Chapters 2 and 3 of You Can Change contained some significant “Aha moments” for me. And I almost missed them. On first reading, I ploughed quickly through these “theoretical” chapters in an effort to get to the “meat” of the book; the bit where it tells you what to do.
I’m glad I went back for a closer look. The questions raised in these chapters, and indeed the answers that are offered, are not anything new for most Christians. Many of us would readily tick the box that says, ‘I am saved by Christ alone, through faith alone’, while trying to conquer sin under our own steam and for our own glory. We can take the most fundamental of truths for granted and forget to ponder their implications not just for our salvation, but for our sanctification (or transformation, as Chester likes to call it). We are quick to ‘move on’ from the basics, and in doing so, unwittingly make things harder for ourselves.
Often we don’t even know we’re doing it. I certainly didn’t. But as Chester pinpoints what are so often our real motives for change, and teases out the end point of such thinking, I find myself cut to the heart.
“Trying to impress God, others or ourselves puts us at the centre of our change project. It makes change all about my looking good. It is done for my glory.” (p. 29)
“When we try to prove ourselves by our good works, we’re saying, in effect, that the cross wasn’t enough.” (p. 32)And as he identifies the ways I try to change, or the solutions I offer to others, I realise I am again relying on my own strength.
"It’s not just that trying to live by laws and disciplines is useless: it’s a backwards step. It’s a step back into slavery, which ends up undermining grace and hope.”(p. 49)Ouch.
But then as he fleshes out what flows from truly grasping Christ’s death for us, it is like a soothing balm for the wound he has just inflicted. How much greater is what Christ can offer compared to what I can do for myself? If each and every sin we struggle with has already been pardoned, then the goal-posts have been moved. We are no longer fighting a losing battle every time we face temptation; after all, the battle has been won.
So why do we change? No longer are we in a desperate scramble to save ourselves or to keep up appearances. We change because we have been saved, and because we are growing into what we already are; a child of the Father, a bride of the Son, and the home of the Holy Spirit.
And how will we change? Not with self-imposed rules and discipline, but with repentance and faith. We can know that change is God’s work in us, and that through the Spirit, change is not only possible, but inevitable.
In the midst of all this came my two Aha moments:
1) Always ask “why”. I so often feel inadequate when someone comes to me struggling with a particular sin, because I never have anything concrete to offer them. I long to give them the answers to their problem and fool-proof strategies to avoid temptation. I can only imagine how much more profound and meaningful those conversations could be if I was slower to talk strategy and more willing to talk motives.
2) Do I really expect change? Or do I talk about change, while deep down believing that sin will always win out in the end? Do I surround myself with so many strategies and guidelines in my own efforts to conquer sin that I forget Christ’s achievement in conquering sin for me?
Perhaps my Aha moments are not that significant for you. Perhaps something else in these chapters has made you pause and see things in a new light. It’d be great to hear what has made you say “Aha!” How has being reminded of the ‘basics’ helped you think about your motives and methods for change in your change project?