There is much to be said about a book titled You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions. In light of the contemporary avalanche of preachers, authors, and talk show hosts who make their living off empowering the human spirit with the now proverbial theme of Yes You Can, Tim Chester’s title is in danger of getting thrown in and lost among the peddlers. Yet, if one picks up Chester’s You Can Change with the expectation of feeding their self-dependency, the reader will be devastated.
Chester’s work is firmly in the Biblical Counseling/CCEF tradition, though the force of the book is more pastoral than counseling. Even in the title, You Can Change, you see the affinity with CCEF’s How People Change by Lane and Tripp. Both Chester and the Biblical Counseling movement find their interpretive grid for change in the Bible’s storyline, the need for change expressed in the overflow of the heart, and the power for change in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Chester begins by pointing to the storyline of humanity in order to see what we need to change. We were created in the image of God—creatures created for reflecting God’s glory. Yet, starting with Adam, “we’ve failed to be the image of God” we were made to be (12). Therefore, the need of a Savior is dire. Chester points us to Christ, who displays God’s glory perfectly in his life and death. Jesus’s work on the cross is more than example, Chester points out, it’s our help! With our faith in the Gospel, the work of Christ recreates us in that image. Chester writes: “The message of this book is that change takes place in our lives as we turn to see the glory of God in Jesus. We ‘see’ the glory of Christ as we ‘hear’ the gospel of Christ” (19). Seeing Christ transforms us into his image.
In chapter 2 Chester develops a biblical motivation for change. There are many motivations Christian use to change that fail: to prove yourself to God, to prove yourself to other people, to prove yourself to yourself. We cannot prove ourselves to God, because that means we have to make God favorable toward us. If we try to prove ourselves to others, that makes other people’s view the standard. If we try to prove ourselves to ourselves, we make sin ultimately a problem against ourselves and not God. We have been justified by grace alone and we have a new identity as a child of God and as a member of the Bride of Christ. Our motivation is found in our “freedom from sin and our delight in God that God has given to us through Jesus Christ” (29).
With biblical motivations in mind, how do we change? Chapter 3 displays the bankruptcy of working to change by ourselves. Chester writes: “External activities can’t change us, because sin comes from within, from our hearts. Our rituals might change our behavior, but they can’t change our hearts” (43). Fundamentally, change comes from the Triune God. The Father puts his children through circumstances (sometime difficult) for our good and “that good is that we become like his Son” (48). We are liberated from sin through the work of the Son, so that we can look back at our sin in repentance and produce good works. The Spirit transforms our desires into holy ones. The work of God is our rebirth, so that we have a new DNA—one that grows us into the image of God.
For Christians, we can see a few things in the situations (or the “heat”) that trigger our sinful responses: they reveal our heart’s condition and our hearts affections. We sin because we do not trust God or worship God.
Chapters 5 and 6 give believers truths to turn to and desires to turn from. Using the “self-preach” model of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Chester gives us doctrinal content to preach to ourselves for change. Do we believe in God’s glory, his greatness, his sovereignty, his goodness, and his grace? Do we believe in such a way that provokes change in the way we live and respond to others? Along with these truths, we must repent of rival desires. Chester writes: “By faith and through the Spirit, the desire for God trumps the desire for sin” (108). Space doesn’t allow for a full comment on Chester’s directions in chapter 6, but I want to commend this chapter as one of the better guides I have read, practically speaking, to biblical and gospel-centered change.
Chester points out in chapter 7 that what keeps believers from changing is a wrong view of sin. We justify, excuse, minimize or hide sin, so that we do not properly hate our sin. The remedy is to center our life, more and more, around the cross of Christ. Chester writes: “A cross-centered life means an inevitable and resolute rejection of all self-confidence and self-righteousness” (127).
While Chester invests the majority of his time instructing us in developing right affections for heart change, he doesn’t neglect the biblical admonition to flee from sin. Strategies to flee from evil desires reinforces your repentance and faith. His admonitions to flee, along with seven positive things to fortify faith (bible reading, prayer, community, etc), make the last quarter of the book hugely practical.
Chester ends by giving his readers a realistic understanding of change in this life. As believers, we are in the middle of an already changed but not yet, still changing age, where we we wait for our blessed hope. The good news is that “our hope is not in counselors, methods, or rules . . . but in a great and gracious Savior who has broken the power of sin and placed his life-giving Spirit in our hearts” (177).
You Can Change is hope-filled. It does not give hope based upon the myth of the unfailing determination of the human spirit, but upon the real unfailing promises of the gospel. Pastors, leaders, and laymen will be nurtured by Chester’s book and will, in turn, nurture others in the power of the gospel.