The term "Nouthetic" Counseling comes from the Greek verb "noutheteo"
(or the noun "nouthesis") and means "to admonish, to warn, to teach or to counsel."
The word is found in numerous passages of Scripture and describes the manner in which we are to
counsel and help other Christians. Biblical (nouthetic) Counseling seeks to change the heart,
not just alter behavior (Mk. 7:21-23; Prov. 4:23).
The goal in all nouthetic, or Biblical Counseling is “sanctification.”
This means that we must desire not simply outward behavioral change, but inner change of
the heart so that we are more like the character of Jesus Christ. This is God’s will for
every person’s life (1 Thes. 4:3). This not only glorifies God the most, but also brings
the most lasting joy to a believer. We don't want to help someone, for instance, just to
make their marriage better by giving them techniques to keep peace in the home. We desire
change so that Jesus Christ is glorified by the change that God brings about in the person’s
heart (Rom. 8:28-29). God uses the body of Christ, not just Pastors and church leaders to
accomplish His purposes (though Pastors and church leaders must take the lead in this).
In Acts 20:31 (for a period of 3 years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears),
we discover that this form of counseling must be motivated by compassion. It is a ministry that springs
from a heart of mercy and love. Even though Paul “admonished” people, he did so with tears of compassion.
In Gal. 6:1-2 we see this mercy displayed through “gently” seeking to “restore” those struggling in sin.
This is not self-righteous gloating, but a sincere desire to assist and “bear one another’s burdens.”
In this way we are proving to “fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2) and love one another as Jesus Christ
loves His people (Jn. 13:34). There is deep involvement in the lives of those struggling; not a
"professional detachment" from them or their problems. This compassion must be accompanied by an
appeal to change into conformity with God’s Word; otherwise this "admonition" becomes empty sentimentalism.
A key aspect of nouthetic counseling is the conviction that Scripture is sufficient
to address any and every problem of life. There is an intimate connection between nouthetic counseling
and "teaching" as can be seen from several passages. Col 1:28 says "We proclaim (Jesus), admonishing
every man and teaching every man…so that we may present every man complete in Christ." It is not just
listening to people's problems and asking them "what do you think?" It involves giving counsel from
the Scriptures that directs believers to not only see things that need changing in their lives (admonish)
but also how they are to change (teach). Furthermore, this passage highlights the goal of sanctification
mentioned earlier (complete in Christ). Col 3:16 likewise links together this dual emphasis on "teaching
and admonishing" the saints. They are both integral aspects of nouthetic counseling. The same text
reminds us that this is only possible insofar as "the Word of Christ richly dwell(s) within you."1
Nouthetic Counseling urges the struggling saint to constantly reflect upon the Scriptures.
Nouthetic counseling also recognizes the essential importance of the ministry of the Holy
Spirit. We believe that no man, no matter how godly or educated, is capable of giving God-glorifying
counsel without the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God uses the Scriptures as His authority
(not the counselor’s opinions, experience, or education). The Spirit of God opens the heart to comprehend
the Scriptures (Jn. 16:7-11) and also convinces us that it is true (Jn. 14:16-17). He is the One who
guides us in making application of the Scriptures in life (Jn. 16:13; Rom. 8:26-27). His goal is to see
Jesus Christ glorified through counseling (Jn. 16:14). Without His ministry, the Bible will appear to be
“ink on trees” (you will never understand it, apply it or see God’s glory without the Holy Spirit – 1 Cor. 2:10-14).
This is why we view the Holy Spirit as being of more importance than the counselor himself.
One common mistake in counseling is to make it into a "professional" ministry. How often
have you heard Christians say, "he needs professional help"? The Scriptures remind us that counseling is
not merely a professional ministry. It is to be practiced by all of the body of Christ. In fact,
everyone does counsel other believers – some with faithfulness to the gospel, some by minimizing the gospel.
Both Pastors and laymen are to be involved in nouthetic counseling (Pastors should "equip" their people
in this area - Eph 4:12). In Rom 15:14, Paul is confident that these believers are "…full of goodness,
filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another." It is godly character, coupled with
knowledge of the Word of God and complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit that makes a Christian a
Believers in the church are exhorted to "admonish the unruly" fellow Christian within the church
(1 Thes 5:14). This is actually the "brotherly" way to treat a fellow believer: "admonish him
as a brother" (2 Thes 3:15). The implication is that if we do not practice this kind of "nouthetic"
care for one another then we are not being good brothers and sisters with one another. Even in the
family relationship, parents are to raise their children by "bring(ing) them up in the discipline and
instruction of the Lord" (Eph 6:4). In this passage the nouthetic ministry is described as "instruction."
This reminds us that teaching and guidance are integral to the nouthetic ministry of the Lord’s people.
In 1 Cor. 10:13, we are reminded that our struggles and temptations in life are common
to man and that our ultimate hope rests in the faithfulness of God to train us through them. You are not
alone in your struggles since others have struggled just like you have and God has given them grace to
change. God Himself is central to all nouthetic counseling, not incidental. Nouthetic counseling
recognizes that the ultimate hope of man must not be on counseling techniques or theories, but on our
sovereign and good Lord God. Struggling men and women must be directed to “hope in God” (Psalm 42:5; 43:5)
and not in their counselor or in their own resources. Nouthetic (biblical) Counseling always directs
people to Jesus Christ as the One in whom they should place their hope, not the nouthetic counselor.
In summary then, Nouthetic Counseling incorporates Sanctification as its goal, is filled with Compassion
for suffering individuals, uses the Scriptures as our authority and source with dependence upon the
Holy Spirit, and sees our ultimate Hope residing in Jesus Christ Himself. Our desire is that we would
have the privilege of ministering to you and helping to equip you to utilize the Scriptures in counseling
in such a way that they are "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in
righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16-17).
1 In each of the passages cited the term "admonish" is the Greek noun or verb from which we get the term "nouthetic" counseling.
- Views Sanctification as the ultimate goal
- Exercises Compassionate care for all people
- Uses God’s Word as its authority to teach God’s Will for any life problem
- Recognizes our full dependence upon the Holy Spirit
- Sees counseling as the ministry of the Local Church, not of specialists
- Gives Hope in Jesus Christ to the struggling.