Archives For Self-Help

This entry is part 1 of 22 in the seriesBook of the Month

At the request of one of our graduates, we are going to begin featuring a (not necessarily monthly) Book of the Month. Kelsey (the graduate) mentioned that she gained so much through her studies at Eternity, but now that she has graduated—and therefore is not being forced to read books—she is not in the loop on which books might be worth reading. I’m sure that many of you are in a similar boat. There are so many books out there, how do you choose which books you will read?

Hopefully you don’t trust us enough to be the lone voice in telling you what you should read, but our hope is that this feature will turn your attention to some books that we have found worthwhile, and maybe you will to. I don’t think I have ever read a book that I agreed with 100% (I feel compelled to add, “except for the Bible,” because I know some Bible college students are reading), so please don’t take these recommendations as affirmations of every detail of every book. We simply find these books helpful and think you might as well.

So our first ever Book of the Month is You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions
by Tim Chester. This book recently became required reading for our Discipleship and Counseling class. Chester is a trusted voice for us, and his book Total Church, co-authored by Steve Timmis, is also a must-read.

The title of the book sounds a touch self-helpish, and in a sense, that’s exactly what it is. But the key difference between your average Joel Osteen become a better you type of book and You Can Change is that Chester is incessantly gospel-focused. Addressing the sin issues in our lives is not about techniques, self-imposed disciplined, or therapy that only a highly trained professional can administer. It’s about the gospel:

“We become Christians by faith in Jesus, we stay Christians by faith in Jesus, and we grow as Christians by faith in Jesus…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 (Galatians 4:8-11; 5:1-5).”

Chester stays focused on the gospel as God’s power to free us from the sin that enslaves us. You Can Change is intensely practical, teaching us to identify the sin in our lives; assess it’s affects on our thoughts, lifestyle, and relationships; and pursue God’s power through the gospel and the Spirit of God to free us up to glorify God in these areas. Chester places our issues within a theological framework so that we can see how our sin relates to God, but he does so in terms that are very simple, easy to understand, and easy to follow.

So who would I recommend this book to? Well, if you struggle with sin, this book is meant for you. A book on its own won’t be a magic bullet to solve your problems, but if you approach this book thoughtfully and use it a means to draw closer to God in these areas of your life, I don’t doubt that it could have a huge impact on you. But this book is also very helpful for those who want to help other people think through their problems. Whether you are a professional counselor or just someone who cares about other people, You Can Change will help to prepare you to minister to the people around you.

I recently did a series of posts on sanctification, and I used some of Chester’s thoughts throughout. If you don’t want to read a whole book, you can pick up some of his insights in these posts:

If you’re interested in buying the book, here’s a quick link:

God wants us to be holy (1 Thess. 4:3). That’s a truth that is pretty well known in Christian circles. But how exactly do we grow in holiness?

In theory, we’re probably pretty united on this point: we become more holy as God’s grace works in our hearts and transforms our lives. But in practice, we tend to make a fatal mistake in our pursuit of sanctification: we try to sanctify ourselves. In part, this means that we try to grow through our own effort. But it also means that we try to grow through our own strategies.

We have all tried sanctification strategies: holding one another accountable, surfing the internet under the supervision of Christian software, governing our relationships by strict rules and guidelines, pursuing discipline through strict scheduling, etc. Let me be clear that all of these things can be extremely helpful. They may well aid our sanctification. But none of these things (nor any combination thereof) will create holiness in our hearts and lives.

Paul says:

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:20-23)

All of our strategies for sanctification focus on “human precepts and teachings.” Some even include “asceticism and severity to the body.” But Paul is clear: “they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”

The gospel is all about God’s grace, not our hard work. This is as true in sanctification as it is in salvation. Tim Chester says that our efforts to sanctify ourselves are more than ineffective—they’re destructive:

“We become Christians by faith in Jesus, we stay Christians by faith in Jesus, and we grow as Christians by faith in Jesus…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.” (You Can Change, 43-44)

Ultimately, only the gospel can rid us of the sin in our lives. John actually says that through the gospel, God pardons our sin (1 John 1:8-9). In Christ, we have an advocate who takes away our sin (1 John 2:1-2). We can go through counseling, hold each other accountable, and discipline ourselves in order to manage the sin that pops up in our lives. But no other method, strategy, or therapy can actually deal with sin.

This realization doesn’t make sanctification easy. But it does show us where hope lies. Hope has only ever been found in the grace of God. Through His Spirit we can expect to grow in our battle against sin. It will take us a lifetime, and we will fail continually, but the gospel ensures our ultimate victory.

Stop Trying Harder

Mark Beuving —  February 21, 2012 — 8 Comments

The gospel should affect everything we do, and we will never move beyond its direction and power. Yesterday I asked a simple question: Do you really think there is some strategy, medication, or counselor that could be more effective in dealing with your sin than the grace of God as told in the gospel?

This is an important question. I think that most of us would quickly answer, “No, of course not!” We know (in theory) that nothing could be more effective than God’s power in the gospel. But we don’t really believe it. Instead, we try all sorts of strategies to try to whip ourselves into shape. We try to make ourselves into the type of people God wants us to be, never realizing that this is impossible.

We can’t make ourselves into the type of people God wants us to be. We are sinful, broken, and weak. This is what it means to be human on this side of the fall. And the problem is only made worse by the fact that we think we are righteous, whole, and strong. You’re probably saying, “You’re wrong—I realize how broken and powerless I am.” But do you?

How do you deal with the sin in your life? Do you recognize your own inability and turn to God for help? Or do you try harder to be the kind of person God wants you to be? Most of us use the “try harder” strategy most of the time. And when trying harder fails, we try harder again. The fact that we think trying harder will eventually fix our struggle with sin reveals that we think we are good enough and strong enough to please God on our own.

We all need to be reminded all of the time that we cannot please God on our own. This is the essence of the gospel.  It has never been about us being good enough so that God will love us in return. No, the gospel declares that while we were nothing more than dirty, powerless sinners, Jesus Christ died for us because He loved us—even in that pitiful state (see Romans 5:8).

You believed this when you first turned to Jesus and accepted the grace offered in the gospel. But do you still believe it? When you fall into sin, do you try to clean yourself up before you will pray to God again? Or do you immediately recognize that your struggle with sin means that you can’t clean yourself up? Do you wait until you can stand before God again or do you come crawling back to God, asking Him to forgive and restore you?

If we truly believe in the power of God’s grace as expressed in the gospel, we will stop trying harder. We will not wait until we feel clean before we approach God. We will run straight to God’s expression of love on the cross every time we encounter sin in our lives. The gospel is not about increased effort. It is about a constant acknowledgment of our own inadequacy and a constant acceptance of God’s grace.

No one ever pleased God by trying harder. Only one Man has ever truly pleased God. And we please God only through living in the grace He freely offers.

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