Question 14 of 15 from the Q&A in David Powlison’s essay, “I Am Motivated When I Feel Desire,” Seeing With New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture.
14. In counseling, do you just confront a person with his sinful cravings?
Wise counselors don’t “just confront” anything. They do many different things to make confrontation timely and effective. Counselors never see the heart, only the evidences, so a certain tentativeness is often appropriate when discussing motives. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that counseling aims to illuminate the heart, to help people see themselves as they are in God’s eyes, and in that to make the love of God as sweet necessity. Since counselors have the same package of typical lusts, we meet on common ground in our need for grace because of pride, fear of man, unbelief, and love of comfort and control.
We can and must tackle such issues. Second Timothy 3:16 begins with teaching. Good teaching (for example, on how Galatians 5 and James 1 connect outward sins to inward cravings) helps people examine and see themselves. Good teaching invites self-knowledge and self-confrontation. Experience with people will make you “case wise” to typical connections (such as the varied motives for immorality mentioned in Question 6). Probing questions—What did you want or expect or fear when you blew up at your wife?—help a person reveal his ruling lusts to himself and to the counseling.
In the light of self-knowledge before God’s face (Heb. 4:12-13), the Gospel offers many promises: mercy, help, the Shepherd’s care in progressive sanctification (Heb. 4:14-16). “The unfolding of Your words brings light” (Ps. 119:130). Repentance, faith, and obedience become vigorous and intelligent when we see both our inner cravings and our outward sin in light of God’s mercies.
The patterns, themes, or tendencies of the heart do not typically yield to a once-for-all repentance. Try dealing one mortal blow to your pride, fear of man, love of pleasure, or desire to control your world, and you will realize why Jesus spoke Luke 9:23! But genuine progress will occur where the Holy Spirit is at work. Understanding your motivational sins gives you a sense for the themes of your story, how your Father is at work in you over the long haul.
Work hard and carefully both on motivation issues (Rom. 13:14: the lusts of the flesh versus putting on Jesus Christ) and on behavioral issues (Rom. 13:12-13): the varied deeds of darkness versus proper “daylight” behavior).