Jesus’ Blueprint for Biblical Counseling: A Look at John 15

Jesus’ words in John 15 are tucked away as part of His Farewell Discourse (John 13-17), which means that John 15 is part of what Jesus wants His disciples to know if they are going to live God-pleasing lives beyond His death, resurrection, and ascension. John 15:1-16 is of particular interest to biblical counselors because this is where Jesus weaves together three theological truths: (1) the call to follow Jesus; (2) the call to glorify God; and (3) the promise of joy. What I intend to show in this post is that Jesus’ weaving together of these theological truths provides a blueprint for the Christian life and more specifically biblical counseling. As a result of Jesus’ words, biblical counselors can define biblical counseling as the work of helping fellow sinners and sufferers follow Jesus for God’s glory, which results in their joy

Jesus calls sinners & sufferers to follow Him

While Jesus does not even utter the words ‘follow me’ in John 15, the concept of following Him is implied. This teaching unfolds as Jesus uses three different phrases: “abide in me” (v.4), “bear much fruit” (v.5, 8), and “keep my commandments” (v.10). As I understand Jesus’ teaching in John 15, there seems to be considerable overlap among these phrases to the point that these three phrases present nearly synonymous ideas. This overlap becomes apparent as we consider how the phrases relate to one another. 

For instance, we see in verse 5 that the one who “abides” is the one who “bears much fruit.” Then, we see in verse 10 that the one who keeps Jesus’ “commandment” is the one who is “abiding in Jesus’ love.” In effect, abiding in Jesus, bearing fruit (v.5), and keeping Jesus’ commandment (v.10) are conceptually very similar. 

As we move forward in Jesus’ teaching He fills in the specifics of His commandment. In verse 12 we learn Jesus’ Commandment is that His followers would love one another as He loves us. Jesus further defines love as self-sacrifice for the good of another (v.13). 

I find it helpful to draw attention to this overlap when teaching what it looks like to follow Jesus. Our counselees need the seemingly complex expectations of the Bible simplified and made tangible. Jesus’ call to follow is simple and straightforward: love others as Christ loves you (John 15:9).  

It is like Jesus is placing Christianity on the bottom-shelf for all who are willing to hear and experience His goodness. There is a beautiful simplicity to His teaching. Do you want to abide in Jesus? Then love others as Jesus loves you. Do you want to bear fruit? Then love others as Jesus loves you. Do you want to keep His commandment? Then love others as Jesus loves you. 

Is Jesus’ point clear? Crystal. Is Jesus’ expectation easy? Hardly. 

Jesus’ call for us to love is impossible without His abiding presence and power. Jesus illustrates this truth by utilizing the word picture of a life-giving vine at which point He identifies Himself as the Vine (v.1). Jesus illustrates that there cannot be fruit on the branches of a grapevine unless those branches are connected to the vine itself. Likewise, we cannot produce the fruit Jesus calls us to produce unless we connect to Jesus as our source of life through faith in His atonement. 

Why should we want to bear fruit? “Because Jesus said so” is all the answer we should need. However, in Jesus’ kindness, He goes further by giving us two incentives as to why we should be faithful in our following Him. It is at this point that we begin to see Jesus connect the theological dots and inform how we think about biblical counseling in terms of the big picture. 

When we follow Jesus we glorify God 

The first reason that your counselee should follow Jesus is to bring glory to God. In verse 8 Jesus teaches that believers glorify the Father when they “bear much fruit.” Remember, this “bearing of fruit” is synonymous with abiding in Jesus (v.4) and keeping Jesus’ commandment to love (v.12). So, when a counselee follows Jesus by bearing much fruit/abiding in Jesus/keeping His commandment to love, they are fulfilling the purpose for why God created them – His glory.  

This is HUGE for biblical counseling. The call for a counselee to love his wife with a sacrificial kind of love is a fulfillment of God’s call for him to glorify God. We don’t simply call our counselees to blind obedience just for the sake of obedience. We pursue obedience to Christ for the sake of God’s glory. 

When we glorify God through following Jesus we find joy

The second reason that your counselee should follow Jesus is to find Jesus’ joy. Jesus is undoubtedly concerned about the Father’s glory but this glory does not come at the expense of your counselee’s joy. Jesus tells us that He is teaching about how to follow Him so that His “joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (v.11). 

Biblical counselors cannot afford to miss the connection which Jesus makes concerning the believer’s obedience to Christ as it relates to God’s glory and the believer’s joy. When your counselees strive to obey Jesus, they are striving for both God’s glory and their joy. Your counselees cannot be serious about their joy unless they are serious about God’s glory through obeying Jesus. As a result, it is helpful to teach your counselees that Jesus is concerned about their joy.

In conclusion

How can we not be mesmerized by Jesus’ all-encompassing explanation for how following Him, God’s glory, and our joy all fit together? These three threads are the common emphasis in biblical counseling. The beauty of John 15 is that in it Jesus weaves all three threads into a unified strand of thought. Biblical counseling is difficult and counselees typically view the Bible as daunting. Our counselees need to see that their desire for joy and God’s desire for their God-glorifying obedience are not conflicting realities in the plan of God. What John 15 does for our counselees is that it shows them that the call to be a disciple, glorify God, and have joy in Jesus are all related and contingent upon one another. 

Works Cited & Credit

Photo by Orkhan Farmanli on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (John 15 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

When Our Evangelism Fails

Below the Table Rock dam in the Ozark Mountains lies some of the best trout fishing in Missouri. Unfortunately, I cannot vouch for this first-hand because I am a total novice at fly fishing. I have however seen many pictures of beautiful rainbow and brown trout caught there which leads me to conclude that my fishing woes are due to a lack of my skill and knowledge. 

Fishing is difficult and fish are elusive which is likely one of the reasons why Jesus chose fishing as a metaphor for the work of evangelism and disciple-making (“I will make you fishers of men,” Matthew 4:19). In addition to the Matthew passage there is also an odd little scene in John 21:1-14 in which Jesus uses a failed fishing expedition to teach us much about the work of evangelism and making disciples.

A failed fishing expedition

In John 21 the disciples decide to go fishing on the Sea of Tiberias. After a long night their net and boat remain empty but then Jesus makes an appearance and calls to the disciples from the shore. He instructs the disciples to cast their net on the right side of the boat and to the disciples delight the net is filled with 153 large fish. This scene ends with the disciples joining Jesus on the shore as Jesus feeds them a meal of fish and bread which He has prepared. 

What makes this scene odd is that it follows what could be considered a clear cut conclusion to John’s Gospel and as a result it can be difficult to see how it fits. In John 20 Jesus is resurrected, appears to the disciples, and then John ends by stating that his writing exists so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing we may have life in Jesus. So, how does a story about Jesus’ disciples failing at fishing fit together with a letter aimed at bringing people to faith in Jesus?

Making sense of the disciple’s failure

John 21 serves as an epilogue to the Gospel of John. The most memorable words spoken by Jesus in John 21 are “feed my sheep” (v.17). With these three words Jesus connects the disciples to His mission of seeing lost sinners put their faith in Christ and follow Him in close proximity. The problem with this mission is that it is too big and too difficult for the disciples to accomplish in their own power. They do not have the ability to do the real work of heart transformation needed for sheep to follow the Shepherd. 

What Jesus accomplished on this fishing encounter is that He illustrates for the disciples that He is in control of the results that He has called them to produce and that He is providing the nourishment necessary for the task at hand. In other words this account of the failed fishing expedition helps the disciples better understand failure in evangelism and making disciples. 

The disciples net was empty when Jesus wanted it empty and it was full when Jesus wanted it full. This was so because Jesus wanted to show that He is in control. The work of making disciples is an impossible task for us to complete in and of ourselves. We cast our net wide as we spread the message of the Gospel but that net remains empty unless and until Jesus drives and draws the fish into it. Jesus is the God of increase and results. He alone possesses the ability to steer a heart to His arms. 

Also, as the disciples eat with Jesus the fish and bread which he had prepared it is a reminder that Jesus is the living water (John 4) and the bread of life (John 6). He is their nourishment and He is providing these disciples with everything necessary to feed His sheep.

In Conclusion

For those of us in Christ we are likewise called to feed Jesus’ sheep. When we strive to this end we inevitably feel as though we are in over our head – because we are. This feeling can cause us to be idle and disillusioned in our walk with Christ but this does not have to be the case. What Jesus wants us to learn from John 21 and the failed fishing expedition is that He will do the work that only He can do. We rest and move in light of this truth. 

Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Psalm 88 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Nathan Lindahl on Unsplash

Thoughts on Sharing Christ with Your Child

I have served in children’s ministry for the past six years and am the father of two children under six years old. As a result of both of these blessings I have developed some thoughts on how to best share the hope of Christ with kids. I hope you find these thoughts helpful as you pursue making disciples in your home and ministry.

Be clear about what the Gospel is (and is not).

When we talk about evangelism or sharing Christ we are talking about sharing the Gospel. The Gospel is a specific set of truths connected to the person and redemptive work of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul reminds his readers of the Gospel which “saves” (v.1). In verses three and four he identifies that the Gospel is the good news that ‘Christ died for our sins’ (v.3; ESV), that Christ ‘was buried’ (v.4), and that Christ was ‘raised on the third day’ (v.4). These three truths describe the Gospel in its most simplified form.

The Gospel is not a catch all term for telling your child about God in a generic way. The Gospel is the good news that God the Father sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins and that Jesus defeated death and rose from the grave three days after being buried.

Be clear about how to respond to the Gospel.

When Paul says that the Gospel “saves” (1 Corinthians 15:1) it implies that God wants people to be saved by it. Further, when Paul says, “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:1) he connects the work of Christ to our sinful state. Your kid’s response to the Gospel arises from their perception of needing to be saved.  Unless they first see themselves as sinners in need of saving they will never see the Gospel as necessary.

The Gospel does not exist so that our kids can be empowered and inspired to be better people and as a result earn God’s favor. The free offer of the Gospel is if anyone believes in Jesus and His completed work he/she will be saved and inherit eternal life (John 3:16). Our hearts are naturally sin bent to want to believe that God’s love is something that can be harnessed and controlled by good works, but it isn’t. This wrong thinking often even creeps into spiritual conversations we have with our kids when we are talking about salvation.

Help kids think conceptually about the Gospel.

The truth of the Gospel is so simple that children can believe it but it is not so simple that it doesn’t need explaining. The concepts native to the message of the Gospel can be difficult for kids to understand. Concepts like sin, consequences, forgiveness, and faith are essential concepts that must be explained for the Gospel to make any sense to the hearer. This is especially true for children. Sometimes we as adults take for granted that we didn’t always understand what these words and concepts mean. Each of us as ministers of the Gospel must walk slowly our children as they learn the truths of the Gospel and the truths the Gospel is built upon.

For example, faith can be incredibly difficult for a child to understand. One effective way I have found to explain the meaning of faith is by using the illustration of a chair. If I say I have faith in a chair I mean that I trust the chair do what it was designed to do. The way my faith in that chair is demonstrated is that I actually sit and rest on it. Likewise, we are called to have faith in the completed work of Jesus. We put faith in Jesus by trusting that He accomplished for us on the cross what He said He accomplished. When I rest in Jesus no longer am I trying to earn my way to Heaven.

Closing Thoughts

Be patient with your child. Learning the Gospel takes time. Remember that believing the Gospel is a supernatural work of the Spirit (John 3:7-8; 1 John 5:1). You cannot cause or coerce your child to believe in the Gospel. We plant and water that Gospel seed but we recognize that God alone can produce growth (1 Corinthians 3:7).

Be patient with yourself. Not every spiritual conversation with your child has to explain the Gospel in its entirety. You are going to have incomplete conversations with your child that leave you feeling inadequate and ill-equipped. You are not alone. Your job is to be a faithful witness to the truth of Gospel so that your child may hear the Gospel (Romans 10:14-15). Don’t give up. Keep pressing forward by being a good student of the Gospel yourself and looking for opportunities to have Gospel pointed conversations. By God’s grace He uses imperfect parents with imperfect presentations of the Gospel to bring children to saving faith in Christ.

Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Psalm 88 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Vanessa Bucceri on Unsplash