Many years ago, when my wife and I served in an attached biblical counseling ministry at a different church, we had the opportunity to counsel a Catholic couple.

The vast number of people who came for counseling were evangelicals of some sort or the other. Ministering to Catholics was unusual.

In our first meeting, I asked them what brought them to us, rather than their local priest,

The wife said she liked how “you Protestants” applied the Bible. I suppose that said something about their local church and lack of application. The wife listened to the local Christian radio station and picked up on Scripture’s application aspect.

So, how did it go?

Not so well, frankly.

Why?

Our understanding of the gospel was radically different. See Galatians if you do not know what I mean.

Here is the presenting issue as I remember it.

The wife, let’s call her Sue, an American Catholic, was married to Paul, a European Catholic. They had a couple of small children.

Paul was an executive with a European company, and as part of his job, he made frequent across-the-ocean trips to Europe (this was way before Zoom) and would be gone for weeks at a time.

That issue was a source of conflict between them.

Why?

Sue was familiar with Ephesians 5:25-31:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,  that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,  because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.1

I am uncertain how Sue derived her interpretation of the passage. She either heard what she wanted to hear, or the interpretation\application on Christian radio was wrong in the first place.

In either case, Sue seemed to believe that if Paul loved her like Christ loved the church, he would find another job that kept him closer to home to help more with the children.

It is important to say you do not have to be Catholic to get the passage wrong. It is a common belief among evangelicals as well. What it amounts to is an unhappy wife believing, often sincerely, that her husband was somehow obligated to prove his love by giving her what she wanted.

This does not say whether it would be a wise biblical decision to have Paul at home more. The difference is motive and a desire to honor God.

The caveat is that Sue saw Paul’s reluctance to give up his job (a well-paying one, I might add) in a works kind of way. Sue could not understand the passage’s context because she did not understand the gospel.

In other words, Sue saw the application of Scripture in a legalistic kind of way. Keep the law, earn salvation, or at least chip in. Roman Catholics, who know what their church teaches, conflate justification with sanctification. The other factor is that grace is not grace in Roman Catholicism. Since the Catholic sacramental system earns a measure of grace (See Eph. 2:8-9 to see faith and grace are free gifts.)

Sue wanted Paul to change his behavior, while the gospel had not changed either of their hearts. They had a works mentality, and Sue was rather adamant about it, while Paul was passive, not understanding why he should give up a job he loved that paid well just to make her happy. 

We could not begin to unpack the context of the apostle Paul’s teaching in Ephesians without first explaining the gospel to show her that the application of the passage must be centered on the gospel and the heart change associated with the gospel, and then the unity within the gospel to help them sort out motive.

In our last meeting, Sue came alone because Paul was in Europe. We had spent the first two meetings just trying to get to know them. My wife had personal contact with Sue between the meetings and was developing a friendly relationship.

Sue came to the last meeting with her complaint. It was time to cut to the gospel chase. It was not received well since she saw what we said to be an attack on their church (which was indirect). 

Sadly, Sue refused future meetings.

The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:3:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures2

The Roman Catholic gospel is not in accordance with the Scriptures. This is not a secondary issue, as many evangelicals seem to think, but that’s for another day and blog entry.


Pastor Bruce Roeder


Biblical Counselor, Training Program Instructor

Milwaukee, WI. He has an M.A. in Biblical Counseling and is certified with the ACBC (Level 2) and IABC. He is married to his wife Elizabeth of 49 years. They have one son, a wonderful daughter-in-law, and three great grandkids. 

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  1.  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 5:25–31. ↩︎
  2. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 15:3. ↩︎