Tim Chester’s You Can Change was recommended to me a couple of years ago by a friend who was reading it with another friend and working through things together. It’s been on my shelf since then, and I’ve finally gotten around to reading it.
If you judge a book by its cover, this one looks a bit like a self-help book, which is perhaps partly why it took me so long to start. But on the inside, it’s not about self help at all.It’s about God: what he has done, what he continues to do and what he will do.
The whole way through, he points us back to God’s grace poured out on us through Christ. It’s full of wonderful biblical truths, both affirming and rebuking. He keeps reminding us of the gospel, that we are sinners, saved and justified by God through no work of our own, and given the Holy Spirit to change us from within, heart and mind.
While he encourages his readers to identify and expose their sinful thoughts and motivations, and keeps affirming that change is possible and sin is to be crucified, he also acknowledges that we still live in a sinful world. We cannot choose not to sin by ourselves, but having the Spirit, we now have the choice and freedom to choose to honour God over ourselves. “I’ve written this book so that you might not sin. We can change because of Christ’s work for us and the Spirit’s work in us. But in this life we’ll still sin… Christ has died for my sins and his death is effective until the day I die and for all eternity… sempur peccator, sempur iustus: ‘always a sinner, always justified.'” (p 192).
He has some really helpful illustrations, as well, and this one may reveal a little of my nerdiness (somehow I seem to have kept this hidden from many people):
“Christians need never plateau… Often, growth in grace means a growing awareness of our sin… As with a computer game in which you progress up through the levels, so it is with sanctification. Level-one sins are the obvious, clear sins that others see in us. By level ten we’re becoming aware of subtle and deceitful heart desires.”
This is something I’ve had multiple conversations with friends about (i.e. plateauing and complacency). For people who have been Christian for a long time, it’s difficult to see change and growth, sometimes (admitting our shame in this) we even find it difficult to identify our sins, but perhaps it’s because the sins we’re working through are under more layers.
Particularly in the last couple of years, doing a lot more ministry and being put out of my comfort zone more often than I’m used to, sins that I was somewhat aware of are much clearer to me, sins that others may not see (e.g. envy, pride, seeking approval and value from the wrong places).
This is even part of why I started reading this book, because I thought it would help me keep thinking through the things I’m discovering about myself, identify them more clearly so that I can “know where the fight is taking place… where to deploy my forces… know the truth I need to embrace” (p 184, where he describes the Christian life as a battle).
There are questions at the end of each chapter that do feel a bit self-helpy, where you work through a “change project” and take note of progress as you read each chapter. I didn’t find them that helpful, my reflections are less structured than that, though they may become more helpful as I try to articulate what I am learning. They seem to be designed to process what he’s talked about in the chapter and apply it. I find that the content of the chapters are enough and I’d rather read the bible passages he suggests and reflect on those. I usually ignore questions anyway.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and would probably read it again, though I’d probably make an effort to ignore the questions (I paid attention this time because there were so many of them, so I thought they must be important). I love that, while he does encourage us to look at ourselves and identify our sin, he does it by talking about God a lot and quoting Scripture a lot – as I read I keep getting the urge to read big chunks of the bible (though I like to do things thoroughly, so I always finish the chapter first). Change will not come about by doing a change project, it will be as we realise how wonderful God is and as we reflect on his glory revealed in Christ.