Whenever I talk about gospel-centered counseling, I discuss what I call 8 ultimate life questions. From time to time, I’m asked, “Why don’t you call them 8 ultimate life answers”? Michael Horton answers this question, in his fine work, The Gospel-Driven Life, by noting:
We typically introduce the Bible as the “answer to life’s questions.” This is where the Bible becomes relevant to people “where they are” in their experience. Accordingly, it is often said that we must apply the Scriptures to daily living. But this is to invoke the Bible too late, as if we already knew what “life” or “daily living” meant. The problem is not merely that we lack the right answers, but that we don’t even have the right questions until God introduces us to His interpretation of reality.
So let’s compare the world’s 8 ultimate life questions to the Bible’s 8 ultimate life questions—to see that the world doesn’t even get the questions right!
Ultimate Life Question # 1
The World’s Question: “What is truth?”
The Word’s Question: “Where do we find wisdom for life in a broken world?”
Do you see how rich and robust the Word’s question is? And how real, raw, and relevant the Word’s question is? The world asks about truth in the abstract—philosophical truth. The Word asks about and provides the ultimate source of wisdom for living—how broken people live wisely in a broken world.
Ultimate Life Question # 2
The World’s Question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?”
The Word’s Question: “Who Is God?” “What comes into our mind when we think about God?” “Whose view of God will we believe—Satan’s or Christ’s?”
When Shirley and I recently visited the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, we read displays that constantly pondered why there was something instead of nothing. They not only failed to provide an answer, they were asking a shallow and foolish question.
See again the richness of the Word’s question: “Whose view of God will we believe—Satan’s or Christ’s?” We all have a view of God. We are all worshipping beings. And we all follow someone’s portrait of God—either an evil portrait painted by Satan or the beautiful portrait painted by Christ—in His blood.
Ultimate Life Question # 3
The World’s Question: “Who am I?”
The Word’s Question: “Whose are we?” “In what story do we find ourselves?”
Wow! Just add those two letters—s and e—and what a world of difference we find between the world’s question and the Word’s question.
“Who am I” is such a tiny, puny, and self-centered question. It is a question that pictures the world revolving around me. “Who am I?” is a question that can only be answered by self-sufficiency and self-reference—I am who I see and make myself to be.
“Whose are we?” is such a gigantic, even infinite, question. It is a question that pictures the universe revolving around God. “Whose am I?” is a question that can only be answered in-reference-to our Creator—coram Deo. The story of our life is not an auto-biography. The story of our life is a God-biography—we are each an epic poem (Eph. 2:10) written by God as pages in chapters in God’s book of eternal life.
Paul answers this ultimate life question in Romans 1:7: “Beloved by the Father and called to be saints.” We are loved sons/daughters and cleansed saints—that’s who we are because of Whose we are!
Ultimate Life Question # 4
The World’s Question: “Why do we do the things we do?”
The Word’s Question: “What went wrong?” “What’s the root source of our problem?”
The world answers its wrong question with a wrong answer. “I do the things I do because of others—it’s my spouse’s fault, my boss’ fault, my parents’ fault.” Or, “I do the things I do because of my feelings—they are out of control, beyond my control.” Or, “I do the things I do because of my body—I need better medication because my physical brain is the ultimate source of my soulful problems.”
The Word gets to the heart of our heart problem. Yes, our life situation influences our actions. Yes, our emotions are tricky and complex. Yes, our bodies are frail and fallen jars of clay. However, the root of our problem is spiritual—it is a worship disorder. It is a loss-of-awe disorder. We are all spiritual adulterers and heart idolaters—that’s the root of our problem.
Recognition of that root compels us to cry out in God-sufficiency for an Answer—a Person—who has paid the price for adultery and idolatry.
Ultimate Life Question # 5
The World’s Question: “How do people change?”
The Word’s Question: “How does Christ change people?” “How does Christ bring us peace with God?”
The world’s question focuses on human self-effort—which is the very definition of secular thinking. It’s all about me and my self-sufficient efforts to be a “better me” in my power for my good.
The Word’s question focuses on Christ-sufficiency—it’s all about Him, His power, for His glory—and becoming more like Christ, not simply a “better me.” Yes, there is a role that we play—but that role is a grace-empowered role. Already changed by Christ, we now put off the vestiges of the old us and put on the new person we already are in Christ—through the Spirit’s empowerment. Christ not only changes our inner person, but also changes our relationship with the Father from enemy to family, from alienation to peace.
Ultimate Life Question # 6
The World’s Question: “Where can we find help?”
The Word’s Question: “Where can we find a place to believe, belong, and to become—like Christ?”
The world says, “It takes a village.”
The Word says, “It takes a church.” Sanctification is a community journey with our brothers and sisters in Christ. As Ephesians 3:14-21 reminds us, it is together with all the saints that we grasp grace and grow in grace to glorify our gracious God.
Ultimate Life Question # 7
The World’s Question: “Where are we headed?”
The Word’s Question: “How does our future destiny impact our lives today?”
We all want to know, “What’s the point?” “What’s our purpose?” The world asks these questions in a vacuum.
The Word asks the destiny question knowing the answer and relevantly tying our future to our present. As Christians, our future destiny is in eternity with God on a new heaven and a new earth where we have intimacy with God, purity in our hearts, and victory in our lives. Since this is true, the Bible urges us to live today in light of eternity. As saints who struggle against suffering and sin—our future makes all the difference in our lives now.
Ultimate Life Question # 8
The World’s Question: “Why are we here?”
The Word’s Question: “What’s our calling/purpose?” “How do we become like Christ”?
The world’s take on the question of ultimate meaning begins with a shallow question and responds with an even more superficial answer: “To be a better me.”
The Word sees our purpose as a calling in relationship to God and others. And the Word focuses our answer on Christlikeness. We are here to glorify the Father the way the Son glorified the Father. We are here to increasingly reflect Jesus. Each of us will do so in unique, idiosyncratic ways because we are each fearfully and wonderfully made to reflect Christ in a billion different ways.
The Right Questions and the Right Answers
Here’s my tweet-size summary of the implication of getting both the questions and the answers correct: To offer wise & loving biblical counsel, we must ask & answer gospel-centered biblical questions. [Add tweet link]
The world not only gets the answers wrong, the world’s questions are impoverished. The Word not only gets the answers right, the Word’s questions are rich, robust, and relevant. Is it a new thought for you that the world not only has foolish answers, but also shallow questions? If so, what impact might this realization have on your life and ministry?
Dr. Robert W. Kellemen: Bob is the Vice President for Institutional Development and Chair of the Biblical Counseling Department at Crossroads Bible College, the Founder and CEO of RPM Ministries, and served for five years as the founding Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition. For seventeen years Bob served as the founding Chairman of and Professor in the MA in Christian Counseling and Discipleship department at Capital Bible Seminary. Bob pastored for 15 years and has trained pastors and counselors for three decades. Bob earned his BA in Pastoral Ministry from Baptist Bible College (PA), his Th.M. in Theology and Biblical Counseling from Grace Theological Seminary, and his Ph.D. in Counselor Education from Kent State University. Bob and his wife, Shirley, have been married for thirty-five years; they have two adult children, Josh and Marie, one daughter-in-law, Andi, and three granddaughters: Naomi, Penelope, and Phoebe. Dr. Kellemen is the author of thirteen books including Gospel-Centered Counseling and Gospel Conversations.