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PART 3 – The Means 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 Two here.

My mentor in the ministry taught me a valuable lesson about faith. In teaching on belief systems he made the point that what we believe works its way out in how we behave. I have used his illustration over and over because I have yet to find one that illustrates the point any better. That illustration is about a bear in the woods. He would tell us to imagine that we were walking in the woods and suddenly someone thinks that they hear a bear. Knowing all that we do about bears our hearts are immediately filled with fear. As we strain our ears and our eyes trying to verify our newfound fear, any hint, any indication whatsoever that there is actually a bear in the woods after us reinforces a belief. That belief is that a bear is in the woods coming to get us. Now, if we believe this to be true, how will we act? What will we do?

If we really believe a bear is after us then we will think, talk, and act like a bear is after us and we will try to get away to safety.

Does it matter if there is a bear there or not? Perhaps it was just the wind, or another smaller animal rummaging through the leaves. The point is, there doesn’t have to be a bear at all, but if we believe the bear is there we will act accordingly.

Charles Spurgeon had a similar illustration. He made the point in Around the Wicket Gate when he wrote:

If I start up in a fright, and find my house on fire, I do not sit down at the edge of the bed, and say to myself, “I hope I am truly awakened! Indeed, I am deeply grateful that I am not left to sleep on!” No, I want to escape from threatened death, and so I hasten to the door or to the window, that I may get out, and may not perish where I am. It would be a questionable boon to be aroused, and yet not to escape from the danger.

Just as with a bear in the woods, if we believe our house is on fire we are not likely to wander calmly down the hall and go back to bed. If we believe the house is on fire we try to get out.

What we believe is important. Our belief system determines how we will think, talk, and act. A belief system built on sound doctrine and practical application will lead to maturity, wisdom, and living to the glory of God. A belief system full of false beliefs and bad doctrine will lead to depraved living as we are ruled by our doubts and fears.

So what do we believe? Do we trust the Word of God? Or are we looking for the latest and greatest fad, program, book, or method in order to make needed changes in our life? Do we believe that the Word of God is sufficient? Or do we believe that it is outdated and that we need some new innovation, some new program, some new relevant contextualized plan for living the Christian life and reaching the world with the Gospel?

We will learn in Part Three of Christ Formed in You that God has not ordained methods to accomplish salvation from start to finish. He has ordained means. What is the difference? Methods are usually programs, tools, or steps borrowed where one ministry or minister has had some type of measured “success”. We clamor to chase after whatever looks successful but sadly we usually gauge success on a scale of worldly wisdom and miss what God tells us about true success.

So rather than looking for a new method, Brian presents for us three tools, three means that God uses to accomplish sanctification in our lives, even using things that we would normally try to flee and avoid. We will learn that at times the things we are seeking to avoid are the very means that God is bringing to bear on our lives to mold us and shape us and make us like Christ.

Brian introduces the final section by writing:

Part Three of the book focuses on the means of personal change, the tools that God uses to transform us. These final three chapters, while building on the foundation of the gospel discussed earlier in the book, are the most practical. We will learn how God uses spiritual disciplines (Chapter Ten); suffering (Chapter Eleven); and personal relationships in the Body of Christ (Chapter Twelve) to conform us to the image of Christ.

Chapter Ten – Training in the Spirit: Disciplines

We do not arrive at spiritual maturity or a deeply rooted Christ-likeness overnight. As much as we may want to be strong and mature, as far as zeal with push us, there is still the truth that maturity takes time. God is going to be using the rest of our lives to conform us to the image of Christ and we will not arrive in this life. While that may not initially sound like comforting news, it truly should motivate us in our pursuit. If this goal is worth God using the rest of our lives to bring it to completion, then it is worthy of being pursued with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

The Christian life, we learn, is about training, not trying. It isn’t about desire, effort, or ability. Try as we may, we cannot conform ourselves into the image of Christ. But we do not need to try – the work is already being done in us and through us by the Spirit applying the Gospel. What then do we do? We train. We discipline ourselves. We exercise faith and seek to cultivate the fruit of the spirit daily. In truth, we do not try at all, we die. We die to self will, taking up our cross and following Christ.

Jesus gives us examples of training as we see Him who is perfect desiring to spend time away from the crowds and even His disciples to be alone with His Father in prayer. The discipline of prayer, as well as meditation on God’s Word are the two chief disciplines we must seek in our pursuit of spiritual maturity.

Meditation usually bring to mind eastern or new age religions and the desire for inner peace and contentment. Brian does a good job explaining what meditation for the believer is, and how it is done. He begins by clearly defining what meditation is not. It is not mental passivity, reading, hearing, memorizing, or studying. Brian writes:

Meditation is listening to God speak to us through his word for the purpose of transformation.

Meditation is often closely related to prayer in the Scriptures. Prayer is difficult and cumbersome, even to the point of being a chore if we are not meditating on the Word of God. Reflecting on God’s Word motivates us to pray. Fellowship in communion with God teaches us more about Who He is and what He has done. Meditation is the bridge between heart and mind, between hearing and doing.

We are reminded that prayer “lies at the root of all personal godliness.” And we know that in order to pray consistently we must be disciplined. We face numerous obstacles to prayer and interruptions to communion with God.

In using the means of spiritual disciplines we see that there are three tools we can use to overcome the obstacles to prayer. Remembering that our access to God comes only through Christ is an antidote to legalism. Praying with childlike faith is the antidote to self-sufficiency. And calling out to God in faith as His child (“Abba, Father”) is the antidote for unbelief.

In concluding this chapter we are reminded that spiritual disciplines are about receiving not achieving. This is not a method, or a check list. It is not about what we can hope to do for God, it is about properly relating to God because of all He has done to bring glory to Himself through us.

These disciplines are not about learning what to believe. They are the working out of what we believe. If we believe the truth we will think, talk, and act like it. Remember, what we believe works it way out in how we live.

Chapter Eleven – The Refiner’s Fire: Suffering

When it comes to suffering, we all know what it is to hurt, to suffer loss, to endure affliction, and we are reminded sometimes daily that life is hard. Any pastor who is visiting in the hospital, or in the home where a family member is lost, suffering, or even has died, needs to understand that people will ask, “Why?”. The only answer we can give from the Word of God is that we live in a fallen world.

And yet, it is because the world is cursed that God has established, before the world began, a plan for redemption. Brian makes the point that when God allowed suffering to enter into His creation, even He would suffer as a result! Our sin, our fall in Adam, our curse cost Christ His very life. That is why the only answer to our sufferings are the sufferings of Christ on our behalf.

Often times in the midst of trials, torments, and tribulations we fail to see that God has a purpose in our suffering. We learn that God in His sovereignty uses suffering as a means to conform us to the image of Christ and strip away any reliance on self that may reside in our flesh. And while the Bible never says that suffering is good it does tell us that our loving Heavenly Father is powerful enough to use suffering for our good and His glory.

While we suffer and all of creation cries out for redemption we have this promise, God will make all things new. He makes us new creations in Christ and one day He will redeem and renew all of creation.

A real strength in this section is found in how Brian does not belittle suffering. He does not take the oft proclaimed notions that if we had enough faith we would not suffer. Instead he shows us from Scripture that suffering is God’s will for His children and as we learn to hold on to the truth about Who God is we learn to trust Him especially when times are tough. God is in control. When we speak of His providence this is not some pie in the sky idea to take our minds off of what is wrong in the world. It is true. God is in control. He tailor makes trials. These things don’t just happen. God actually has a purpose in it – that is why we can “count it all joy” when we “fall into various trials.”

Seeing God for Who He is gives us hope and sustains us in trials. A clear view of the truth affects how we react and respond to hardship and when we fix our eyes on Jesus instead of pitying ourselves we see that God teaches us, grows us, matures us, and sanctifies us through suffering.

The point is made that God uses suffering to teach us His Word, to wean us from idols, to discipline us, to try and purify our faith, to increase our effectiveness, and to prepare us for heaven. If God can do all this through difficulties, why are we so determined to run the other way? Why do we seek to escape one of the means He uses to transform us into the image of Christ, who suffered and gave Himself for us?

Chapter Twelve – Life Together: Community

God works in mysterious ways. I happen to be one. (In case you missed it and are not aware of my sense of humor, my last name is Way). But then, we have to be reminded from time to time that the Christian life is not about us. It isn’t about me. It is about God. It is about others.

Brian writes at the beginning of his last chapter, “Sometimes God sends us messages when we least expect it. Often he does it through others.” This transformation, this change, this adventure of salvation is a community project. God created us to have a relationship with Him and with others.

We are relational but that does not mean relationships are easy. Sin from the very start has ruptured relationships. In the Garden sin separated Adam and Eve from God, and as a result we see in the curse that it separated Adam and Eve from each other. The source of all family conflict, be it our family, or our church family, can be traced back to a root of sin.

In the church we find a community that God uses as another means of transforming us into Christ’s image. The enemies of community, especially in our society, include individualism, compartmentalization, busyness, and unrealistic or unmet expectations. That is quite a list of hindrances. How are we to work through them in pursuit of “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace?”

Think of how often in the Scriptures we find the church referred to in relational terms. We are a bride, a body, a flock, a household, a colony, and a called out special people. We are many members of the same body, members of each other, Christ being the Head.

We learn through five characteristics of the New Testament Church just what kind of community we are. We are a gospel community, a worshipful community, a sacramental community, a relational community, and a missional community. In each case we see that the fundamental key is that we are a community!

So how does God use relationships in the community of the church to transform us into the image of Christ? Fellowship. It is the one anothers. Greeting one another, loving one another, sharing truth with one another, confronting sin in one another, encouraging and motivating one another, and walking with one another. It is not going to church. It is being the church.

Brian concludes where he began. Just as the Scriptures start by telling us, “In the beginning God….” so to Brian started with a right and proper view of God and what He has accomplished in setting into motion His plan to save His people from their sin. Now we conclude with a look at the very Being of God. God exists as One God in Three Persons. God has created us for community, in His image, as He in His very Persons, is a community.

The secret to having Christ formed in you is to see that it isn’t really about us at all. We are here so that God might glorify Himself. It is about Christ. We see then that sanctification is the process that follows “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.”

“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Colossians 2:6).

Conclusion

In concluding this review I can say that I heartily recommend this book to you. Some will review it and rightly comment on the doctrinal depth. Others will point out the practicality of what has been written. This is a book that you can read and use and it will make a difference in your life. But I would like to suggest that as deep, as wide, as practical, as helpful, as challenging, and as inspirational as this book is, it is basic.

I do not mean that it is weak, shallow, or unimportant. I mean that it is basic for Christian living. This book follows Paul’s example in his epistles. Brian gives us a foundation of sound doctrine and then builds upon it in practical ways that will make a difference in how we live.

These basic things need to be taught in our churches and in our homes.

These basic things need to be found in our preaching, our reading, our worship, and our fellowship. These are basic things that the church, especially in the West, has drifted away from. We no longer hear about sin, repentance, suffering, holiness, or about God’s sovereignty.

Instead so many books and sermons and programs are about us, our needs, our wants, our desires. As Evangelist Leonard Ravehill used to preach and write, “We have humanized God. We have deified man. We have minimized sin.” He went on to say that we need a word of confession, a word of cleansing, and a word of commission. He likened this to an upward vision of holiness, an inward vision of helplessness, and an outward vision hellishness; an upward vision of deity, an inward vision of depravity, and an outward vision of destruction. We need to see God, see ourselves in the light of His holiness, and see the world dying without Christ!

The solution then is to take a fresh look at Who God is, what He has accomplished through the power of the Gospel, and the means He has given us to be daily conformed to the image of Christ. And that is the power of the Gospel, the power of God to salvation for all who believe.

Thank you, Pastor Hedges, for helping us turn our eyes upon Jesus, so that we might look full in His wonderful face.

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