The conscience can be a tricky guide. It is possible for example to think you have a clear conscience, when in fact you are objectively guilty and should “feel” guilty. On the other hand, a sensitive conscience can paralyze a believer, condemning them and preventing them from moving forward from their sin. The believer must recognize they are justified.
Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.[i]
When this pastor begins counseling a new person my first question is not “what brings you in to see me today?”, rather I ask: “Tell me how you came to faith in Christ?” This is the single most important question that a pastor/counselor can ask because it is the foundation upon which all future counsel will be built. A person who is not “in Christ” has no hope. As long as he/she remains in that estate, Biblical admonition will only be heard as either moralistic advice or as a self-help methodology. Without the “eyes of their heart being enlightened”[ii] and “the immeasurable greatness of Christs power”[iii] the counselee will be left in the futility of their own thinking and the desires of their own flesh. No change will result. The pastor/counselor must share the gospel and pray for the person to come to faith. Only the power of the gospel can transform the heart and reform a life. A person who is in Christ, however, has hope. He/she has hope because they are justified.
More often than not somewhere at the heart of every counseling situation, there is sin. Where there is sin, there is guilt. Guilt has two elements, there is an objective and a subjective element. The person who sins has objectively violated God’s law. Say for example a person has stolen something. The law of God says “thou shalt not steal”. The law of God has been broken and the person is objectively guilty and is rightfully under the actual wrath and judgement of God. Subjectively, their conscience accuses them of their sin and they experience the feeling of guilt.
Consider a sampling of reasons that justification is a cornerstone for all successful counseling.
A justified person knows they are accepted as righteous.
Believers in Christ must repent and must seek reconciliation and implement restitution for our sins, but nothing we “do” can “undo” our sin. It is the work of Christ credited to our account that objectively pays the guilt, that reconciles the sinner to God. Thus, the counselee has a firm foundation from which to build. In Christ, they are pardoned.[iv] Because they are “in Christ” they are accepted as righteous before God.[v] They are freed from the burden of trying to “earn their way back” or prove their repentance. Having been justified by faith, they have peace with God.[vi] As a result, they can simply begin to seek to live faithfully and obediently before their God.