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How to do Biblical Self-Counseling
by Lara d’Entremont
I can be far too dependent upon others for growth and change. When a problem, question, decision, or sin becomes apparent in my life, my first step is to run to the comfort of others and seek their help. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this; believers within the body of Christ are meant to support and build one another up. Galatians 6:1-2 says, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (NASB).
However, the book of Galatians doesn’t end there. If we keep reading, we find an interesting exhortation: “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.” (vv. 3-6).
So while fellow believers are to help, support, exhort, and encourage us, there comes a time when we must bear our own load and deal with our own sins. While your fellow sisters in the faith may be able to point sin out to you, give you advice to overcome it, keep you accountable, and pray for you, there comes a point where you need to step up and actually do something. We cannot rely on other people to change us and fix our issues. We need to do biblical self-counseling.
This is what Paul called, “Working out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). In other words, this is our side of sanctification. In realizing all this, I was intimidated. If you are feeling that same overwhelm, don’t panic; I have a few steps to help you.
Step One | Choose an Issue to Work On
It may be tempting to become distressed by all the sins in your life and feel hopeless (at least that’s what I often experience). But we can’t allow that to discourage us. Instead, simply choose ONE issue to attack.
Once you choose your sin or issue, find a journal and write out this problem in detail, explaining what it is, when it shows up, what causes it, and why you should stop it. I would also suggest doing some biblical research and finding a few Bible verses to support your decision and writing them down to memorize in the future.
At this point, you should also be confessing to those who have been effected by this problem, especially God. He’s the one our sin is truly against, and we must own up to it. Remember, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9 NASB).
Step Two | Create a Thought Journal
You will want to create a thought journal in which you track when the problem shows up. Here is a list of things you could include in your thought journal:
- The temptation/sin/emotional issue
- The circumstance:
- What happened?
- Who was involved? What did they do and/or say?
- How did you respond? (To the people and/or situation)
- The unbiblical thought & response
- What did you want in that situation?
- What did you get that you didn’t want in that situation?
- What were your sinful thoughts in this situation?
- What was sinful about how you responded? (provide Scripture)
- The biblical thought & reaction: (provide Scripture for each answer)
- How could you have reacted biblically?
- How could you have changed your thinking to be biblical?
Answering questions like these will help you to see if there are any common denominators in your problem and help you root out the true root sin. For example, you may realize that your anxiety comes up whenever there’s a financial issue, which then leads you to realize that you love money too much. Knowing that, you can now better attack the sin; rather than managing your anxiety symptoms, you can work on loving money less.
If you would like a journal for your specific issue, you can find a few like that here.
I suggest keeping this journal during the entire process so you can see how you are improving on the issue as you go.
Step Three | Develop a Plan of Action
Now that we have a sin to attack and are learning what the root cause may be, we need to determine a biblical plan of action.
Start with choosing a few Bible verses to memorize. People sometimes undervalue the power of memorizing Scripture, but it is a great tool for overcoming sin. The Psalmist knew this: “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11 NASB).
Important Side Note: Please make sure you don’t take a random verse and rip it out of context. Instead, study the passage and make sure it means what you have interpreted it to mean. This will also be helpful in both your memorization and conquering your issue.
Along with the Bible verses, find some biblical material to read on the subject. When I was working at my anxiety, I read Trusting God by Jerry Bridges, which taught me why I did not need to fear but instead trust God wholly. I suggest looking for resources on ACBC’s approved reading list.
Through doing those steps, you should be able to create a put off (sins to stop) and put on (righteous actions to start) list. If you were struggling with anger, your list may look like this:
- Angry outbursts
- Listening to angry music
- Hitting things
- Unkind words
- Kindness & patience
- Trusting God with how people react
- Praying in moments of anger
Finally, find at least two or three accountability partners to keep you on track. This doesn’t mean confessing to two people who will never bring this up again. Find people who will be intentional and love you enough to ask, “Did you sin today? Did you remember to put on patience?” Find people who will remember you in prayer and are mature in their faith to provide biblical guidance.
Step Four | Rely On God
At this point you’re probably feeling one of two things:
- Easy enough! I’ll be on my way to overcoming this sin on my own in no time.
- It’s too much! I’ll never be able to do all this on my own.
Neither of these feelings are biblical or helpful to the self-counseling process. Consider Paul’s words to the Philippians: “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (2:12-13 NASB).
To the person who thinks this is easy and will be finished before the end of the week, remember that you are a depraved sinner incapable of change on your own. You are utterly dependent on God in this. That means it’s in His timing and His power. So put off your pride and conquer your sin with reverent “fear and trembling” knowing that it is “God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
To the discouraged person, you are right that you cannot do it on your own! Congrats on humbly recognizing your own inability. Now, find courage and confidence, because you have the Holy Spirit working in you. Consider 2 Corinthians 12:9, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” Find your boast in your weakness, realizing that your ability to conquer sin is found in the power of God.
Lara d’Entremont is a child of God, a wife, and Biblical Counselor in training. Having been made new by God and completely transformed by Him, her desire is to point others back to that same gracious Saviour. Find more of Lara’s writing at her blog, Renewed in Truth.