PART 2 – The Pattern of 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 One here and Part Three here.

We have heard a lot the last few years about change. It has become a worn out phrase identifying political promises for Hope and Change and it has become part of the backlash against current policies in our nation as bumper stickers can now be applied to our cars that carry messages that range from You Can Keep the Change all the way to Change It Back. And as heated as political debates are prone to be, there is one topic that is even more dreaded when it pops up in discussions with relatives and at family reunions. Everybody knows not to discuss politics or religion!

However, the message of change is such a powerful message because we human beings are rarely satisfied and are almost never content. We may be pursuing the American Dream, seeking to better ourselves, or we may be sick and tired of the way things are and are motivated by a deep desire to get out of whatever rut we seem to have fallen into. Bookshelves are full of titles that offer help in changing our body image, weight, fitness level, or offer to assist in ramping up our motivation, emotions, and success in relationships. Everyone it seems is looking for change, usually in a quick fix. When that fails, we are off on another quest to conquer another area rooted in the mundane.

The trouble is that too often we are trying to change things on the surface but never address the root issues. If we mow the weeds in our yard the lawn looks nice and green and uniform. For a few days. Then the weeds pop back up as they compete for sunlight and nourishment. In our lives, there are things that need to change. None of us has arrived. But if all we do is mow the weeds, they will pop back up somewhere else in the landscape of our daily routines.

We need to learn to listen to God’s Word as in it we learn what really needs to change. In Part One of Christ Formed in You, Brian established the great change that occurs when we believe the gospel and are converted, repenting of our sin and trusting in Christ to save us from self, sin, death, and the wrath to come. But what now? Is the gospel useful to us after we have been born again? Are there still things that need to change?

As we grow in grace and as we are conformed into the image of Christ, we are being changed constantly. This change is a change that matters, changes deep inside who we are that affect what we think, say, and do. These are the changes we need to desire as we follow Christ.

To follow Christ, to imitate Him, is to be holy. What does it mean to be holy? Does holiness produce pride, as in those who have an “Holier than thou” attitude? Does holiness mean we live like monks or religious hermits? How do we pursue holiness?

We will find out next. Having laid a sound doctrinal foundation for understanding the gospel in Part One, Brian now introduces us to Part Two as he prepares to give us the instructions to apply practically the doctrine we have learned. He writes:

Part Two then takes up the pattern of personal change. We will explore the captivating beauty of gospel holiness (Chapter Six); with its demands that we both kill sin (Chapter Seven); and grow in grace by the power of the Spirit (Chapter Eight); and the quest for joy that motivates us in this pursuit and strengthens us in the battle for holiness (Chapter Nine).

Brian begins this section with another quote from Martin Luther:

We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.

Chapter Six – Captivated by Beauty: Holiness

What is holiness? Do we desire holiness? Do we chase after it? Do we even understand what it means to be holy? Holiness is often a mystery. It is often perceived as outward standards that are used to try and convey some inward reality or conviction.

We are reminded though that the chief characteristic of God is that He is “Holy, Holy, Holy.” He is set apart from all others. There is none like Him. He is the Holy One, who dwells is a holy place, whose Spirit is holy, who does holy work, and makes holy promises for the sake of His holy name. Everything about God is absolutely holy. His very nature helps us understand true holiness.

Brian makes a link in this chapter between holiness and purity, or moral perfection. God is pure and the excellence of His character is not just a description of what He is, but of who He is. And because God is holy those who have been created in His image also must be holy in order to have a relationship with Him.

Often we fall for the idea that God will fellowship with us where we are as we are without any change at all in what we are. Without the Gospel we are unholy and therefore excluded from relating to God. We have no fellowship with Him if we remain unholy. That is why Jesus had to maintain His perfection and holiness in the face of every temptation that is known to man. Only then could He serve as a substitute for us, taking our sin and God’s wrath toward it on Himself while giving us His holiness so that we can have a relationship unhindered by what we are outside of Christ.

Jesus in fact is the clearest and best representation of God’s holiness. As we are called to be like Him we find that it is only through the Gospel that we can be made holy. Holiness is not an outward appearance that avoids evil, like mowing weeds. It is a deep personal transformation, a change in who we are that is accomplished by the Spirit through the Gospel as it is applied to every area of our lives.

As we grow in our relationship with Christ we learn more and more how to put away from us those things that are unholy and we learn to embrace and put on those things that make us more holy. It is not enough to put sin off, we must put righteousness on. In this exchange, we die to self and live to Christ.

Chapter Seven – Killing Sin: Mortification

The wages of sin is still death (Romans 6:23). Why then do we entertain it, and play with it? Perhaps it is the sense of danger that causes excitement, but whatever the case, we must each learn to “be killing sin or it will kill be killing you.”

The theological term for rejecting sin is “repentance.” The term for fighting and killing it is “mortification.” This is not a word we hear very often from the pulpit or that we read in current books. What does it mean to be killing sin?

Before we learn how to be killing sin, Brian tells us what mortification is not. It is not a quest for sinless perfection. That is impossible as long as we live in these fallen bodies and contend with the flesh that is still in us. It is also not furthered by asceticism. The idea that denying ourselves the good things that God has created for us while thinking that this will make us more spiritual is rooted in the heresy of Gnosticism. Further, mortification is more than merely exchanging one outward behavior for another. Doing right things the wrong way or for the wrong reasons is identified in Scripture as “iniquity.” Sins of the self will.

So what is mortification? Brian takes us through a brief study in Romans 8, Colossians 3, and Galatians 5 to take and apply the clear teaching of Scripture to the question. He teaches us that mortification is part of our daily transformation known as the process of sanctification. It is a mentality that says we are at war with the world, the flesh, and the devil, and we are willing to fight with the hope of participating in the victory that Christ has already secured for us.

In one of the most practical sections of this book, Brian gives us “Ten Ways to Kill Sin.” In these days when many pastors will not even use the word sin, and when we often disguise sin by calling it other names (we call sin a personal failure, weakness, addictions, or faults to lessen the stigma), this is a refreshing and much needed section.

In concluding this chapter we get a good look at what we need to do to mortify sin. It is a look we need to take and steps we need to follow if we want to grow in grace.

Chapter Eight – Growing in Grace: Vivification

Holiness is something we grow up into. But we need help. We cannot do it on our own. Just as a child must be taught, protected, nourished, and cared for, so too we in the church need to see that we are here to care for each other. How often is it that all of our attention is focused on winning converts but as soon as a person is a new born Christian we drop them on the sidewalk and go looking for the next target for conversion? It is too easy to forget that new Christians are like infants! The process of nurturing them as they grow is called discipleship, and we are all responsible before God to be making disciples and to be being discipled ourselves. The new birth is just the beginning.

Moving through one of my favorite sections of the Scripture, Brian takes us through Ephesians 4-5 to see how it is that we are to walk. In fact, Paul uses the theme of walking in these passages to show us how it is that we grow, or progress, in grace. We learn that genuine spiritual growth is measured by how we walk, not how we talk.

According to Romans 12:1-2, we are engaged in the process of spiritual transformation as we follow Christ and learn to walk in Him and with Him. Brian gives us a pattern for spiritual transformation in five essential elements: the goal, the motive, the cost, the process, and the power.

I appreciate most in this section the truth that spiritual transformation comes at a cost. In these days of easy-believism and cheap grace it is good to be reminded that following Christ will cost us something. There is a cost of discipleship.

We also learn what it means to be renewing our minds. This is needed and good because again we find in so much of the church today an appeal to emotionalism that bypasses the mind. But we have the mind of Christ. We are given specific guidelines for how we are to think and what we are to think upon in the Scriptures. One key to spiritual victory is taking every thought captive to Christ. We need to be thinking Christians. We need to use the mind that God gives us and is daily renewing by grace. After all, we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

There is also a section in this chapter that covers “Five Characteristics of Spiritual Growth.” These lists are a fantastic tool used skillful to remind us of the truth, but Brian is careful not to overwhelm his reader. Simple, but not simplistic, we have laid before us a checklist to use in diagnosing our spiritual health. This is, after all, what real church growth is all about. Not numbers, but fruit. If we are not growing spiritually then we are not making progress or growing in grace.

Chapter Nine – The Quest for Joy: Motivation

Just as everyone seeks change, usually just for the sake of change, so to we devote time and resources to the pursuit of happiness. This is, after all, our God given right, right? To learn that we need not worry, just be happy.

Jesus tells us in the sermon on the mount how to be happy, and we learn the deep truth that it is more about our motivations than our actions. God wants us to be happy because we are holy, and in being holy we find the secrets of true and lasting joy. Often we confuse happiness and joy, but we learn that happiness is usually based on external circumstances (happiness is based on happenings), while joy is a fruit of the Spirit produced in us by the Spirit of God.

Brian reminds us that the “chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” God is the source of true joy. Seeing God for who He is reminds us that we should and can be satisfied, we can be full to overflowing with joy no matter the trial, tribulation, or tempest we face.

As we contemplate what it means to follow Jesus, remembering that there is a cost, we might wonder how it is that we find joy and satisfaction when we are told to deny self and even to die to self daily. How does self denial promote satisfaction? We must not forget the powerful point that self denial is not an end to itself! Our satisfaction is not in abandoning self, it is in abandoning self to God.

As we do deny self and find satisfaction in God, we learn that God has given us great and precious promises all through His Word that serve to remind us and motivate us toward finding in Him our all in all. Whatever we face, whatever distracts us and throws us off course, we find motivation in these promises. God has made provision for us so that we might be satisfied, but we have to come to the Table and eat!

In concluding this chapter, Brian asks us whether we are driven by fear or drawn by joy in our pursuit of holiness. Fear is the opposite of faith and a terrible task master. Joy, in the Lord, in indeed the very fabric of the strength we need to persevere.

In concluding Part Two, we see then that just as a new piece of furniture or new toy for our children comes with “some assembly required”, we have been given an instruction book that shows us how to build upon the doctrinal foundation of the gospel. At times, the instructions we find in the box are confusing, but the instructions we have been given in the Word come with a Helper, the Spirit of Truth, who will lead us into all truth. And it is in knowing the truth that we see the big picture – what it means to be holy. God has saved us to make us holy so that we might fellowship with Him. Now that the tool box is open and we have read the instructions, Brian will show us in Part Three that God has given us three tools to use as we apply the Gospel to our daily lives and are built up in Christ Jesus. We will examine those tools Friday.

So join me Friday for Part 3 as I conclude my review of Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change by Pastor Brian G. Hedges.