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PART 1 – The Foundations for Personal Change

Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change

By Pastor Brian G. Hedges

Shepherd Press (2010)

(Order Your Copy Today and get special pre-release pricing).

Read the Introduction to this review here.
Read the review of Part Two here and Part Three here.

Dr. Donald Whitney writes in his introduction for Brian G. Hedges new book, Christ Formed in You, that:

A weak grasp of the Gospel is a hindrance to holiness. Brian Hedges understands that the pursuit of “the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14) requires a clear understanding of the Gospel.

In his introduction, Brian tells us that his central claim in Christ Formed in You is:

It is God’s purpose to change us by progressively making us more like Jesus, and that happens only as we understand and apply the gospel to our lives.

Holiness and the Gospel. Two things that are seemingly missing in many Christian circles today. How can these things be missing? The Gospel is foundational to who we are in Christ Jesus, and Holiness is our goal, as God has commanded, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). As Puritan John Owen wrote, “Holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing, and realizing of the gospel in our souls.”

In applying the gospel to our daily walk, addressing salvation and sanctification, Brian has written this book in three parts, each building upon the other, showing us doctrinally and practically what the Bible means when it tells us in Colossians 2:6, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.”

Today I will review Part One which focuses on the foundations for personal change. As Brian summarizes it:

We will look at God’s ultimate goal in transforming us (Chapter One); the key to transformation, which is the gospel itself (Chapter Two); and the application of the gospel to our lives in three specific ways (Chapters Three, Four, and Five).

Chapter One – Restoring God’s Broken Image: The Goal

Too often we really do forget, or maybe we have never been taught, exactly why Jesus came. Ask any number of people in a local church to define the mission of Christ, or to articulate the content of the gospel, the good news that Jesus has come to “seek and save that which was lost”, and you will likely receive a multitude of answers. Most will contain some truth, but most will also leave out important and critical details about the truth of the gospel.

In this first chapter we learn what it means to be created in the image of God and what it means to glorify God as we represent Him to each other and the watching world. As with the Scriptures itself, and as with any good gospel presentation, Brian starts at the beginning. “In the beginning God…” In order to understand and apply the gospel to our daily lives we must start with God. The Gospel is not about us, it is about God. It is about restoring His image in us that has been shattered by sin and the fall. The wages of sin is still death, and the only solution for sin is the redeeming work of Christ on our behalf.

Many preachers today shy away from addressing the holiness of God and calling sin what it is. Some popular preachers ever refuse to use the word sin. But Brian understands that if God is as holy as He tells us in His Word, and if we are as hopeless without Him as the Scripture indicate, then we have to be told the truth in love. Not in a negative hellfire and brimstone kind of way, but in a way that shows us the glory of God in order to reveal our need for Him. It was only when Isaiah saw the holiness of God that he realized his own need for cleansing (Isaiah 6:1-8).

Speaking about the holiness of God and our task as disciples of Christ, Evangelist Del Fehsenfeld, Jr., used to preach that we are to be the salt of the earth, and the number one quality of salt was that it makes us thirsty. Brian builds upon these thoughts by making us thirst after being right with God knowing that only then will we be truly satisfied.

All of us want to be satisifed. And we all desire change. Discontenment is common place. Each of us could give a list almost immediately of the circumstances and things in our life and in our family that we would change if we had the power and ability to do so. What we learn in this chapter is that what we really need to have changed, we are powerless on our own to change. But gracious provision has been made by God as He can rescue us when we cannot save ourselves. Understanding the goal of being restored to fellowship with God in Whose image we have been created opens the door for the changes we desire. Not as we seek to serve self, but as we learn all that God has accomplished for us in salvation and all that He intends for us to be for His glory.

Chapter Two – The Key to Transformation: The Gospel

“The gospel is the power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:15). We all know that verse and maybe even quote it often. But what does it mean? How powerful is the gospel? How are we called from death to life in Christ Jesus? Or even on a more basic level, what is the gospel?

Following the Apostle Paul’s example, Brian presents for us clear doctrinal truth in answer to our dilemma of desiring and needing change in our lives. Paul in his epistles throughout the New Testament, always begins addressing problems by laying out a clear doctrinal presentation that exposes the false beliefs that lie at the root of so many of the churches problems. Then he goes on to provide practical application that shows us how believing the truth (sound doctrine) works its way out in the way we live (sound living).

So where do we start? After seeing the need for restoration and reconciliation to the True and Living God, we start with the content of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We see from Scripture that the gospel is more than the details about Christ and His birth, life, death, and resurrection. The Gospel is the good news that God by His grace has made provision to take away the penalty for our sin and give to us everything that we need for life and godliness. The good news is that we are saved (converted), we are being saved (sanctification), and we will be saved (glorification). And it is the Gospel that is the power of God to salvation, from start to finish.

Brian takes the time in this second chapter to clearly define for us what Christ accomplished in His life and death, what it means that He is our substitute, and what the atonement means in day to day terms. We learn simply what redemption is all about, why Jesus had to be raised from the dead, and the triumph that Christ has accomplished for the glory of the Father.

I am pleased to read in this chapter about the necessity of repentance in our obeying the gospel command. Quoting one of my favorite of Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Thesis, Brian reminds us that “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said, ‘Repent’, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of penitence.”

Too many self proclaimed evangelicals today neglect to begin preaching the Gospel where it has always begun. How did John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and others always begin preaching the Gospel? “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” The Gospel requires that we turn away from our sin in repentance and that we simultaneously turn to Christ in faith trusting that He will save us. A Gospel message that does not start with the necessity of repentance neglects a crucial component of the good news. We do not come “Just as I am.” We come “Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me.” We cannot embrace Christ without forsaking our sin.

This chapter answers the question, “What is the gospel?” It should be required reading!

Chapter Three – The Curse is Cancelled: Justification

Throughout the history of the Church controversies have raged. Doctrinal debates, church councils, schisms and sects have abounded on every side. At the heart of most controversies we find error or heresy, usually about the person and work of Christ. Disagreements and vigorous debates about the gospel, the historical Jesus, salvation or its components have lead to the formation of cults, and to the preservation of the Gospel through trials and reformation.

It seems that every generation has its fight about justification. What does it mean that we have been justified before God? It is really as simple as God seeing me “just as if I’d never sinned?” How does God accomplish justification? What is our part, if any, in the event, or the process?

In this chapter we learn the truth about the doctrine of justification, not only so that we know the facts, but so that we can see the effects in our day to day living that have occurred because of what God accomplishes for us by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We learn the roles of law and grace in the gospel, and what many may fear as an excursion into the theological hotbed topics of our day is really just a calm stroll through the truth!

In this chapter Brian reminds us what it means when the Bible tells us that through faith we can be made right with God. As my favorite Christmas carol Joy to the World proclaims, the good news of the Gospel rings out and tells us:

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

Through the power of the Gospel the curse has been reversed. What does that mean in our day to day lives? We learn in the conclusion to this chapter that doctrine means something. Doctrine is not dry, theological facts. It is truth revealed in God’s Word that affects the way we think, feel, talk, and live. Knowing sound doctrine produces joy, peace, hope, and other fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

Chapter Four – The Cure has Begun: The Heart

Who you are in the inner man, in your heart, must change if we are to walk with God. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 that we need to put off the old man and put on the new man created by God in true righteousness and holiness. It is the heart that is desperately wicked, hard as stone, and in need of revival. And salvation is described by Ezekiel as God removing our hard heart of stone and replacing it with a vibrant, living heart of flesh.

We learn in this chapter that too often we deal with change in our lives by redecorating the exterior while no real internal change occurs. In that case, we may give the front porch a new coat of paint, but nothing really changes or is transformed.

Jesus identified the Pharisees and their hypocrisy by saying that they were like white washed tombs. They looked clean on the outside, as so many monuments do, but on the inside they were full of dead men’s bones. So are we, if we only seek to change the outward appearance but never see true inward change, a change of heart.

The Gospel shows us that we have a heart problem. The solution is a heart transplant. But even then, at times this new heart, this new creation that we are in Christ Jesus, follows after idols of our own choosing instead of after Christ who has bought us with His blood. There is still the matter of the flesh that Paul says is still in us.

Jesus told His disciples, and demonstrates for us each time we partake of Communion, that “this cup is the New Covenant in My blood which is shed for you.” It is through understanding our place in the New Covenant that we learn the depths of grace and the impact that the Gospel has on our lives, even to the very core of our being.

Chapter Five – Closing the Gap: Sanctification

Being a new creation in Christ means that we are different. Yes, I know, some of us are more different than others. But we are fundamentally different. We have been given a new nature, a new heart, life and freedom where we were once dead and slaves to sin. Now that we know what the Gospel message is and what it means to be justified, what next?

Next is the process of our being conformed to the image of Christ. This is why we were saved in the first place (Romans 8:29). Now that the foundation has been laid and the root is bearing fruit, now we begin this journey of sanctification.

Brian rightly addresses sanctification as another part of our salvation by grace through faith. He demonstrates our position in Christ and our progress in holiness. Here we come to the heart of the book.

Now that we understand the Gospel and what it is that God has accomplished for us through Jesus on the cross at Calvary, now we see how our salvation works its way out in our daily living, where the rubber hits the road. So what does it mean that we are “in Christ”, that we have been “crucified with Christ”, and that our lives are “hidden with Christ in God?”

Brian writes that as we begin to understand the process of sanctification we see that God has given us a new history, a new identity, and a new destiny. The Gospel is not just a “ticket to heaven” or a fire insurance policy to avoid the flames of hell. Sanctification is our moment by moment experience of living our new life in Christ free from sin!

Are we free from sin? Yes. But why then do we still sin? Ah, now we see the need for this book! Now we see why we must understand and apply the Gospel to our daily lives. The Gospel is not just for the lost around us as we seek to win them to Christ. The Gospel is a necessary element of our every day lives. We, as saints, need the Gospel preached to us often and convincingly so that we can see all that God has given us in His Son. 2 Peter 1 tells us that “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.”

Get that? Everything we need to live and be godly we have been given through knowing Christ. Did you realize that the Gospel meant that much? Did you know the depths of the riches of God’s grace extended this far?

We have no excuse. Everything that we need for life and godliness He has given us. We have the tools. But do we know how to use them?

In Part Two we will open the tool box.

So join me Wednesday for part 2 of my review of Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change by By Pastor Brian G. Hedges.

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