Tim Chester – You Can Change: God’s transforming power for our sinful behaviour and negative emotions (IVP/Crossway, 2008/2010)

Read the title and contents page and you could be forgiven for thinking You Can Change is a straight self-help book. But you would be wrong. In fact it might even be the opposite because it’s based on the contrary belief that no matter how hard you try, how confident you are, or what strategies you employ, you can’t change yourself.
But, obviously, that’s not where the story ends.

Chester writes,
We’re not sinners because we commit sinful acts. We commit sinful acts because we are sinners, born with a bias to sin, enslaved by our sinful desires. That’s why we can’t change ourselves simply by changing our behaviour. We need God to change us by renewing our hearts and giving us new desires’ (pp. 111-2).
You Can Change is a declaration that God has done just that – and because of this the Christian should not despair over their sinful behaviour and negative emotions. It sets out to convince the reader that they can’t and needn’t try to do what God has already done in Christ – defeat the power of sin.

What Chester offers the struggling Christian is not advice, but truth. We need to know who God is and understand why we often don’t want to change. Our problem, as he sees it, is not a failure to try, but a failure to trust. I thought he gave a great definition of sanctification:
I may affirm that God is sovereign (confessional faith), but still get anxious when I can’t control my life (functional disbelief). Sanctification is the progressive narrowing of the gap between confessional faith and functional faith’ (pp. 82-3).

There is no abstract theology in You Can Change. Chester asks the reader to identify a particular behaviour or emotion that they would like to change and at the end of each chapter are a series of reflection questions for applying what has been said (I like the intention with these, but didn’t really find them that helpful). Because of Chester’s writing style it does feel like he is talking at you, but he is clear, sincere and wise, so you can’t let that put you off.

A great feature of You Can Change (and all of Chester’s books) is the strong theology of community – still a rarity in conservative evangelicalism, and far removed from the individualism of self-help culture. He sees change as a community process as much as an individual process and community as the God-given context for change. So my recommendation is grab yourself a copy and, when you’re done, hand it on to someone else in your church.

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