Any savvy Sunday School kid knows that if you’re put on the spot and find yourself stuck for an answer, then saying “Jesus!” “God!” or “The Bible!” means you’re in with a chance.
So what’s the problem with this method? Even if they guessed right, there’s a good chance they don’t know why their answer was true. They don’t understand what Jesus did, or who God is, or why the Bible is so valuable. They can hide behind the correct answer, walk away with a fistful of stickers and lollies, and never be stretched in their knowledge and love of God.
Sometimes this is a grown up’s problem too. The questions may be different, and our rote answers a tad more sophisticated, but we are just as susceptible to pulling out the ‘old faithfuls’ without ever grasping the full picture.
If Tim Chester’s book, You Can Change, was just made up of chapters 7-10, we would have had a helpful ‘how to’ manual for dealing with sin. All the ‘old faithful’ answers are there- the Bible, prayer, community and service to name a few. And yet, like the Sunday School teacher who knows the child is bluffing, he has spent the previous 6 chapters laying the ground work so we will know why those tried and true practises are so helpful.
The premise of the book so far has been that:
• Change is God’s work. He has made us righteous by his Son, and is making us righteous by his Spirit.
• Sin reveals the real problems that exist in our hearts.
• We sin because we believe lies about God: but the truth will set us free.
• We sin because we desire idols more than we desire God: but God is bigger and better than our sinful desires.
Keeping those things in mind, I want to share with you how my understanding of just one strategy for change has been deepened.
Chester spends a whole chapter discussing the importance of Christian community. When I hear that phrase- ‘Christian community’- in the context of sin, two opposing images enter my mind. I picture a sparkling community, where people appear to be so godly that at best, others are encouraged to be like them, or at worst, they feel compelled to hide their sin. Or I picture an accountability group, where every week three people mull over their deepest darkest secrets and validate each other in their sin, rather than urging each other to change. These images are caricatured, but they do highlight the less than helpful ways we sometimes deal with each other’s sin. I know we are meant to help each other change (prize to me at Sunday School!) but clearly I’m not too sure how we do this.
Our church communities are to be places of truth, repentance and grace (chapter 9). We grow together not just by modelling Christ-like behaviour, but by modelling faith and repentance in our struggles with sin. That sparkling community of perfect people has no place in a church that is serious about change. We need to hate our sin more than we love our reputation. We need to stop posing as good people. Chester points out that while we don’t need to tell everybody, we do need to tell somebody. This isn’t a picture of that accountability group where everybody goes to feel better about their sin. No, confession creates the opportunity for the truth to be spoken.
Because sin reflects a lie about God, we need to respond to another’s confession by speaking the truth in love. We need to remind one another of the goodness, greatness, graciousness and glory of God. We do this through his word, as we ‘encourage, challenge, console, rebuke, counsel, exhort and comfort one another with the truth.’ (p. 170). We help them explore the lies and desires of their hearts, and urge them to repent. We don’t pretend that we are better than them; we show them that we too are people under grace.
The next time someone asks me how change is possible, I may call out the ‘old faithful’ answer of Christian community. But I will do so with a deeper understanding of how we help each other change.
Having reached the end of You Can Change, I know that there is still much to be done (see chapter 10!). Reading a book like this will not provide all the answers or bring about a magic cure for our struggles. Above all else it has given me a bigger view of sin’s deceitfulness and of God’s power to change me, if only I would let him. It has helped me to apply the truths I know in theory to the practical task of change.