What is the goal of Christian counseling? Most counselors would answer this question with something like: “progressive sanctification,” “promoting Christlikeness,” or “Christoformity.” So far, so good. However, while counselors agree on the goal, there is a wide divergence in the opinion of “how” one accomplishes this purpose. Sure, most will say things like, “Well, I help my counselee keep his eyes on Jesus.” Now that sounds fine, but what does that actually look like in a counseling session?
In his book, Glorious Freedom, Richard Sibbes offers a simple but profound explanation of how counselors might encourage the development of Christoformity in their clients. Sibbes offers four interesting insights.
Conformity Flows From Communion
In his analysis of 2 Corinthians 3:18, Sibbes argues that conformity springs from communion (p. 101). This communion comes “by beholding the glory of Christ in the gospel” (p. 101). So, if Christian counselors desire to promote Christoformity, they must help their counselees “behold” Christ.
Communion Grows Through Meditation
For some counselors, “beholding” or “looking to” Christ might seem like an abstract construct, a well-intended Sunday School moralism. However, Sibbes, has a very intentional idea about how one can experience this communion. For Sibbes, communion occurs as believers meditate upon Christ and his gospel. He contends that in some mysterious way, God transforms his children as they engage in this exercise. He puts it this way:
That we may be changed into the likeness of Christ, let us fix our meditations upon him, and we shall find a change, though we do not now how it happens. As those who are in the sun work or play find themselves lightened or warmed, so let us set ourselves about holy meditations, and we shall find a secret, imperceptible change; our souls will be altered, we do not know how (p. 120) (emphasis added).
For counselors, this might sound too simple; however, simplicity need not be simplistic.
Meditation Finds its Grounding in the Love of God in Christ
While meditation puts counselees into the presence of Christ, the nurturing of a deeper connection depends on their experience of his love while in that presence. So often, counselees rigidly hold onto aspects of their old selves and cling to unhealthy ways of interacting with God, themselves, and the world. For change to occur, troubled believers must “warm” themselves in the love of Christ. Sibbes believes that warming leads to pliability:
The meditation of the glorious love of God in Christ works love, and love effects change; love transforms as fire does. The love of God warms us, and we are fit to have all impressions stamped upon us, like things that are heated. Iron is dull and heavy, yet when hot it is bright and pliable and has as much as possible of the nature of fire upon it. In the same way our dead, dull, inflexible and unyielding souls become malleable and flexible by the love of Christ shining upon them. His love transforms and kindles them (pp. 126-127).
So, for Sibbes, meditating on “the glorious love of God in Christ” tenderizes the heart and molds it into the image of Christ.
The Love of God in Christ Produces Godly Behaviors
As believers experience God’s love and acceptance, they develop a more realistic picture of themselves. Their appropriation of God’s love in Christ frees them to act in ways that mirror their Savior. Sibbes thinks that believers mimic those they admire:
This is how the glory of God’s love in Christ transforms us: the discovery of the abundant mercy in God towards us kindles love to him, and that love works likeness. Love to greatness transforms us because it causes a desire to be like those who are great. Where there is dependence there is a desire to be like, even among men. How much more, then, does it breed a desire to be like Christ in our disposition all we can – considering that God so loves our nature in Christ, and that our nature is so full of grace in Christ, and considering the love of God in Christ, who has done so much for us (p. 127).
As believers depend on Christ, they look up to him, and as they look up to him, they gradually begin to walk like him (1 John 2:6). As you think about those to whom you minister, I encourage you to reintroduce or reemphasize the importance of communing with Christ through the ancient spiritual discipline of Scripture meditation. It will change your counselees from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor 3:18)!
Join the Conversation
What are some of the ways that you have implemented Scripture meditation with your counselees?