a mirage. The world is the devil’s forgery—an inferior autograph. Behold Christ and you will see yourself as God sees you, which is who you really are—and who you are becoming.

Counselor, are you proclaiming “Christ in you” to your counselees? Are you warning and teaching with all wisdom in order to present each counselee mature in Christ? That is the goal. May we never lose sight of it. May we never lose sight of him—”Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

This article originally appeared in The Biblical Counseling Coalition Grace and Truth Blog and is reposted here with permission.

Dr. Gary Hallquist is Assistant Professor of Practical Theology at Shepherds Theological Seminary. His main areas of teaching include Biblical Counseling and Worship Studies. Gary has over thirty years of church ministry experience, including four years as a professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He holds a Bachelor of Music Education degree and a Master of Music degree, as well as a Master of Theological Studies from Beeson Divinity School and a Doctor of Worship Studies from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies. Additionally, he has obtained a Doctor of Ministry degree in Biblical Counseling from SEBTS.