Before reading You Can Change, I have read two other books by Tim Chester: A Meal with Jesus and Why the Reformation Still Matters (co-authored with Michael Reeves). Chester has then become one of my favourite authors, yet I didn’t really plan on reading You Can Change until I received a free copy of the e-book. To be honest, the book name reminds me of the many self-help books available today on the Christian best-seller shelves 🙂
But this book is no self-help book at all. It states the opposite: you cannot, but God can,
“People talk about the higher life of sanctification, but what we really need is the lower life – humility – admit the we can never do it by ourselves. The first step is to give up on my self.” (pg. 118). Like Chester says, we need to give up on ourselves first. The Lord wants our full dependence, full attention, full confidence on and in Him.
The first time I read a similar insight was from Watchman Nee’s The Normal Christian Life. The Lord released me from the bondage of self-effort on living a Christian life through that book. I personally think this message needs to be heard more, so I am grateful for Chester’s reinforcement of this truth. There are, however, many more great reminders from the book:
- We need to “turn to the Lord” in order to be transformed into His likeness. He uses examples such as Moses, “Like Moses, with unveiled face, our faces shine with the radiant glory of God.” The way to turn to the Lord requires the need of keeping in step with the Spirit, “We’re trapped by our emotions and desires. But when we turn to the lord, Jesus sets us free through the spirit. We are not motivated by the fear of law but by the opportunity to experience glory. ” (pg. 19)
- We sometimes fail to enjoy salvation because we have the order of salvation reversed. Although many Christians know that they are saved not by good work, they live as if they need to begin with good work to be regarded as “saved”. But we are saved so that we can do good works (or bear good fruits, in my own words). Similarly, we change by having our hearts changed first, not the the behaviour. In Chester’s definition, holiness is “new affections, new desires, and new motives. ” (pg. 28)
- We need to be aware of the danger of still under being enslaved by law, or in modern term: legalism. The purpose of the law is to show that “we can’t change ourselves or make ourselves good enough for God”; in other words, “the law brings us to an end of ourselves and drive us into Jesus.” (pg. 44)
Legalism, however, is often difficult to spot (I was one who suffered from it). Chester gives many practical questions to check if we may be doing certain things to impress God, or other people, or to feel good about myself, instead of a delight in God. (pg. 38)
Chester then tackles why legalism is appealing. First, legalism “makes holiness manageable” (pg. 44). We like to reduce holiness into a list of rules, which in a way, is no different than a list of laws. Second, legalism “makes it our achievement”, for it enables us to compare our “levels of holiness” with others.
Chester uses a powerful illustration of the famous parable in Luke 15 to describe the toxicity of legalism. Many focus on “the prodigal son”, yet the bitter older brother also teaches us that legalism can breed “joyless duty”, “anxious performance”, and “proud comparisons”. In contrast to lifeless legalism, Chester reassures us that God is the one who gives each of us “a new heart and a new spirit”. Chester even says, “We should be led by the Spirit even though the sinful nature doesn’t like it. When you feel this conflict, go with the Spirit.” (Pg 48)
- As the bride of Christ who has “loved us, wooed us, cleansed us, rescued us, and won us”, our relationship with Christ is “a relationship of love and intimacy” that is “an exclusive union” (pg 32).
Chester ends his book by encouraging us that we will reap if we don’t give up (Galatian 6:8-9). We may struggle, but we have a “life time of grace”! May we desire Jesus Christ more than anything else.