July 16, 2013

Can People Really Change?

I first got introduced to the scariest moustache in the world about two years ago through the work of CCEF. So, I thought I would take the time to review one of Paul Tripp’s most popular books, seeing as it is standard reading for those working within Niddrie and for 20schemes.

I have to say that this book is a great read on many levels, not the least of which is how it challenges the (often worldly) assumptions of how we respond to stress in our lives, how we respond to other people, and how we can change our sinful habits through serious, heart-driven repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Tripp’s contention (one of them at least) is that many of us fail to see that our greatest problems arise from ‘within’ and not from ‘outside’ of us. He talks about a ‘gospel gap’ in these terms: too many of us view the good news, almost exclusively, as about something in the past (forgiveness), or something to do with the future (hope), but we forget about how practical it is to help us live God-glorifying lives in the present.

There are so many stand out chapters that it is almost overwhelmingly impossible to do it full justice in a little blog posting. Consider this gem: “The heart is the steering wheel of every human being. Everything we do is shaped and controlled by what our hearts desire.” (p.14) New? No. Profound? No. But it packs such a powerful punch that it is hard to explain why.

For Tripp, the battle for our desires is not exclusively fought in the big battles of our human experiences, but in the little moments of our everyday lives, such as driving the car or queuing for the shopping. What I like about this stuff is that he never descends into simple moralising. We don’t have a list of ‘how tos’ or ‘7 spiritual keys to unlocking real heart change’ (good title for a book that) but rather a simple, almost gentle and persistent urge to return to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ with a continual checking of our own hearts and motives.

According to Tripp, we are at war within and the temptation to want to fix the externals of life without dealing with the internals is often how we try to grapple our crises. Perhaps my favourite part of this book is this thread which runs throughout it’s entirety. Our problem in this world is not a lack of self-esteem (secular nonsense drip fed to every addict I work with) but an issue of idolatry. We worship ourselves and our desires more than we worship the living God, and woe betide anything that gets in the way. Or hearts are the problem, and this book offers us a skillfully crafted way in which we can look at them more minutely.

More than anything, I love this book because it points us back to the cross again and again. And it holds out the great promise of grace and hope and mercy to us. I will be recommending others from this stable in the future, but for those interested in offering a biblically consistent, gospel-faithful counsel to fellow sinners and sufferers, this is a great read. In fact, it is an absolute must if you want to develop a biblically based, straightforward approach to counselling across a raft of difficult issues. Can people really change? No, they can’t. Can Jesus really change people? Yes, he can. And he does. Find out how. Buy this book.

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