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Entries in How People Change (4)

Wednesday
Aug072013

What keeps us from community?

In their book How People Change, Paul Tripp and Tim Lane discuss how we as Christians are meant to grow and change within a community of believers. When we are born again, we are placed into a body, and it is within that context that we are sanctified.

There are things that may inhibit us from actively searching out that community aspect of our lives in Christ. Tripp and Lane point out that there are obstacles in building relationships: 

  • The busyness of life, keeping relationships distant and casual.
  • A total immersion in friendships that are activity-and-happiness based.
  • A conscious avoidance of close relationships as too scary and messy.
  • A formal commitment to church activities, with no real connection to people.
  • One-way, ministry-driven friendships in which you always minister to others, but never allow others to minister to you.
  • Self-centered, "meet my felt needs" relationships that keep you always receiving, but seldom giving.
  • A private, independent, "just me and God" approach to the Christian life.
  • Theology as a replacement for relationship. Knowing God as a life of study, than the pursuit of God and his people.

I fall prey to some of these situations.

I would also add fear to this list, and specifically a fear of failure. There have been many occasions when I have had a failed friendship, and I have concluded that I'm not "cut out for" friendships, especially with women. We can allow our fears to interfere with our relationships, and then fall into the "just me and God" situation they speak of.

Evaluating our attitude to our relationships is always a good exercise, even if it is a little uncomfortable at times.

Sunday
Jul142013

Letting go of my self-esteem

I used to claim I had self-esteem issues. I was shy and insecure as a child, and I had some bad experiences with rejection growing up. When I became a Christian, it still wasn't clear to me what I ought to do with the feelings of unworthiness that wouldn't go away. It was easy to continue to blame others for my feelings. 

It's popular to downplay sin when we talk to people who feel unworthy despite being forgiven by God. Some even suggest that it's wrong to tell someone he is a sinner because it will only make him feel worse. Understanding my own sin has been the only thing that has helped me deal with this idea of self-esteem.

I read this portion from Paul Tripp and Tim Lane's book How People Change. It's worth the read. I'm sure it won't take you more than a minute:

The Bible agrees that guilt and self-loathing can hinder change. On a superficial reading, it would seem plausible that we need a lot of affirmation: if I can just deal with this oppressive guilt and increase my self-esteem then I will be free to live and love. But this approch is hollow because it does not offer good news for the guilty and self-loathing person. Instead of connecting our guilt and shame to our own sin and rebellion against God, this view downplays our guilt and misses a great opportunity to call us to esteem Christ's work on our behalf. It obscures the path to real forgiveness, joy, and peace at the cross. Similarly, the person who labors under a false sense of guilt and shame because of the sins of others against her needs more than affirmation and boosts to her self-esteem. She needs to see that the cross clarifies that she is responsible for only her own sins, not the sins of others that have so deeply wounded her. God's view of sin lifts her shame and self-loathing by giving her an identity that is rooted in Christ, not in the evil she has experienced.

Those who struggle with self-esteem and shame are not served by softening their sin, or calling it by another name. Neither are they helped by being given a message that does not reveal the beautiful release from their sinfulness through the blood of Christ.  That God would offer us salvation through Christ is the foundation of our self-esteem. That Christ would stand in our place and bear our iniquities and relieve us from the guilt of past sins is where we find self-esteem. But that forgiveness is so much more precious when I understand exactly from what I have been redeemed. If there is no sin, there is no joy in redemption.  This is the basis of my self-esteem, that while I was yet a sinner Christ died for me.

I wish I had learned this much earlier in my Christian life.

Saturday
Jul132013

Emptying the heart

From How People Change, Paul Trip and Tim Lane:

Scripture's approach calls us to forsake the things we have sought to fill our emptiness. Before we can be filled with God's grace, we must engage in intelligent, honest repentance. We have to forsake and demolish the god-replacements that have supplanted the true God in our lives. Repentance is a form of emptying the heart. James 4:1 says that we fight with others not because we are empty, but because we are full of desires that battle within us. Along with deep repentance, Scripture calls us to faith that rests and feeds upon the living Christ. He fills us with himself through the person of the Holy Spirit and our hearts are transformed by faith.

Friday
Jul052013

The Gospel Gap

In their book How People Change, Tim Lane and Paul Tripp begin by talking about the gap that often exists between our knowledge of the gospel and its visibility in our lives. The gospel is a "then-now-then" gospel, meaning we have past forgiveness and future hope, but we live in the here and now, and that is where we often have our troubles. We often become bogged down by being blind to our sin, to God's provision and to God's process.

This lack of understanding of how God works in the here and now Tripp and Lane call a gospel gap. We fill this gap with externals. In each case, we reduce the gospel in some way:

Formalism: the gospel is reduced to particpation such as attendance at church and working in service projects. The problem is our good works will never be enough.

Legalism: the gospel is reduced to a set of dos and don'ts. The problem is we can never be good enough to fulfill all of God's law.

Mysticism: the gospel is reduced to emotional experiences.  The Christian life is not devoid of emotion, but the addiction to continual emotional highs neglects the reality that most of the changes in our lives occur in the day to day things.

Activism: the gospel is reduced to participation in Christian causes. While opposing abortion, poverty, and pornography are all worthy things, they are not the gospel, and there is no saving merit. Even an unregenerate person could particpate in these. This is worth repeating:

Whenever you believe that the evil outside you is greater than the evil inside you, a heartfelt pursuit of Christ will be replaced by a zealous fighting of the "evil" around you."

Biblicism:  the gospel is reduced to a mastery of biblical knowledge and theology. It can be easy to think we are very spiritual, indeed, when we can quote John Owen, and have memorized the Larger Catechcism, but we all know there is more to it than that.

"Psychology-ism:" the gospel is reduced to the healing of emotional needs. Jesus is more our therapist than a Saviour. While Jesus does heal us, He is ultimately concerned with our holiness.

"Social-ism:" the gospel is reduced to a network of fulfilling Christian relationships. The danger with this, aside from not being the content of the gospel, is that human relationships all have the potential for failure, and the disappointment that ensues can be very difficult.

As I looked at these, I realized I have utilized all of them at one time or another. How many times have I been needlessly reliant upon all of these externals? Some of these externals will be more or less attractive to people, depending on personality or circumstance. My biggest weakness is to think that all the reading and studying I do is evidence of my holiness.

The authors point out that a reliance on any of these externals foster self-righteousness. Sometimes, we see it more easily in others than ourselves. And occasionally, God brings someone into our lives who acts like a mirror so that we recognize that we are guilty, too.

Before we can see how vain it is to rely on these externals, we have to be conscious of the need to get to our hearts. The authors remind us of this:

Lasting change always comes through the heart. This is one of Scripture's most thoroughly developed themes, but many of us have missed its profound implications. We need a deeper understanding of Proverbs 4:23, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."