On the gospel for the depressed soul according to Ephesians.
What often precipitates the need for biblical counseling are contusions in one’s spiritual identity. While it is impossible to remain unscathed and unscarred from life’s tragedies, there is ample relief in the gospel of God to mend any abrasions that arise in one’s spiritual identity. In that way, then, the role of the pastor in biblical counseling is to operate in conjunction with the Holy Spirit as a “soul physician,”1 to utilize Robert W. Kellemen’s locution. Pastors are uniquely called to bring to bear the effects of the gospel in the lives of those he is shepherding and counseling through the proclamation of the Word and the ministry of the Spirit. To that end, the apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians remains a cogent work for the pastor to consort when counseling one in the jowls of depression. The depth of practicality and theology contained in Ephesians speak to the triumphant announcement of the work of God on one’s behalf in Christ.
The opening to Ephesians is among the most storied paragraphs in the corpus of Pauline authorship. Ephesians 1:3–14 constitutes a magnetic apostolic run-on sentence which immediately re-centers one’s attention on the glory of God. Aside from the grammatical novelty of this paragraph, however, there exists a bevy of theological implications which recast one’s identity “according to the riches of his grace” and “his glory.” (Eph 1:7; 3:16) Paul’s words, then, present the framework for the pastoral presentation of re-centering one’s identity in a God-defined reality. This is “the first duty of a biblical counselor,” continues Kellemen, “to define reality — and reality begins with our Trinitarian God who chose us, adopted us, redeemed us, cleansed us, forgave us, sealed us, and guarantees our eternal inheritance.”2 The fullness of grace and glory is transmitted to the believer through the ministry of Spirit as the Spirit himself manifests the indelible and immeasurable love of God in Christ. (Eph 1:15–22; 3:14–21) The message of “love that surpasses knowledge” works to distill one’s despair in the resounding acknowledgement that such love prevailed on their behalf “before the foundation of the world.” (Eph 3:19; cf. 1:4)
As the pastor reveals the cosmic goodness of God in the opening of Ephesians, there is an inherent pivot that occurs in Ephesians 2 from the universality of God’s redemption to the individuality of his grace, which resurrects sinners from the deadness of their sins. (Eph 2:1–10) One is, therefore, reminded of the incalculable reach of God’s “great love” which confers on them a brand new stamp of identity as not only the chosen of God but also the “workmanship” of Christ. (Eph 1:4; 2:10) This, then, escalates the wonder of Jesus’s reconciliatory death, which not only appeases the Father’s wrath but also attests to the eschatological framework of restoration between “foreigners and strangers.” (Eph 2:19) Paul saw himself as particularly entrusted with propagating “the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” which reconciles everyone “to God in one body through the cross by which he put the hostility to death.” (Eph 3:6; cf. 2:16) Accordingly, as the pastor diffuses depression’s hold over the counselee, they are shown that they, too, can “have boldness and confidence access through faith in him.” (Eph 3:12)
To be clear, depression is a malady of the mind which ought to be treated alongside other bodily ailments through professional consultation and, if necessary, prescription medication. But coinciding with those treatments, one is offered manifold enrichment and encouragement in the presentation of the gospel in Ephesians. Paul’s words reorient one’s behavioral identity around the new identity that is received in faith. Indeed, the apostle spends a lengthy portion of his letter describing the “new life” one is equipped to live as a byproduct of one’s newfound identity “in Christ.” (Eph 4:1—6:9)
Likewise, through the dissemination of the blood-bought identity gifted to sinners by Jesus Christ, the pastor is able to sufficiently strengthen one for the inevitable war “against the cosmic powers of this darkness.” (Eph 6:12) “There is a battle for our view of God,” Kellemen writes, “that governs whether we trust God’s good heart.”3 The mantle placed upon the pastor’s shoulders is to regularly and repeatedly issue the reminder of Jesus’s sovereignty, superiority, and supremacy for the despondent and “crushed in spirit.” (Ps 34:18) Such is what fortifies the depressed, ravaged soul against the “schemes of the devil.” (Eph 6:11) Such, too, is what armors God’s beloved “to resist in the evil day.” (Eph 6:10–24) Notwithstanding one’s present emotional state, the demonstrative candor of the gospel gives one access to Christ’s “power by virtue of their union with Christ,” declares C. E. Arnold, “thereby enabling them to resist the vicious attacks of the hostile powers.”4 One’s feelings are not indicative of their spiritual standing. The pastor’s message, therefore, to the depressed soul is the adamantine foundation of their identity in the Lord Jesus, which is everlastingly established in the certitude Christ Jesus’s substitutionary death and resurrection.
Robert W. Kellemen, Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 14.
C. E. Arnold, “Letter to the Ephesians,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 247.